A Wiltshire town that became an informal focus of mourning for British soldiers killed in Afghanistan won royal recognition on Wednesday as the government confirmed the end of repatriations at a nearby airbase.The picturesque town of Wootton Bassett is near the Royal Air Force’s Lyneham base where soldiers’ bodies are flown back to Britain. It gained national status as sombre crowds lined the streets as military funeral convoys passed through.Prime Minister David Cameron said the town would be known as Royal Wootton Bassett in recognition of its inhabitants’ role in honouring the dead.”Their deeply moving and dignified demonstrations of respect and mourning have shown the deep bond between the public and our armed forces,” Cameron told parliament.
Mary Champion, mayor of Wootton Bassett, said the royal title was a great honour. “Whilst we have never sought recognition for our simple act of respect, I am certain that this will serve to reinforce the pride and gratitude we feel for the members of our armed services,” she said.The processions will end in September as military transport planes switch from Lyneham ahead of the base’s final closure at the end of 2012, the Ministry of Defence said.Lyneham’s operations and 2,500 staff are transferring to RAF Brize Norton some 25 miles away under cost-saving plans first announced in 2003.
The repatriation ceremonies peaked in 2009 and 2010, the two most deadly years for British forces fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan as they suffered more than 200 deaths, fuelling public disquiet over the level of fatalities.Cameron announced last year he wanted to pull the bulk of Britain’s 9,500-strong force out of the war zone by the end of 2014, in line with an international aspiration to give Afghans full control of their security.An Islamist group caused a media outcry in 2010 when it said it planned to march through Wootton Bassett to protest the loss of civilian lives in Afghanistan, but called off the demonstration after the government threatened to ban it.Wootton Bassett will be the first royal town created since King Edward VII gave the title to Royal Tunbridge Wells in 1909. The only other royal town in England is Royal Leamington Spa in the Midlands, granted the accolade by Queen Victoria in 1838 – Reuters