The organisers of Swindon Remembers, which honoured the memory of Swindon born pilot Sqdn Ldr Harold Starr, have paid tribute to the town for a magnificent response to their project.
Swindon Heritage joined forces with other volunteers Noel Beauchamp, Caroline Black and Paul Gentleman to deliver a week of events that marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Graham Carter, editor of Swindon Heritage, said: “Above all else, our aim was to honour Harold Starr and the other 543 Allied pilots who were killed in the battle. I think we achieved that, but we were also delighted that Swindon responded in the way it did.
“The town really got behind us and I think Swindon really did Harold proud. That was especially pleasing for us because one of the aims of the magazine is to promote a more positive image for the town.
“We do this by drawing attention to the fact that excellence, innovation and co-operation are themes that constantly recur in our local history, and as our project got more and more ambitious, so we put ourselves under pressure to emphasize how those three qualities didn’t just exist in the past.”
Culminating in a flypast by four Spitfires and two Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Swindon Remembers was a week-long commemoration that included full-size replica fighter planes at the Orbital Shopping Centre and as part of a highly popular vintage day in the Brunel Centre, a family day at Radnor Street Cemetery, three sell-out talks at the Central Library and a fourth at the Beehive pub, which was also standing room only’.
A First Great Western locomotive was also named after Harold Starr during a visit by the Duke of Gloucester on 15 September, and the project saw a display of medals and other personal memorabilia at Deacon’s, an exhibition by celebrated Swindon artist David Bent and the unveiling of five new windows in the chapel at Radnor Street Cemetery, each designed by a different primary school.
The Swindon Heritage team have also taken historic items on visits to other schools, and have more scheduled because a number of local schools adopted the Battle of Britain as a project.
The organisers had originally hoped to secure a grant through the Heritage Lottery Fund, but when that failed, First Great Western (renamed GWR from 20 September) stepped in as the main supporters.
Graham Carter said: “We are indebted to First Great Western because we couldn’t have delivered all that we did without their support, but we also have to say thank-you for the backing we got more locally.
“After securing the flypast we approached Gavin Jones, chief executive of Swindon Borough Council, and he got behind the project from the outset. Then we were successful in applying for a royal visit and the whole thing snowballed.
“We had an excellent project manager in Caroline Black, who thought of everything, but also gently persuaded lots of people, groups and businesses to either donate or give us discounted rates; and the local media backed us too, not least Swindon Link magazine and swindonlink.com
“Everybody was really kind and really positive, and it just goes to show what Swindon can achieve when it gets behind something.”
Swindon Heritage’s next project is all about Edith New, a leading suffragette who was born in Old Town, and will include a talk, a walk and even a rally in October. Then they will help launch a bold plan to build a full-size replica Spitfire as a community project commemorating the manufacture of the iconic plane at South Marston.
“We’re also supporting Swindon 175,” said Graham. “It will be another chance to celebrate our proud history, and we really hope the rest of the town will get behind it when it is officially launched in November.”
He had one last word for those cynics who like to think Swindon aspires to be average. “Some people find it easy to sit at home and complain without actually doing anything to make Swindon better, and the town is also seen as an easy target by the national media, who love to belittle us.
“But if Harold Starr was alive today, I’m sure he would tell them all that Swindon was and is worth fighting for.
“Over the last few months we have found Swindon is still filled with the right kind of people, and when we are united, we laugh in the face of average.”
Those wishing to have a souvenir of Swindon Remembers can still buy the official programme, which doubles as a special edition of Swindon Heritage They are available from Swindon Central Library and Belgravia Lettings at 69 Commercial Road. It costs £3 and all proceeds will be donated to two aviation charities: fly2help and the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Photos of the visit by the Duke of Gloucester on 15 September by Richard Wintle of Calyx
Top: Duke of Gloucester meets children from Swindon primary schools who designed window decorations for Radnor Street Chapel. Centre: Harold Star.
Below, the Duke visiting Harold Starr’s grave with from left, event organiser Caroline Black, the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire Sarah-Rose Troughton, and memorial event coordinator Paul Gentleman
Harold Starr’s 93 year old nephew Peter Mills laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Radnor Street Cemetery on 15 September.
The Duke of Gloucester inside Radnor Street Chapel with Swindon Heritage organisers, from left, Graham Carter, Frances Bevan, Mike Pringle and Caroline Black
The Duke unveiling the Great Western Railway locomotive Harold Starr
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight of Spitfires and Hurricanes over Swindon on 15 September