- The Unknown Warrior
Infobox Military Memorial
name=The Unknown Warrior
commemorates=the unknown war dead, wherever they fell
11 November 1920
London, United KingdomThe British tomb of The Unknown Warrior holds an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield during World War I.Neil Hanson, "The Unknown Soldier", Chapters 23 & 24, 2005 Doubleday, London] He was buried in Westminster Abbey, Londonon November 11, 1920, the earliest such tomb honouring the unknown dead of World War I. The battlefield that the Warrior came from is not publicly known, and has been kept secret so that the Unknown Warrior might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell.
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 to the
Dean of Westminsterin 1920 proposing that an unidentified British soldier from the battlefields in Francebe buried with due ceremony in Westminster Abbey "amongst the kings" to represent the many hundreds of thousands of Empire dead. The idea was strongly supported by the Dean and the then Prime Minister Lloyd George. There was initial opposition from King George V (who feared that such a ceremony would reopen the wounds of a recently concluded war) and others but a surge of emotional support from the great number of bereaved families ensured its adoption.
election, arrival and ceremony
Arrangements were placed in the hands of Lord Curzon of Kedleston who prepared in committee the service and location. The body was chosen from four bodies draped with
Union Jacks at the chapel at St Polnear Arras, France on the night of 7 November 1920by Brigadier General L.J. Wyattand Lieutenant Colonel E.A.S. Gell. The remains were placed into a simple pine coffin. The coffin stayed at the chapel overnight and on the afternoon of November 8, it was transferred under guard to the castle library within the citadel at Boulogne. Troops lined the route and a company from the French 8th Infantry regiment, recently awarded the Légion d'Honneuren masse, stood vigil over it overnight.
The following morning, two undertakers entered the library and placed the coffin into a casket of the oak timbers of trees from
Hampton Court Palace. The casket was banded with iron and a medieval crusader's sword, chosen by the king 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'.
The casket was then placed onto a French military wagon, drawn by six black horses. At 10.30 am, all church bells of Boulogne tolled; the massed trumpets of French cavalry and bugles of French infantry played the "Aux Champs" (the French "
Last Post"). Then, the mile-long procession - led by one thousand French schoolchildren and with a division of French soldiers forming the guard of honour - made its way down to the harbour.
At the quayside, Marshal Foch saluted the casket before it was carried up the gangway of the destroyer,
HMS Verdun, and piped aboard with an admiral's call. The Verdun slipped anchor just before noon and was joined by an escort of six battleships. As the flotilla carrying the casket closed on Dover Castleit received a 19 gun Field Marshal's salute. It was landed at Dover Maritime Railway Station at the Western Docks on 10 November, from where it was taken to Victoria Station, where it arrived at platform 8 at 8.32 pm that evening and remained for the night of the 10th - at both locations there is a plaque. Every year on 11 Novemberthere is a small Remembrance service at Victoria Station between platforms 8 and 9.
On the morning of
11 November 1920the casket was loaded onto a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artilleryand drawn by six horses through immense and silent crowds. The route followed was Hyde Park Corner, The Mall, and to Whitehallwhere the Cenotaphwas unveiled by King George V. The cortège was then followed by the King, 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. "Every woman so bereft who applied for a place got it".
The coffin was then interred in the far western end of the nave, only a few feet from the entrance, with soil from each of the main battlefields and covered with a silk pall. The Armed Services then stood as honour guard as tens of thousands of mourners filed past. The ceremony appears to have served as a form of catharsis for collective mourning on a scale not previously known.
The grave was then capped with a black Belgium marble stone (the only
tombstonein the Abbey on which it is forbidden to walk) featuring this inscription, composed by Dean Ryle, Dean of Westminster, engraved with brass from melted down wartime ammunition:
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 GOD 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 TOWARDHIS HOUSE
Around the main inscription are four texts:
THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS (top)UNKNOWN AND YET WELL KNOWN, DYING AND BEHOLD WE LIVE (side)GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS (side)IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE (base)
A year later, the Warrior was given the US
Medal of Honoron 17 October 1921, from the hand of General Pershing; it hangs on a pillar near to his burial site. (Later, on 11 November 1921, the U.S. Unknown Soldier was reciprocally awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry.)
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyonmarried the future King George VI on 26 April 1923, she laid her bouquet at the Tomb on her way into the Abbey, as a tribute to her brother Fergus who had died at the Battle of Loosin 1915. The gesture has since been copied by every royal bride married at the Abbey, though on the way back from the altar rather than to it.BBC News [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7100282.stm Queen releases 60 wedding facts] Retrieved: 18 November2007] It is also the only tomb not to have been covered by a special red carpet for Elizabeth II's wedding.
Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi ideologist, visited Britain on a diplomatic mission in 1933 he laid a wreath with a Swastika on it at the tomb. A British war veteran threw it into the Thames. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,802196-2,00.html Time Magazine, 1941] ]
Before she died in 2002, the Queen Mother expressed the wish for her wreath to be placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Her daughter the Queen laid the wreath the day after the funeral. [ [http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/04/06/uk.royals.funeral/index.html CNN.com - Details of the Queen Mother's funeral - April 7, 2002 ] ]
The British Unknown Warrior came 76th in the
100 Great Britonspoll.
Several other nations would follow the example and have their own "
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier".
Tower Hill Memorial
* [http://www.westminster-abbey.org/history-research/monuments-gravestones/people/12207 The Unknown Warrior (Westminster Abbey)]
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