HAROLD Starr’s plucky defence of the realm finally came to an end at 15,000ft on August 31, 1940.

Luftwaffe bullets had crippled the Squadron Leader’s Hurricane L1830 near Sandwich over Kent during an interception patrol. Managing to bail out, the 25-year-old came under machine gun fire from at least one Messerschmitt that returned as he parachuted to earth.

Harold had received life-threatening injuries before, but this time the game was up.

Today, he rests in Swindon at Radnor Street cemetery, one of ‘The Few’ who took to the skies at the height of the Battle of Britain. His contribution to the war effort was honoured in 2015 with a memorial flyover of Spitfires and Hurricanes at the Commonwealth War Graves site.

The commander of 253 Squadron will now be among those that the town will remember as it marks the 100th centenary of the RAF this year.

Military historian Mark Sutton, author of Tell Them of Us, said: “Harold Starr is our own Douglas Bader character. His brother Norman was also a pilot and he was killed in 1945.

“They were two brave boys and the kind of people we should be paying to tribute to in the centenary year, but they are not alone. Swindon has numerous bomber crew personnel who have not been honoured in the past because people don’t always want to remember what they did.

“But there are some really tragic stories, especially because of how young they were. Swindon also had a large number of ground crew because we had a number of bases here.”

Mark has been fortunate enough to know some of the former RAF servicemen from Swindon, and to hear their stories first-hand. “I feel privileged to have known them,” he said. “Very few spoke about their service in the RAF, which they always called the Royal Air Force.

“They just said it was something they did and they didn’t consider themselves brave. Many of them just said they didn’t want to serve in the Army.”

The RAF was formed on April 1, 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. Major General Hugh Trenchard was the initial commander of the world’s first independent air force.

Swindon’s RAF history includes former bases at Lyneham and Wroughton, as well as the production of planes, including Spitfires, in South Marston. The Supermarine factory made, modified and repaired the aircraft until 1949, with the site being acquired by Vickers after the Second World War.

While the town’s RAF legacy is a quietly remembered, the 100th centenary year will give the pilots, crews and staff pride of place in the skies and on the ground.

For more information about the branch visit: www.rafa.org.uk/swindon