Sunday, 11 November 2012

The story of "The Unknown Soldier"

On September 7th 1920, in strictest secrecy four unidentified British bodies were exhumed from temporary battlefield cemeteries at Ypres, Arras, the Asine and the Somme. None of the soldiers involved were told why. The bodies were taken by field ambulance to GHQ at St-Pol-sur-Ternoise, where their bodies were draped wi
th the Union Flag and sentries were posted. Brigadier-General Wyatt and a Colonel Gell selected one body at random and a French honour guard stood by the coffin overnight.
On the morning of the 8th the body was laid in a specially designed coffin made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court. 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, with the sound of tolling bells and bugle calls, to the Quayside. There it was saluted by Marechal Foche and loaded onto HMS Verdun bound for Dover. The coffin stood on the deck covered in wreaths and surrounded by the French Honour Guard.
On arrival at Dover the 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 was taken to Westminster Abbey.

The Idea of the Unknown Soldier was thought of by Padre, David Railton who had served at the front during the Great War and it was the Union Flag he had used as an altar cloth at the front, that had been draped over the coffin. The intention was 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.
On the morning of 11 November 1920, being the second anniversary of the armistice that ended World War One, the body of the Unknown Warrior was drawn in a procession to the Cenotaph. The new war memorial on Whitehall, designed by Edwin Lutyens, was then unveiled by George V.

At 11 o'clock there was a two-minute silence, and the body was then taken to Westminster Abbey where it was buried at the west end of the nave. To the surprise of the organisers, in the week after the burial an estimated 1,250,000 people visited the abbey, and the site is now one of the most visited war graves in the world.

The text inscribed on the tomb is taken from the bible (2 Chronicles 24:16):
'They buried him among the kings, because he had done good toward God and toward his house'.

Today whilst we remember those who have given their lives for Queen and Country, please also spare a thought for those whose battle never ends, those suffering from both lifelong mental and physical trauma.

Hounds for Heroes thanks all those who have given their life or part of their life so that we may be free.

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning. We Will Remember Them..."


Hogdayafternoon said...

Its good to know that history. I will re-blog this at some point as it is a history worth knowing further afield.

Vetnurse said...

I was fascinated to find the story out.