Lest we forget

On the 10th November 1920, one hundred cadets from the Duke of York’s Royal Military School, the military boarding school I attended in Dover, together with a contingent from the 2nd Connaught Rangers, formed a guard of honour as the coffin of the Unknown Warrior was received at the Marine Railway Station, Dover, for its onward journey to Victoria Station, in readiness for the funeral service to take place in Westminster Abbey the following day.

It was Rev. David Railton, a military Chaplain, and the then vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, Margate, who first suggested to the Dean of Westminster the idea of arranging for the body of an unknown serviceman to be returned from the battlefields of Northern France, to be given a national burial service in Westminster Abbey, as a focus of grief for all those whose loved ones had no known grave.

On the 7th November 1920 an instruction went out to the burial parties in France that one unidentified body be exhumed from each of the four main early battlefields of the war; the Aisne, Arras, the Somme and Ypres. The bodies were delivered to a small chapel in St Pol., where one body was selected at random and placed in a sealed coffin.

On the 10th November 1920, the coffin was piped aboard H.M.S. Verdun for the journey across the channel to Dover. As it entered Dover Harbour, a 19-gun salute was fired from Dover Castle, a salute normally reserved for the return of a Field Marshall.

On the 11th November 1920, after the unveiling of the new Cenotaph in Whitehall by King George V, and the two-minute silence, the Unknown Warrior was taken to Westminster Abbey, and interred in the far western end of the nave, using soil also brought back from the battlefields of Northern France.

The inscription on the black Belgian marble stone that caps the grave includes the following:-

THEY BURIED HIM AMONG THE KINGS BECAUSE HE HAD DONE GOOD TOWARD GOD AND TOWARD HIS HOUSE

There is also a stone in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, dedicated to the memory of all the poets of the Great War, twelve of whom are listed by name, and six of whom were to die during that conflict. It is through their poetry that we can better understand the horror and futility of war, and the need to ensure that such conflicts never again occur.

On the 12th November, at St Mark’s, I will be recounting in greater detail the origins of the Unknown Warrior, together with the origins of other aspects of remembrance that we now observe, and interspersed with readings of the poets such as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

 

 

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