Wootton Bassett marks the end of repatriations


Key moments from the Wootton Bassett service

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The town of Wootton Bassett has held a special service to mark the end of military repatriations there.

The bodies of 345 service personnel have passed through the Wiltshire town in the past four years.

At 19:58 BST the townsfolk watched their union jack being lowered and blessed. It will be taken to RAF Brize Norton where repatriations will resume.

In recognition of its role in marking such flights, the town will be renamed Royal Wootton Bassett in the autumn.

More than 2,000 people lined the high street in the town to take part in the Sunset Service which started with the chiming of the bell at the Church of Saint Bartholomew.

At the scene

Just before eight the road was closed and people of this extraordinary town moved gently forward to fill the entire high street.

As the bell tolled they fell silent there for the last time, but the atmosphere tonight was one of gratitude and pride.

There were smiles, some tears and greetings from old friends meeting again here.

After the flag was lowered and the prayers had been said a spontaneous round of applause broke out in the crowd, followed by three cheers for the people of Wootton Bassett for what they have done over the past four years.

The mayor then addressed the town and said the service was the "last full measure of devotion" to those who had died.

War veteran Peter Gray lowered the flag with his grandson. It will be laid on the altar in the church overnight before being symbolically presented to the people of Oxfordshire on Thursday.

The first service took place in April 2007 when the bodies of military personnel began arriving at the nearby RAF base at Lyneham.

'Best of British'

Then, it was a few members of the local branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL) bowing their heads as the funeral corteges passed.

Later, hundreds of residents turned out to pay their respects before the bodies were taken on to Oxford.

The last and 167th repatriation through Wootton Bassett took place on 18 August when the body of 24-year-old Lt Daniel Clack, of 1st Battalion The Rifles, was returned to the UK.

The town gradually became a focal point for those wishing to acknowledge the sacrifice of military personnel, and went on to attract international attention.

A standard bearer lowers the union jack in Wootton Bassett The flag will be blessed before being presented to the people of Oxford

During Prime Minister David Cameron's first US visit, President Barack Obama said the townsfolk's solemn tributes marked "the best of British character".

Dr Peter Caddick-Adams, a military expert at Cranfield University, said Wootton Bassett had shown the nation it was at war.

"They've taught us the meaning of sacrifice, and I think we'd forgotten it," he said.

Speaking in 2009, the then mayor Steve Bucknell, said: "We've been careful throughout this process not to get involved in the politics of the war.

"These repatriations are simply about the soldiers and their families and the support we give to the armed forces."

During Wednesday's service, the union jack was lowered before being taken to a memorial garden at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire where future repatriation flights will land.

'Gives us closure'

The mayor of Wootton Bassett Paul Heaphy, who will hand over the flag, said: "We felt it was appropriate to mark the passing of responsibility from Wootton Bassett to Oxfordshire and we felt it would be wrong not to recognise what has happened over the last number of years.

"We've had requests from the community to pull something together, so we have created this ceremony which hopefully people will feel fitting."

Anne Bevis, repatriation liaison officer with the RBL in Wootton Bassett, said: "The ceremony will bring closure to us, with the handing over to Brize Norton, it sort of ties it all up nicely and gives us closure, otherwise it is left high and dry."

The town of Carterton, near Brize Norton, is to continue the tradition started at Wootton Bassett with the creation of a special area where grieving families and local people can pay their respects.

The new repatriation centre is expected to be used for the first time when the body of Royal Marine Sgt Barry Weston, 40, of 42 Commando, who died on foot patrol in Helmand province, is flown home from Afghanistan.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 101.


    If you think the repatriations are being stoped (sic), you obviously didn't get as far as paragraph 3 of the article which plainly states that repatriations will resume at Brize. The folk of Carterton are carrying on in WB's footsteps. So nothing's being stopped or hidden.
    Try engaging brain before opening mouth, eh? And DON'T SHOUT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Thank you to all the residents of Wootton Bassett and the general public who have joined them to show support during the repatriation of our forces. Your dignity and respect has meant so much to so many. The title of Royal Wootten Bassett is a fitting tribute.

    With the change to Brize, due to the closure of RAF Lyneham, the town of Carterton has made thoughtful preparations to continue support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    They know the risks involved when signing up. We have a problem in this country calling anyone in a uniform a hero.

    Yes they know the risks, but they step up anyway. Without that there would be compulsory conscription. Perhaps you could “Step Up” until then why not show a little respect for the dead; as every dead soldier is a hero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Wootton Bassett and it's residents have done this country proud in the tactful and respectful manner it received the fallen servicemen/women home. Makes me very proud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I am really angry that they are being moved to Brize Norton and that soldiers are being taken out of the back gate rather than with dignity through wootten bassett. Our country has gone to the dogs and it is only getting worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Lions led by donkeys!

    Lions are the troops and the donkeys, blair, brown and cameron, the politicians.

    The troops are in Afghanistan because if immediately withdrawn, people would question why the others died. Effectively troops are there to provide cover for politicians that those Lions who died did not do so in vain.

    Cameron, withdraw immediately or for ever remain a donkey

    C McK

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Since 2005 I have worked for the part of the Army that arranges Repatriations. When Repatriations were moved to RAF Lyneham in 2007, the re design of RAF Brize Norton to cope with them had already been done, and it was thought they could return to RAF Brize Norton in 2010. Similarly, there had not been any mark of Repatriations in Wootten Bassett when some took place in RAF Lyneham in 2005.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    As an ex-serviceman myself I have great respect for all those who have been at Royal Wootton Bassett, Residents and visitors, honouring those who are heros and have served for freedom of those who can not defend them selves. I am sure that the town's people of Carterton will continue this as well as Royal Wootton Bassett has. Thank you to the people of Royal Wootton Bassett.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    7 Minutes ago

    The armed forces still live off the bravery our troops achieved in the last two world wars.Todays soldier is well looked after with pay and compensation and they know the risks involved when signing up.We have a problem in this country calling anyone in a uniform a hero.

    I take it you prefer to call footballers and cricketers heroes then!! how sadly deluded you are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Darren Shepherd - what a totally foul comment. These young people were the best of British. War is not a game and people get hurt - innocent and guilty alike but there is absolutely no virtue in insulting those who serve and go where they are sent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    re comment 80: This is a disgracefull comment. You are one of those who has fallen for the propoganda of those who put women and children in harms way. Yes there are civillian cassualties in conflict but the British Army do not kill civillians. You should have more respect for those who serve this country, Dont forget that if it wasnt for the men and women 68ish years ago we would be german.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.


  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I could not agree more with tgracey. This town has shown us that we are at War and still have young men and women to be proud of. Please don't let the sacrifices of these young people and their bereaved families be swept under the carpet in the name of political correctness.
    Thank you Wooton Bassett you have made me proud again to be British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    As ex RAF, every time I saw the repatriation of my comrades and YES they still are my comrades in life and in death, I cannot help but grieve, the tears flow, the heart aches, for those that are left behind. Amongst all of this a small Cotswold town carried the grief of the nation, and showed everyone how much we respect our fallen service men and women. Thank You so much Royal Wootton Bassett.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    "History shows no one ever won a war there."
    Complete rubbish. Where do people get these ideas?
    Alexander the Great, the Persian Empire, the Mongols, the Sikhs and the British (twice) have all won wars in Afghanistan, to name but a few.

  • Comment number 86.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The armed forces still live off the bravery our troops achieved in the last two world wars.Todays soldier is well looked after with pay and compensation and they know the risks involved when signing up.We have a problem in this country calling anyone in a uniform a hero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Would these soldiers whom have served their country with courage & fortitude be thankful for the few in Wootten Bassett who came to Welcome Them Home,say Thank You & Farewell.Answering a resounding YES they would.It is sad that those whom oppose these repatriations of British soldiers are those whom have the offending voice of 'political correctness' gone madOne would like to ask are they British?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    @ 80.Darren Shepperd

    Get your head out Darren. Like any soldiers, they go where they're sent, if you have a problem with that, take it up with the government. The fact remains, they're doing an excellent job under bad conditions!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    It is right that we should respect our fallen heroes.

    It would be even better if we stopped sending troops to fight wars that have nothing to do with us.


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