Each time a repatriation takes place, an enormous amount of time and trouble is taken to ensure that pride, dignity and sensitivity are maintained, both for the service, and the families concerned.
It's a difficult job, and places demands on the Repatriations Team at RAF Lyneham. RAF Lyneham has been very much in the public eye since April of 2007, when the base received its first repatriation.
Since then, the sad toll has continued with flag-draped coffins becoming an all too familiar sight at the base, and then in the High Street of nearby Wootton Bassett.
The military very often assigns operational code names, and repatriations are no different. Whilst the word, 'repatriation' is commonly used on base, equally well used is the phrase, 'Op Pabbay', for Operation Pabbay."A repatriation will commonly begin at 8.30am," says Wing Commander Rob Snell, who leads Lyneham's Repatriations team. "We'll get together with the family or families involved, and explain to them exactly how the day's going to unfold."
Bodies are returned to RAF Lyneham aboard a C-17 Globemaster aircraft. Before it lands, it's expected to perform a slow flypast over the Lyneham terminal. This will happen at 11am, a reminder that ceremony is important on such a day.
"Once we know there's going to be a flypast, we'll take the families outside and they will see the flypast," says Squadron Leader Catherine Rand. She's the team's Family Liaison officer. "The terminal is out of sight of the runway but families can come back inside the terminal and see their loved ones land via CCTV screens."
Once it's landed, there will be a pause, as the C-17 is unloaded of whatever non-Pabbay material it's also brought home. It also has to have certain defensive munitions removed; another stark reminder of how dangerous it is where its flight began.
At 12pm, the C-17 will taxi around to the terminal, where the families wait and the coffins will be carried from the aircraft.
"The Last Post will begin the ceremony," says Catherine. "The coffins will be brought off the aircraft, taken to the hearses and the hearses will drive off. The bugler will sound Reveille when the last serviceman's body has been driven away."
It's after that the families will be taken to the Chapel of Rest at RAF Lyneham.
An important time
The coffins are laid in private rooms and the families are brought down. . This will be the first time that they've had a chance to be close to their relatives. It's a very emotional time, and a very important time for them."
"Grief isn't a normal process and it has no normality, so they may take literally just a few minutes or it may be 45 minutes and that really is down to the family. There is no pressure for them to conform to our time pattern. We just go with whatever they want to do at the time."
The Chapel of Rest has six private rooms and whilst there's no expressed limit on how many family members can attend, a figure of seven has become the accepted number of mourners allowed on site.
"In a way, that explains the numbers of family and friends who appear at Wootton Bassett, the High Street is their first chance to see their loved ones and so becomes their open air Chapel of Rest.
Once families have said their goodbyes at the Chapel, they'll be given the choice of going to Wootton Bassett, where a large crowd traditionally waits.
Wing Commander Snell says most families do see the North Wiltshire town as an important part of the grieving process. "Invariably, it's become a hub for extended family members to meet up so Wootton Bassett provides a really important part of the whole day."
Every member of the Repatriations Team at RAF Lyneham makes it clear that each ceremony is centred around the families and their needs. Indeed, when there is a repatriation, noisy base operations will be kept to a minimum and certain rights of way will be barred to foot and vehicle traffic.
The feelings of the families are paramount in each of the team's minds but nevertheless, each ceremony demands a price of each of them.