Thrill for Bill as idea gets Royal approval

HAPPY Bill Thomas with his letter from the Queen
HAPPY Bill Thomas with his letter from the Queen
The Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov as seen from HMS Somerset in the Moray Firth

Royal Navy ship shadows a Russian destroyer

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A GRANDFATHER who asked the Queen to honour the town of Wootton Bassett with a Royal title was ‘thrilled’ as his idea became reality.

Bill Thomas, 65, of Portchester, wrote to Her Majesty in 2009 asking if she would consider renaming it Royal Wootton Bassett in recognition of the big turnouts for the repatriation of fallen troops when their funeral corteges pass through.

A repatriation cortege makes its way through Wootton Bassett

A repatriation cortege makes its way through Wootton Bassett

So he was ‘chuffed’ when Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the Queen agreed to the tribute as ‘an enduring symbol of the nation’s admiration and our gratitude to the people of that town’ yesterday.

Mr Thomas said: ‘I’m chuffed and it’s fantastic that the country will get to say a thank you to the people of Wootton Bassett.

‘Come rain or shine, they shut up their shops and they’re ready to do the business every time, it’s fantastic. It’s the first time in more than 100 years a place has received the ‘Royal’ title.

‘I know they don’t do it for the thanks but they definitely deserve some sort of recognition,’ said Mr Thomas, a former Royal Navy marine engineer.

He first had the idea when he saw a repatriation on TV.

He said: ‘I saw some of the old British Legion boys on the news giving a salute as a cortege went past.

‘I thought about what a fantastic way it was to show respect to those poor people who had been killed while fighting for their country. I served my Queen for 12 years in some grim situations and know what it can be like when you’re thousands of miles from home and fighting for your country.

‘It makes you think that what you’re fighting for is worthwhile when you have the support of those at home.’

He wrote to the Queen in 2009 and received an encouraging letter back confirming Her Majesty had taken ‘careful note’ of his suggestion and asked then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to ‘consider’ it. But he had heard nothing else until yesterday’s announcement.

‘I thought it was dead in the water. But when I heard the news today I was over the moon and I am just so thrilled,’ he said.

From September, soldiers killed in combat will no longer pass through Wootton Bassett because of the closure of the RAF Lyneham base.

Repatriation ceremonies will take place at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire instead.