On November 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 who did the digging were told why. The bodies were taken by field ambulance to GHQ at St-Pol-Sur-Ter Noise. Once 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. The other three were reburied.
A French Honour Guard was selected and stood by the coffin overnight of the chosen soldier overnight.
On the morning of the 8th, a specially designed coffin made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court arrived and the Unknown Warrior was 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, 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, he was saluted by Marechal Foche and loaded onto HMS Vernon bound for Dover. The coffin stood on the deck covered in wreaths, surrounded by the French Honour Guard.
Upon arrival at Dover, the Unknown Warrior was met with a nineteen gun salute – something that was normally only reserved for Field Marshals.
A special train had been arranged and he was then conveyed to Victoria Station, London.
He remained there overnight, and, on the morning of the 11th November, he was finally taken to Westminster Abbey.
The idea of the unknown warrior was thought of by a Padre called David Railton who had served on the front line during the Great War the union flag he had used as an altar cloth whilst at the front, was the one that had been draped over the coffin.
It was his intention that all of the 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…
THIS is the reason we wear poppies.
We remember – with humility – the great and the ultimate sacrifices that were made, not just in this war, but in every war and conflict where are service personnel have fought – to ensure the liberty and freedoms that we now take for granted.
Every year, on the 11th of November, we remember the Unknown Warrior.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
At the west end of the Nave of Westminster Abbey is the grave of the Unknown Warrior, whose body was brought from France to be buried here on 11th November 1920. The grave, which contains soil from France, is covered by a slab of black Belgian marble from a quarry near Namur. On it is the following inscription, composed by Herbert Ryle, Dean of Westminster:
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
Around the main inscription are four texts:
(top) THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS,
(sides) GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS
UNKNOWN AND YET WELL KNOWN, DYING AND BEHOLD WE LIVE,
(base) IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE.