HUNDREDS gathered to remember the fallen on Remembrance Sunday as the town paid its respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts past and present.
A two-minute silence was kept as members of the armed forces, veterans, dignitaries and councillors remembered the servicemen and women who did not return home.
While large parts of the crowd were cast in the shadows, the Cenotaph in Regent Circus was illuminated by the sunshine as wreaths were laid for the fallen.
A crowd of about 700 watched a procession including hundreds of members of local cadet branches, the Ghurkhas and the Swindon-based A Sqd Royal Yeomanry.
The occasion was put into sharp focus for the Royal Yeomanry by the knowledge that 10 of its soldiers have been mobilised to serve a tour in Afghanistan.
The Bishop of Swindon Dr Lee Rayfield began the service by saying: “Let us remember before God, and commend to his sure keeping, those who have died for their country in war. Those whom we knew, and whose memory we treasure, and all who have lived and died in the service of humanity.”
Deputy Lord Lt Col James Arkell read from the ode of remembrance.
Bugler Francis Cowley sounded the last post before the clock at the former town hall struck 11am, signalling the start of the two-minute silence.
Coun Mike Bawden was among the dignitaries who laid a wreath at the Cenotaph, leading the dedication from the Freemen of the Borough.
He said: “It was a terrific turnout. Unfortunately it underlines the fact that so often on TV and radio we hear about deaths in Afghanistan. “These servicemen and women have given their lives for their country and it is important we remember our debt to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. War and casualties in battles is not a historical fact but something we have to live with today.”
Coun leader Rod Bluh also laid a wreath during the service.
He said: “It’s desperately important we continue to remember the fallen.
“It’s not just about reflecting on the past, it is also a reminder for the future.
“We live in a dangerous world with conflicts going on today and people dying on a daily basis. The ceremony is about what holds everybody together.”
For the Royal Yeomanry, a TA squadron based in Church Place, the occasion was put into perspective by its continued involvement in the world’s conflict zones.
Major Mike Dalzell, who left a wreath from the squadron, said: “It was a fantastic day made more poignant for our squadron as we have sent 10 soldiers to be mobilised for operation Herrick 18 in Afghanistan. “A large proportion of our squadron have operation tours under their belts and it puts things into perspective. It means that young guys are sharing a common experience with the older generation. The baton has been handed on and we have been given a lot to live to up as the standard has been very high in the past. We will strive to maintain it.”
After the ceremony veteran Derek Hiett, 81, laid a cross at the Cenotaph for his uncle, who was killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Mr Hiett, from Coleview, is one of the few surviving former soldiers who served in Borneo and Malaya during the Second World War.
He said: “I think it’s a good thing to remember. There are very few of us left. I have not seen anyone else here today from my association. When I joined there were more than 50 of us now we’d be lucky to get 12 to meet up. The same thing is happening in other towns.”
A silence was also held at Radnor Street Cemetery in Old Town, which is the final resting place for 104 war heroes from Swindon and is an official Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
Deacon Dennis Sutton, from Holy Rood Church, addressed a crowd of about 150 who gathered around the cross of remembrance which stands outside the graveyard’s chapel.
He spoke of the importance of honouring the 104 soldiers and airmen.
“They remain for all of the people of Swindon a source of pride and gratitude, and we salute their memory today,” he said. “We pray for them, and for all those who, today, are giving their lives in wars such as that in Afghanistan.”
The 18th Swindon Scouts, based in Old Town, gave readings and placed a cross on each of the 104 graves. Edward Sewell read Flower of the Eternal Sleep by Josie Whitehead while Eve McCormack read from the ode of remembrance. Around 50 beavers, cubs and scouts took part, along with RAF warrant officer Mick Gidney, who is a member of the group’s executive committee.
Group scout leader Phil Clarke said: “We want to try to make sure the youngsters know what the day is all about. The service in town is fantastic but there are so many people the little ones stand in the cold and can’t see what’s going on. “This allows them to become involved and makes it a bit more real. We have different elements including a memorabilia session and have a member of our group from the RAF at the service, so it brings all these things together.”