November 7th, 1920. Exhumation Of The Unknown Soldier.

On November 7th, 1920, in the 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 were tasked with the work were told why. 

The bodies were taken by field ambulance to General Head Quarters (GHQ) at St-Pol-Sur-Ter Noise. Once there, the bodies were immediately draped with the union flag. 

Sentries were posted and Brigadier-General Wyatt and a Colonel Gell selected one body at random. The other three were reburied.

A French Honour Guard was selected and stood by the coffin of the chosen soldier overnight.

On the morning of the 8th November, a specially designed coffin, made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court, arrived and the Unknown Warrior was 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, he was saluted by Marshal Foch and loaded onto HMS Verdun bound for Dover. The coffin stood on the deck covered in wreaths, surrounded by the French Honour Guard.

Upon arrival at Dover, the Unknown Warrior was met with a nineteen gun salute - something that was normally only reserved for Field Marshals. 

A special train had been arranged and he was then conveyed to Victoria Station, London. 

He remained there overnight, and, on the morning of the 11th of November, he was finally taken to Westminster Abbey. 

The idea of the unknown warrior was thought of by a Padre called David Railton, who had served on the front line during the Great War. The union flag he had used as an altar cloth whilst at the front, was the one that had been draped over the coffin. 

It was his intention that all of the 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...

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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