For four years the people of Wootton Bassett, a town deep in the English countryside, have played a solemn role in Britain’s war life. Every time a serviceman is killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, his or her body is returned to the nearby base of RAF Lyneham and then driven slowly through the heart of the Wiltshire town. There, hundreds and often thousands of residents have stood silently as the cortège passes by on its way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. (Before 2007, the repatriations occurred at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, and the route to the hospital skipped all the local towns.)
The tradition so touched Britain that last week Queen Elizabeth II did something no monarch had done in more than a century: she gave permission for the ancient town to add “Royal” to its name. It is a bittersweet recognition. In September, RAF Lyneham will shut down, and the repatriations will return to Brize Norton. It is now up to Oxfordshire to plan a route that continues the tradition that Royal Wootton Bassett started.