Sun sets on town’s famous tributes to fallen

A moving sunset ceremony yesterday marked the end of military repatriations through Wootton Bassett as the Union flag on the town’s high street was lowered for the last time.

Hundreds of people attended the ceremony carried out in the same simple, dignified nature of the military repatriations held over the past four years in which townsfolk stood shoulder to shoulder with the grieving families of servicemen and women killed in action.

It signalled the end of an era for the small Wiltshire market town, which has seen the coffins of 345 service personnel pass through the town from RAF Lyneham en-route to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

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What began as an impromptu act of respect from local people grew larger than anyone could have imagined, drawing international recognition.

The road was closed for the 10-minute ceremony last night as people packed to watch as the same standard bearers that stood in salute to so many of the military corteges lowered their standards for the last time.

People stood in silence as the bell of St Bartholomew’s Church sounded, their faces showing pride at what the town had achieved but also a sadness.

The ceremony was led by Wootton Bassett’s mayor, councillor Paul Heaphy, and Canon Thomas Woodhouse, chaplain of the local branch of the Royal British Legion.

As the sun set the flag was lowered to a solemn performance by the Wootton Bassett Brass Band and the moving words of The Exhortation were recited by the president of the Wootton Bassett branch of the RBL.

Maurice Baker, 81, president of the local branch of the legion, has been parade marshal for around 160 of the 167 repatriations. He would look back on what he and the people of Wootton Bassett had done with pride.

“We shall miss it, but we know that Carterton and Brize Norton are going to do a similar thing that we do.”