Dr Mike Pringle from Old Town decided several years before the centenary of the Great War that the story of the town’s contribution needed to be told, writes Frances Bevan.
A professional in the arts and heritage sector, Mike follows in the footsteps of headteacher WD Bavin who in 1922 was commissioned by Swindon Corporation to write Swindon’s War Record.
In this fully illustrated 160 page book Great War Britain – Remembering Swindon 1914-18 Mike records how Swindon men were involved from the very onset of war.
He writes: ‘There is a Swindon connection to almost every military service, all the different theatres of war, and every major event.’
There was new employment and prosperity – initially. Women took up some of the jobs men left behind in the GWR Works while Wills’ cigarette factory was taken over for munitions.
A factory opened employing 50 young women in the manufacture of rope and sails while town centre store McIlroys won an order from the War Office to supply 45,000 beds.
But the boom was short lived and Mike describes how hardship hit home. A remarkable band of women led by Mary Slade, who had supported Swindon men taken Prisoner of War, continued to fund raise for the destitute families whose men never came home.
Mike draws attention to the Roll of Honour that hangs in the old Swindon Town Hall on Regent Circus commemorating the names of 920 men lost. He said: “Current estimates put the actual figure at something nearer 1,400 men who either lived in, or were originally from Swindon, and were lost in military action.”
Remembering Swindon 1914-18 tells the stories of farm labourers who fought and one toff turned Tommy.
Vernon Henry St John, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke from Lydiard Park served with the 3rd Devonshires, and is believed to be the only peer of the realm to serve as a private. Vernon was discharged from the army suffering from shell shock.
Viscount Vernon, from Lydiard House archives, used with permission.
Great War Britain – Remembering Swindon 1914-18 costs £12.99. Published by The History Press in August, it will be available from Pen & Paper, 113 Victoria Road, or order a copy: bit.ly/pringlepreorder
Great War commemoration events in August
The outbreak of hostilities a century ago will be marked at various locations around the town.
On 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 material in the chapel, while cemetery walks will take place at 11am and 2pm. To book a place on a guided tour, call Mark Sutton on 07870 701049 or Frances Bevan on 01793 875416.
Swindon Town Centre: From Monday 4 to Saturday 9 August, inSwindon and Swindon in the Great War will be marking the start of World War I with commemorations and activities.
There will be a poppy making workshop next to a commemoration wall, an exhibition by local history groups, music from yesteryear and a street party.
Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse will be shown on the Big Screen at Wharf Green on Friday 8 August, 7pm.
Tickets are free but must be secured in advance by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
See details at: swindontowncentre.co.uk