Tag Archives: Iraq War

Wootton Bassett to be given Royal prefix

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A cortege passes through Wootton Bassett (Image by stuff_and_nonsense via Flickr)

The town of Wootton Bassett is to be known as ‘Royal Wootton Bassett’, the Prime Minister announced earlier today. The honour has been personally approved by the Queen.

David Cameron told the House of Commons that 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”. He also told MP’s:  “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.Whilst we have never sought recognition for our simple act of respect I am certain that this will serve to reinforce the pride and gratitude we feel for the members of our armed services who will always be in our thoughts.”

Fallen British servicemen and women are repatriated from Afghanistan to nearby RAF Lyneham. A cortege – and there have been over 150 of them to date- then carries them through Wootton Bassett on their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, via the M4. Initially the corteges drove through the quiet streets. Then several ex-servicemen turned out with medals to pay their respects, and before long the whole town was coming out to mark the return of fallen servicemen and women. Now, thousands of people travel from all round the country to pay their respects, in what has become an incredibly moving ritual. Its impossible not to be moved by the sight of so many people lining the streets.

RAF Lyneham is due to close in 2012, however, and as from September this year repatriation flights will be moving to RAF Brize Norton. This is a fitting tribute for a remarkable town in modern British history, and is only the third time that a town has been given the royal prefix, after Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Bognor was granted the suffix ‘Regis’ by George V after he recovered from illness in the town. It is thought that initially the people of Wootton Bassett had refused the honour, but that the looming closure of RAF Lyneham has fortunately brought about a rethink. I’m glad – it puts down a lasting marker for history.

I think its fair to say that until recently the British Government – and indeed the British public – did not really get remembrance. Sure, we all wore our poppies every November, but when the Iraq War took place in 2003 the vast majority of people felt a serious disdain for the then Government and how it committed the military to action on very dubious grounds. There was a very real risk of the reputation of the military becoming entangled in that, and the remembrance of today’s casualties could have so easily been forgotten.

Yet alongside initiaties such as Help for Heroes, Wootton Bassett has been at the forefront of a real shift in British culture. There is a very clear dividing line now between what we think of the Government on the one hand, and what we think of our serving sailors, soldiers and airmen on the other. People really do care now about our men and women on the front-line. The last time you could have really felt this was back in 1982 immediately after the Falklands War. It must make a world of difference to know that millions of people back home really do give a damm about you.

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