YOU can never tell what this column is going to be about each Monday, and until I start writing it, sometimes I don’t know, myself. But this week there is no contest.
Today is August 4, 2014, and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you will know the long-awaited centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has finally arrived.
Exactly a hundred years ago today, the Swindon Works hooter, which I am old enough to remember blowing to call local railwaymen to work, sounded to call them to arms instead.
Today is a day for being proud of what our ancestors did for us, and as someone who is heavily involved on the local history scene, I say we should be especially proud to be Swindonians today. Swindon men took part in just about every part of the conflict, in every branch of the armed forces, doing just about every job you can imagine.
I am no expert on the war, but I do have the great advantage of being friends with a couple of people who are.
One, Mike Pringle, has recently written not one but two books on the subject – one a novel and the other an essential guide to what our town did during the war, called Great War Britain: Swindon, which is being officially launched tonight.
Mike has also collaborated with Mark Sutton to put on an exhibition at the museum in Bath Road, telling local stories from the battlefields and the home front, which opens on Wednesday.
I’ve known Mark for some years, and soon came to realise how he has been on a mission to make sure the efforts and sacrifices of First World War heroes in general, and Swindon men in particular, are never forgotten.
The time has come for his knowledge to be shared like never before, but it is the result of investing long hours and his own money, over many years, to bring together so much important information.
If you see talks by either Mike Pringle or Mark Sutton advertised, make sure you catch them. Their knowledge is vast, but even more importantly they both passionately believe that the story of Swindon’s role in the war needs to be set down for us and for future generations.
They have done the bulk of the work in the Swindon in the Great War project, which I am also proud to be associated with, albeit in a small way. I was one of the project’s founders, a year ago, when it seemed there was official indifference to the upcoming centenary, and I also designed the Swindon in the Great War logo.
Today I am full of pride for men like my first cousin twice removed, Jabez (pronounced ‘Jaybus’) Staples, who fought for us in France a century ago. In photographs he looks like a breath of wind could blow him over, but in 1918, aged just 20, he won the Military Medal for capturing a German machine gun post, but was killed, a few days later, before they had the chance to pin the medal on his chest. He is buried in France, a few feet from Swindon Town footballer Freddie Wheatcroft.
It’s easy to find similar heroes in your own family. All you have to do is trace your family tree, and I guarantee you will find somebody to be proud of.
Every single one of the men who fought for us was a hero, and what should make us feel especially good today is a generation that feared it might be forgotten has turned out to be unforgettable, a whole century later.