Books Magazine


By Ashleylister @ashleylister

 This weekend saw Remembrance Sunday and of course the 11th November was Armistace Day, the 102nd anniversay of the signing of the ceasefire on the Western Front, signallng the eventual end of WW1. 

On the Allies siad, there were many voulunteers soldiers, often joining, 'friends' battaliions and serving alongside people they knew well. France, Belgium and The Netherlands were exotic and few of the recruits would have ever traveled abroad before. For many it seems they were embarking on an adventure unlike any they had experienced. The conflict was expected to be 'over by Christmas' 1914.  It actually continued for 4 years and claimed the lives of 8 million young men. 

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'.

On his return home, he saddenned that the government's decision not to repatriate the bodies of fallen soldiers but to bury thm where they fell, left families with no funeral for their loved ones and no chance to grieve.  Railton wrote to The ArchBishop of Canterbury voicing the idea that an unknown soldier could be brought back from the battlefields and burried in a prominent public place with full military honours. He believed that his would help the nation to heal. 

In 1920, four bodies were exhumed from the battlefields of  Europe, the Aisne, The Somme, Arras and Ypres, placed into plain caskets and transported to small chapel in France. One of the caskets was then singled out and the other taken away for burial. The casket was then placed onto a French military wagon, drawn by six black horses. At 10:30 a.m., all the church bells of Boulogne tolled; the massed trumpets of the French cavalry and the bugles of the French infantry played Aux Champs (the French "Last Post").  Then, the mile-long procession led by one thousand local schoolchildren and escorted by a division of French troops—made its way down to the harbor.

At the quayside, Marshall Koch 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 Castle received a 19 gun Field Marshal's' salute. It was landed at Dover Marine Railway at the Western Docks on 10 November. The body of the Unknown Warrior was carried to London in South Eastern and Chattam Railway General Utility Van No. 132 which had previously carried the bodies of Edith Cavell and Charles Fryatt. 

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 cenontaph, 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 honor of one Hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross. 

The guests of honor 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, and covered with a silk pall. Servicemen from the armed forces stood guard as tens of thousands of mourners filed silently 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 Belgian marble stone (the only tombstone in the Abbey on which it is forbidden to walk) featuring this inscription, composed by Herbert Edward 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 toward
His house

Quite a journey, I am sure you will agree. This is my poetic contribution, written this week for the Centenary of the burial ceremony. 


Unknown Warrior

 To assuage a nation’s sorrow

four bodies exhumed in France

placed in plain wooden caskets

transported to a humble French chapel

then by the laying on of his hand

one chosen from more than eight million dead

Among king and poets

this everyman man will rest his head.

becoming each lost father, brother, son or husband

closure for their deepest need

Abide with Me a moving soundtrack

to internment at this sacred site

a focus to dispel the pain

though we will never know his name.

Thanks for reading. Adele


Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog