The town of Wootton Bassett held a sunset ceremony last night to mark the end of repatriations of British Service personnel killed on operations passing through the town.
In an act of remembrance organised by the local council, the people of Wootton Bassett watched as the Union Flag was lowered and taken to the Memorial Garden in Oxford, specially commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council, where the flag will be raised in a civic ceremony today.
From today, 1 September 2011, the repatriations of Service personnel killed on operations will return to RAF Brize Norton where there is a new, purpose-built repatriation centre.
In addition to the £2.8m repatriation centre there is the newly-named ‘Britannia Gate’, through which the corteges of fallen Service personnel will leave RAF Brize Norton.
The centre includes a calm and quiet space away from the bustle of the station where families can gather ahead of the repatriation flight to watch the aeroplane landing and then observe the formal military repatriation ceremony.
There is also a Chapel of Rest where families can spend private time with their loved ones before the journey to the John Radcliffe Hospital.
Group Captain Dom Stamp, Station Commander at RAF Brize Norton, said:
This centre has been designed with the needs of the families and loved ones of those being repatriated at its heart. All along this has been of paramount importance and I am confident that the facilities we now have will assist us in our efforts to ensure we provide the maximum support at what is an extremely traumatic time.
The symbolism of Britannia Gate is huge. It is the last time those who have been killed will leave a military base.
The importance placed on getting this right by the personnel at RAF Brize Norton is clear to see - this is the greatest, and most humbling, of responsibilities and I am confident that they will preserve the dignity, sanctity and professionalism shown by those at RAF Lyneham.
Oxfordshire County Council and the local authorities have worked hard to provide the public with the opportunities to pay their respects and I know that this means a great deal to Service personnel and their families.
After the cortege leaves RAF Brize Norton, it will travel to the John Radcliffe Hospital via a route decided by the local authorities after detailed discussions with the Police and the Royal British Legion.
The route includes safe vantage points for the public to stop and pay their respects, including a specially commissioned memorial garden where the cortege will pause for a minute before continuing on its journey.
In the garden, a flag will fly at half-mast and a variety of trees and shrubs will be planted to create a peaceful space where loved ones and the wider public are welcome to come to reflect and give their personal thanks to the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Andrew Robathan, said yesterday:
Public support for our Armed Forces is tremendous and the efforts made by the nation to recognise our fallen is simply humbling. The ceremonies today in Wootton Bassett and tomorrow in Brize Norton are a clear demonstration of this unfaltering support.
The facilities at RAF Brize Norton will give the families of those who pay the ultimate sacrifice on operations a calm and peaceful place where they can bring their loved ones home.
We have worked hard to ensure that the families of the fallen are afforded the best possible support, whilst also ensuring that the public have an opportunity to pay their respects.
Robert Lee, spokesman for the Royal British Legion, said:
The Royal British Legion has been in close consultation with Oxfordshire County Council, Thames Valley Police and RAF Brize Norton over the route that fallen Service personnel will take from RAF Brize Norton to the John Radcliffe Hospital.
Our views have been taken into account in informing the route decision and we feel the chosen route provides our members and the wider public with opportunities to pay their respects.
The Legion encourages its members to pay honour and respect to those who have fallen in service to the nation. Our presence is most visibly demonstrated by the parading of the branch standards, but as the Legion is part of the local community many Legion members will stand silently among those who gather to pay their respects.
We are however not responsible for repatriation flights and ceremonies themselves - these are military operations.
Oxfordshire County Council has commissioned a Memorial Garden near RAF Brize Norton and we feel that this is an excellent location where our members can continue their dignified tradition of paying respects to the fallen.