This is a guest post by Sinead Holland
WOOTTON Basset Town Council’s website is an interesting read. Apart from the bog standard introduction flagging up the twin delights of weekly markets and monthly farmers markets “and an abundance of places to eat and drink together with an interesting variety of shops …” it also includes the somber reminder that there will be another “repatriation” on Monday (January 11).
The message is utterly matter of fact, down to the reminder to check closer to the date as times are subject to change. It makes no mention of death or war – but everyone knows what it means. This North Wiltshire settlement has become synonymous with the final journey home of British servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and another body is on its way.
There are no churches wreathed in yellow ribbons in this country for the fallen, so this small West Country town has become the focus for marking the sacrifice and loss of the men and women claimed by both conflicts. Its residents leave their homes to line the streets and simply pay their respects.
This act of memorial began spontaneously and is all the more poignant for that in an era where everything – even grief – seems to be stage-managed, There is nothing mawkish about their reverence – despite the worst efforts of the media to sentimentalise their actions – because it is genuine, quiet and dignified.
The mayor of Wootton Bassett Steve Bucknell, says it best: “Wootton Bassett has, unwittingly, found itself in the media spotlight for the way it acts as a focal point for paying respects to fallen armed forces personnel. The people who attend the repatriations no doubt have a wide range of views about the conflicts, but those views are not voiced in our High Street, out of respect to those who have lost their lives and those who grieve for them.”
It could not be clearer – Wootton Bassett is “opposed to any form of political march, protest or demonstration by any individual, group, organisation or party through the town if the subject of such an event has any reference to the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan”.
Why is this commitment to put colour and creed to one side and come together as one community so hard to understand? It’s bad enough that Anjem Choudary, the leader of Islam4UK, has announced his intention to completely disregard this act of human kindness and march through the town with his supporters carrying empty coffins, but plans for counter-protests – however well-intentioned – are also ill-advised.
Choudary’s utter lack of respect is no justification for showing the same disregard. Wootton Bassett is not the place. The very last thing it should become is a battlefield between extremists and their opponents.
Any politically-motivated protest will destroy what community spirit has created and we will all be the poorer for it. Leave Wootton Bassett alone and just let it be.