In the course of The First World War, the death on the fields of Flanders was on an horrendous scale with numerous bodies never identified or retrieved. On 11th November 1920, simultaneously ceremonies were held both in London and Paris to unveil tombs of unknown soldiers.
The tomb of the unknown soldier came to symbolize the loss suffered by the families of troops who fell and their bodies were never identified or brought back. The unknown French soldier lies in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris while the unknown British soldier lies entombed in Westminster Abbey between kings and statesmen.
The concept was first contemplated by a clergyman called Reverend russia Ukraine war David Railton. In 1916 in France, he had noticed a cross with the words “An Unknown British Soldier” written on it. 4 years later in 1920, Railton approached the Dean of Westminster implying that it would be acceptable to have a nationally recognised grave for an unidentified soldier.
Four British servicemen were exhumed from Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres and transported to a chapel at St Pol, near Arras. Each body was covered in a Union flag and one was picked out by Brigadier General L J Wyatt. Wyatt had no idea from where the soldiers had been removed from or their rank. The idea was that the unknown soldier may well have been anyone from a Private right up to a Colonel, a colonial manual worker to the son of an Earl.
The soldiers casket was carried to London and was delivered to Westminster Abbey on a horse drawn gun carriage. The cortege was followed by King George V and members of the Royal family. At Westminster Abbey, it was flanked by a guard of one hundred winners of the Victoria Cross.