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‘It might be their kid’: Unidentified Warrior represented the mass of ‘vanished lives’

‘It might be their kid’: Unidentified Warrior represented the mass of ‘vanished lives’
The Unknown Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey exactly 100 years ago, on 11 November 1920.Like the two-minute silence, which had originated from a custom started in South Africa during the First World War, the totemic significance of this single unidentifiable corpse, caught public imagination. The war had decimated the population. Image: The Queen paid…

The Unidentified Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey precisely 100 years ago, on 11 November 1920.

Like the two-minute silence, which had stemmed from a custom started in South Africa throughout the First World War, the totemic significance of this single unidentifiable remains, caught public creativity.

The war had actually annihilated the population.

The Queen's Equerry, Lieutenant Colonel Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah, placed a bouquet on the grave

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The Queen paid her respects last week in a personal see

Practically every town, town and hamlet lost boys in the trenches of the Western Front, to German gatling gun, gas and artillery shells.

Lots of dead were never ever found or, if they were, they might not be identified because the British Army utilized leather identity tags, which decomposed.

Mothers, better halves, families and friends often had absolutely nothing tangible to grieve, but a telegram, some medals and a letter from the king.

It was the Reverend David Railton who had the concept of selecting a single dead soldier to represent the wide range of these disappeared lives.

Railton had actually been a military pastor in the war and carried long-lasting memories of the effect it had on those caught in the battling. He believed that if the nation accorded the greatest honour to one nameless corpse, it did so for them all.

Railton proposed the idea to Bishop Ryle, who was the dean of Westminster Abbey, which was known as the “Parish Church of the Empire”.

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The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers near Ypres in 1916 - one of the areas where a body was taken from

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The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers near Ypres in 1916 – among the locations from where a body was taken

The coffin of the Unknown Warrior is carried aboard HMS Verdun at Boulogne

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The Unidentified Warrior was chosen at random and brought from Boulogne on HMS Verdun

The dean took the concept to Lloyd-George, then prime minister, who saw the power of this sign, and convinced the hesitant King George V.

Massive precautions were taken to guarantee the soldier could never be determined.

Blindfolded and at midnight, Brigadier Wyatt got in the chapel and put his hand upon one of the coffins.

HMS Verdun was prepared to convey the Unidentified Warrior to Dover and, all the way to London, the public turned out to salute and show their respect.

The coffin was carried in procession through London

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The coffin was carried in procession through London

Field Marshal Haig with the coffin of the Unknown Warrior in London on 11 November 1920

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Field Marshal Haig with the casket as it showed up in London – where substantial crowds ended up

The king strolled behind the Unknown Warrior’s weapon carriage to Westminster Abbey, as the chief mourner.

This was emblematic because, to any grieving family, this might be their kid and here was the king emperor showing the highest respect for their death and sacrifice.

King George V placed a wreath on the coffin at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day.

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King George V placed a wreath on the coffin at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day 1920

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior lying in state in Westminster Abbey

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The Unknown Warrior lying in state in the Abbey on 11 November 1920

The tomb still controls the entrance, marked by a piece of black Belgian marble and inscribed with a description in brass letters.

To stress that this is a regular soldier, the final line on the engraving is the most poignant:

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

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The severe symbolises the thousands of males whose bodies never came home

” They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward this home.”

Close-by still hangs the Union Flag that Reverend David Railton positioned over the coffin for its procession from the battlefield to Westminster Abbey.

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