Thursday, November 17, 2011

90th Anniversary of the end of WWI


As local and national plans to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War are discussed, here is a look back at how Swindon marked the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War, a war to end all wars.

More than 3,000 people visited the BBC Wartime Discovery Day at Swindon's STEAM museum on Saturday November 8, 2008.

With more experts under one roof then you could shake a stick at, there was plenty of advice on what records are currently available and how to access them.

One of the highlights of the day was a talk given by local historian Mark Sutton who has set himself the task of commemorating the men of Swindon who fought in the First World War.

Mark, who grew up in Redcliffe Street, has a breathtaking knowledge of his subject and quoted facts and figures with effortless ease.

"The BBC have asked me if I would talk for about half an hour but I've got enough here for three hours," he joked.

With a wealth of personal detail, the slideshow presentation was more like looking through a family photograph album. There was even some audience participation as Mark recalled various town shops and businesses long since gone.

Mark's talk gave the photographs of those young, uniformed servicemen in studio poses more than just a name and number but an identity, a personality, a history. These men came vividly to life with such commonplace information as an address and a peace time occupation.

For example Private Jesse Bray from Gorse Hill, who served with both the 4th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment and was attached to the signal service Royal Engineers. Jesse returned home to run, according to popular opinion, 'the best fish and chip shop in Swindon.'

In his book 'Tell Them of Us' Mark has reproduced Jesse's own personal war diary from his enlistment on April 24, 1915 to his final discharge on April 1, 1920.


Among other Swindonians featured were Richard and James Slade, two of five brothers who all served in WWI. Richard and James both joined the navy with Richard serving on board the dreadnought HMS Ramillies. Both brothers survived the war with James going on to serve in the Second World War. He died when his ship, the Glorious, was sunk in 1940.

Another brother, Albert Slade, served with the Royal Garrison Artillery and returned to Swindon to run the family butchers shop in Hythe Road.

The wounded who returned often faced a lifetime of not only pain but mental anguish as well. Dennis John Neabard who joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry under age at just 17 years old ended his days at Roundway Psychiatric Hospital in Devizes.

More than 5,000 Swindon men fought in the Great War. A Roll of Honour of those who made the ultimate sacrifice hangs in the Town Hall. Visitors to STEAM and Swindon's Outlet Village will also see memorials to the men who worked in the various railway factory workshops.



photograph of brothers Ernest and William Leggett - read their story in Tell Them of Us by Mark Sutton.

For more photographs of the Wartime Discovery Day visit the BBC website

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