The following is a guest post from my friend and former colleague Ben Weald.
20th March 2012 saw the return of 6 soldiers who had lost their lives in Afghanistan , the repatriation was meant to take place last week , but as is quite normal was delayed until today.
Having no work , I got up and had breakfast before setting off for Brize Norton with my wife.
Without my satnav I would get nowhere as I have no sense of direction whatsoever.
The Satnav told me we would arrive at about 1.30pm which was the time aircraft carrying the soldiers would arrive , the actual repatriations were due to take place roughly between 4 30 and 5 30 pm so I had time in case the traffic was bad.
As it was, the traffic was good for me all the way and we found a parking space and parked just after 1 30 , on the way we saw a plane that looked like those used to fly the soldiers home and we were certain it had arrived done its duty and left again – The boys were on home soil again.
We walked from the car to where the cameras and crowds were and found in the same place the memorial garden , the flag at the memorial garden which had come from Royal Wootton Bassett was at half mast and people were wandering around.Wreaths had been laid as well as little crosses and poppies.
Just in front of the memorial garden on the curb was a laminated name on it of each of the soldiers equally spread out also with a few flowers on them , this was so people knew where to stand when the cars with their coffins arrived – Opposite that was the press stand although they mingled with the people as well.
Over the next few hours people came and went – Extremely obvious were those soldiers who came from the nearby camp with flowers (most in uniform) to pay their respects.Some stayed, others left.
Amongst all were family and friends , nobody hassled them and there were stewards on hand in the event of the occasion getting too much for them.One girl quite young arrived and already looked as though she had been crying for a week and over the course of the afternoon it became too much for her and some friends took her away to compose herself.
A large group of boys showed up all wearing suits and shoes shined wearing matching ties which were green , red and black thick striped , they stayed around and were there when the cars came around.
The mayor and other officials showed up and as the afternoon moved on more people arrived – By about 4 30 there must have been between 1500 and 2000 people in attendance.
Around this time some of the boys wearing the matching ties stepped into the closed road and placed 6 roses in the middle , the crowd watched , the Royal British Legion were also present and lined up opposite the memorial garden with their flags and I counted at least 70 of them – It seems strange that when I was growing up the RBL was full of old men , now they still have their old men but there is a sprinkling of younger people amongst them (I know its not an age thing) and that is quite sad.I find that these younger people have done their duty and look young , but as we know dying is not just for the old.
5pm came around and the family and friends not by the garden appeared and walked to where they were going to stand – All this time the crowd was gettng quieter and quieter.
At about 5 00 we got message that they had set out from Brize Norton – People stood, waited and talked quietly,
time seemed to tick by ever more slowly.
As we waited children in school uniform showed up and police in their best uniforms , I spoke with a couple next to me who were locals and they said that they try and get to each and every repatriation when it happens to show respect – How amazing is that.
At about 5 20 the barrier blocking the road was moved and a few minutes later some cars came around the corner (around 15 of them) them and they all stopped , out of them got people who must have been brothers , sisters , mums and dads.
Each of the cars had its door opened for them and they got out , the one closest to me was a type of people carrier and as they got out one said about wearing the t-shirts and they opened the boot and all put on a t shirt , each shirt on the front had the soldiers name and above it each shirt was personalised saying Hero and son and hero and brother on them.On the back was the Help for Heroes logo and writing , one had been signed – It took a few minutes and the people joined the others and the cars moved off
We waited once again , still silent
A few minutes later the RBL were instructed to raise their flags and round the corner came the police motorbike and car followed by the 6 hearses – The man leading them looked solemn and walked with respect as was due.
As they entered the area the flags were lower and silence was more prevalent than ever , all you could hear were cameras and people crying.
The cars pulled up close to where their names were and the people surrounded them and placed flowers and poppies on them . One lady close to me touched the window of the hearse and stroked it like she wanted to be able to touch the person inside.
6 hearse’s , 6 coffins , 6 union flags , 6 brave men were in those cars -So, so sad.
The cars moved off and as they did people clapped and the clapping moved down the crowd as they passed and once out of sight and beyond the roundabout at the end of the road the RBL raised their flags and were also clapped.
The day was over, people started to disperse and do their own thing.
The cars drove away and we headed to our car. It took a few minutes to get there due to the crowds as we left, it must have been 10 minutes since the cars had gone and we headed towards home.
On the way up we had passed a hospital – This was the hospital the soldiers would be going to.
On the way up we had passed a pub which had flags out on both sides of the road – Help for Heroes , St George crosses and the Union Flag , we were to pass these again.
As we headed home we actually caught up with the cars as they had not sped up and there was now a tailback of cars due to these boys home coming.
What was noticable was that anywhere people could stand they did, foralmost 10 miles – Every bridge , every bit of grass , every set of traffic lights and pub had people , flowers and flags.
The road was covered in the flowers for those boys.
When the government moved the repatriations from Wootton Bassett (Royal) people feared they were trying to hide the soldiers from the public’s view and out of sight and out of mind was the impression people got.
Yes, theycome out the back gates to the camp , but this is where the small chapel is and no, it’s not worked as I have seen today. People are still showing up to pay their respects and people have not forgotten – I dont think they will.
Today people were united – Bikers , builders , professionals , military and civilians were present , Young and old , all types , all colours were represented by the people there and those who were not there were present in spirit.
Ben Weald – A Patriot of England and very proud.