In the past few years, something quite unique has developed in the town of Wootton Basset in Wiltshire. Time was that those who had died fighting for Queen and country were not given much thought. As appalling as this may sound, this suited everyone just fine for many years.
It suited politicians as it meant they did not have to answer difficult questions about just why they were sent into battle in the first place. It suited the people as we did not have to confront the realities and tough questions that the subject of death brings forward as they witnessed scenes such as the one pictured here. Death has always been an uneasy subject for many people in this country, and will probably continue to be for a long time yet.
Over the past four years, military repatriations have taken place in the town of Wootton Bassett. Exactly why this started is not entirely clear to me, but no less than 345 bodies of service personnel have gone through the town during that time. It was becoming almost something of a ritual to see yet more dead bodies being brought back from war zones. Which is why, your Reaper suspects, that this will no longer be happening. At 8pm this evening, the townsfolk will see their Union flag lowered and blessed. Once that is done, it will be taken to RAF Brize Norton, where repatriations will now take place instead.
It is clamed that the new tradition started at Wootton Bassett will continue in the town of Carterton, which is near to RAF Brize Norton. Regrettably, the residents of the town will be able to partake in a repatriation as early as next week, when the body of a Royal Marine serving with 42 Commando will be brought home from Afghanistan. He died only yesterday, having been killed by a roadside bomb whilst on foot patrol. His name has not been released at the time of writing. One can only hope that the residents of Carterton will turn out in their droves in order to ensure this tradition continues.
Whilst these are sad occasions, I feel that it is important they are held in public, with an audience and with the cameras and lenses of the world’s media focusing on the scenes of grief and of rememberance that are always brought to the fore at these moments. It is not simply so that people will ask questions afterwards about whether any conflict is truly worth fighting – it is also in order to pay a mark of respect for young men and women who are far braver than most of us ever will be and who ultimately died doing what they loved. Despite my deep misgivings about our being in the likes of Afghanistan and Iraq, I have enormous respect for those people who have been sent out there.
However, there must surely be a concern that people will start to lose interest now. The more that I think about this move, the more I end up coming back to the same conclusion. Why exactly is the move taking place now? Why not two years ago? Why not five years from now instead? One can’t help but think that this is an entirely deliberate move, can they not? The town of Wootton Bassett will soon be known as Royal Wootton Bassett from the autumn, but I can’t help but feel that the town is being robbed of something very important.
I cannot help but come to the conclusion that this is a deliberate stitch-up by an establishment which knows that it is doing the wrong thing but cannot bring itself to admit this. It is right and proper that any military action, and all casualties that come from it, are scrutinised in a democracy. Yet one often feels that politicians would prefer if we didn’t. They would prefer that the bodies of those who were being brought back were kept hidden away, out of the public’s eye, so that the public did not get the opportunity to see a true indication of the human cost of wars, often started because of a politician’s actions.
The reality is that in war, people die. Yet it is a reality that politicians would prefer not to face. This is not simply because they could start facing awkward questions – it is also because that deep down, they know just as well as everyone else that they should never have been sent there in the first place. In the meantime, whilst politicians continue to pretend that everything is fine and that it is right for us to be involved in foreign conflicts, innocent men and women who are doing what they love continue to perish, and the politicians responsible for this are determined to make sure we know less and less about what they claim to be doing in our name.
Truly, this is an utterly shameful state of affairs.