Harold Starr’s life came to a tragic end from a Messerschmitt machine gun bullet as he parachuted out of his plane above the fields of Kent in 1940 during the Battle of Britain.
The Swindon born squadron leader was only 25 years old and he was one of the few.
Now, three quarters of a century later, his sacrifice for his country is being honoured as part of Swindon’s 75th Battle of Britain Anniversary commemorations ‘Swindon Remembers’ held over the next week.
The week-long programme of events was launched yesterday with a Civic Launch at Swindon’s Steam museum with members of Harold Starr’s family in attendance including Starr’s 93-year-old nephew Peter Starr Mills, as well as dignitaries like Mayor Andrew Bennett.
Swindon Heritage, in association with Paul R Gentleman Associates and Green Rook, have organised the programme of events and yesterday’s launch included a talk telling the story of Harold’s life and family.
The talk was by Noel Beauchamp of Swindon Heritage and told us about the painstaking research carried out by the team when gathering information about Harold’s life and family. It ended with a poignant video showing footage of the battle itself.
Squadron Leader Harold Starr was born in Swindon in 1914 and rose to be the leader of 253 Squadron, but was tragically killed at the height of the Battle of Britain. Bailing out after his plane was hit at 15,000 feet in the skies over Kent, he was then machine gunned to death as he descended in his parachute when three Bf 109s came back for him.
The events include a spectacular flypast by the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) on Battle of Britain Day itself (September 15). In a unique formation it will honour the 544 pilots of RAF Fighter Command who were killed in the battle.
The BBMF will fly directly over Harold’s grave in Radnor Street Cemetery in a moving tribute as the culmination of a week of events called “Swindon Remembers”.
The Battle of Britain was arguably the most significant single victory in the Second World War since it averted the invasion that seemed inevitable after the disastrous defeat at Dunkirk in the spring of 1940. With the Luftwaffe unable to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force during that summer, Hitler abandoned his invasion plan in October.
Even while the battle still raged, and before Harold Starr was killed on August 31, Winston Churchill immortalised those who took part when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
During Swindon Remembers, Harold’s story and the town’s many aviation connections will be discussed in a series of illustrated talks, along with an exhibition by Swindon artist David Bent, the official artist of the Red Arrows.
First Great Western, the main sponsor of the week’s events, will also name a Class 43 locomotive in honour of Harold Starr.
Full-size replica Hurricanes and Spitfires will also be on display in the town centre on Saturday 12 September, along with other Second World War-themed attractions, while a family event will be held at Radnor Street Cemetery on Sunday 13 September.
The Swindon Heritage team have tracked down some of the surviving relatives who will be travelling to Swindon in September, some from as far away as Paris. It will also include Harold’s nephew who will be returning to Radnor Street cemetery for the first time since Harold’s funeral in 1940.
The programme of events to commemorate the life of this Swindon born pilot:
Wednesday 9th, 7.15pm, Swindon Central Library* – Illustrated talk: Flying a Spitfire. Pilot Phill O’Dell explains what it’s like to fly the iconic Second World War fighter.
Thursday, 10th, 7.15pm, Swindon Central Library* – Illustrated talk: Secrets of the Spitfire. Swindon author Lance Cole talks about his groundbreaking books on the plane’s design.
Saturday, 12th, all day, Swindon Town Centre: Battle of Britain Vintage Day. 1940s-themed displays, stands, stalls, music and dancing, plus full-size replicas of a Hurricane and a Spitfire on display.
Sunday, 13th, 10am to 4pm, Radnor Street Cemetery.Guided walks, free burial register look-ups, war graves trail, displays, music and refreshments. Bring the family and a picnic and discover more about Swindon’s Heritage.
Monday 14th, 7.30pm, The Beehive, Prospect Hill. Flying a Lancaster Bomber. Sqn Ldr Stuart Reid (Retd), who flew the Lancaster for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for 11 years, talks about his experiences.
Tuesday 15th, 12.50pm. Flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in honour of Sdn Ldr Harold Starr and the rest of ‘The Few’ on Battle of Britain. Visible in the town centre and other parts of Swindon (more details to be released at a later date).
HRH The Duke of Gloucester will visit Radnor Street Cemetary to view the flypast above Harold Starr’s grave and will later unveil a First Great Western locomotive named Harold Starr at Swindon station. Both events are by invitation.
The events are being organised by Swindon Heritage in conjunction with Paul Gentleman and Caroline Black who requested the flypast on Battle of Britain Day. Supported by First Great Western
*Tickets for talks at the Central Library cost £1.50 (library members) or £2.50 (non-members) per talk. Discount for all three talks: £3.50 (library members), £6 (non-members). Available from the Help Desk on the ground floor of Central Library, tel: 01793 463792, and all other Swindon libraries.
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See more details in the Swindon Heritage Battle of Britain souvenir edition sponsored by First Great Western via www.swindonheritage.com
Picture taken by Richard Wintle of Calyxpix.com : Harold Starr’s extended family at the civic launch yesterday. From right – Trevor and Sue Giles (Harold’s Great grand-niece) and Harold’s nephew Peter Starr Mills.