A Swindon Town Remembrance Pilgrimage

On 6 October this year, members of Swindon Town Football in the Community Trust joined Stuart Butler, Club Chaplain Simon Stevenette, and others who were prepared to brave the lashing rain on a Walter Tull inspired remembrance walk, before the game against Northampton at the Energy Check County Ground.

Walter Tull is perhaps best known for being the first man of Black Heritage to attain an Officer’s rank in the British Army, but he was also a professional footballer for Tottenham Hotspur, and then Northampton Town. Northampton’s trip down to Swindon earlier this season served as a fitting backdrop to the walk commemorating not only Walter Tull, but all of the footballers who lost their lives in the Great War.

We must have numbered a football team,
Umbrellas unfurled at the cenotaph,

Where we spoke of Walter Tull and Spurs,
And Swindon Town and Northampton Town
Footballers who fell in the Great War –
The rain providing a suitably melancholy backdrop,
As we made our hilltop climb to Christ Church,
A welcoming peal rather than a knell
Resonating across the Old Town sky,

While we gathered, inside, by the war memorial,
Inscribing George Bathe’s name on a remembrance cross,
George Bathe, STFC, KIA 1915,
A memento mori for all to share,
Carried by George’s great-nephew, Phil,
Before we made our blue plaque way to Radnor Street,
To talk of Freddie Wheatcroft, star Swindon striker,

Killed in Action,

And Alfred Williams, the Railway Poet,

And the writer Edward Thomas who loved Swindon so much,

Killed in Action.

Autumn’s leaves were falling like flashing flares,

As we descended through no man’s land, to St Mark’s,
With its ornate St George Great War memorial,

A seeming arts and crafts medievalism –
Thence to further dedications of valour,
Sacrifice and heroism, half hidden
In the outlet shopping centre and museum,
Until we made our separate ways homewards,
Or to the County Ground for the match,
All enriched by a remembrance pilgrimage,
Through the red brick streets and past the old stone walls,
Along the empty alleys and busy thoroughfares
Of a Swindon Saturday afternoon,
All enriched by a collective pilgrimage,
Walking present tense pavements, 
But slipping through wormholes of time.

Stuart Butler

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