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i-Newspaper - Wootton bassett Article - 17 March 2011

Wootton Bassett
gains a `Royal'
seal of gratitude

By Terri Judd

An accident 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 said.

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.

Almost spontaneously 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.
Wootton 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.

Over 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.

"The town has found itself in front of the nation really through an accident of geography," said Peter Doyle, of Wootton Bassett Town Council, yesterday.
{i}The 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.
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