The shock and sadness and bereavement when someone dies can sometimes risk blotting out all that was so good about their lives. So it is with my dear friend, Chris Wannell of Royal Wootton Bassett who died on Monday.
The words ‘Wannell’, ‘Wootton Bassett’ and ‘Fire Brigade’ are so intertwined as to be inseparable (despite the fact that Chris was from Chippenham by birth.)
There is almost no aspect of the town of Royal Wootton Bassett with which he - and his dear family, Audrey, Heather and Martin - were not involved in one way or another. He was a Town Councillor for 40 years, Mayor not once but twice (as was Audrey), he was a District Councillor, the inspiration behind the sad Repatriations of fallen service people through the town, Chairman of the local Scouts, a founder member of the Carnival Committee, involved with the Rotary Club, St Bartholomew’s Church, the Christmas Lights, Wootton Bassett Academy, the local Conservatives, of which he was a staunch and stalwart member, and in so many other ways. There was not an inch of Bassett which he did not love with a passion. “Cut me open,” he used to say, “and you’ll find ‘Bassett’ engraved on my heart.”
Chris was a lifelong fireman, rising to become Officer in Charge of the Bassett Fire Station. He saved countless lives and property and went on to make a huge contribution to the Fire Fighters Charity with his beloved historic fire engine, ‘Martha’ – who had given service in the Blitz. Martha was a well-known figure throughout the area, raising money, bearing coffins of deceased firemen- of which Chris’s own coffin will be the latest as it is borne down the High Street -attending steam fairs like that in Castle Combe where I joined once for a memorable ride. Chris and I drove Martha down into Castle Combe village accidentally to a stage where we could not do a three-point turn. “Drive her round by the Manor House”, he said, and we got some great photos without being done for trespass. Chris well deserved the Fire Service Charity’s ‘Lifetime Service Award’ which he won in 2018, followed by a Garden Party in No 10 Downing Street.
Chris was no stranger to Parliament. I remember he and his great friend George Scarrott of the Bassett travelling showman’s family coming up to give evidence to the Commons about how to keep travelling fairs on the road. They shared a bedroom in a local hotel - and each complained to me separately about how much the other snored. Now Chris and George will be enjoying a pint of 6X in the Five Bells in the sky reminiscing about old times.
Chris was an absolute pillar of the community of Royal Wootton Basset in every way, and he will be greatly missed by his lovely family, but also by his so many friends, among whom I am proud to be counted, throughout Royal Wootton Bassett and the wider community.
As we bid Chris a fond farewell, let us remember a Good Life Well Lived.