Repatriation ceremonies for those killed in operational theatres will move to RAF Brize Norton by 1 September 2011 the Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox has announced today.
The relocation of the repatriation ceremonies to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire follows the decision to cease flying operations at RAF Lyneham by 30 September 2011.
Moving repatriation flights back to RAF Brize Norton will signal the end of the cortege passing through Wootton Bassett en route to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced today that the town of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire will become ‘Royal Wootton Bassett’ later this year. Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said:
I recently made a recommendation to Her Majesty The Queen, and I am very pleased today to announce that Her Majesty has agreed to confer the title ‘Royal’ upon the town as an enduring symbol of the nation’s admiration and gratitude. The town will become ‘Royal Wootton Bassett’ later this year.
Dr Fox said:
I would like to thank RAF Lyneham for their excellent work in supporting the important task of repatriation ceremonies. I am certain that RAF Brize Norton will maintain the standard of solemnity, dignity and respect to our Service personnel killed on operations as shown by the personnel at RAF Lyneham.
I would also like to record publicly my thanks to the people of Wootton Bassett who have chosen to pay their respects in a unique and special way.
It is such spontaneous public support that captures the spirit of the British people, and I am very grateful for those who have participated; such gestures do not go unnoticed by those deployed on operations.
The final decision on which route the cortege will take lies with the local authorities and Thames Valley Police.
Repatriation ceremonies were originally held at RAF Brize Norton, but were moved to RAF Lyneham in April 2007 to allow the Brize Norton aircraft servicing platform (the aircraft parking area) to be redeveloped.
The Ministry of Defence announced in July 2003 that RAF Lyneham will be closing as part of Defence Estate rationalisation.
Following the decision to cease flying operations at RAF Lyneham by 30 September 2011, an alternative location was required capable of accommodating C-17 aircraft and with suitable infrastructure to support repatriation ceremonies.
An option study identified four potential locations, but all required additional infrastructure. RAF Brize Norton was recommended as the most suitable and cost effective solution as it is already operating 24-hours.
RAF Brize Norton must be ready to conduct repatriation ceremonies by 1 September 2011 and to meet this deadline the contract for the necessary infrastructure solution was let on 23 December 2010 in advance of a formal announcement.
Once the Queen has conferred the title on Wootton Bassett the town will forever afterwards be entitled to be called ‘Royal Wootton Bassett’. The new name will legally come into effect on the date the legal instrument - in this case Letters Patent - is signed and sealed by the Queen. Officials will be contacting the town council to agree with them what form the Letters Patent should take.
The Government will discuss with Buckingham Palace, the Armed Forces and the local authorities in Wootton Bassett how best to celebrate the town’s new title and mark the end of repatriations through the town.
The only other Royal towns in England are Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. Both of these spa towns petitioned for the honour in recognition of their antiquity and royal patronage of their facilities. Leamington Spa was granted the title in 1838 by Queen Victoria, and Tunbridge Wells in 1909 by King Edward VII.