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Town in 'final' war dead tribute

The town of Wootton Bassett has fallen silent for what could be the final time as a fallen Royal Marine was repatriated to the UK.

Around 500 people lined the Wiltshire town's high street to pay tribute to Marine James Wright, 22, who was killed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan last week.

At the end of the month, repatriations return to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire as RAF Lyneham closes.

Wootton Bassett's place in the story of the Britain's operations in Afghanistan began only by chance in April 2007 when Brize Norton was closed for runway repairs. Instead the returning C-17s brought the bodies back to Lyneham - less than five miles from Wootton Bassett centre.

To get to the special armed forces department of pathology at Oxford's John Radcliffe hospital, a hearse has no choice but to drive down the high street before heading east along the M4.

In those first days, there was no pavement vigil or saluting or silences and the coffins passed almost unnoticed. By the summer of that year, local members of the Royal British Legion decided to salute the heroes.

From humble beginnings, now hundreds of people gather in the town whenever a repatriation takes place.

James's pregnant partner Shelley Robertson gently cradled her bump as she waited with his family for the cortege to arrive. Miss Robertson and her partner's father David, mother Sallie and sister Katie, each placed a single red rose on top of the hearse as it stopped in front of the war memorial.

The Marine, from Weymouth, Dorset, died in hospital after a grenade was thrown into his patrol's checkpoint in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province.

Following his death, his parents said: "James loved his family and was as proud of us as we are of him. He touched the lives of everyone who knew him."


From Belfast Telegraph