Socialist Worker

Wootton Bassett: ‘Why are we fighting this war - nothing good is coming of it, only sadness?’

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2166

Grief on the streets of Wootton Bassett on Tuesday of last week (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Grief on the streets of Wootton Bassett on Tuesday of last week (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Wootton Bassett, a market town near Swindon in the south west of England, is now synonymous with the terrible reality of Britain’s war in Afghanistan.

British soldiers killed in the conflict are driven through the town in coffins draped in union flags after planes carrying them touch down at nearby RAF Lyneham.

Many people came to pay their respects to the dead on Tuesday of last week.

Men in military camouflage and berets, and military blazers drank outside a pub on the warm August afternoon – talking solemnly and occasionally laughing at a shared joke.

Local people, old ex‑servicemen and people with connections to the dead and the war lined the streets, making up over half of the people there.

The mainstream media often paint a picture of people coming out to grieve and show support for the war.

But there is deep opposition to the war among many who lined the streets of Wootton Bassett.

As the crowds gathered, Janine Barrett, a young mother from the town, told Socialist Worker, “We feel much closer to the war here, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

“Seeing the dead being driven through has become commonplace, although it never stops being sad.

“It’s a real tragedy how many people have died in this war – British and Afghan people.

“I don’t know why the government wants us to fight this war when nothing good is coming of it, only sadness.”

Katie was with a group of young women who also live locally.

She said, “I have never been to this before, but the deaths are rising all the time and I felt like I should do something – for the family to see that other people are sad for them too.”


Mark, who has friends in the army, said, “There is no clear goal in Afghanistan and the government should just stand up and say ‘we failed’.

“The troops should be brought home now so they can live their lives with their families and friends, not fighting and being killed for nothing.”

Brendan is 15 years old. He lives in a nearby village and was on school holidays.

He told me, “I used to think that the army was all about travelling the world and going on adventures, but this makes me think differently.

“How is it that these people set out to change the world for the better and they come back dead with people looking sad at the side of a road?

“Some of the soldiers are very young, not much older than me.

“It makes you think again about joining the army.”

As the time approached when the hearses were due to pass, I crossed back over the road to where most of the press were standing.

The crowd had swelled in the previous hour. There was a mixture of people there, some in their everyday clothes, others dressed in black.

As the Royal British Legion and others raised their banners the talking stopped.

As the hearses passed people bowed their heads. All you could hear was the tolling of the church bells and the sobs of those ordinary people on the other side of the road.

Some put flowers on top of the cars as they slowly drove by. The crowd dispersed after the hearses passed.

I visited a local pub to use its internet connection as I was leaving the town.

There the locals were also talking about the war. They, too, were in agreement that the troops should come home and that the government should be ashamed.

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Article information

Tue 25 Aug 2009, 19:23 BST
Issue No. 2166
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