Page last updated at 19:16 GMT, Sunday, 12 October 2008 20:16 UK

Town swells with patriotism and pride

By Paul Adams
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

Come rain or shine, the people of Wootton Bassett have turned out, sometimes in their hundreds, to pay their respects to fallen soldiers.

Flags fly in Wootton Bassett
Wootton Bassett has gained a reputation for patriotism

On Sunday, under blazing autumn skies, the armed forces marched on the town to say thank you.

Usually, the sight of a vast C-17 transport plane, making its final approach to nearby RAF Lyneham, heralds the arrival of flag-draped coffins from Afghanistan or Iraq.

But when the aircraft's four jet engines roared low over the high street, flags fluttered and a cheer went up. Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader told the crowd the military was here for one reason alone.

"And that's to pay tribute to a townspeople who have shown an uncommon humanity," Sir Clive said.

"You and your neighbours have chosen to stand side by side, time and time again, and show your unified support for those who have fallen in battle."

'Welcome home'

Wootton Bassett has now seen 102 repatriations, in 53 separate ceremonies, since bodies started being flown to RAF Lyneham in April 2007.

A Hercules fly-past started the parade

What began with a handful of veterans saluting the passing cortege soon developed into a simple ritual involving larger and larger numbers of people.

They line the road each time word goes around that another hearse is expected.

Dennis Compton, Wiltshire chairman of the Royal British Legion, has been here from the start.

"When a regiment goes out and comes back, they have a welcome home parade, in whatever town they're barracked in," he told me.

"These lads don't get a welcome home parade. So when they come back, in Wootton Bassett, it's their welcome home parade."

Town came to a halt

When I came here on 19 September, I watched as the cortege carrying the bodies of Lance Corporal Nicky Mason and Private Jason Rawstron, both from 2 Para, entered the high street.

It stopped by Saint Bartholomew and All Saints Church, before being led on at walking pace by a funeral director.

When the coffins reached the town's distinctive war memorial, with four brass hands holding up a globe, the cortege stopped for two minutes while veterans and police officers saluted and the town came to a halt.

Pauline Cuss
Local resident Pauline Cass: "A proud day for the town"

Today, in what felt like summer's last glorious hurrah, thousands cheered and clapped as brass bands representing all three services marched along the high street.

Patriotism and pride were much in evidence. Local resident Pauline Cuss clutched two Union Jacks as she welcomed the military.

"It's a very proud day for Wootton Bassett," she told me. "We take the repatriation here very seriously."

With plenty of serving and retired military people living in the community, it's hardly surprising that Wootton Bassett has achieved its reputation. Should the rest of the country take note, I wondered?

"I really don't think we're as proud of our armed forces as we should be," Pauline said.

In north Wiltshire this afternoon, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Armed Forces pay tribute to town
10 Oct 08 |  Wiltshire
MoD thanks town for its support
16 Sep 08 |  Wiltshire

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