Town adjusts to life after repatriations

This Is Wiltshire: The official flag party fold the Union flag as it is lowered for the last time on the High Street of Wootton Bassett as they hand over the ceremonial flag to Oxfordshire in August last year The official flag party fold the Union flag as it is lowered for the last time on the High Street of Wootton Bassett as they hand over the ceremonial flag to Oxfordshire in August last year

LIFE has returned to normal for residents of Royal Wootton Bassett since repatriations stopped going through the town a year ago.

All eyes fell on the town when the Union Flag in the High Street was taken down, blessed, and handed over to Oxfordshire during a sunset ceremony organised by the town council exactly 12 months ago yesterday.

It came after the decision to close RAF Lyneham and move repatriations to RAF Brize Norton in Carterton, but Wootton Bassett was in the spotlight again in October when it was made ‘royal’ for the respect it showed to fallen servicemen.

Maurice Baker, president of the town’s branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “It is very quiet, we are back to normal as we always wanted to be, but we do miss it. Carterton are doing it their way in the same way that we did it our way. It is difficult to compare because everything that we did was unplanned.

“We didn’t have a chance to prepare for anything, everything just evolved. Everything was here in Wootton Bassett, the church was in the right place and the war memorial was in the centre of the High Street. Cafes and pubs offered their facilities too. It just happened.

“The repatriations are missed. I often see people up in the High Street I saw when I was helping out. They all say although it is nice we are back to normal, hearing about it going on somewhere else doesn’t seem right.”

The town’s flag party lowered the flag to solemn performances of Sunset and Evening by Wootton Bassett Brass on August 31 last year. The flag was blessed and folded, and the national anthem was played to end the service.

The flag was left overnight on the altar of St Bartholomew’s Church and the following morning it was transported to Oxfordshire, where it was handed over by then mayor Paul Heaphy.

Johnathan Bourne, town clerk, said: “Most of us have a deep-seated admiration for the bravery and professionalism of our armed forces, admiration which only grows when you have the opportunity of working with them.

“Although every repatriation was tragic and painful, it was a privilege for us to pay our respects. For me personally, organising the Sunset Ceremony was a great honour, providing one last opportunity for everyone to come together and show how much we cared.”

Anne Bevis, treasurer for the town’s RBL branch and its former repatriation liason officer, said: “People will never forget what happened in the four-and-a-half years because it is part of Wootton Bassett history.

“Carterton are doing it differently to what we did. It wouldn’t have been a good idea if they kept exactly what we had done. They have done it their way.”

Detailed investigations and design work on the military technical training centre due to move into Lyneham will start this month.

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