UK town gets royal title for honoring war dead

October 19, 2011 - 10:21 AM

LONDON (AP) — A small town that honored British soldiers killed in Afghanistan as their bodies were returned home received a royal title Sunday for its compassion — the first such honor granted to a town in over 100 years.

Princess Anne delivered the Letters Patent — official documents from her mother Queen Elizabeth II — to the town of Wootton Bassett, giving it official permission to change its name to Royal Wootton Bassett.

The bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan used to be repatriated to the RAF Lyneham airbase near Wootton Bassett, 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of London, and driven through town to a coroners office.

Each time a cortege passed, residents shut the doors of their businesses and lined the sidewalks to salute the procession. Veterans and the families of the dead soldiers came to the town to take part in the ceremony, which began as an informal show of support for those killed and grew into a tradition that was broadcast around the country.

"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 respecting with dignity the losses that this country's operational responsibilities have forced upon us," Princess Anne said in a ceremony to mark the accolade.

Wootton Bassett now joins two other royal towns in England — Leamington Spa was granted the title in 1838 by Queen Victoria and Tunbridge Wells received the title in 1909 from King Edward II. Both towns had petitioned for the honor in recognition of their antiquity and royal patronage of their spa facilities.

Wootton Bassett did not ask for any royal recognition — British Prime Minister David Cameron had asked the queen to grant the honor.

Other areas in Britain have been made royal boroughs, rather than royal towns. Caernarvon in Wales was made a Royal Borough by the queen in 1963 and allowed to retain the honor when it became a town in 1974.

Greenwich is one of a number of other royal boroughs in England.