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By the summer of 2010, the normally quiet market town of Wootton Bassett, now Royal Wootton Bassett, had become the focus of the nation’s grief for the rising death toll of British servicemen in Afghanistan, due to its proximity to RAF Lyneham where the repatriation flights had been temporarily diverted to from RAF Brize Norton.
The repatriation ‘ceremony’ on the High Street had gradually and organically evolved at Wootton Bassett and with it, so too had the crowds of respectful mourners and various media outlets to record it.
Although it was essentially an informal event, it had by then, settled into a pattern and so there was generally a level of certainty to how it would proceed.
However, whilst the repatriations had sadly become a frequent event in the small market town, thankfully it was much less a common sight to see multiple coffins passing through.
On the day in question seven servicemen were being repatriated and so I knew I would need to get a position that would allow for a long lens shot to get all seven hearses in frame.
The townsfolk, on the whole, were largely accommodating towards the media, accepting that it was important that the sacrifice and the tributes being made to the fallen servicemen was documented and recorded, so as a result I was able to secure a first floor window in a flat a little way down the High Street looking back up.
As normal, the town’s bell tolled to mark the arrival of the cortege and as it stopped to allow friends and family to place flowers on the hearses, a clearly grief stricken Helen Fisher cousin of 20-year-old Private Douglas Halliday unexpectedly stepped out of the crowd and, carrying a bunch of white and yellow roses walked down to the last car of seven that was carrying the body of her cousin and kissed the glass.
She was only there a few seconds as she was gently guided back to her family, but the simple and unexpected act had a poignancy that summed up in a single picture the tragic loss of life and the affect that the conflict was having on the families of the fallen.
I was one of the only photographers to capture the moment, as the majority were further up the High Street and were largely unaware of what Helen Fisher had just done.
Whilst it’s hard to say I am proud of the picture, I am glad people got to see it as hopefully the pain that the death of Private Douglas Halliday had on his immediate family will mean his sacrifice was not in vain.
About Matt Cardy
Matt Cardy, 42 has been a press photographer since 1998 when he started as a trainee photo journalist at the, then daily newspaper, The Bath Chronicle.
After a stint at the Western Daily Press, he has worked for Getty Images since 2004, becoming full time in 2008 and has subsequently covered stories both here in the UK and abroad, including assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Winner of the Photographer of the Year at the Press Awards 2010 and Photojournalist of the Year at Press Gazette’s inaugural British Journalism Awards in 2012, Matt says he still loves the total variety that the job brings and couldn't imagine in life what else he would do!
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