The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey

It is one of the most famous tombs in London, just inside the west doors of Westminster Abbey. Below the black Belgian marble lie the remains of an unknown warrior who represents all those who have lost their lives in the service of their country and lie in anonymous graves.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
by an anonymous photographer


I defy anyone to visit the Garden of Remembrance on the north side of the abbey and be unmoved. Every year, people place poppies on crosses, crescent moons and stars of David to commemorate the dead of many nationalities and services.
It all started thanks to an army chaplain called David Railton. Seeing garves marked by simple wooden crosses inscribed with the words Unknown British Soldier and Unknown British Airman he conceived the idea that one of these unknown warriors should be buried in Westminster Abbey, the burial place of kings. He wrote to Haig, but received no reply.
In 1920, now a vicar in Margate, he raised the idea again, this time directly with the abbey.
Things moved swiftly. Four bodies were exhumed from unmarked graves. A blindfolded officer was taken to where the coffins lay. The coffin he touched was returned to Britain on the HMS Verdun.
It was buried with full military honours on 11th November 1920. the second anniversary of the armistice. The coffin was made of English oak from Hampton Court, French soil was cast into the grave, the flag that had covered it during its journey, the Padre’s Flag, hangs in the neighbouring St George’s chapel. No one, not even the Queen, steps on this grave.
On a nearby pillar is the United States Congressional Medal of Honour, awarded posthumously in 1921 to the Unknown Warrior.
The poppies, now our national symbol of remembrance, recall the flowers that bloomed so vividly on the scarred battlefields.

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7 comments

  1. I have always loved this story and I’m glad to read it again. We cannot honour these men enough.

    1. I admit that I sometimes have a lump in my throat when I am guiding this part of the abbey. It gets me every time.

  2. A beautiful piece of symbolism, Isobel. And so lovely to have you on board officially. Thanks for his lovely piece.

    1. Thanks. One of these days I shall have to ask you what WordPress said. 🙂

  3. What a lovely post for this time of year. Thank you: I shall be going up to visit, having read this post. Welcome aboard: lovely to have a real London guide on our team.

    1. The abbey is one of my favourite places to guide. You know there is an entrance fee? Obviously it si free if you attend a service, and I recommend evensong. The choir’s singing will make the hair rise up on the back of your neck. It is sublime.

  4. […] The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey (letterfrombritain.com) […]

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