Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

New centre for war repatriations

Ground staff put the finishing touches to the new repatriation centre at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire

Wootton Bassett may have fallen silent for the last time but fallen servicemen and women will still get a heroes' welcome, with a purpose-built repatriation centre and memorial garden part of new arrangements for their arrival to the UK.

The bespoke centre has been built at RAF Brize Norton in preparation for the return of repatriations to the Oxfordshire base on September 1 as RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire closes.

Servicemen and women killed on operations have been flown into Lyneham since April 2007 when Brize Norton was closed for runway repairs.

Crowds of people lining Wootton Bassett's streets in silence as corteges pass has become a familiar sight, growing from small groups of local British Legion members to hundreds of people gathering to pay their respects.

Earlier this month the town fell silent for the 167th and final time as the body of Lieutenant Daniel Clack, 24, of 1st Battalion The Rifles, passed through in the last repatriation to be held at Lyneham.

Arrangements have been under way for arrivals to be moved to RAF Brize Norton. The purpose-built repatriation centre has several rooms, including one for families, and a chapel of rest.

Corteges will leave the base via a refurbished gate renamed the Britannia Gate. They will also pass a memorial garden created by Oxfordshire County Council, West Oxfordshire District Council, Carterton Town Council, Brize Norton Parish Council and the Royal British Legion.

The garden, on Norton Way, is on the repatriation route from the base to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, and will be where the British Legion will present their standards as corteges pause. There are also plans for a memorial bell at the site.

The Rev (Wing Commander) David Edgar, senior chaplain at RAF Brize Norton, revealed the purpose-built centre had a number of different rooms serving different purposes, including one exclusively for families of the fallen and one for senior military representatives who attend the repatriation ceremonies.

He said: "There's also the chapel of rest in the centre and after the ceremony the coffins of the fallen are taken to that chapel and that's the first opportunity really that families have to get close to their loved ones and spend some time with them."

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