Service Casualty Branches
Until 1968 the policy of Her Majesty's Government was that Service personnel who died overseas should be buried close to where they fell. Prior to that date, funeral arrangements for a deceased Serviceman overseas would have been a matter for the formation concerned and burial would have taken place locally. Now if a Serviceman or Servicewoman dies overseas, the remains may be repatriated at public expense and buried in a cemetery chosen by the family. The next of kin are given the choice of local burial or repatriation, if they choose local burial, they may be transported to the location at public expense. There is no retrospective repatriation for those buried prior to 1968. It thus became necessary to devise a ceremony of repatriation which acknowledged the primacy of the family, whilst retaining the bond between the casualty and his or her Service 'family'. It is an integral component of the ethos of the British Armed Forces, that the relevant arm of Service, regiment, or corps has the opportunity to honour a fallen member of its own 'family'. The provision of bearers from the appropriate Service to remove the coffin from the aircraft with ceremony and place it in the hearse fulfils this requirement. That this takes place in the presence of the casualty's own family, is the essence of this ceremony. There are no formal prayers, but padres are in attendance. The ceremony was designed to make it as individual a return for the next of kin as possible, whilst not resembling a funeral. The station used for repatriation to UK is Royal Air Force Brize Norton. The number of coffins repatriated at any one time is kept to a minimum to ensure that the ceremony is not over long. Coffins are brought off the aircraft in order of Service i.e. Royal Navy, Army, and then Royal Air Force. Royal Air Force staff are on hand to ensure that families are sensitively supported. A military pattern headstone is provided (if wanted by the next of kin) and the grave and headstone are maintained in perpetuity by MOD. Maintenance standards for cemeteries containing Service graves are laid down in a technical bulletin which is revised from time to time.