British Military & Criminal History:
1900 to 1999.
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This page contains the details of CWGC Cemeteries that I have visited in the UK. I also include information about the UK's Unknown Soldier.
The Unknown Warrior
Contained in Westminster Abbey is the grave of the Unknown Warrior. whose body was brought from France to be buried here at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920. The grave, which contains soil from France, is covered by a slab of black Belgian marble from a quarry near Namur.
This grave is the only part of the Abbey floor that is never walked on by any person. On it is the following inscription, composed by Herbert Ryle, Dean of Westminster:
THIS STONE RESTS THE BODY
Around the main inscription are four texts:
(top) THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS.
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS and
(base) IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE.
The idea of such a burial seems first to have come to a chaplain at the Front, the Reverend David Railton (1884-l955), when he noticed in 1916 in a back garden at Armentieres, a grave with a rough cross on which were pencilled the words "An Unknown British Soldier". In August 1920 he wrote to Dean Ryle, through whose energies this memorial was carried into effect.
The body was chosen from unknown British servicemen exhumed from four battle areas: the Aisne. the Somme, Arras and Ypres.
The remains were brought to the chapel at St.Pol on the night of 7 November 1920. The General Officer in charge of troops in France and Flanders, Brigadier General L.J.Wyatt, with Colonel Gell, went into the chapel alone, where the bodies on stretchers were covered by Union Jacks. They had no idea from which area the bodies had come. General Wyatt selected one and the two officers placed it in a plain coffin and sealed it. The other bodies were reburied.
In the morning Chaplains of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and Non-Conformist churches held a service in the chapel before the body was escorted to Boulogne. The next day the coffin was placed inside another made of oak from Hampton Court sent over from England and wrapped in the flag that David Railton had used as an altar cloth during the War (known as the "Padre's Flag" which now hangs in St George's Chapel). Within the wrought iron bands of this coffin had been placed a 16th century crusader's sword from the Tower of London collection. The coffin plate bore the inscription "A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country". The destroyer HMS Verdun, whose ship's bell now hangs near the grave in the Abbey, transported the coffin to Dover and it was escorted to Victoria Station by train where it rested overnight.
On the morning of 11 November the coffin was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and began its journey through the crowd-lined streets, first to Whitehall where the Cenotaph was unveiled by King George V, and then, followed by the King, members of the Royal Family and ministers of State, to the north door of Westminster Abbey.
It was borne to the west end of the Nave through a guard of honour of 100 holders of the Victoria Cross. After the Service the grave was covered by a silk pall which had been presented to the Abbey by the Actors' Church Union, with the Padre's flag over this. Servicemen kept watch while thousands of mourners filed past. The grave was closed on 18 November and the temporary stone over it was replaced by the present one on 11 November 1921.
The United States of America conferred the Congressional Medal of Honour on the Unknown Warrior in 1921 and this hangs on a pillar nearby. The UK conferred the Victoria Cross upon the American World War One Unknown Soldier, buried in Arlington Cemetery.
The body of the Unknown Warrior may be from any of the three services, Army, Navy or Airforce and come from any part of the British Isles and represents all those who have no other memorial. The Unknown Warrior also represents those servicemen who were killed in subsequent wars and conflicts.