How it all began. The story of the Swindon R.A.F.A. Club.
One year after the end of the Second World War , in the first days of peace, the Swindon branch of the Royal Air Forces Association was born in the front room of No11 Islington Street , Swindon - the home of Cecil Lockyear, The first ever Hon Secretary. There was a need to foster the comradeship and friendships that built up during the war, and the R.A.F.A. Club was to be the means to that end.
The country had settled down to clearing up after six years of war, and the pioneers of the Swindon R.A.F.A. Club began clearing the way for their new venture.
As the club grew, meeting at 11 Islington Street became impractical, and a room was booked at the whale hotel, the nearest pub to Cecil Lockyears home. Unfortunately, the premises were neither big enough, nor were they particularly congenial.
In September of 1946, after deciding that what was needed was a place of their own, the Club moved to the Oxford Hotel, where it met on Thursdays nights, paying 6/- per week for the hire of the room. The photo shows the Club members on the lawn at the rear of the Hotel, with the Hotel on the right. As one of our members reported:
“Thursday nights at the Oxford Hotel soon became well known, and membership was quickly mounting. Committees were formed, officers appointed, and with such enthusiastic membership in support, the initial soundness of the Branch was soon established.”
The same member reports that.
“Local R.A.F.A. dances were very popular. (We had 400 dancers at one of these, when the limit was for 200 on the floor at the Town Hall. A quick check showed 200 were drinking at a separate bar, so we were just within limits!)
Old tyme dances also had a great appeal; stage shows at the Empire Theatre on Sundays were a new innovation, and the Battle of Britain week also enlivened post war entertainment in Swindon.
Socially, members had only the main hall of the Oxford Hotel for meetings, parties and the like, and after a while, more space was needed.”
The search continued for suitable premises, and as time went by, two opportunities presented themselves:
One was the possible purchase of what was then “Grove House” now the Grove Hotel, but this was forestalled by the purchase price which the club could not afford.
The other was the offer of the premises at No41 Belle View Road which, in 1950, were eventually purchased for approximately £2,700, thus becoming the “place of our own” of the Swindon R.A.F.A. Club.
There were no pretentions in the new Club. The beer, Ushers Best, in 9gal kegs, was served from trestle tables, and the rest of the beer from crates stored alongside the”bar”. While the beer flowed, and the membership grew, the building and redecoration that was needed was carried out by the members themselves until, on 25th August 1951, the new Club was officially opened.
A colourful ceremony never fails to attract the crowds, and the opening, on Saturday 25th August 1951, of the Swindon Branch of the R.A.F. Associations new H.Q. in Belle view Road, was no exception. In spite of miserable weather, a crowd watched the A.T.C. parade and listened to the band from R.A.F. Yatesbury.
After marching through Old Town, the Cadets of No1244 Squadron were inspected outside the new club by the Mayor of Swindon (Alderman A. Leonard.) and Air Marshall Sir Robert Saundby K.B.E., C.B., M.C., D.F.C., A.F.C., R.A.F., who performed the opening ceremony.
Previously, the Mayor and Mayoress had entertained Sir Robert and Lady Saundby to tea in the Mayors Parlour. When the party had reached Belle View Road, Lady Saundby was presented with bouquets by children of the members of the branch.
The outside of the Club itself was decorated with a Union Jack, and chairs had been set out in the small garden from which guests and members were able to watch the ceremony.
Throughout the event the R.A.F.A. Standard was held high by the Standard Bearer, Mr W.E.Sims.
Alderman D.P.Story (President of the Swindon Branch of the R.A.F.A.) introduced the Mayor, who in turn, welcomed Air Marshall Sir Robert Saundby.
Sir Robert pointed out that the club premises were the one thing that branches often lacked. When a branch was able to get its own premises, he liked to open them.
“No branch can pull its own weight and provide real opportunities for comradeship and welfare unless it has premises of its own,” he said.
All the above was written and collated by Mr B.Jones of the Swindon R.A.F.A. and is also the Club Historian.
The books are available to view at the Club.
I am most grateful for all his help as it would be an impossible task without him. “Thanks Barry.”
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