Wootton Bassett (as it was then) hit the headlines in 2007 for the way in which it honoured the returning soldiers who had been killed in conflict. As we approach Remembrance Sunday in this centenary year of the outbreak of World War One, these reflections from the parish vicar of that time remind us of the continuing presence of war and its casualties – and how they are a part of us.
Revd Thomas Woodhouse writes…
“We honour those who serve” became Royal Wootton Bassett’s motto in 2011. It reflects a desire to honour and remember all those who serve; it calls to mind actions that gave new energy to the Act of Remembrance.
The armed forces across Wiltshire have long been a valued part of the county’s life; in Royal Wootton Bassett, the relationship with RAF Lyneham now MOD Lyneham has been long cherished. This relationship proved vital when from April 2007 until August 2011 the town became the focus for the Liturgy of Repatriation.
The sight of the police escort and the hearse with the coffin draped with the Union Flag was always sombre and always poignant as it moved down the High Street. There was sadness at young lives snuffed out in their prime, and concern for grieving families.
The townsfolk gathered, remembered the dead, showed concern and friendship for the families and friends of the dead, and returned to their everyday tasks until called on again the stand and ‘honour those who serve.’
An important element was the common response to all the repatriations; every service man or woman was remembered by the town in the same way. So for a few brief minutes, Royal Wootton Bassett expanded to include those from another village, town or city on their journey home.
The Liturgy brought together family, friends, comrades and strangers. It was a very intense time and one that has come to define the town for at least this generation. The repatriations highlighted the community spirit and the imperative to practise hospitality: an act of shared humanity from a town with a long history of welcoming the stranger.
The Liturgy of Repatriation challenged things to change and spoke of so much. Still and silent people challenged a watching media and a nation beyond to remember differently. Individual men and women were remembered and their contribution valued: visitors honouring family & friends were welcomed: equality was proclaimed and in silence it was shown what could be achieved by the community for the community.
image © Jonny White