The natural sad and sober feelings on repatriation days of the once little known Market Town had an uplifting, yet still very respectful and dignified mood on Sunday 16 October 2011 when Wootton Bassett became ‘Royal’ Wootton Bassett and was presented with the Letters Patent by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.
“Royal” Wootton Bassett is one of only three places to have such an honour bestowed upon it and the first in over one hundred years.
Early in the morning I noticed the pacing stick being used to measure the 355 steps the band will later march, one step for each of the fallen servicemen and women repatriated through Wootton Bassett. A poignant reminder of why we were all there.
By early afternoon the streets were packed full of people of all ages, flags were being waved, many of the shops and houses along the high street were decorated with Union Jack themed displays, there were ladies in Union Jack aprons, children wearing crowns and many people were dressed in red white and blue. A more jubilant atmosphere ensued in the unexpected October sunshine.
The Prime Minister David Cameron attended the ceremony with the new defence secretary Philip Hammond. Her Royal Highness Princess Anne gave an emotional speech stating
"This community has come together in the most extraordinary way. I am privileged to be allowed to add my thanks to those of Her Majesty and the whole country for the example you set in respecting with dignity the losses that this country’s operational responsibilities have forced upon us."
The Mayor of Royal Wootton Bassett, Paul Heaphy, also gave a heartfelt speech and stating “The royal status is a privilege, yet it is received with sadness, mindful of the high price paid by our armed forces… I suspect that local people in the town will still call the town just Bassett.”
As I documented the historic day with my camera, I felt a great sense of sadness for the families and friends of those fallen, but also a sense of pride for Royal Wootton Bassett and the people of the wider community in how they have shown great respect and dignity throughout the repatriations of our fallen servicemen and women.