Wiltshire

Beirut hostage Terry Waite thanks bell-ringers 25 years after release

Terry Waite returned to St Michael and All Angels church in Lyneham 25 years after he was released
Image caption Terry Waite returned to St Michael and All Angels church in Lyneham 25 years after he was released

Former hostage Terry Waite has revisited the site of his return to the UK 25 years ago.

Peace envoy Mr Waite was kidnapped in Lebanon in January 1987 as he negotiated the release of western hostages.

After his release five years later he flew into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, where the bells of the nearby parish church were rung to mark his arrival.

During his latest visit, he met the bell-ringers who had welcomed him home.

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Media captionTerry Waite returned to Lyneham to meet the bell-ringers who welcomed him 25 years ago

Mr Waite was held captive, mostly in solitary confinement, chained and often blindfolded, for 1,763 days before his release on 18 November 1991.

Now aged 77, he returned to the former RAF base where his plane landed, and where he stayed for several weeks as he began to get his life back to normal.

Image caption Mr Waite returned to the former RAF Lyneham base, where his plane landed in 1991

During the return visit in which the bells were rung for him again, he thanked some of the original bell-ringers at the neighbouring St Michael and All Angels church.

"One night my wife and I heard the bells ringing, and I said, 'Oh, the bell ringers must be practising', and she turned to me and said, 'They're ringing the bells for you'.

"I thought it was lovely thing to do. Twenty five years on it gives me an opportunity to say thanks for people who cared," he said.

"I experienced a real welcome. It was so nice and generous to welcome us in that way.

"You don't have to say a great deal or do a great deal - little symbolic gestures mean so much at times of distress."

Mr Waite, who was envoy to Robert Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, also wrote a personal message in the church visitors book, 25 years after he wrote an entry on his first visit to the church.

Image caption Mr Waite signed the church's visitors' book for a second time, 25 years after he first wrote in it

Fond remembrances

A quarter of a century on from his release, Terry Waite's memories of what happened on that rainy and blustery day, when he flew into RAF Lyneham, have not faded.

"It was raining so we went into the great hangar and there I gave my address, and then went to meet my family," he said.

"It was an emotional occasion, but it also had an amusing side to it.

"When the plane landed Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was late because he'd been held up by traffic.

"On the plane they collected all the paper cups and serviettes in the haste to make the plane tidy and presentable and shoved them in the front toilet, so when Robert ran up the steps late, and said "I must use the loo", he opened the door and was immediately showered with paper cups and serviettes.

"It was not a dignified entry for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"It's the amusing things that stick in your mind."

You can listen to an exclusive interview with Terry Waite as he returns to Lyneham, on Marie Lennon's programme on BBC Wiltshire on Wednesday 19 October from 09:00 BST.

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