On November 7th, 1920, two years after the end of the Great War, four bodies of unknown British soldiers were exhumed from temporary battlefield cemeteries at Ypres, Arras, the Asine and the Somme. None of the soldiers who did the digging were told why. The bodies were taken by field ambulance to GHQ at St-Pol-Sur-Ter Noise. There the bodies were draped with the union flag. Sentries were posted and Brigadier-General Wyatt and a Colonel Gell selected one body at random. A French honour guard was selected and stood by the coffin overnight. On the morning of the 8th, a specially designed coffin made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court was brought and the unknown warrior placed inside. On top was placed a crusaders sword and a shield on which was inscribed ‘( a British Warrior who fell in the GREAT WAR 1914-1918 for king and country’.
On The 9th of November, the unknown warrior was taken by horse-drawn carriage through guards of honour and the sound of tolling bells and bugle Calls to the quayside. There it was saluted by Marechal Foche and loaded onto HMS Vernon bound for Dover….. the coffin stood on the deck covered in wreaths and surrounded by the French honour guard. On arrival at Dover, the unknown warrior was greeted with a 19 gun salute, normally only reserved for field marshals. He then traveled by special train to Victoria Station London. He stayed there overnight and on the morning of the 11th of November, he was taken to Westminster Abbey.
The idea of the unknown warrior was thought of by a Padre called David Railton who had served at the front during the great war and it was the union flag he used as an altar cloth at the front, that had been draped over the coffin. It was his intention that all relatives of the 517,773 combatants whose bodies had not been identified could believe that the unknown warrior could very well be their lost husband, Father, brother or son….
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
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.
Content and pictures supplied by The Royal British Legion
Richard C Pendry, is an ex-member of The Parachute Regiment who now works as a management consultant providing organisational resilience solutions to institutions that work in fragile and challenging environments that include: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan. He is also an expert on Radicalisation and Community Engagement, his masters degree in Terrorism & Political Violence giving him extensive knowledge on vulnerable communities. Richard appears regularly on television and radio as a Terrorism subject matter expert and is also an author, his debut novel Damsacus Redemption released in 2016.
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I’m so deeply ashamed that I have reached the age of 40 and not known this tragic yet beautiful story. How enrichened my awareness has become thanks to one mans uttermost thought over salvation to the hearts of the 517,773 families with unidentified loved lost ones. Though nothing could ever repay the gift of giving life for King and
Country to the loved ones left behind, what a breathtakingly noble attempt.
That is a beautiful thing to say.