REPATRIATIONS: New £2.8M centre will give fallen 'dignity they deserve'

Oxford Mail: Wing Commander Adrian Bettridge, left, and RAF Brize Norton station commander, Group Captain Dom Stamp outside the centre Wing Commander Adrian Bettridge, left, and RAF Brize Norton station commander, Group Captain Dom Stamp outside the centre

FALLEN military heroes will be returned home with the “dignity and respect” they deserve.

And the £2.8m repatriations centre at RAF Brize Norton, which opened yesterday, will also give grieving families the support they need.

The first Repatriation to the Oxfordshire airbase could take place next Thursday, when RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, which used to perform the role, officially closes.

The new centre will give relatives space to pay their respects in private when their loved ones return It houses eight chapels, a private lounge and a special viewing platform that will allow families to pay their respects as the plane carrying their loved ones lands.

The centre has been built in six months and came in under the original £3.2m budget.

Group Captain Dom Stamp, RAF Brize Norton station commander, said: “We are sure what we have got here will provide the best support that we possibly can to the families.

“I am very, very pleased with the results and I can think of nothing else that we could have included that would have enhanced the centre.”

He added: “The repatriation ceremony is obviously well known throughout the station and something that is very solemn, but it is something everyone at Brize Norton has taken a huge amount of pride in.”

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The Rev (Wing Commander) David Edgar, senior chaplain at RAF Brize Norton, said: “We believe it to be a great facility.

“It is very important to all military people that our fallen are paid due dignity and respect on their return to the country.

“Everybody here is very keen to make sure that takes place in the best way possible.”

Wing Commander Adrian Bettridge, repatriations project manager, said: “I’m really, really pleased with the facility.

“But, on the other hand, it’s one of the projects I have not taken great pleasure in because of the role it will have.”

He said organisations, including the Royal British Legion, RAF Lyneham and forces charities, had been consulted on the design of the building.

He added: “It is the best design possible for this facility.”

The cortege will leave the base through Gate Six, which has been renamed Britannia Gate and decorated with Cotswold stone walls and shrubs.

Wing Commander Bettridge said: “It will provide a dignified backdrop to the departure of the cortege.

“It is the last time they will leave a military establishment and we needed it to be an appropriate backdrop, and that is what we have achieved.”

Britannia Gate was a controversial choice, with some former service personnel saying it was “disrespectful” to use the “back door” of Brize Norton.

But Wing Commander Bettridge said: “It is the right gate. If we were to close the main gate for a cortege to leave, it would have created all sorts of traffic issues in the local area.”

  • Legion is backing plan to rename JR road HEADINGTON residents have suggested renaming the road leading up to the John Radcliffe Hospital in honour of fallen servicemen and women.

The proposal was first put forward at a Headington ward focus meeting in July and received backing from members of the community.

A representative from the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust (ORH) was at the meeting, where one of the suggested names for the road was ‘Heroes’ Way’.

Jim Lewendon, of the Oxfordshire branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “I would support renaming the road in tribute to the servicemen and women.”

Repatriations arriving from RAF Lyneham made their way to the John Radcliffe for post-mortem examinations.

They will continue to do so as corteges arrive from Brize Norton.

Patrick Coulter, of Headington Action, said: “If there is a demand for it from local people then I cannot see any problem with it.”

The road, which is currently nameless, is the property of the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals so any decision to rename it would rest with them.

The ORH confirmed it was awaiting a formal proposal on the issue.

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