Unless we do something about it, Network Rail are about to commit one of the greatest acts of rural vandalism imaginable. They knocked down the lovely old stone bridge at Brinkworth to allow the electrification of the Great Western mainline. We all accept that. We are not luddites and will benefit from faster and better train journeys as a result. All we want is for them to replace the old bridge with something in keeping with this most lovely bit of countryside along the Dauntsey escarpment and visible for miles around. That is exactly what we thought they were going to do, and allowed ourselves a little bit of a celebration as a result. It was to be a brick fronted approach, albeit a green metal main structure.
But as I discovered on a visit last week, that is exactly what we do not have. We have a monstrous metal carbuncle, poorly constructed in a way reminiscent of some of our greater failures at Meccano when we were young. The kids in the excellent and neighbouring Earl Danby’s School could have done better. The hitherto very helpful bosses of Network Rail promised to put it right; but in a briefing note I have seen, they seem to be reversing their decision to clad the approaches in brick, apparently for fear that passing agricultural vehicles, no doubt from Farmer Joe Collingborn, might chip the brickwork, apparently creating a health and safety hazard for passing motorists. What cobblers. I shall do my best to make them see reason.
All of this was brought home to me when I attended the moving unveiling of a memorial for Joe Collingborn’s uncle, Francis, who was killed during the Sicily landings in 1943. He could have claimed to be an exempt profession as a farmer, but chose not to do so, and so truly gave his life for his King and Country. By Monday I was at the terrific Beating Retreat and Sunset ceremony for the 21st Signal Regiment at Colerne. Those young men are Trooper Collingborn’s direct inheritors. A plaque commemorating Trooper Collingborn is to be fixed to one of the old stanchions from the bridge, thereby saving a bit of history, providing a very pleasant bench for the rest of passers-by, as well as commemorating a very brave and selfless young man.
Two lovely readings made us all think. Rupert Brooke’s “If I should die think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” (Judging Bassett in Bloom on Tuesday let me see a lovely bit of old England.) And then it was great to hear the youngest Collingborns, Bede and Abel, standing astride all that is left of the old bridge give a lovely rendition of “The Life that I have is all that I have. And the life that I have is yours.” What a lovely piece of rural continuity. The Collingborns have farmed Hill End Farm for generations and will I hope do so for many more to come, always assuming that Network Rail allow them to drive their tractors over their hideous bridge without undue Health and Safety risks for passing motorists.
All may not be lost. Network Rail may yet see reason. I intend - in memory of Francis Collingborn if for no other reason - to make it my business to see that they do.