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Amber Valley to honour Victoria Cross hero with centenary celebrations

A memorial to Charles Edwin Stone, a First World War soldier awarded the Victoria Cross, will be unveiled in Belper on March 21,2018.
A memorial to Charles Edwin Stone, a First World War soldier awarded the Victoria Cross, will be unveiled in Belper on March 21,2018.

Amber Valley will pause to remember the life of one of its bravest sons next week, as a new memorial is unveiled in honour of a First World War hero.

Events on Wednesday, March 21, will pay tribute to Charles Edwin Stone, 100 years to the day since the feat of courage which earned him the Victoria Cross, the highest award of the British and Commonwealth military honours system.

Co-organiser George Gunby said: “It will be a very special and emotional day. Charlie Stone was an exceptional character and a real hero.”

Charles’ story has touched many hearts across the borough, and has inspired many different groups to get involved in marking the occasion.

George said: “The days events have been the result of real team work involving individuals and groups as well as Belper and Amber Valley Councils, Rolls-Royce and the Royal Artillery.

“I put out a call on Facebook for people who might want to take part, and within half an hour we’d filled the programme. It is astonishing to see how much people want to celebrate this man’s life.”

Born in Denby in 1918, Charles was 12 years old when his mother died and he left school to work in a pit.

He joined the Royal Artillery four weeks after the war broke out and went to fight on the Western Front, earning the Military Medal for an earlier feat of bravery in 1917.

Charles was 29 years old and serving as a gunner in the C Battery 83rd Brigade at Caponne Farm in north-east France on March 21, 1918.

After working at his gun for six hours under heavy gas and shell fire, he was sent to the rear with an order. He delivered it and then, under a very heavy barrage, returned with a rifle to assist in holding up the enemy on a sunken road.

First lying in the open under very heavy machine-gun fire and then on the right flank of the two rear guns he held the enemy at bay. Later he was helped capture a machine-gun and four prisoners.

George sad: “The word hero gets bandied about a lot these days, and maybe we hold some of the wrong ones up as an example to young people.

“Charles was a real hero who saved lives with great bravery. He was a remarkable person. Working with the Belper in Wartime group, the more I’ve found out about him, the more fascinating he has become. Charles’ family have provided lots of detail, and we’re still learning more about him even now.”

After being demobbed in January 1919 Charles returned to work in the local pit, and then went on to work at Rolls-Royce until his death in 1952.

In between, however, there was another moment of life-saving heroism.

George said: “Charles was working at a farm in Ashbourne when the owner, Elizabeth Lees, had an accident in the kitchen and her dress caught on fire.

“She ran out into the yard and Charles’ quick thinking put out the flames. For the rest of her life, Elizabeth told people she’d be dead if it wasn’t for Charlie Stone. He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.”

Fittingly, Charles’ life will be immortalised in stone when a memorial paving slab is unveiled in Belper Memorial Gardens at 3.30pm on Wednesday, surrounded by a new flower bed in the shape of the Victoria Cross.

The government are installing similar slabs for Victoria Cross recipients nationwide, but not all will be accompanied by such celebrations.

Bell-ringers will be ring an honorary 45-minute peal at All Saints Church in Ripley at 3pm, and at 7.30pm St Peter’s Church in Belper will host a free concert of specially commissioned music and poetry by Belper Musical Theatre, James Oldrini and Hannah Barrs, Rough Truffles, Sue McFarlane and many more.

Amongst the audience will be Charles’ relatives, some of whom have travelled from as far away as Australia to share in the moment.