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Lest We Forget: In Remembrance of our Fallen Heroes

08 November 2018

As we approach the centenary of the end of the First World War this year, it offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on the significance of this event, and the impact it had on the lives of those across Europe, and here in Swindon.  Each year on Armistice Day, we consider those who bravely gave up their lives fighting for both loved ones and people they had never met. 

Here at Swindon College, we remember the sacrifice of these soldiers in a service in front of our commemorative stained glass window in the Learning and Development Centre. The window, originally from our old college building on Victoria Road, was moved to its new home in 2010, and has graced our LDC since then, serving as a beautiful reminder of those who lost their lives during the war.

A plaque incorporated into the stained glass of the window lists the names of former Swindon College students who sadly lost their lives during the First World War.  Their names are read out by current students each year as part of a memorial in front of the window by our public services students, but this year, we are pleased to be able to share something about the person behind one of the names on this list. 

Harold Billett was a former Swindon College student hailing from Somerset. He worked as an Assistant Meteorologist in South Africa and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society before enlisting with the South African Infantry in December 1915.  The following August, his unit was sent to France, to fight on the front line. 

‘On the evening of 17 October 1916, Harold’s platoon was one of several ordered to conduct a night attack on German positions near Eaucourt l’Abbaye.  The conditions for the attack were difficult at best, as an extract from an account by 2nd Lt P F Stafleach reports:

“We have had more rain here now than we were entitled to expect, more, at all events, than had fallen by this time in either of the last two autumns, and it is not easy to convey what the effect of rain is on this battlefield. You must not reason from what rain does to a compact, well-ordered country like England, nor even must you think of ordinary ploughed fields. The ground here is ploughed to a depth of many feet into huge crater-like shell holes, and when a shell explodes in the earth it throws the stuff up in a heaped rim all round it. As the rain falls on it this loose earth dissolves, the crater partially fills with water, and the sides melt away. To attack over such country in the dark, as we did this morning, is a big undertaking.”[1]

Sadly, Harold’s platoon never made it to the German lines, and wasn’t seen again.  As he has no known grave, Harold's name is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in France, and of course, on our window here at Swindon College.  

Harold Billett’s name will be read aloud again this year, along with the others listed, on our memorial service on Friday 9th November.  All staff and students are invited to observe the remembrance at 10:50am.

 Memorial-Window.jpg Stained-Glass-Window-at-Victoria-road-(1).jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1418756
https://accsys.rmets.org/sites/default/files/Newsletter%20%202018%201.pdf

Credit for photo taken at the old Swindon College building, Victoria Road: P Benson

 


[1] Extract taken from HISTORY GROUP NEWSLETTER, published by the Meteorological Society’s Special Interest Group for the History of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, March 2018 https://accsys.rmets.org/sites/default/files/Newsletter%20%202018%201.pdf