poppypoppyThe 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.


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 Front.

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 main battlefields.

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 group

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. 

Sub Rosa - Jessie and MontyMonty 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"

Sub Rosa - Thomas and MontyWalter 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!"Sub Rosa - Thomas and Mum

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!"

Sub Rosa - Francis SwainsonFrancis 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.

Westminster Abbey

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.

Not Forgotten exhibition

Rita Humphrey lays a poppy


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.

At the tomb of the Unknown Warrior

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 harmony....."

".....The blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you now and always. Amen"

Peter Daniel

Canon Jane Hedges

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 other times.

Rita places a crossMrs 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."

Field of Remembrance, unknown cross Field of Remembrance - large wreath - at the going down of the sun .... Field of Remembrance, unknown cross

"We will remember them"

Post Script:

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.

 group at The Speaker

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.

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.

pictures by Simon John Chambers

Copyright 2008 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved