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History

The story behind the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

At the main entrance of Westminster Abbey lies the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the body of an unknown British soldier from the First World War. On 11 November 1920, the body was brought from France to be buried at The Abbey. While there is one body that lies in The Abbey, it was between themselves and three other heroes who would be put to rest there.

On 7 November 1920, four bodies covered in a Union Jack were brought to the Chapel at St Pol from four different battle areas -Ypres, Arras, the Somme, and the Aisne. The commander of the British troops in France and Flanders, Brigadier General L Wyatt, chose the warrior while the other three were reburied in St Pol. The one selected as the Unknown Warrior made its way to London, where the crowd lined the streets in silence during a horse and carriage procession.

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It was decided the unveiling of The Cenotaph would be part of the funeral of the Warrior. When the funeral procession reached Whitehall, King George V laid a wreath atop the coffin before unveiling the Cenotaph. At the time, His Majesty said:

“I, with the three boys, received the body at the Cenotaph, which had been brought from France yesterday; the funeral procession came from Victoria station. At 11.0. I unveiled the Cenotaph & then followed two minutes silence throughout the whole Empire. The whole ceremony was most moving & impressive. I then followed the gun carriage on foot to Westminster Abbey, where the burial took place, the grave was filled in with soil brought from France. The Service was beautiful & conducted by the Dean.”

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In the years to come, when a royal bride was married at Westminster Abbey, they paused down the aisle to lay the bouquet on the grave of the Warrior. Lady Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) was the first to do this when she married King George VI in 1923. Having placed the bouquet in honour of her brother Fergus, who was killed in 1915 at the Battle of Loos during the First World War, she became the only royal bride to walk down the aisle without her bouquet.

A new tradition continued as Queen Elizabeth II laid her bouquet down in 1947. Nearly every royal bride since has also placed their bouquet there, whether they married at The Abbey or not. Brides not married at The Abbey who have followed suit and sent their bouquets to the tomb include Diana, Princess of Wales, Sarah, Duchess of York, and the Duchess of Edinburgh.

Before The Queen Mother died in 2002, she wished that a wreath be placed on the Tomb following her death. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, would have the same thing done the day after her funeral in September 2022.

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On the 100th anniversary of the internment, a ceremony attended by King Charles, at the time, the Prince of Wales, his wife, now Queen Camilla, and then-Prime Minister Borris Johnson was held. Queen Elizabeth II also laid a wreath at the tomb. To date, heads of state from over 70 countries have lain wreaths in memoriam of the Unknown Warrior.

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About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.