It is that time of year again when at the 11th Hour on the 11th Day of the 11th Month, we remember the sacrifice of all Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who have served and those who have sacrificed their lives in the defence of our Nation.
The Great War, as World War I became known was thought to be the war to end all wars at the time. Compiègne Forest where the armistice was signed in a railway carriage in France, was the scene of jubilation in WWII when Adolf Hitler did a victory dance at the same spot following the success of the German armies Blitzkrieg in 1940.
On September 7th 1920, in strictest secrecy four unidentified British bodies were exhumed from temporary battlefield cemeteries at Ypres, Arras, the Asine and the Somme. None of the soldiers who did the digging were told why. The bodies were taken by field ambulance to GHQ at St-Pol-sur-Ternoise. There the bodies were draped with the Union Flag. Sentries were posted and Brigadier-General Wyatt and a Colonel Gell selected one body at Random. A French honour guard was selected, who stood by the coffin overnight. In the morning of the 8th a specially designed coffin made of oak from the grounds of Hampton Court was brought and the Unknown Warrior placed inside.
On top was placed a Crusaders Sword and a shield on which was inscribed ‘A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918. For King and Country’. On the 9th of November the Unknown Warrior was taken by horse drawn carriage through Guards of Honour and the sound of tolling bells and bugle calls to the Quayside. There it was saluted by Marshall Foche and loaded onto HMS Verdun bound for Dover…..The coffin stood on the deck covered in wreaths and surrounded by the French Honour Guard. On arrival at Dover the the Unknown Warrior was greeted with a 19 gun salute, normally only reserved for field marshals. He then traveled by special train to Victoria station London. He stayed there overnight and on the morning of the 11th of November he was taken to Westminster Abbey.
The Idea of the Unknown Soldier was thought of by a Padre called David Railton who had served at the front during the Great War and it was the Union Flag he used as an altar cloth at the front, that had been draped over the coffin. The intention was that all relatives of the 517,773 combatants whose bodies had not been identified could believe that the Unknown Warrior could very well be their lost Husband, Father, Brother or Son….
The Tomb of our Unknown Soldier is buried in Canberra, at the Australian War Memorial and not only on Remembrance Day, remember the men and women of the Australian Defence Force by holding your hand over your heart in recognition that we all hold our respect for their sacrifices made for our great Nation.
The tradition of holding our hand on our heart should be observed by all Australians, not just servicemen, as it is in recognition of the Unknown Soldier, buried to represent all soldiers unable to be identified or found. During the internment of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey, the guard of honour was made up of 100 recipients of the Victoria Cross and the guests of honour were a group of about one hundred women chosen because they had each lost their husband and all their sons in the war. Every recipient of the Victoria Cross held their hands, not over their heart, but over their medals, hiding them in recognition that their deeds of valour were indeed nothing in comparison to the sacrifice of those who had laid down their lives.
“Lest we Forget”