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. 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 travelled 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.
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.
You can help to remember them and by joining soldiers across the globe in the Armistice Memorial Race with Military Remote Running from 11 Nov – 11 Dec. Entries are just £15.
Choose to run, ride or row 5K, 10K, half or full marathon to commemorate our soldiers, with an automatic donation of £5 going to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity with every entry.