For the first time since 1909, and only the third time in the history of England, a town has been officially recognized as a “royal” town.
The Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett was commemorated for the difficult role it has played as the first receiving point for the bodies of UK military personnel killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Going forward, the town’s name will be given the honorific prefix and officially renamed “Royal Wootton Bassett” in recognition of its national service.
The Queen made the decision to bestow the honor on the town on the advice of Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the renaming ceremony on Sunday. Princess Anne personally delivered the so-called Letters Patent on behalf of the Queen, formally recognizing the town’s new status. The Princess Royal also paid tribute to the town residents.
“I am privileged to be allowed to add my thanks to those of Her Majesty the Queen and the whole country for the example you set in responding with dignity and respect to the losses that this country’s operational responsibilities have forced upon us,” she said.
The town’s first repatriation service took place in April 2007, and the most recent service was held in August. In all, there have been 167 services for 345 personnel over the past four years. The nearby Lyneham Royal Air Force base, which had received the bodies, is in the process of being closed, and repatriations have now been relocated to Oxfordshire.
“For every one of these repatriations,” wrote the Telegraph, “the streets of the town were thronged with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. These moving ceremonies did more than show the nation’s respect for those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. They also served to remind us of the battles being fought on our behalf in a distant country.”
Earlier this month, politicians sought donations to help Wootton Bassett pay for the cost of the naming ceremony, which was estimated to be £65,000.
North Wiltshire MP James Gray, reported the BBC, said that while he applauded the town council’s determination to break even without incurring additional costs to residents, he hoped that additional contributions would help make the day “one which the town, and indeed the nation as a whole, will remember with pride for years to come.”
In other royal-related news:
• If you’ll remember back a little more than two weeks ago, when Kate and William opened a new children’s cancer clinic, the Duchess had a particularly touching conversation with a nine-year-old boy named Fabian Bate, who was undergoing chemotherapy to treat his leukemia. When Fabian told the Duchess that he keeps a blog, she replied that she would post a message there.
It turns out that the Duchess took a more personal approach, writing Fabian a heartwarming letter.
“Despite the enormously demanding course of treatment you are undergoing,” she wrote, “I was so touched by your strength of character, and delighted to hear the news that one of your big sisters will be able to donate bone marrow to you later this year.”
Kate told Fabian to “keep up the good work on the blog and, in the meantime, I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.”
Fabian’s father said his son was ecstatic, adding, “For him to have something so personalized is a wonderful gesture.” (via the Daily Record)
• Fashionistas approved of the striking red gown Kate wore last week to a charity event at St. James’s Palace.
That’s right, the fashion police did the hard investigative work, and you can see their photographic evidence on the right. You can also continue your own investigation by examining additional forensic evidence yourself, namely this BBC America Royally Mad web video clip in which the suspect appears to be wearing the aforementioned article of clothing:
• The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge just keep rolling along…on bicycles. London’s mayor Boris Johnson told a radio show that he’d heard that the couple often uses rental bikes to get around London when they stay at their Kensington Palace residence. (Public bike rentals are informally referred to as “Boris Bikes,” after the mayor.) The rumor was then confirmed by a St. James’s Palace spokesman who said, “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge occasionally use the London cycle scheme bicycles to undertake private journeys around London.” (via LBC 97.3 FM)
• Even though she was suffering from a cold, Queen Elizabeth still attended the royal reception at Buckingham Palace she hosted for some 350 Australians last week. The Queen is herself about to leave for her trip Down Under, a ten-day royal tour that will culminate in the meeting of Commonwealth heads of state and a barbecue with more than 100,000 people.
Compared to that, 350 seems downright intimate.
Among the Aussie guests: actor Hugh Jackman, in London making a movie of Les Miserables, model Elle MacPherson, and musician Nick Cave. It had been reported that Kylie Minogue was invited, but it turned out that she was unable to attend.