A town of grief

March 12, 2010

The coffins of six British soldiers killed in Afghanistan are driven though the streets of Wootton Bassett in southwest England November 10, 2009. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Since the early 2000’s, the bodies of fallen servicemen and women from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places have been repatriated to RAF Lyneham. They pass through the town of Wootton Bassett on their way to the coroner in Oxford. This has led to family members, friends, locals and mourners from further afield assembling along the route of the funeral cortege. It is an emotionally charged event that garners wide media coverage every time.

A man cries as the hearses carrying the coffins of five British soldiers are driven through the streets of Wootton Bassett, southern England March 11, 2010. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

This was the second time that I had covered this story, the first being just a few weeks ago. Then again yesterday as five servicemen were repatriated. Standing on stepladders to facilitate a clear view over the hearses sounds conspicuous at such an event. And it is. There is no getting away from it. In order to document what is happening, we need to be able to see it.

Mourners react as coffins are driven though the streets of Wootton Bassett. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (L) and (C) Stephen Hird (R)

I noticed yesterday that photographers kept shutter bursts to a minimum. This isn’t some High Court snatch picture opportunity. This is a story that requires grief to be documented as sensitively and delicately as possible, as I am sure every photographer working in Wootton Bassett yesterday, as on every previous occasion, was touched in some way by the sadness caused from the loss of loved ones.

A mourner holds a white rose as hearses carrying the coffins of two British soldiers are driven through the streets of Wootton Bassett in southern England February 5, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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