The Unknown British Warrior

The concept of a Tomb of a Unknown Warrior in Britain was first thought by David Railton, an army chaplain on the Western Front, when he saw a grave which was marked by a rough cross having the pencil-written legend “An Unknown British Soldier.”

It was then in 1920 he wrote a letter to the Dean of Westminster stating that an unknown body of a British soldier has been found in the war grounds of France. He also mentioned that the body will be reburied in Westminster Abbey (London) “amongst the kings” which will be from then become the symbol of many hundreds of thousands of other British soldiers. David Railton’s this proposal was accepted by the Dean of Westminster as well as also by the Prime Minister of that time.

In fact, this idea paved the way for the British government to take the decision of not to rebury anymore dead British soldier in Britain. However this entire series of actions needed several arrangements to be done before hand. And about this selection process of the Unknown Warrior we get to know from a 46 years old Charity adviser Tim Kendall, the grandson of Army chaplain George Kendall. It was Army chaplain George Kendall who governed the entire selection process of the Unknown Warrior. It was with the help of Tim Kendall’s discovery of his grandfather’s effects from a box that we could have a glance of such a magnificent British History.

Tim Kendall said: “I discovered my grandfather’s effects in a box. When I read his story, I thought, “This is a very significant part of British history.” Though, George Kendall did not want anybody to know about this written document of selection process till he was alive.

The Reverend George Kendall of the Royal Naval Division, was the senior chaplain in France and Belgium. He was the Methodist minister at Windsor and was also as RAF chaplain in the Second World War. He died at the age of 79. It was in his presence that the selection process of Unknown Warrior took place. Reverend George Kendall’s type- written document begins with the following lines:

“I must now proceed to tell the story of the Unknown Warrior. It has been stated that this is the greatest mystery of the First World War.

“I have been interviewed from time to time by all our great national newspapers, asking me if I knew who he was, could I say where he was actually found.

“Here then is my story, told because the younger generation who go to see the tomb in Westminster Abbey do not know how he was chosen and brought home.

“Six bodies were taken to the headquarters at St Pol, near Arras (northern France).

“Those who awaited the bodies did not know from where they had come. The six coffins were placed in a hut and each was covered with a Union Jack.

“All night they rested on trestles, with nothing to distinguish one from the other.

“The door of the hut was locked and sentries posted outside.

“In the morning a general entered the hut, placed his hand on one of the flag-shrouded coffins and the body therein became the Unknown Warrior.”

However, according to official records it was at the midnight of 7th November 1920 when this random selection was made by Brigadier-General L.J. Wyatt. Another contradiction lies in the number of the exhumed bodies of the servicemen. According to the confirmed source of Westminster Abbey website there were four bodies but George Kendall’s written document claims it to be six, the Mail Online reports.

George Kenedall also mentioned in his document about the ceremony when the body was put on a Royal Navy ship at Boulogne. He wrote “I shall never forget the overwhelming solemnity of the procession.

“Home they were taking this warrior, and all the trumpets sounded on the other side.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE