10th Anniversary 2021
Issued 11th October 2021
The 16th October 2021 marks the 10th Anniversary of the presentation of Letters Patent by Princess Anne, from HM the Queen, to the Town of Wootton Bassett in 2011, which changed the name of the town to Royal Wootton Bassett.
The presentation to the then Mayor, Councillor Paul Heaphy, took place at a ceremony in the High Street, on the same spot where thousands of people, from the town and around the world, had gathered over a period of four and a half years for the repatriation of 355 fallen armed services personnel.
The event that day was not a celebration. The town did not want to be thanked or recognised simply for doing what we thought was “the right thing”. We wanted the focus of attention to be directed towards those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Our role was to make sure that their families and friends knew that the loss of their loved ones had not gone unnoticed. We wanted to support those families in any way we could, and leave them, and all armed forces personnel, in no doubt that we were grateful for the service they had offered and the sacrifices they had made.
Just a few weeks before 16th October 2011, Town Councillors had met, to be informed of the change in the town’s name, they were also told that the town would be receiving a redesigned coat of arms – incorporating the Lion Passant. It was noted that, historically, there had been no motto below the town’s coat of arms. Councillors suggested and agreed, that it would be the right time to adopt a motto, and “We Honour Those Who Serve” was chosen.
This motto is one which has come to be used countless times over the subsequent years when we are trying to debate how to address complex issues. We now find we can rely on it once more.
Town Councillors met again recently to discuss how we should mark the tenth anniversary of the town “being made Royal”. 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 that was the result of so much loss. It is too soon. We also agreed we should not hold any one “event” to mark the anniversary. It seems inappropriate at this time when the withdrawal from 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 town was determined that no-one would be allowed to use them for political gain, or to claim that the town had gathered to demonstrate support for, or protest against the actions in Afghanistan. We tried to stay silent, but found the press and media filled that vacuum with their own intentions and agendas. So, we carefully and quietly made sure that no one was given a political platform.
That experience demonstrated to us, that if we let the 10th Anniversary pass without comment, once again it would allow the press and media to come to their own, incorrect, conclusions.
It is for this reason; the Town Council has chosen to issue this press release. We want to make it abundantly clear; we have not forgotten the 355 service personnel who were repatriated through our town. We remember them and we remember their families and friends. We remember the solemn tolling of the bell, the silence in our High Street and raw emotions that we witnessed on so many occasions.
On behalf of the Town, we thank all our armed forces personnel for their continued service. We remember not only those who fell but also those returned with injuries, both visible and unseen. We feel strongly that the sacrifices made were not in vain. Great things were achieved by our military personnel and we must not allow those achievements to be forgotten.
So, as we come to the 10th Anniversary of the last repatriation through our town, and of the change in our town’s name, we will not be holding an event to celebrate. Instead, we invite everyone in the town to remember the fallen and their sacrifice; to remember why our town was made “Royal”; and to remember our motto – “We Honour Those Who Serve”.
For further information, please contact Councillor Steve Walls, Mayor of Royal Wootton Bassett at the Royal Wootton Bassett Town Council office on 01793 850222.