THE centre of an East Riding town fell silent yesterday as hundreds of mourners gathered to pay tribute to an “inspirational” soldier who gave his life on a foreign field to save others.
Private Gregg Stone, 20, of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, was shot dead during a daring rescue mission in Afghanistan three weeks ago. He had been there less than a month and had just learned that he was about to become a father for the first time.
His wife and childhood sweetheart, Samantha, led the mourners into St Nicholas’s Church, Hornsea, holding a picture to her chest and clutching the lead of her husband’s dog Benji, the pet he “loved to bits”.
Benji was a reluctant mourner – he barked when the cortege arrived and sat stubbornly on his haunches when Mrs Stone arrived at the doors, but after making his point dutifully fell in behind his master for one last time as his coffin, draped in a Union Flag, was carried into church.
After a stirring rendition of the first hymn, I Vow to Thee, My Country, Mrs Stone needed all her own resolve to read a poem her husband had written to her in 2009 before he began infantry training.
It was a verse of shared sunsets and endless love and was delivered with courage and a faltering voice that briefly revealed the pain within.
It ended: “It’s easy to fill a poem with all the love and caring in the world. It’s easy. But to be brave enough to put a ****** joke that’s ever so cheesey. So I want you to smile and be my brave little girl.
“Because now is not the end, because we will last forever in our own beautiful, colourful world. Love you.”
The words fell softly inside a church packed by their family, friends and Pte Stone’s comrades-in-arms, and were carried outside through speakers, though not quite reaching the crowds lining the opposite side of the street in respectful silence, many medal-wearing veterans among them who had come to honour the soldier from Atwick, near Hornsea.
Speaking before the service, Major Malcolm Birkett, Officer Commanding Rear Operations Group, 3 Yorks, summed him up in one word – “inspirational” – adding: “He was an individual that always led by the front, thoroughly enjoyed his job, was a consummate professional and led by example. He was the young man that other soldiers wished to be like.”
He paid tribute Pte Stone’s family and widow for their strength, and called her a “remarkable young lady” who “sets an example to others in these sad, sad times”.
He said Pte Stone’s comrades who were still in harm’s way would pay their own tribute on their return. “There will be a time to reflect and remember Gregg Stone when we get everybody back from Afghanistan safely,” he said.