James Riley Stone was born in southern England. At age 19, he emigrated to Canada to take up homesteading in the Peace River country.
Over the next 12 years, he also worked in forestry and ranching. But for bad luck in a poker game in Vancouver, BC, he would have traveled on to Australia.
At the start of the Second World War, he rode out of the bush 30 miles on horseback to enlist in Grande Prairie, Alberta. He was 31 years old when he joined The Edmonton Regiment as a Private. His only prior military experience was in his school cadet corps in England.
He was a Lance Corporal when his unit, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, popularly known as "The Loyal Eddies", departed for Britain in late 1939. By July 1941, he was a Warrant Officer Second Class and served as an escort in the colour party at the presentation of new colours to the regiment by King George VI. In March 1942, he was commissioned as the Loyal Eddie's Regimental Sergeant Major.
The Italian Campaign
The Loyal Edmonton Regiment was sent to the Mediterranean in July 1942. After the Invasion of Sicily, they began their campaign in Italy. By the time they reached Ortona in December 1943, Stone had been promoted to Major.
During that desperate Christmas week during the Battle of Ortona, Major Stone was advancing with a small formation when they were stopped by a German anti-tank gun emplacement. Jim threw a smoke grenade, rushed forward and dropped a fragmentation grenade over the armour shield of the enemy cannon and silenced it. For that singular feat of bravery he was awarded the Military Cross.
The next year, his actions as second in command of the battalion in moving anti-tank guns forward at San Fortunato, earned him the Distinguished Service Order.
In October 1944, just over five years after he had enlisted as a Private, Stone was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment. He went on to earn a second Distinguished Service Order for his leadership as Commanding Officer in battle in both Italy and Holland. During the war he was twice Mentioned-in-Despatches.
At the end of the war in Europe, Stone volunteered for the force Canada was building to send to the Pacific. He was given command of the 3rd Battalion, The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, which was being raised for that conflict, but Japan's surrender meant the force never left Canada.
Back in Canada
Stone returned to civilian life, and settled in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. There he and wartime friend Syd Thompson from The Seaforth Highlanders set up a vacation lodge business. He also joined the militia and took command of The Rocky Mountain Rangers, and attended the famous 1950 Exercise Sweetbriar, a joint Canada-US test of arctic warfare.
The Korean War
With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Stone accepted an invitation to return to active service in command of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. They were the first Canadian troops to arrive in Korea, echoing the earlier experience of that regiment to be the first Canadian combat unit to fight in the First World War.
On the Patricia's arrival in Korea, the hard pressed American army intended to rush them into the front line. Stone, already battle wizened, refused, invoking his mandate from the Canadian government to decline to commit the unit to combat until he felt the troops were ready.
Stone always remained proud of this stand, maintaining that it had saved the lives of inexperienced soldiers. Holding fast against the wishes of higher authority faced with a collapsing front demonstrated moral courage of the highest order.
Yet Stone and his soldiers repaid their American comrades handsomely in April 1951 on the windswept ridges above the Kapyong river valley. On the night of 23-24 April the Patricia's came under a massive attack by Chinese forces. Against withering odds they held their ground with masterful use of artillery, machinegun and mortar support and managed to hold off an enemy five to ten times their own numbers.
At one point during the battle, the Company Commander requested artillery fire on his own position, a request with which Stone immediately complied. As Jim attested later "with units buckling all around them the Patricia's did not give up an inch of ground!" For their steadfastness in the Battle of Kapyong, the battalion was awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation, the first and until recently the only Canadian unit so honoured.
A day after the April 23-24th Battle of Kapyong however, LtCol Stone was advised that his two-year old daughter Moira had undergone surgery for cancer and had lost an eye and was close to death. He was granted compassionate leave and returned immediately to Canada to be with his family.
After he returned to Korea, LtCol Jim Stone was awarded his third Distinguished Service Order for his commendable service and leadership of the Patricia's in Korea, including at Kapyong.
In 1953, Stone returned with 2 PPCLI to Victoria, BC. He then commanded the Canadian contingent at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. During his time with the PPCLl Stone also qualified as a paratrooper.
Upon leaving the regiment, he was posted to the Royal Canadian School of Infantry at Camp Borden, Ontario as Chief Instructor. In 1954, he was promoted to full Colonel and appointed Provost Marshal of the Canadian Army.
In this capacity he was also Corps Director of the Canadian Provost Corps. the army's militarv police. Stone was highly regarded by former Provosts for his efforts in supporting their activities.
His time as Provost Marshal was marked by something demonstrating the compassionate side of the man. After his daughter lost her sight through eye cancer, the family placed her in a boarding school for blind children. On a visit to his daughter's school, Stone was upset to learn that some of her friends had no money to return to their homes for Christmas, nor even for treats at the school tuck shop.
Stone upbraided the school staff, but accepted their explanation of the financial realities involved. In his role as Provost Marshal he frequently traveled throughout the Canadian Army. He began talking about the plight of the blind kids, and passing the hat for donations. Not unexpectedly, given "Big Jim's" forcefulness and high reputation, the response was good.
This was the beginning of what was to become the Military Police Fund for Blind Children, which raised considerable funds over the next fifty years and is still active. The fund has since contributed tens of millions of dollars in support to blind children through the years, providing for medical needs, equipment, training, guide dogs and recreational activities. The fund also helps support eight schools for blind children.
Stone's role in starting this campaign was recognized in 1994 with his appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada.
Stone ended his army career with the Department of Justice, and after retirement from the army he served as Deputy Commissioner of Penitentiaries.
Stone was hardly a grim, single minded war enthusiast. He was fond of partying. He loved singing, and in the Second World War helped co-author several songs for the Loyal Eddies. During the Korean War his soldiers incorporated him into the title and chorus of their rollicking ballad, "Big Jim Stone's Patricia's".
As he had a love of poetry and could quote it by the bucket, it is appropriate to close with a few lines from one of his favourite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In "The Skeleton In Armour", the shade of a Viking warrior concludes his recitation of an adventurous life with his ascent to the stars:
'There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior's soul,
Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!'
- Thus the tale ended.