The Unknown Soldier

The remains of four unidentified British soldiers from four different battlefields in France and Flanders were assembled in November 1920; one was selected at random and became The Unknown Soldier buried amongst the Kings at Westminster Abbey. The people in this community were part of that ceremony. Just after midnight on 8 November 1920, in a makeshift chapel at St Pol in France, Wyatt chose the body of a soldier to represent the Unknown Warrior. This unidentified body, who could have come from any background, was chosen to represent all the soldiers, pilots and sailors who were lost in this war, and all wars. He would be buried among kings in Westminster Abbey with a reverence he could never have imagined in life. Just before midnight on 7 November, four bodies were brought into the chapel at St Pol from each of the battle areas – the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres. They had been exhumed from the unmarked graves of soldiers who died early in the war. This was decided so that decomposition would mean the bodies were completely unrecognisable. They were examined for any identifying marks, then each one was covered in a union jack. After the stroke of midnight, Wyatt chose the warrior. He later wrote: “The four bodies lay on stretchers, each covered by a union jack, in front of the altar was the shell of the coffin which had been sent from England to receive the remains. I selected one, and with the assistance of Colonel Gell, placed it in the shell; we screwed down the lid. The other bodies were removed and reburied in the military cemetery outside my headquarters at St Pol. I had no idea even of the area from which the body I selected had come; no one else can know it.”

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