10th July 2015

Squadron Leader Harold Starr  – 253 Squadron

Swindon remembers Harold Starr.
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.

Before his death, at the height of the Battle of Britain, he was leader of 253 Squadron. His plane sustained a hit at 15,000 feet above Kent. Starr bailed out, but was machine gunned to death by three Bf109s as he descended.

The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain

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 attend the press launch for Swindon’s activities in commemoration 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.

Winston Churchill

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’

A Flypast

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.’

More than a flypast

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.

A Shared Birthday

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.