Last week on Facebook, I received a notice on my wall from a police officer (friend of a friend) that when the repatriations of lost soldiers moves from RAF Lyneham to nearby RAF Brize Norton – a conscious decision had been made to avoid public displays of support.
Here in Wiltshire, we’ve grown very proud of the many people who live in, or who visit Wootton Bassett and who give up their time and energy to line the route that the hearses take and pay their respects to soldiers who’ve died in overseas conflicts.
It’s a scene that’s very familiar now, almost on occasion, becoming so common it could, by some, be seen to be mundane. Try going along just once though and you’ll know that it’s incredibly moving.
But this message claimed that the relevant government minister announced that there had been a deliberate decision to avoid built-up areas so that the kind of scenes at Wootton Bassett couldn’t be repeated. I thought this could not be true, even though he cited a time and place where this sentiment was uttered.
After all, what is wrong with this practice?
It was a spontaneous act by people and must offer some solace to bereaved families. Having been recently bereaved myself, it’s so important to know that your loved one matters – that your loss is acknowledged, and honoured, even if it’s just for a few short moments before normal life goes on for everyone else.
People do want the opportunity to honour fallen soldiers. It’s not about whether or not any particular conflict is right or wrong. It’s about appreciating their sacrifice. If you’re in any doubt about that, look at the astonishing success of Help For Heroes – a charity which has purposely avoided any political connections for that very reason.
But of course this couldn’t be true could it? Tonight, the local news ran a little bit of a debate in the House of Commons, where an MP Paul Flynn raised the issue, disgusted that people in Oxfordshire were being denied the opportunity to pay their respects like those who live in and around Wootton Bassett.
To my astonishment Wiltshire MP James Gray stood up and said that it might not be a good idea for Oxfordshire to be subject to the ‘Wootton Bassett’ effect! What? How so? Surely that’s up to the people of Oxfordshire, not up to politicians?
I appreciate that we just saw a snapshot of that debate so I did not hear what he may have said to qualify his comments.
It may well be that people in Oxfordshire would not line the streets as hearses go through, maybe they would, but to deny them any opportunity to do so – is that right?
Does this practice of honouring the dead represent some kind of threat? Is it costing extra money? Is it taking too long for each event? What is the bigger picture here that this practice is being gently, but apparently carefully, put to bed?