90th Anniversary of the Armistice
On the 11th November 1918, at 11 in the morning, the guns
fell silent on the Western Front. The Armistice between the
Allies and Germany had been signed six hours earlier. It was
the end of the Great War. It was the very great privilege of
the Dover War Memorial Project to be invited to
commemorative events in London.
"NOT FORGOTTEN" - THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR - 11th November 2008
After the rain and howling winds of
Monday 10th, the 90th anniversary of the Armistice was bright
and sunny. It was the day to remember all those who died in the
Great War. Many of their bodies could not be identified; they
lie now in graves marked "A Soldier, Known Unto God", or even
now where they fell, in the liquefied earth of the Western
One was given a resting place
amongst kings. Unidentified, exhumed from the mud, he was
blindly chosen from others and brought home, through Dover, to
be buried in Westminster Abbey. Around him is the soil of the
But who was he? He is the Unknown
Warrior. He symbolises every
person who died. He is the son, husband, brother, or father of
every person whose loved one lies now in a nameless corner of a
foreign field. "Not Forgotten" is the story of four of them.
Sub Rosa Theatre Company performed
a play, based on an article that appeared in the Evening
Standard on Armistice day 1920, when the Unknown Warrior was
buried. Mundella school, Folkestone, was one of four schools in
Kent which studied a soldier from the "Not Forgotten" resources.
At Westminster, the Dover War Memorial Project joined
children from Mundella, to watch as grieving relatives of the
four fallen soldiers caught the train to Victoria, London.
Daniel was killed by a shell on 26th October 1916, after just
six days on the front line. He left a widow, Jessie, nee Punnet.
He had married her only three months before his death. "I'm
going to London, to the funeral of my husband. They're burying
him in Westminster Abbey today"
Tull was killed on 25 March 1918.An orphan who became a
professional football player and joined a football battalion, he
became the first black combat officer in the British army.
"Walter Tull? He's my favourite football player, Sarge!"
Thomas Highgate was the first
British soldier to be shot at dawn for desertion. His alleged
offence, trial, and sentence all happened on one day, 6th
September; he died at 7.07 on 8th September, 45 minutes after he
was informed he was to be executed. He was 19. "Tommy Trouble,
that's what they call you," said his mother. "You were always in
the wrong place. You were always just sort-of there!"
Francis Swainson died early in the morning on the first day of
the Battle of the Somme, leading his men over the top. Two weeks
before, he had been awarded the Military Cross. He was 21. "My
son went missing - it was the worst day of my life. Now they've
found him, and they're burying him in Westminster Abbey"
The Unknown Warrior, in a coffin of
oak, was taken on a gun carriage by six black horses from
Victoria Station to the Cenotaph at Whitehall. At 11 o' clock
the Cenotaph was unveiled by the King. The crowds stood in
silence for two minutes. The gun carriage then travelled to the
Abbey, followed by thousands of people. After the short service
of committal, they began passing the Unknown Warrior's grave,
laying flowers and wreaths. Within a week over a million people
from across the country had visited his grave.
In our turn, we went to Westminster Abbey too, to visit the "Not
Forgotten" exhibition, and to spend a few moments by the grave
of the Unknown Warrior. Mrs Rita Humphrey laid poppies on the
grave, in memory of her Great Uncle Walter Tull.
Peter Daniel (below), of the City of
Westminster Archives, showed the children the bell of
HMS Verdun, the destroyer that brought home the body of
the Unknown Warrior.
In St George's Chapel, above the
grave, is a Union Flag known as the Padre's or Ypres flag.
Rev Railton, who conceptualised the Unknown Warrior,
used this flag as an altar cloth when he
con-ducted services on the Western Front. It was draped
over the coffin of the Unknown Warrior during its
journey to England and the first few days after he was
laid to rest.
Canon Jane Hedges (below)conducted a
short service by the graveside.
"As we gather at
the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior we remember all those
who have died in war... We give thanks to God for all
that we have learned through the "Not Forgotten"
project, and pray that we may work for a world in which
people of all nations may live together in peace and
".....The blessing of God almighty, the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and
remain with you now and always. Amen"
Outside the Abbey every year is a huge Field of Remembrance,
filled with crosses and poppies, in memory of those who died
during the Two World Wars, and those who died on service in
Mrs Humphrey placed a poppy-cross in the Field of Remembrance,
by the Football
battalion marker, for her Great Uncle Walter. An
epitaph on the cross was especially written by one of the pupils
at the Mundella school, Folkestone.
The Military Cross he never wore
Remember his sad story and his strong beating heart
As the sun rises up
Remember the courageous things he did.
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age
shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down
of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."
"We will remember them"
The Great War shattered nearly every
family in our country. The Unknown Warrior was part of the great
healing of the nation. Like the memorials in every parish, he
provided a place to remember, for those families whose loved
ones' graves were far away. For just one of those families, that
loved one came home to honour undreamt. For every family, there was a
sanctification of their sacrifice; for many families a flicker of
hope that he could be their kin.
Walter Tull's is one such family. Another is the Swainsons.
Brought together in Remembrance, after the Armistice
commemorations, we all met informally at the local pub, around
the corner from the Abbey, with Peter and Camilla from the
Archives and members of the Sub Rosa Theatre Company.
Appropriately, for all the chatting that went on, the pub is
named, "The Speaker"! In friendship and fellowship, this was yet
another commemoration of the sacrifice of so many in war -
without them, we would not, in so many ways, have been here
Today, yesterday ... Remembrance is not just about looking back,
but making sure too that we have a legacy for our children - and that
they understand that legacy, its costs, and the duties and
responsibilities arising. It was a delight spending time with so
many young people, full of enthusiasm and interest in their
past. If we were to choose again how to mark the 90th
Anniversary of the Armistice, we would do exactly the same. It's
a perfect way to honour the sacrifice of those who died on the
battlefields - for our children are our tomorrows for whom
the Fallen gave their todays.
Simon John Chambers