All through The First World War, the death in the fields of Flanders was on an horrendous scale with a lot of bodies never identified or brought back.
On 11th November 1920, simultaneously ceremonies took place both in London and Paris to unveil tombs of unknown soldiers. The tomb of the unknown soldier came to represent the loss endured by the families of soldiers who fell and whose bodies were never identified or retrieved.
The unknown French soldier lies in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris while the unknown British soldier lies entombed in Westminster Abbey along with kings and statesmen.
The concept was first contemplated by a clergyman called Reverend David Railton. In 1916 in France, he'd seen a cross with the words “An Unknown British Soldier” written on it. 4 years later in 1920, Railton contacted the Dean of Westminster indicating it might be appropriate to have a nationally recognised grave for an unknown soldier.
4 British servicemen were exhumed from Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres and transported to a chapel at St Pol, in the vicinity of Arras. Every body was covered in a Union flag then one was picked out by Brigadier General L J Wyatt. Wyatt had no idea where the men had been taken from or their rank. The point was that the unknown soldier may perhaps have been anyone from a Private to a Colonel, a colonial labourer to the child of an Earl.
The soldiers coffin was carried to London and was taken to Westminster Abbey in a horse drawn gun carriage. The cortege was accompanied by King George V and members of the Royal family. At Westminster Abbey, it was flanked by a guard of 100 recipients of the Victoria Cross.
The casket was positioned and covered with earth carried from the battlefields of World War I. It was topped with a piece of black marble from Belgium and it is the only tombstone in Westminster Abbey which it's forbidden to step on.
Since then, many different other countries have committed similar tombs such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
Written and contributed by ratherton