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20 November 2023

Last week was bookended by two of the largest civic events that have and will take place in Trowbridge during my mayoral year (the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III in May, which took place during my predecessor’s term as Mayor).

I’m sorry, but that means that this is going to be quite a long blog, but I would encourage you to please read it all. There may have only been two events for me to attend as Mayor of Trowbridge last week, but they were both, in their own way, very significant and well deserving of a full recount and explanation.

***

Sunday the 12th of November was Remembrance Sunday, the UK’s National Day of Remembrance for all those who lost their lives in war and conflict.

The event was split into three distinct parts: a service of Remembrance at St. James Church, a march past and salute (taken by the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire from a dais on Silver Street), and the act of Remembrance at Trowbridge’s War Memorial in the Town Park. We were incredibly lucky that the predicted rain (largely) held off until after the vent was over.

The day was (very) well attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, myself (as Mayor of Trowbridge), Dr Andrew Murrison MP, representatives of the Royal British Legion, members of all three services’ Cadet Corps, serving and retired members of the Armed Forces and Civilian Uniform Services, Town and County Councillors, and of course a lot of the public.

The Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire (Mrs Sarah Rose Troughton) and I greeted the phalanx of Standard Bearers, Cadets, and dignitaries as they arrived at St James’ having paraded up from the Town Hall. The RBL then led the Parade of Standards into the church after everyone else had taken their seats and the service had started. It was quite moving that this parade up the aisle was “tail-ended” by a standard bearer from the local Beavers’ troupe. The collected standards were then respectfully laid in front of the altar for the duration of the service.

The service itself, led by the Rev. Jake Eggertsen, Rector of St. James’, was pitched perfectly. It was respectful and honoured the fallen without glorifying the act of warfare. It was also very inclusive and sensitive to all faiths (and none), as is right, as the British armed services have historically been a “broad church” and have included members of virtually all the world’s major faiths.

There was also a quite inspiring invocation delivered during the service by Cath Senior, a long-standing member of the congregation. I personally found this prayer really relatable, which, as someone without any defined faith, was a very pleasant surprise. So much so, in fact, that I’ve asked the Rev. Eggertsen whether he can get hold of a copy of it for me!

At the end of the service, the National Anthem was sung, and the Standards were marched out of the church to form up again, ready for the parade to form up again, ready for the march down to the War Memorial in the Town Park.

During this parade down to the park, a salute was taken by the Lord Lieutenant (and myself) from a dais in Silver Street. It was a shame that this dais had to be relocated at the last moment because someone had left a commercial van parked in exactly the location originally set aside for it!

The Lord Lieutenant and I stood on the dais, flanked by our two cadets, both members of 2196 Squadron, Trowbridge Air Cadets, and waited for the arrival of the parade of Standard Bearers, members of the Royal British Legion, serving and retired members of the Armed Forces, Cadets from all three services, Scouts of all ages… If I’ve missed naming any group who proudly paraded past us through the town on Sunday (and I no doubt have), then I apologise. I was concentrating hard on standing and respectfully taking the salute. I have to say, though, that it was a long, well-formed, and impressive parade that appeared from around the corner from Church Street, and for a moment or two, the sun actually shone!

We then made our way from Silver Street down (through the really impressive gathering crowds) to the War Memorial in the park.

The town’s Act of Remembrance was very moving. The whole crowd (and there must have been almost two thousand people gathered around the War Memorial by 11:00 o’clock that morning) fell silent as the Last Post was heard.

After the two minutes’ silence, there was a short religious service led by Rev. Jake Eggertsen of St. James’ Church, the recitation from the 1914 poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which I’m going to reproduce in full here because, to me, it perfectly sums up what Remembrance Day is all about.

“For the Fallen” was written at a time when the British Empire was still supreme, but it doesn’t glorify war; just the opposite, it reveals it in all its horror. But it does pay a fitting and moving tribute to all who went to war in 1914–18, honestly believing that what they were fighting for was righteous and justified, and faced the awful reality of war in the trenches of Flanders, many never to return home.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,

England mourns for her dead across the sea.

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,

Fallen in the cause of the free.

 

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,

There is music in the midst of desolation

And a glory that shines upon our tears.

 

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;

They fell with their faces to the foe.

 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

 

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 

They sit no more at familiar tables of home;

They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;

They sleep beyond England’s foam.

 

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known

As the stars are known to the Night;

 

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 

To the end, to the end, they remain.

 

The last words spoken that day were the Kohima Epitaph….

When you go home, tell them of us and say,

for your tomorrow we gave our today.

And that was it. By 11:30, it was all over. We all stayed around the War Memorial and talked for a while, but by soon after midday, we’d dispersed back to our own homes and our own thoughts.

As a final note, I have to admit that although the day was well attended, respectful, and really quite moving,

And then there was Friday, the Lantern Parade through town, the switch-on of the Trowbridge Christmas Lights, and the fireworks display in the town park.

Before I talk about the event itself, I want to tell you a bit about the town’s “Shining Star” for 2023—who she is, what she represents, and why she was chosen to switch on our town’s Christmas lights this year (from what was quite an impressive field of applicants).

Amy Cottle has just turned 18 years old.

She has Williams syndrome, a rare (only 1 in 18,000 people in the UK have Williams syndrome) genetic condition caused by a micro-deletion of genetic material from a specific region of chromosome 7 that is present at birth and can affect anyone. It is often characterised by medical problems and learning challenges, but these often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities, and an affinity for music.

Amy herself does face challenges, but in her, these exist alongside a real talent for communicating and engaging effectively, especially when representing the causes she’s active in. I can assure you, having chatted with her, that she is a highly social, very erudite, and determined young lady!

She’s the Williams Syndrome UK Ambassador, and she’s a committed fundraiser for the Williams Syndrome Foundation. In fact, if you follow the link to the Williams Syndrome Foundation below, you’ll see her picture front and centre on their home page.

Amy also fundraises for Stepping Stones Trowbridge, which, along with Trowbridge Future, is one of my chosen charities for my Mayoral year.

Oh, and she’s an enthusiastic member of Jamma de Samba, who we all saw and definitely heard last Friday during the Lantern Parade.

I can’t find the words to describe how inspirational I found Amy, and I will continue to find her. Her determination and drive are a lesson for us all. Amy’s philosophy seems to be to do something positive and meaningful that benefits you and those around you.

If only more of us had the same strength of character…

Anyway, back to the events of Friday itself.

The Civic’s Christmas Market had opened at four o’clock in Lansdown Hall in the Civic Centre, and I wandered around it with my wife looking at the stalls and chatting to some of the stall holders before we walked up to Fore Street, where there was entertainment on the stage from, amongst others, the Bratton Silver Band and The Rock Choir, plus a variety of food and drink on offer.

People started to arrive and gather in Fore Street from about half past four. When we were up there, the Rock Choir was going strong, and the food stalls, along with the Still Sisters (who were selling a really nice mulled wine as well as gin), seemed to be doing a steady trade.

Then, just after 5:30, Trowbridge Town Council officiers started handing out the lanterns, all made by local schools, from their temporary “base of operations” at the Guide Hut on Park Road to the participants in the Lantern Parade (which was planned to start an hour later at 6:30).

By then, Fore Street, Market Street, and Park Road were starting to fill up. Plenty of people wanted their photographs taken with the stilt walkers, who were dressed as Christmas elves. A few even wanted a photo with me (well, with the person wearing the mayor’s robes and chains anyway, I don’t think any of them actually knew me).

The Lantern Parade, along with the stilt walkers, formed up in Market Street, and shortly before it set off at half past six, the bells of St. James’ Church rang out across the town centre. Jamma de Samba then set off from the top of the park, up Park Road, and joined up with the assembled lantern bearers.

The parade, now led by the always exuberant, colourful, and very loud Jamma de Samba, went down Market Street past the Town Hall and turned right onto Castle Street before looping back into Fore Street and pausing by the stage while our Shining Star left her place in the and climbed up onto the stage along with my Mayoral Cadet, Sgt. Rose Church of 2196 Squadron, Trowbridge Air Cadets, and me.

Trevor Heeks and Trowbridge Ted was there, waiting for us. What would we do without our long-serving and much-loved Town Crier, Trevor Heeks? Trevor’s voice boomed out across the crowd as he announced the switching on of the town’s Christmas lights. I gave a (thankfully short) address and introduced Amy. Trevor then did the countdown to turn the switch on, and Amy stepped up and pressed the switch, illuminating the town centre.

As soon as the lights lit up, Amy left the stage to rejoin Jamma de Samba, who was starting off to lead the crowds down to the park for the fireworks display, and I left the stage along with my cadet to try and catch up with them all!

Then came the fireworks, and wow, what a display! The sky literally lit up as round after round of pyrotechnics sailed up into the night sky and lit up the park in all the colours of the rainbow. It only lasted about six or seven minutes, but it was well worth it.

As the town park fell quiet, the crowds—there must have been a few thousand there—started to disperse. Some made their way home, and some went into the Civic for a look around the Christmas Market (which stayed open until nine that night).

The other advantage of returning to the Civic was that the bar was now open, and as far as I was concerned, a pint was definitely called for!

I’ve got to take a moment to thank everyone involved in putting on Friday night’s celebration of our town, especially Jennie Quigley, who for some years now has been the artistic force and (no pun intended) guiding light behind the Lantern Parade. It really is no exaggeration to say that without Jennie, there would be no lantern parade.

But this was Jennie’s last year running the Lantern Parade, and we will really miss her. If you think you can fill her shoes and take over as the creative force behind the town’s Christmas Lantern Parade, well, you know where to find us!

The Christmas Market was up and running again on Saturday, and in the morning, the “Santa Dash” 2K fun run took place around the Town Park. This attracted about two hundred brave souls of all ages who came out in the drizzle to run twice around the park. Some took it very seriously, some less so, but all seemed to enjoy themselves. Trevor and I were on hand again to wish the runners, who started the run through a blizzard of blown foam, on their way.

Oh, and the Civic was serving very tasty sausage and bacon buns for a late breakfast. Well, it really would’ve been rude not to try one!

All in all, we were very lucky. The heavy rain that had threatened to arrive both Friday evening and Saturday morning held off. Everyone I spoke to on Friday night (and everyone else since) told me that they’d really enjoyed themselves at the Lantern Parade.

That’s it for now, so until next time… keep safe, and please, be kind to each other.

***

For more information on any of the groups or subjects mentioned in this week’s blog, please see the links below:

Royal British Legion (Wiltshire): https://counties.britishlegion.org.uk/counties/wiltshire

Williams Syndrome: https://williams-syndrome.org.uk/

Stepping Stones Trowbridge: https://www.steppingstonestrowbridge.co.uk/

Trowbridge Future: https://www.trowbridgefuture.org.uk/

 

 

Image courtesy of Kevin Hartley

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