From 2007 the English village of Wootton Bassett emerged as a site to honour British military personnel killed in action. Repatriation ceremonies developed from a spontaneous act by the citizens of the town into an informal site of national respect for the armed forces. Initially cited by the media as an example to shame the country for its lack of respect for the military, it became both a space for public displays of grief and a site of political contention about British involvement in the Afghanistan war. Analysing newspaper coverage of the repatriations through Wootton Bassett, this first geographical analysis of the phenomenon describes that trajectory, its coverage by the media and the eventual return of formal control of the repatriation process to the military. Although it opened spaces for critical reflection on UK foreign policy, the Wootton Bassett phenomenon should be seen as part of a trend of the rehabilitation of the military in the aftermath of the Iraq war. The paper thus contributes to emergent debates about the militarisation of civilian space, and about the shifting nature of civil–military relations as a consequence of the two wars in which the UK has been engaged over the past decade. It concludes with a call for geographers to pay more attention to the formation and dissolution of spontaneous, immaterial and temporary sites of memory.