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Byline: Andy Richards

A SUNSET ceremony marked the end of repatriations through Wootton Bassett when the Union flag on the high street was taken down.

The ceremony, co-ordinated by the town council, aimed to reflect the simple and dignified nature of the military repatriations which have passed through the town since April 2007.

It marked the end of an era for Wootton Bassett, which has seen thousands of people line its main street to pay their respects to those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What started as an impromptu event grew larger than anyone in the town could have imagined and Wootton Bassett soon became a place where families and friends of fallen servicemen, including several from the West Midlands, shared their grief.

On August 18 the town fell silent for the 167th and final repatriation to go through Wootton Bassett when the body of Lieutenant Daniel Clack, 24, of 1st Battalion The Rifles, was brought back to UK soil.

RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire will remain the official landing ground for repatriations until the end of today but tomorrow the honour passes back to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Servicemen and women killed on operations have been flown into RAF Lyneham since April 2007 when RAF Brize Norton was closed for runway repairs.

Yesterday's small ceremony involved the lowering of the Union flag as the sun sets - the same flag which was flown at half mast for the last fallen serviceman repatriated into RAF Lyneham.

The flag was being blessed and folded before being laid overnight on the altar of St Bartholomew's Church.

It was then be transported to Oxfordshire, where was being handed over by the mayor of Wootton Bassett as a symbolic gesture from the people of the town to the people of Oxfordshire.

The ceremony was led by Wootton Bassett's mayor, councillor Paul Heaphy, and Canon Thomas Woodhouse, chaplain of the local branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL).

Mr Heaphy said: "We felt it was appropriate to mark the passing of responsibility from Wootton Bassett to Oxfordshire and we felt it would be wrong not to recognise what has happened over the last number of years.

"We've had requests from the community to pull something together so we have created this ceremony which hopefully people will feel fitting."

The bell of St Bartholomew's church sounded through the town, echoing the familiar tolls of the repatriations themselves.

At 7.57pm - the moment of sunset - the flag was lowered to a solemn performance of Sunset and Evening by Wootton Bassett Brass Band and the moving words of The Exhortation will be recited before the flag is blessed and the ceremony brought to a close.

Anne Bevis, the repatriation liaison officer for Wootton Bassett RBL, said: "The ceremony will bring closure to us, with the handing over to Brize Norton, it sort of ties it all up nicely and gives us closure, otherwise it is left high and dry."



Dignified: The Union flag is lowered for the last time and then folded (below) on the High Street of Wootton Bassett.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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