Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Ceremony marks end of repatriations

A ceremony has been held in Wootton Bassett marking the end of repatriations

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

Hundreds of people attended Wednesday night's ceremony, which reflected the simple and dignified nature of the military repatriations which have passed through the town for the last four years.

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 and thousands of people line its main street to pay their respects.

The road was closed for the 10-minute ceremony as people packed the street to watch as the same standard bearers that have attended so many repatriations lowered their standards for the last time.

People stood in silence as the bell of St Bartholomew's Church sounded through the town, echoing the familiar tolls of the repatriations themselves.

As the flag was lowered mixed emotions were painted across the faces of those so familiar with the repatriations - pride at what the town had achieved but also a sadness, drawing tears from some, that it will no longer be able to show its support and respect in the way it is used to.

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 (RBL).

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. The flag was blessed and folded before being laid overnight on the altar of St Bartholomew's Church.

As the ceremony ended, people cheered and applauded while others wiped tears from their cheeks and embraced those around them.

The flagpole will remain bare until 11am on Thursday, when a new flag will go up in Wootton Bassett as the Union flag given to Oxfordshire is raised at the new memorial garden at RAF Brize Norton.