Belper remembers as Victoria Cross plaque unveiled for 1918 war hero
Belper celebrated First World War soldier Charles Stone last week as a plaque was unveiled in memory of the deeds which earned a Victoria Cross.
Members of Charles’s family had travelled from as far away as Australia to mark the occasion with local residents, civic leaders and military officers.
Mayor of Belper Peter Hurst said: “It was an emotional day. The town can be rightly very proud to have someone hold the Victoria Cross.
“His history is that of an incredible man and a true hero. Thank you to everybody who supported today’s events.”
The ceremonies were held to mark exactly 100 years to day since Charles’s remarkable feat of courage.
Churches across Amber Valley marked the moment with a peel reserved for special occasions, and a wreath was laid at Charles’s grave.
Following the ceremony, many of the day’s visitors stayed on for an evening event celebrating his life in music and poetry at St Peter’s Church.
Coun Hurst said: “The concert was extremely moving, with some wonderful performances - particularly the finale song which had been written especially for Charles.”
After their visit to Belper, his relatives were travelling on to France to visit the place where Charles’s earned his medal.
The story has touched many local hearts, including amateur historian Chris Froggatt, who has been researching Charles’ story for several years.
He unearthed the following eye-witness account of Charles’s moment of valour, originally printed in the Nottingham Post in 1918, and reproduced here in full:
“Since the war began, I have seen men at their best and I have seen some of the finest deeds that one could imagine, but I have never struck anyone who was so sublimely brave under trying circumstances as was Charley Stone, who was one of the heroes who stood between us and serious disaster when the Germans made their furious onset against our line. Infantry supports and covers had been driven in, and enemy forces were trying to cut off the guns of the battery. On his own initiative Stone went forward with a rifle and engaged the enemy who were trying to get a machine gun into position in order to enfilade the gun positions.
“He was taking his life in his hand by going forward, and from the first moment of his going forward the enemy concentrated on him a deadly fire, spraying the ground with machine gun and rifle bullets. In spite of all, and with the enemy closing around him in all directions, Stone kept his end up, picking off every German who tried to rush through.
“While Stone was dealing with a heavy attack in one direction, one German managed to get through at another point and began to snipe the gun team from a commanding position. As soon as he had dealt with the enemy in front Stone rushed after this intruder, and in spite of the fierce fire kept up by the machine guns and snipers he got to close quarters and killed the German.
“It was a one-man battle right through to cave those guns and Charley Stone responded well to the ***** made on him. He ran about from point to point, wherever there was danger, picking off the enemy as they tried to get through, and though he had been on duty for least twelve hours he never thought of fatigue or weariness. Under cover of darkness the enemy succeeded in getting a machine gun into position to the rear of the guns and the position then became very serious for there was the greatest danger of the guns falling into enemy hands.
“Without the least hesitation Stone went out with a party of comrades to attack the machine gun party, and he attacked with such dash, setting such an example of fearless bravery to his comrades that the Germans were killed and the machine gun captured in spite of the fact that the enemy had an immense advantage in position and in numbers.
“In this fight half a dozen of the enemy attacked Stone and managed to separate him from his comrades. He stood up to the Germans and killed most of them, afterwards rejoining the main body.
“In the early part of the fighting it was necessary that someone should get through with a message to the brigade headquarters telling of the plight of the guns, and Stone volunteered for the task. He was sniped at all the time, and was exposed continuously to machine gun fire, but he got through safely, and brought back an answer. Before that he had been in action with his gun for nearly seven hours, and remained at his post, though the gun position had been shelled with amazing accuracy, and gas shells were bursting all around.
“Every officer and man who saw anything of Stone on that or other days will endorse everything I have said about him, and will probably say more than ever I have said. He is one of those who saved the empire that day.”