November is a Month of Remembrance and like many, I am sure you had your Two Minutes Silence, many do so on the declared Remembrance Sunday in a local church and many at 11:00 on 11 November, no matter what the day. This year, as ever, it was both moving and fitting to be standing as so many people stopped and paid their respects.
The focus of Remembrance is often at the tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, who was laid to rest on 11 November 1920, a soldier buried amongst the Kings and Queens. At the same moment, a similar interment of an unknown French soldier took place at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, making both tombs the first to honour the unknown dead of the First World War – Two years to the very moment that guns fell silent.
The Origins of a Tomb for the Unknown Warrior was conceived during World War One by an army chaplain after seeing a grave marked by a rough wooden cross with ‘An Unknown British Soldier’ written on it. So moved, the Chaplin wrote to the Dean of Westminster and suggested that an unidentified British soldier should be taken from the battlefields, with royal ceremony, and be buried in Westminster Abbey as a mark of respect, needless to say, the idea was instantly supported by the Dean and the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
The body of The Unknown Warrior was selected in absolute secret, so his identity would never be known, and the procession left the battlefield to the coastal town of Boulogne, where the casket rested in the medieval castle overnight. The next morning a mile-long process led by over 1,000 local school children walked to the quayside as the casket was placed on HMS Verdun for the short crossing to Dover and a waiting train, for a journey to London’s Victoria Station where it arrived late on the evening of 10 November 1920.
On the morning of 11 November 1920, the casket was placed onto a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery, a field marshal’s salute was fired in Hyde Park, and the route was lined with silent people. The cortège that followed included the King, other members of the Royal Family and government ministers. As the casket was borne into the West Nave of Westminster Abbey it was flanked by a guard of honour of one hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross.
Following the interment, the grave was then capped with black Belgian marble stone and is the only tombstone in Westminster Abbey on which it is forbidden to walk.
On 26 April 1923 at the marriage of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the future King George VI, the bride laid her bouquet at the Tomb, as a tribute to her brother who died at the Battle of Loos in 1915, since then all Royal brides, married at the Abbey, have their bouquets laid on the tomb.
Before she died in 2002, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (the same Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who first laid her wedding bouquet at the tomb) expressed the wish for her wreath to be placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
It was her daughter, the late Queen Elizabeth II, who laid the wreath the day after her funeral