Swindon Remembers

10th July 2015

Squadron Leader Harold Starr  – 253 Squadron

Born: 8th September 1914. Died: 31st August 1940. Killed by enemy fire after bailing out of his stricken aircraft only a few days before his 26th birthday: one of The Few.

From the press notes: Squadron Leader Harold Starr was born in Swindon in 1914. He became leader of 253 Squadron but was killed at the Battle of Britain’s height. His plane was hit at 15,000 feet in the skies over Kent. He bailed out only to be machine gunned to death as he descended in his parachute as three Bf 109s came back for him.

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2015 marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and Swindon, as with cities, towns and villages up and down the country is marking the occasion.  But the town is doing so in rather a lovely and moving manner. Rather than marking the anniversary as a general thing it is doing so by paying special attention to one man among many. Or more to the point, one man among so few: Squadron Leader Harold Starr.

Today I went to the splendid STEAM museum to the Daniel Gooch theatre where I attended the press launch for Swindon’s activities in commemoration of and, yes, celebration – of the Battle of Britain. Commemoration of the loss all the Harold Starr’s of this world but I think, celebration too. Celebration that they were selfless enough to do what they had to do. And celebration that, because they did so, we in the west can have the lives that we have.

As Winston Churchill put it – even at the height of the BofB: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’

The press event commenced with a presentation that was quite moving. It showed archive images from WW2 to a background of music we know so well: The Dambusters and 633 Squadron and Churchill’s famous speeches and of course that awful and awesome air raid siren.

But never mind all that I hear you cry. What can Swindonians look forward to in celebration of this momentous anniversary? Well, quite, rather a lot is my answer to that!

The town is going to witness a spectacular flypast by the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – the BBMF – on September 15th – the actual Battle of Britain day. It will form a unique formation to honour the 544 pilots of RAF Fighter Command who were killed in the battle. One of whom was Harold Starr. The BBMF will fly directly over Harold’s grave in Radnor Street cemetery. This will be a fabulously, fitting tribute that will mark the culmination of a week of events being called ‘Swindon Remembers’.

As Graham Carter, the editor of the splendid Swindon Heritage magazine commented: ‘The flypast would be a tremendous honour at any time, but on the very day that the country is marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain it becomes even more special.’

Speaking of Graham Carter – here he is sounding a WW2 siren. It may or may not be the genuine article but it’s nice to think it is eh? He’d look good in an ARP hat don’t you think?

Graham Carter and an air raid siren

But it’s not just about the flypast. There’s going to be whole week of events to mark this momentous event and occasion. They are too numerous to mention in detail here so keep an eye out on local media nearer the time for more details. But I will say that, amongst it all, there’s going to be an exhibition by Swindon artist David Bent – the official artist of the Red Arrows – and fabulously and fittingly for a town so steeped in the history of the railway:

First Great Western, the main sponsor of the week’s events will name a Class 43 locomotive in honour of Harold Starr. So nice to know their exorbitant fares are doing something worthwhile.  One of their high speed trains will be named in honour of Harold. And, cynicism about FGW aside, that is a very wonderful thing.

Also present at the press launch were the charity fly2help: http://www.fly2help.org:

fly2help has been set up by a team of passionate aviators who are committed to helping others share the magic and inspiration of flight.’

Finally – and on a personal note – the 8th of September happens to be pretty meaningful in my life – being as how it’s my birthday too. I feel somewhat honoured that this adopted daughter of Swindon shares her day with such a special son of Swindon. So when I raise a glass on my birthday this year I’ll also raise a glass to Harold. And to the other 2,999 that were The Few. Bless ’em all.

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