In the west nave of Westminster Abbey, London lies a grave of an ordinary man whose name will never be known, whose bravery will never be documented.
But this is no ordinary burial place for within its eternal embrace lies the remains of a soldier who represents the many hundreds of thousands of men who died in the service of their country, whose remains would perhaps never be found, or indeed, identified.
Originally the idea of the Reverend David Railton in 1916, who had seen a grave marked by a rough cross on the western front, bearing the inscription, 'An Unknown British Soldier', the tribute was finally realised in 1920 in a ceremony attended by King George V
On the night of November 7, suitable remains were exhumed from various battlefields around Europe and placed in four plain coffins each covered by Union Flags. After being taken to a chapel, a British brigadier, with closed eyes, rested his hand on one of the coffins. The other soldiers were then taken away for reburial.
Two days later, after being transferred to a chapel in Bologne, two undertakers placed the coffin into a casket made of oak from Hampton Court Palace and adorned it with a medieval crusader's sword chosen by King George V from the Royal Collection, along with an iron shield bearing the inscription
'A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914–1918 for King and Country.'
The casket was then taken to the docks in a full military procession and taken across the channel to the west nave of Westminster Cathedral on November 11. At every stage of its journey, on both sides of the channel, the procession was awarded the very best of tributes including horse-drawn carriages, full military guards of honour, and escorts of local school children. Perhaps the most poignant of all was a guard of honour made up of a hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross, an acknowledgment of the bravery of so many men whose bravery would never be known.
Within the abbey, the coffin was eventually buried with soil from all the main battlefields of Europe. The tombstone itself is made from black Belgian marble and engraved with brass taken from wartime ammunition. It remains the only tombstone in the Abbey upon which it is forbidden to walk. The inscription says:
Beneath this stone rests the body of a British warrior
Unknown by name or rank
Brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land
And buried here on armistice day 11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of his majesty King George v
His ministers of state
The chiefs of his forces
And a vast concourse of the nation
Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the great war of 1914-1918 gave the most that man can give life itself
For king and country
For loved ones home and empire
For the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world
They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house