of geography placed the small market town of Wootton Bassett
in the public eye but it was the unassuming dedication of
its residents that yesterday earned it the honour of a "Royal"
title, becoming Royal Wootton Bassett.
For the first
time in more than a century, the recognition was being bestowed
as "an enduring symbol of the nation's admiration and our
gratitude to the people of that town" for the respect they
had shown to the fallen of Iraq and Afghanistan, David Cameron
It was in April
2007 that the first coffins passed through Wootton Bassett
when military repatriations were moved to nearby RAF Lyneham.
The sight inspired former mayor Percy Miles, 72, and some
fellow old soldiers to stand in silent tribute. The bell ringers,
who had been practising a few minutes earlier, kept one tolling
as a mark of respect.
the event began to grow and through freezing winters and scorching
summer days, the crowds have stood silently to watch more
than 340 coffins pass the town's war memorial.
Bassett's four years of vigils will come to an end with the
closure of the RAF base. From September repatriations will
move back to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
the past four years, the crowds that marked the passing of
the corteges through the Wiltshire town were swollen by the
grieving families as well as people from all over the country
and broadcast on television throughout the UK. While the open
display of anguish and disruption to the town caused controversy
at times, for most Wootton Bassett became a focal point of
a nation's grief.
town has found itself in front of the nation really through
an accident of geography," said Peter Doyle, of Wootton Bassett
Town Council, yesterday.
first place in Britain to be granted a regal addition to its
name was Royal Leamington Spa. The title was bestowed in 1838
by Queen Victoria after she was impressed by a visit. Tunbridge
Wells is the only other town to share the honour.