Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Blue plaques for Swindon heroes

During our recent guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery we visited the grave of a young Battle of Britain pilot, Harold Morley Starr.

Harold Morley Starr was born in Swindon on September 8, 1914, the fourth of Ellen and Morley Starr's five children. He grew up in the Central Temperance Hotel in Regent Street where his mother was the proprietor and his father worked as a shop fitter. Harold attended Clarence Street School, Swindon completing his education at Cotham Grammar School following the family's move to Bristol.

While still at school Harold became a member of the Officers' Training Corps and at the age of just 19 won an RAF scholarship and joined the air force as an acting pilot officer.

On August 31, 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Harold's Hurricane L1830 was shot down over Eastry near Sandwich during an interception patrol. The young fighter pilot successfully baled out at 15,000 feet but as he floated down three Messerschmitts circled him and opened fire.

Harold's body was returned to Swindon where he was buried in a family grave in Radnor Street Cemetery. His funeral took place on September 6, two days before what would have been his 26th birthday.

In April 1943 Harold’s younger brother, Squadron Leader Norman John Starr (known in the family as John) was awarded the DFC after completing 36 sorties with 23 Squadron, involving attacks on airfields, factories, and marshalling yards in Sicily and Tunis. In 1944 Wing Commander Starr gained a Bar to the DFC for excellent service with 605 Squadron. During Starr’s period of command 605 Squadron had destroyed at least 18 enemy aircraft over hostile territory, damaging many more and adding to their tally 68 flying bombs brought down during night raids.

On January 8, 1945 John flew from B.83 Knokke le Zoute airfield in Belgium for his wedding to his fiancée Margot the following day. His plane was shot down over Dunkirk killing everyone on board but it would be another five months before his death was officially confirmed.

Wing Commander J H Humphris, Squadron Leader H C Haley and Flying Officer R B Moore were all killed alongside John. The four men are buried in a collective grave in Dunkirk Town Cemetery Plot 2, Row 5, grave 22-23.

Visit the Swindon Heritage website to read the account of how Swindon remembered Harold and his brother John during the 75th commemorations of the Battle of Britain last year.

Now the Swindon Heritage team are planning to install two blue plaques as a permanent memorial to these brave young Swindon men.

The Central Temperance Hotel has long since been demolished and The Savoy pub (a former cinema) now stands on the site. The blue plaques, the 2nd and 3rd Swindon Heritage blue plaques (Edith New was the first) will be installed on The Savoy building on Thursday, September 8.

Harold Morley Starr

Norman John Starr

The Savoy cinema

The Savoy today

Tamara Dugdale, Edith's great niece

The unveiling at 24 North Street, Swindon

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