TODAY the Swindon Advertiser commemorates the centenary of the First World War and honours all those whose lives were touch by it.
Britain didn’t declare war on Germany until August 4, 1914, but July 28 is universally acknowledged as its starting point because it was then that Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In doing so it began a chain of deadly events which would last until November 11, 1918.
The men pictured on our front page represent just a fraction of those from the Swindon area who gave their lives. It is impossible to say for sure just how many there were in total as it changes as new records are discovered, but the total is well over 1,000.
Thanks to the role of Royal Wootton Bassett, we are all familiar with the heartbreaking sights and sounds accompanying the repatriation of the fallen. To even begin grasping the enormity of what began exactly a century ago, we must imagine five such repatriations a week, every week, for more than four years.
We should also bear in mind that Swindon in those days had a population numbering less than a quarter of today’s figure. To gauge the true impact of the war, then, we should imagine not five repatriations a week but 20 or more – and that every one of the dead men grew up here, went to school here, and left friends and family to grieve here.
Many of those who died in the war were still in their teens; a small number, spurred by a thirst for adventure to lie about their ages, were under 16.
Our free supplement, Wiltshire at War, is the first of many supplements and articles which will chronicle local participation in the war – not just by members of the armed forces but also by those who remained at home. The work of the home front included businesses such as the Great Western Railway and Gilberts making war supplies, women joining the workforce and families offering their homes as billets for troops.
The Advertiser has teamed up with Swindon in the Great War (swindongreatwar.org), a local volunteer group dedicated to ensuring the efforts of our people all those years ago are known and remembered forever.
The group formed around Dr Mike Pringle and Mark Sutton, each of whom has a lifelong fascination with the conflict. Next week sees Mike launch a new book called Swindon : Remembering 1914-18, while Mark is the Author of another major chronicle, Tell Them of Us – Remembering Swindon’s Sons of the Great War, 1914 -1918.
We are grateful to them and to everybody else who lent their expertise to our supplement.
We are also anxious to hear our readers’ stories of how the war shaped their familiy histories. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01793 501821.
Commemorative activities taking place this week...
Here is a list of events taking place to commemorate the First World War.
- A production of Troupers focusing on a theatre group who entertained soldiers during the Great War is taking place at Lechlade’s The Trout Inn at 7.30pm tonight.
- An exhibition is launching at Wroughton Library tomorrow showing what villagers experienced during the war. The display will run throughout the Autumn.
- A Ministry of Defence organised commemoration is being held at Tidworth Military Cemetery at 10am on Wednesday. A service will be held at the site’s wall of remembrance with anyone wishing to pay their respects welcome to attend.
- Dig for Victory featuring displays of military vehicles, war reenactors and vintage displays will be taking place at the Whitehall Garden Centre, in Lacock, between 9am and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.
- A commemoration service to honour those who served in the First World War is taking place at St Andrew’s Church, in Devizes, between 10.30am and 11.30am on Sunday.
- A First World War exhibiiton is launching at Royal Wootton Bassett Muesum, based in the Town Hall, will be launching at 10am on Monday, August 4. It will feature a mock trench, photographs and memorabilia.