ONE AMERICAN’S MEMORIES OF GWR SPORTS GROUND

The recent Advertiser story (200 homes planned for sports ground 27 July) took me back to 1953 when as a twenty-year-old Airman 1st class stationed at nearby RAF Fairford I started dating a Swindon girl who lived off Shrivenham Road. Maureen Stone was a dedicated tennis player whose every free hour was spent playing on the BR Sports Ground courts; she reminds me that her annual club dues were exactly ten shillings.

We were introduced at the Majestic’s Saturday dances, with a live Big Band, at the bottom of the town. In minutes we discovered a number of common experiences and location names. I was but two years out of St. Michael’s High School in Northampton, Massachusetts and Maureen had recently graduated from Notre Dame High School in Northampton, England. More Saturday dances followed before we met, outside Holy Rood church, for our first date, which, as it turns out, hasn’t ended.

At any rate my nearly two-year courtship of this tennis player greatly revolved around meeting her at the BR and watching her matches. I didn’t play tennis at the time so was reduced to the role of spectator. It’s not totally in jest that I describe those days as her enjoying herself on court while I viewed the world through a chain link fence.

In time I ingratiated myself with her folks to the point that I attended other events at the BR Ground. My future father-in-law, Eddie Stone, bowled there; mum Evelyn took me to a meal in the main hall, and all of us putted around its golf greens. Many years after his retirement from his electrician job at the GWR, Eddie worked part time at the Sports Ground and invited me to join him for skittles and beer. That may have been the moment that he and I bonded forever.

Our visits to Swindon over the decades often saw us playing tennis and having a drink at the BR. It was the only “pub” in walking distance. In 1994 we visited because, as a writer, I was heading down to the South coast before ferrying to Normandy to take in the preparations for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Over at the BR we ran into Roy Ferris who, like Maureen, was still playing tennis. On a whim Maureen asked Roy if he knew the whereabouts of Joan Burroughs, her Euclid Street Secondary School classmate. Roy did, and Joan rang us the next day.  Joan and Maureen connected like they’d never been apart; she and her husband Les Morris of Bishopstone are our fast friends to this day.

Those are just a few reasons why we fondly remember the salad days of the BR Sports Ground. Its planned redevelopment into housing will be a boon for newcomers as it also closes the gate on thousands of memories like mine, and maybe yours.

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