TODAY marks 10 years since Wootton Bassett became a royal town in honor of his military repatriation.
Princess Anne presented letters patent from the Queen to then-mayor Councilor Paul Heaphy in a ceremony that legally changed the town’s name. The event took place on Main Street, the same place where thousands of people from across the city and around the world gathered for four and a half years for the repatriation of 355 fallen members of the armed forces.
A city council spokesperson said: “The event was not a celebration. The city didn’t want to be thanked or recognized just for doing what we thought was the right thing.
“We wanted attention to be on those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Our role was to make sure their families and friends knew that the loss of their loved ones had not gone unnoticed.
“We wanted to support these families in any way we could and leave them and all the personnel of the armed forces without a doubt that we were grateful for the service they had provided and the sacrifices they had made. ”
A few weeks earlier, city councilors had been informed of the name change and that the city would have a redesigned coat of arms that would include the Lion Passant. As the city did not have a motto, the council decided it would be a good time to adopt one and agreed to choose “We honor those who serve”.
A decade later, city councilors met again to decide how to mark the 10th anniversary of Wootton Bassett’s appointment to the royal crown and decided that it would be inappropriate to hold a celebration due to the solemnity of the occasion, or to have any other event in case it has been used or misinterpreted by others for political reasons.
The spokesperson added: “The discussion was frank, open and, at times, full of deep emotions as we recalled the events of the repatriations. It was agreed that there should be no celebration.
“We cannot celebrate an event which has been the result of so many losses. It is too early. Nor should we have a single event to mark the anniversary as it seems inappropriate at this time when the withdrawal of Afghanistan is so politically charged.
“Any event could be misinterpreted or misused by those with political axes to grind. During the time of the repatriations, the city was determined that no one be allowed to use them for political ends or pretend that the city had gathered to show their support or protest against the actions in Afghanistan.
“We have tried to remain silent, but we have found that the press and media are filling this void with their own intentions and agendas. So we carefully and quietly made sure that no one was given a political platform. This experience has shown us that if we let the 10th anniversary pass without comment, once again it would allow the press and media to draw their own wrong conclusions.
“We want to make it very clear that we have not forgotten the 355 soldiers who were repatriated through our town. We remember them and we remember their families and friends.
“We remember the solemn sound of the bell, the silence in our High Street and the raw emotions we have witnessed on so many occasions. On behalf of the city, we thank all of our armed forces personnel for their continued service. .
“We remember not only those who fell, but also those who returned with wounds, both visible and invisible. We are convinced that the sacrifices made were not in vain. Great things have been accomplished by our military personnel and we must not let these accomplishments be forgotten. .
“So as we approach the 10th anniversary of the last repatriation through our city and the renaming of our city, we will not be hosting an event to celebrate. Instead, we invite everyone in town to remember the dead and their sacrifice; to remember why our city was made royal and to remember our motto – “We honor those who serve”.