Wootton Bassett to get 'Royal' title in war dead honour

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Media captionDavid Cameron said the town's new name was an "enduring symbol of the nation's admiration"

Wootton Bassett is to be the first town in more than 100 years to get the title of "Royal" in recognition of its efforts to honour the UK's war dead.

Repatriations of fallen troops have taken place through the Wiltshire town since 2007.

These will end when RAF Lyneham closes at the end of 2012, with the majority of its planes, kit and personnel moving to Brize Norton.

David Cameron made the announcement during Prime Minister's Questions.

'Unique and special'

The only other towns in England with royal in their title are Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Wootton Bassett lies on the route the corteges currently take to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford.

Making the announcement, Mr Cameron confirmed that troop repatriations would no longer happen via Wootton Bassett from September.

But he said the Queen had agreed to the tribute as "an enduring symbol of the nation's admiration and our gratitude to the people of that town".

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons: "Their deeply moving and dignified demonstrations of respect and mourning have shown the deep bond between the public and our armed forces."

Mary Champion, Mayor of Wootton Bassett, said: "This is a great honour for our community as the repatriations move away from Wootton Bassett."

In a written ministerial statement, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "I would like to thank RAF Lyneham for their excellent work in supporting the important task of repatriation ceremonies.

"I would also like to record publicly my thanks to the people of Wootton Bassett who have chosen to pay their respects in a unique and special way.

"It is such spontaneous public support that captures the spirit of the British people, and I am very grateful for those who have participated.

"Such gestures do not go unnoticed by those deployed on operations."

Conservative MP James Gray, whose North Wiltshire constituency includes Wootton Bassett, told the Commons: "The people of Wootton Bassett have sought no thanks or praise for what they have done on so many hundreds of occasions.

"But they will be deeply honoured and very pleased by the honour which Her Majesty has shown them on this occasion."

Graham Smith from Republic, which campaigns for a democratic alternative to the monarchy, said although his group shared the nation's respect for the armed forces he disagreed with the renaming of Wootton Bassett.

"The country can be proud of its armed forces without tying them up with royalty.

Image caption Leamington Spa and Tunbridge Wells also have the Royal title as part of their name

"It is time we should be removing 'Royal' from town names, not adding to them."

The spa towns of Leamington and Tunbridge Wells petitioned for the honour in recognition of their antiquity and royal patronage of their facilities.

Leamington Spa was granted the title in 1838 by Queen Victoria, and Tunbridge Wells in 1909 by King Edward VII.

There are a number of Royal Boroughs in England. Greenwich will become a Royal Borough in 2012 in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Caernarfon in Wales was made a Royal Borough by the Queen in 1963 and was allowed to retain the honour when it ceased to be a borough in 1974.

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