On the evening of 10 November 1920 a train pulled into Platform 8 of London’s Victoria Station. An honour guard and deep reverence surrounded the arrival of the Unknown Warrior, somebody’s father, somebody’s son, a nameless everyman from the Western Front.
The event itself has stirred the imagination ever since. The Warrior’s burial next day at Westminster Abbey, alongside kings and queens, politicians and poets, the great and good of the British Empire, became the talisman of post-war remembrance.
To mark the centenary of the return of the Unknown Warrior to Britain, The Western Front Association has produced a special issue of Stand To! Due to be with members in time for 11 November, the publication features contributions from some of the leading historians in the field, including Professors Sir Hew Strachan and Gary Sheffield, plus contributions from members with family connections to the Unknown Warrior story.
The heart of the special issue is a detailed investigation into the events of those few crucial days in early November 1920 by Justin Saddington of the National Army Museum. Having curated the Museum’s new exhibition ‘Buried Among Kings: The Story of the Unknown Warrior’, which is due to open on 20 October and will run until 14 February next year, there isn’t much about the story he doesn’t know. Separating fact from fiction, myth from memory, he takes a forensic look at the genesis of the idea, procedure for choosing the body, its transportation to Britain, and the significance the event had for a nation in mourning. Justin’s writing is illustrated with numerous images from the NAM’s own archives, many of them rarely seen before.
Those wanting to trace the route of the Unknown Warrior through the streets of the capital can do so in the hands of City of Westminster Guide Jonathan Grun. His guide to the sights and memorials along the way trace a century of commemoration, from the early post-war edifices to more modern reminders of the country’s military past.
The route is illustrated with superb colour maps by Barbara Taylor.
Sir Hew Strachan addresses the issue of identity and the role of the Dominions and Empire during and after the Great War, while Professor Alison Fell from the University of Leeds examines the French reaction to the notion of the Unknown Warrior. Andrea Hetherington, a frequent speaker at WFA branches, considers the often harsh life faced by widows and other dependents left to fend for themselves in cash-strapped post-war Britain.
At a more individual level, we hear the memories of a 97-year-old whose father was one of the honour guard for the Warrior on his journey from France and across the Channel.
In similar vein, another Western Front Association member tells the tale of her ancestor, one of the hundreds of thousands of servicemen with no known grave and for whom the Unknown Warrior represents all the fallen.
We believe members will find this 'extra' magazine a fantastic read.