Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wootton Bassett - A remarkable little town

Today at sunset, they are lowering the Union Jack in a small market town in Wiltshire. This is the last act in a ceremony that has taken place over the last few years. Wootton Bassett is now known around the world as the town that comes to a standstill when fallen soldiers from Afghanistan are brought home.
Most everyone knows how it all started with a handful of Royal British Legion members saluting the passage of the fallen, and how it turned into a national occasion. Last week marked the last time a cortege passed slowly along the High Street. The standards were lowered in silence and the proud and grieving family members paid their own tributes in the midst of a crowd of silent support. It was a cold, grey and miserable late summer day but that didn't stop the hundreds of people from turning up to stand beneath the trees that line the pavement.
I'm lucky enough to work in Wootton Bassett, to see how the town fills up to honour the repatriated men. I've seen the flowers and cards placed lovingly around the War Memorial and I've seen the Union Jack fluttering in the breeze. It's an unassuming little town where the locals and the people who work in the shops and banks and other businesses are unfailingly friendly and welcoming. There's a really good feeling about the place. I can't put my finger on it but I know that I love being just a small part of Wootton Bassett, for six or more hours a day, five days a week.
Today I had to pop to the shops before I returned home. I looked along the High Street at the news vans already gathered there and at that Union Jack. My eyes stung a little, knowing it would be the last time I'd see it flying there. Yes, I know it's just a flag, but in Wootton Basssett, it's presided over the return of so many young men. It's seen the crowds stand in silent tribute honouring those young men. It's being passed on, to another place. I just hope this other place will do those soldiers and that flag proud.
So this is just my little thank you to a remarkable place. Wootton Bassett - thank you.

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