Victoria Cross winners’ niece calls for hero’s memorial

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A host of dignitaries and hundreds of townsfolk saw a Denby war hero given a full military burial in 1952.

But in 2013, a year prior to the centenary of the start of World War One, Victoria Cross awarded Charles Stone’s grave is hardly a tourist spectacle.

Now his surviving niece, Kathleen Jennison, has added her voice to calls to see a more fitting monument erected in Amber Valley for the courageous soldier, whose headstone lies overgrown in a corner of Belper cemetary.

Speaking to the News this week, the 90-year-old said: “I agree, they ought to keep the grave in good shape now.

“It was tremendous the send off he got, there were buglers and everything.

“The day of the funeral there was so many people there, you could hardly get to the front. When it was all over they fired rifles in his honour, it was quite spectacular.”

Gunner Stone was awarded the highest military honour for his courage on March 21, 1918 at Caponne Farm in France. After working at his gun for six hours under heavy gas and shell fire he held up the enemy on a sunken road, later capturing a machine-gun and four prisoners.

Former knitter Kathleen, of Millers Dale Close, Belper, said people would ride the bus from Derby to see the gun, which was displayed by Belper’s East Mill before being removed at the start of World War Two for fear it could be mistakenly targeted in bombing raids, she said.

But as the Government recently announced it is to give 28 specially commissioned stones to the councils in which winners of the Victoria Cross during the Great War were born, the great-grandson of one of Charles’ friends, Chris Froggatt of Heage, has kick-started a bid to see a self-standing plaque erected by the side of his grave in time for next year’s centenary.

Since Chris last spoke to the News in July he has made some headway. The Ministry of Defence wrote to Chris to tell him it is looking into the scheme and to possibly funding it.

“When you consider William Gregg VC has a leisure centre named after him, I don’t think it’s much to ask.” Chris said. “I think it would also be good to try and suggest a road being named after him, as he grew up here.”

Kathleen, who remembers Mr Stone well, says her family were proud of their VC winning relative. She claims thousands saw King George V present him with the cross at Belper’s River Gardens after he was paraded through the streets in an open carriage. He lived his life as a local celebrity, working as a coal miner before being employed at Rolls Royce in Derby from 1924.

She said: “When he was in hospital before he died, so many people rang up to ask how he was going on that they had to tell people to stop ringing, he was clogging up the switchboard!”

Sadly Mr Stone VC, fond of a pint down his local, never married. But Kathleen says she will always remember his jolly nature. “He loved his snuff! He always used to give us a copper or two for some sweets. He was such a good man, you never heard him swear or anything.”