For almost 1,500 years, Wootton Bassett (known in its beginnings as Wodeton) has been a pretty little market town in northern Wiltshire in England. With only just over 11,000 residents, you wouldn’t think a town like Wootton Bassett would be important to the British, but in the last few years it’s become very important for soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and their families. Wootton Bassett is on the route to RAF Lyneham, a Royal Airforce station in England, and RAF Lyneham is also the place where Great Britain’s fallen soldiers are taken to the coroner. In the last few years, word got around that these fallen soldiers were being driven through Wootton Bassett on their way to their final resting place and so Wootton Bassett townspeople responded.
Now, as any fallen British soldier is driven through Wootton Bassett in a hearse, draped with a British flag, townspeople line the streets in silent vigil and prayer, paying tribute to a British soldier who died for their country. Mothers, fathers, shopkeepers, the town crier, school children, people on their way to work or on their way home, even the town’s mayor and town council members – all line up to remember the soldier to make sure his or her family and country know they won’t be forgotten.
Why Wootton Bassett is so important though, is because of the impact the townspeople’s actions are having on the rest of Great Britain. The British, who in recent years, seem to have lost many of their traditions and who, as a society, seem often to be less caring than they used to be, are realizing something like the actions of Wootton Bassett’s citizens are important. Important for British soldiers, important for the families of those soldiers whether killed in action or still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, important to a civilized society and important to the United Kingdom as a whole.
The latest two UK fallen soldiers flown home to be buried were driven in hearses through Wootton Bassett last week. Sergeant Stuart Millar, aged 40, and Private Kevin Elliott, aged 24, were killed in Afghanistan last week after a roadside bomb exploded while they were out patrolling on foot. There have been 212 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since Great Britain deployed their troops there. In the last two months, however, 41 British soldiers have been killed, causing many Brits to wonder “Why is the British military still in Afghanistan?” Contentious though this issue may be, the kind actions of the people in Wootton Bassett are putting a human face on the Afghanistan tragedy and making Brits realize, regardless of what they think about Afghanistan, those fallen soldiers believed in what they did and believed they died for something. And, for that, they should be honored.
SOURCES: Wikipedia – Wootton Bassett, The Wootton Bassett Chamber of Commerce and The Daily Mail – And still the bodies come home: Wootton Bassett mourns another two fallen soldiers