The View From My Study – 10th November
On November 7th, 1920, in strictest secrecy, four unidentified British bodies were exhumed from temporary battlefield cemeteries in northern France. None of the soldiers who did the digging were told why and the bodies were taken by field ambulance to General Headquarters at St-Pol-Sur-Ter Noise. Once there, the bodies were draped with the union flag.
Senior British officials selected one body at random and a French Honour Guard was posted to stand by the coffin of the chosen soldier overnight. Meanwhile, the other three were taken back to the cemetery and reburied.
The following morning, a specially designed coffin made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court arrived and this solder was placed inside. On top was placed a crusader’s sword and a shield on which was inscribed: “A British Warrior who fell in the GREAT WAR 1914-1918 for King and Country”. From then on, this soldier became the Unknown Warrior.
Over the next couple of days, the Unknown Warrior was escorted with the finest guards, saluted as he left France for Dover, given a nineteen gun salute upon arrival in England – an honour usually only bestowed on Field Marshals – and then taken by special train to Victoria Station. There, he remained overnight, before, on the morning of the 11th of November, being taken finally to Westminster Abbey where thousands could pay their respects.
The idea of the Unknown Warrior was conceived by Padre David Railton who had served on the front line during the Great War. It was his intention that all of the relatives of the 517,773 dead soldiers whose bodies had not been identified on the battlefields could believe that the Unknown Warrior might well be their lost husband, father, brother or son. The Unknown Warrior did not bring the lost loved ones back to life but the did bring both closure and a sense that the lives lost were not in vain, and certainly not forgotten.
This is why we wear poppies. We remember – with humility – the great and ultimate sacrifices that were made, not just in the First World War, but in every war and conflict since, including today. It is easy, at times, to take our liberty and freedoms for granted but we know that, regrettably, conflicts continue in different parts of the world. Hopefully though, by learning to remember now, we can help to avoid wars and conflicts in the future.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
I look forward to welcoming Upper School parents to our Remembrance Chapel Service on Sunday. Tea and coffee will be served from 10.00am and the service will begin at 10.30am.
Before that, tomorrow, HM’s Breakfast will be served as usual from 8.15am. All welcome. There will be a FAB meeting from 8.45am and we will also welcome prospective pupils and parents to our Chorister Experience Day or Little Grange Nursery Open Morning. A busy weekend once more!
Have a good weekend everyone!
Gareth Jones, Head