Remembrance Day 2020
The Unknown Warrior
This year November the 11th is the centenary of the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
The idea of a Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was first conceived in 1916 by the Reverend David Railton, who, while serving as an Army Chaplain on the Western Front, had seen a grave marked by a rough cross, which bore the pencil-written legend ‘An Unknown British Soldier’.
He wrote a letter to the Dean of Westminster in 1920 proposing that an unidentified British soldier, from the battlefields in France, be buried with due ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Where he would be “amongst the kings” to represent the many hundreds of thousands of Empire dead. The idea was strongly supported by the Dean and the Prime Minister of the day, David Lloyd George
To the Unknown Warrior by G. K. Chesterton
The one great pleasure of ignoble days,
Fame without name and glory without gossip,
Whom no biographer befouls with praise.Who said of you “Defeated”? In the darkness
The dug-out where the limelight never comes,
Nor the big drum of Barnum’s show can shatter
That vibrant stillness after all the drums.Though the time comes when every Yankee circus
Can use our soldiers for its sandwich-men,
When those that pay the piper call the tune,
You will not dance. You will not move again.You will not march for Fatty Arbuckle,
Though he have yet a favourable press,
Tender as San Francisco to St. Francis
Or all the angels of Los Angeles.They shall not storm the last unfallen fortress,
The lonely castle where uncowed and free,
Dwells the unknown and undefeated warrior
That did alone defeat Publicity.
The Selection of The Unknown Warrior
Arrangements were placed in the hands of Lord Curzon of Kedleston. He prepared in committee the service and location. Four suitable remains were exhumed from various battlefields and brought to the chapel at Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise near Arras, France on the night of 7 November 1920.
The bodies were received by the Reverend George Kendall OBE. Brigadier L.J. Wyatt and Lieutenant Colonel E.A.S. Gell of the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries went into the chapel alone. The remains were then placed in four plain coffins each covered by Union Flags: the two officers did not know from which battlefield any individual soldier had come. Brigadier Wyatt with closed eyes rested his hand on one of the coffins. The other soldiers were then taken away for reburial by Reverend Kendall.
The coffin of the unknown warrior then stayed at the chapel overnight. On the following afternoon, it was transferred under guard and escorted by Reverend Kendall, with troops lining the route, from Saint Pol to the medieval castle within the ancient citadel at Boulogne. For the occasion, the castle library was transformed into a chapelle ardente. A company from the French 8th Infantry Regiment, recently awarded the Légion d’Honneur en masse, stood vigil overnight.
The following morning, two undertakers entered the castle library and placed the coffin into a casket made from the oak timbers of trees from Hampton Court Palace. The casket was banded with iron, and a medieval crusader’s sword chosen by King George V personally from the Royal Collection was affixed to the top and surmounted by an iron shield bearing the inscription ‘A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914–1918 for King and Country’.
On the morning of 11 November 1920, the casket was placed onto a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery and drawn by six horses through immense and silent crowds. As the cortege set off, a further Field Marshal’s salute was fired in Hyde Park. The route followed was Hyde Park Corner, The Mall, and to Whitehall where the Cenotaph, a “symbolic empty tomb”, was unveiled by King George V. The cortège was then followed by The King, the Royal
Family and ministers of state to Westminster Abbey, where the casket was borne into the West Nave of the Abbey flanked by a guard of honour of one hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross.
The guests of honour were a group of about one hundred women. They had been chosen because they had each lost their husband and all their sons in the war.
The coffin was then interred in the far western end of the Nave, only a few feet from the entrance, in soil brought from each of the main battlefields. Servicemen from the armed forces stood guard as tens of thousands of mourners filed past.
This inscription is on top of the tomb.
Beneath this stone rests the body
Of a British warrior
Unknown by name or rank
Brought from France to lie among
The most illustrious of the land
And buried here on Armistice Day
11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of
His Majesty King George V
His Ministers of State
The Chiefs of his forces
And a vast concourse of the nation
Thus are commemorated the many
Multitudes who during the Great
War of 1914 – 1918 gave the most that
Man can give life itself
For King and country
For loved ones home and empire
For the sacred cause of justice and
The freedom of the world
They buried him among the kings because he
Had done good toward God and toward
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother laid her bridal bouquet on the tomb as a tribute to her brother Fergus who died in the First World War at the Battle of Loos. Since then all Royal brides leave their bouquet on the tomb.
Before she died in 2002 the Queen Mother requested that a wreath to be placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, laid the wreath the day after the funeral.
Heads of state from over 70 countries have lain wreaths in memoriam of the Unknown Warrior.
We Will Remember Them