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 121.

    we are just as responsible as our gov's for allowing our people to"go to war" we are a democracy,are we not?maybe if we are serious about stopping war we should make it plain to the politico's of all party's in the western world.may be then if, we were determined enough,money on weapons of MD could be spent on improving life for our people,wipe out poverty??

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Glenn Willis 108

    A resounding Hear Hear - this is how the vast majority of the population feel. We may not say much but we think a lot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    so Peacenotwar, is it your opinion that the soldiers are to blame for the wars they've been asked to fight in the last 10 years? They didn't choose to kill strangers for a living, they chose to serve their country, most likely in the hopes that they would never have to use what they were being taught, same as emergency doctors, they train in the vain hope their skills will never be needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    what can we say to RWB but our thanks for the care shown to the families and respect too our fallen.the thanks from our nation is a small payment for such a massive show of britishness..... thanks again from me and my family here in ballymena northern ireland......

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.


    I regret your loss, they were a better person than I.
    I do not know their name, but that does not deminish the debt I owe or respect I have. Thank you for posting and sharing your thoughts with us Yvette - and for giving me this chance to say personally: their live is valued by at least this one person they never met.

  • Comment number 116.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    It is one of my regrets that I never managed to attend any of the repatriations. I hope to be there later today for the ceremony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Comment number 106. Peacenotwar
    16 Minutes ago
    The rise in militarism led inevitably to the city violence - any criminologist will tell you that has always happened in the past.
    So where was the City violence in the 1930/40s?

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Thank goodness this spectacle is ceasing, wallowing in grief for grief's sake is not healthy, it has been spectator grief and detracts from the misery suffered by the actual close family and friends. The brave soldiers who give their lives is so so sad, in this IMO opinion hideous so called war on terror chasing shadows invented by George Bush afer HE orchestrated 9/11.....sick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Refering to 104 if we are not at war can you please explain to me what is happening to this country. No one has suggested that its WWII, or anything equalling such a scale. Nevertheless I think you should show a little respect to the people of Wotton Bassett and more importantly to the famlies who may have lost a loved one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I grew up in a military family in both Lyneham and Brize and i know both places will show these men and women the respect they deserve, who cares where they are flewn into, its the roads they take to get home to their loved ones that should be lined with our heads down showing how grateful we are for the sacrifices they have made. Bassett has done as proud and so will Carterton and Brize.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    The towns people of Wootton Bassett should be very proud to have given these soldiers and their families the dignified tribute they deserve and opened our eyes to a sacrifice that so many of us are completely removed from. God bless all of our armed forces, Wootton Bassett for reminding us how truly heroic they all are and those loved ones they leave behind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    What is this government playing at. We the people that elected them want to and do go and pay our respects to the people they have sent into a war that is now ours. Now they are trying to stop us saying thanks to them. Shame on them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    14 Minutes ago
    We are not at war!

    No? Tell that to the people who bomb our buses, preach hatred in our mosques and chant death slogans at peacefull rallies! As for 'overwhelming air power', 90% of the fighting is done on the ground, with the Taliban using stealth tactics, rather than fighting like real men.

    Welcome to the REAL world chap!

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I have the upmost respect for the wonderful people of Wootten Bassett for everything they have done for our fallen hero's.
    I, unfortunately, have experienced the deep respect first hand offered by the community, and i cannot fault one second of the time i spent in Wootten Bassett.
    The whole community come together to show their respect to the family's and friends of all repatriated.Thankyou!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Glad to see an end to the mawkish ceremonies. Better to teach our children to respect peacemakers not warmongers, those who choose to kill strangers for a living. The rise in militarism led inevitably to the city violence - any criminologist will tell you that has always happened in the past.We need a more thoughtful approach to resolving conflict, not brute force.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    re 97: Those fallen are not being taken out of the back gate, in fact they have at Brize built a repatriation center which has its own exit. Dont be angry be proud that the respect to the fallen is still going to be shown. If you want to be angry be angry at the goverment for the cuts they want.

  • Comment number 104.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    PeterLanky comment 37. Shops shut for the duration of the rapatriation going trough the highstreet. people who work in the offices come outside. We put our work down to honour the fallen soldiers. Maybe before placing such a passive aggresive comment you wish to speak to people in in Bassett. If its unique or not I don't know, it certainly shoulnd't be...

  • Comment number 102.

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


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