Sometimes it feels like a whole chapter of Swindon’s story is quietly slipping away, and for me the time has come to pause and think about the men who gave our town such a glorious history.

I have been saddened by the recent passing of two of them, whom it was my privilege to know through my involvement in local history. Both played absolutely crucial roles in recording the past for us and future generations, although such actions seldom get the accolades they deserve.

I don’t think John Walter and Brian Mortimer ever met each other, but they have a similar pedigree.

They represent everything that was good about the generation that came before my own, and in particular those remarkable Swindon men who have now reached their eighties and nineties, or have passed away.

I met John Walter a few times, when I was lucky enough to tap into his vast knowledge of the site of Swindon’s once world-famous and vast Railway Works.

He was the most senior manager left after the Works closed in 1986, and oversaw what could be called its decommissioning as a major industrial site, partly for conversion into the Designer Outlet shopping complex.

Most importantly for posterity, however, was the monumental job of conservation he gave himself.

It was John who single-handedly saved, sorted and organised the safe storage of no fewer than 22,000 drawings and other documents that were left on site, which had been heading for the skip.

It is only because he embarked on this unpaid 20-year project that they ended up in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre archive in Chippenham, and I don’t believe there is or ever will be a more important collection relating to this town’s history.

John also retained a smaller collection of mostly duplicate documents at home, which he always wished would become accessible in Swindon.

And I am glad to say that, since he died a few weeks ago, I and fellow local historian Gordon Shaw, of the Rodbourne Community History Group, have been working with John’s daughter to transfer that collection to an archive held by the Mechanics’ Institute Trust.

Similar to John’s contribution to the memory and history of Swindon’s railway past, so Brian Mortimer, who sadly died last week, ensured that key information relating to another important local industry will be passed down to future generations.

As the son of one of the pioneering engineers of Garrard, the world-renowned record turntable manufacturer that was based in Swindon, and then as a senior manager there himself, Brian felt a duty to first preserve key literature and then compile it into a priceless history of the firm.

So anybody who believes in the value of the history of our town owes a debt to John and Brian, but those of us who have spent time with them or people like them, are luckier still.

Listening to John and Brian was like an audience with sorcerers, such was their absolute mastery of the magic and mysteries of engineering.

Living in an age and coming from a generation that generally doesn’t really understand what makes things work, it was spell-binding to listen to men who could design and build tools, engines and other machines, apparently effortlessly, as if oil ran in their veins.

But what was best about John and Brian, and others from Swindon’s great engineering generations, is how they gave up their knowledge so modestly and willingly, and their time so generously, for the benefit of the current and future generations.

So I am raising a glass to all of them, now, in thanks.

We will probably never see their like again.