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The

Unknown Soldier

Of World War I

*

Great Britain

*

 

 In 1916 the Reverend David Railton was serving as a chaplain to British forces at the front in France.  In a garden at Armentierés one day he noticed a make-shift grave marked by a rough wooden cross across which was written "An Unknown British Soldier".  The sight was not lost on him and four years later he wrote to the Dean of Westminster to convey a remembrance of that scene.  Dean Ryle recognized the message spoken by that grave in France and became the leading force that resulted in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of Great Britain.

Selection of the soldier (or perhaps sailor or airman) destined for burial in the Nave at Westminster Abbey began in France, where the remains of four unknown British war casualties were exhumed from Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres.  The four bodies, from the four different battlefields, were transported to St. Pol in Northern France on the night of November 7, 1920.  There Brigadier General L.J. Wyatt, commander of all British troops in France and Flanders, entered the chapel where the unknown soldiers lay, each covered with a Union Flag.  At random the general selected one to become the Unknown Soldier of the Great War, and two officers placed the body in a plain coffin and sealed it.  The remaining bodies were reinterred at a nearby military cemetery.

On the morning of November 8 a service was held to commemorate the sacrifice of the Unknown Soldier, officiated by chaplains from the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Non-Conformist Churches.  The body was then escorted under a French honor guard to Boulogne, drawn by a wagon with six horses and following by a mile-long procession

On November 9 the plain coffin was placed inside another that had been constructed of oak from Hampton Court, then sent over from England.  Into the bands that secured the coffin was inserted a 16th century crusaders sword from the Tower of London collection.  A plate on the coffin was inscribed:  "A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country"

The HMS Verdun, escorted by six warships, transported the Unknown Soldier to Dover, where the coffin's arrival was greeted with a 19-gun salute.  Six warrant officers from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force and Royal Army then bore the coffin home to British soil to be taken by train to Victoria Station in London. 

On the morning of November 11, six black horses drew the carriage that bore the Unknown Soldier through London's crowd-lined streets, pausing at The Mall, Whitehall, where the Cenotaph was unveiled by King George V.  The King, his three sons, members of the Royal Family and Ministers of State then followed the coffin through the streets to the north entrance of Westminster Abbey.

At the west end of the Nave in Westminster Abbey the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest after passing through an honor guard that consisted of 100 recipients of the Victoria Cross (both British and Canadian).  Following the hymn "Lead Kindly Light", King George V sprinkled soil from the battlefield at Ypres.  (Six barrels of Ypres earth accompanied the Unknown Soldier home to England so that his coffin might lie on the soil where so many of his comrades had lost their lives.

When the coffin had been lowered and the hymn "Abide With Me" sung, the congregation sang Rudyard Kipling's Recessional "God of Our Fathers".  Reveille and Last Post were sounded and the grave covered by a silk funeral pall, with the Padre's flag above it.

For seven days the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of Great Britain lay under the watchful eye of a military guard while thousands of mourners passed by to leave their last respects.  On November 18 a temporary stone sealed the grave, inscribed with the words:

"A British Warrior Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country.  Greater Love Hath No Man Than This."

On October 17, 1921 American General John J. Pershing presented the Medal of Honor to the Unknown Soldier of Great Britain.  That Medal of Honor now hangs in a frame on a nearby pillar.

On November 11, 1921, the same date on which the American Unknown Soldier was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, the temporary stone marking the Unknown Soldier of Great Britain was replaced.  A slab of black Belgian marble became the permanent replacement with a guilded inscription to forever commemorate the Unknown soldier from World War I.

 


The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor to

The Unknown Soldier of Great Britain
World War I

By virtue of an act of Congress approved 4 March 1921, the Medal of Honor, emblem of the highest ideals and virtues, is bestowed in the name of the Congress of the United States upon the unknown, unidentified British soldier and French soldier, buried, respectively, in Westminster Abbey and Arc de Triomphe.

Whereas Great Britain and France, two of the Allies of the United States in the World War, have done honor to the unknown dead of their armies by placing with fitting ceremony the body of an unidentified soldier, respectively, in Westminster Abbey and in the Arc de Triomphe; and

Whereas animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which we of the American Forces fought alongside these allies, we desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by the deeds of our Allies and commemorated in part by this tribute to their unknown dead:

Now therefore,
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America assembled, 
That the President of the United States of America be, and he hereby is, authorized to bestow with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, the Congressional Medal of Honor upon the unknown, unidentified British soldier buried in Westminster Abbey, London, England, and upon the unknown, unidentified French soldier buried in the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France.

(A.G. 220.523)
War Department General Orders, No. 52
1 December 1922, Sec. II

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 PF 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

Around the main inscription are four inscriptions (in order: top, sides, bottom):

THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS
UNKNOWN AND YET WELL KNOWN, DYING AND BEHOLD WE LIVE
IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE 

Click for Larger Image
unknown_greatbritain_lg.jpg (114949 bytes) 

American Unknown Soldiers at Arlington Cemetery
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The Foreign Unknown Soldiers of World War I

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