A century ago the GWR hooter blasted 10 times in Swindon, as the lamps went out across Europe, writes Frances Bevan
As the Swindon in the Great War project gears up for this year’s much anticipated centenary, the focus will be as much on the conflict’s effect at home as the role of our heroes on the battlefield, writes Frances Bevan.
The collective memory is that the summer of 1914 was idyllic, in stark contrast to the horrors of the trench warfare that followed.
In fact, here in the west of England the early months of the summer were characterised by changeable weather conditions, high temperatures, storms and heavy rainfall.
Ironically, it was as Britain mobilised her troops that the weather set fair. August 1914 proved to be a warm, dry and sunny month, with temperatures higher than normal.
The seeds of war were sown on 28 June 1914 when the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated during a visit to Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian terrorist group called the Black Hand.
Right, children from Goddard Park Primary School launching events which will both commemorate and celebrate what was taking place 100 years ago in Swindon. Photo: Richard Wintle of Calyx
See story below.
But it was not this single event alone that was the cause of what became known as the Great War.
Did the average person on the streets of Swindon fully understand the complicated international events that led to the outbreak of war in 1914? Probably not.
It is only with the benefit of hindsight that historians have been able to piece together the personal and political causes of war.
At 7.40pm on Tuesday 4 August the GWR Works hooter sounded ten long blasts, a call to arms for local men in the army reserves and territorial unit.
For the people of Swindon whose lives were governed by the hooter, this was the official announcement that Britain was at war.
By 6.30am the following day the military was on the move. Huge crowds gathered to watch members of the The Swindon Company of the Wilts (Fortress) Royal Engineers and men from the Wilts Battery and Ammunition Column of the 3rd Wessex Brigade Field Artillery depart from the town’s two railway stations.
Soon Swindon was teeming with military personnel on route to France and Flanders in what was, at first, a carnival atmosphere. It was only when the first casualty lists were published that the stark reality set in, and the reality that it wouldn’t all be over by Christmas.
This summer the outbreak of hostilities will be marked by exhibition and events around the town.
On Monday 4 August an exhibition called Swindon in the Great War, looking at the impact on the people of Swindon, opens at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.
At Radnor Street Cemetery on Sunday 17 August local history groups will be exhibiting Great War displays in the cemetery chapel, while guided cemetery walks will take place at 11am and 2pm. To book a place, call Mark Sutton on 07870 701049 or Frances Bevan on 01793 875416.
Heritage Lottery Fund grant to showcase Swindon in the Great War
A HLF grant of £10,000 has been received by inSwindon BID Company and Swindon in the Great War group to both commemorate the outbreak of World War I and and to celebrate the role played by Swindon a century ago.
Local historians, history groups, schools, companies and individuals have come together to ensure the significant history and stories of Swindon in the 1914-1918 conflict are commemorated appropriately.
From Monday 4 to 9 August inSwindon BID Company, alongside Swindon Borough Council and local organisations will put on a week’s of events which will Include public films on the Big Screen, re-enactments, archive photographs & footage, displays, and a family fun day.
Rebecca Rowland, BID Manager for inSwindon said: “The HLF grant will help us to commemorate a historical event that should never be forgotten, but also allow us to celebrate how far we have come along.
Mike Pringle of Swindon in the Great War added: "There is some confusion about how much we should commemorate or celebrate events of 1914. Working with inSwindon means we can do both, with a major emphasis on education and raising awareness amongst all ages.
"There will a place for quiet reflection with a poppy wall of remembrance where people can leave comments supported by the Brunel Centre. It’s hard to imagine that in Swindon alone, 20 soldiers a week died throughout the four years of conflict and afterwards.
"The week in August will also be a time to find out what happened in Swindon as the country put its effort into defending itself. In the very early days of the war nearly all soldiers and auxiliary personnel passed through the town on their way to the ferry ports on the south coast because of our strategic position in the rail network.
"The displays will explain how Swindon people worked in the factories to help the war effort and how soldiers were cared for in hospitals."