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Steven Broomfield
2 hours ago, Wexflyer said:

 

And the Irish (and Scotch and Sheep aficionados) are and were very well aware of that!

 

 I don't think this is careless useage. This chap was a senior British army officer, writing an account of what he knew was a historic event, an event that would attract keen attention in the future. He was writing for posterity, and I think he meant precisely what he said - an English soldier. Not German, French, Scotch or Irish, or any other sort of colonial.

 

And I disagree. 'English' was routinely used to mean 'British' (as in Builth Wells' war memorial). I suspect he meant no slight - 'not foreign' would have entailed a list of French, Belgian, etc. I would go so far as to suggest 'English' might well encompass Colonial/Empire too. To be honest, if you're selecting a skeleton dressed in khaki I'm not sure you can be too choosy.

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21 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

 

And I disagree. 'English' was routinely used to mean 'British' (as in Builth Wells' war memorial). I suspect he meant no slight - 'not foreign' would have entailed a list of French, Belgian, etc. I would go so far as to suggest 'English' might well encompass Colonial/Empire too. To be honest, if you're selecting a skeleton dressed in khaki I'm not sure you can be too choosy.

 

I think both interpretations are reasonable on their face. But one factor in favor of the interpretation I put forward was already mentioned by someone elsewhere: It was know that the selected "body" (actually skeleton, as you say), was destined for Westminister Abbey. A purely English location. Would it have been thought appropriate to select a Scottish Presbyterian or Irish Catholic for burial in a CofE church? Probably not.

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29 minutes ago, Wexflyer said:

 

I think both interpretations are reasonable on their face. But one factor in favor of the interpretation I put forward was already mentioned by someone elsewhere: It was know that the selected "body" (actually skeleton, as you say), was destined for Westminister Abbey. A purely English location. Would it have been thought appropriate to select a Scottish Presbyterian or Irish Catholic for burial in a CofE church? Probably not.

You may well be correct, however one of the striking features of reading contemporary(ish) regimental histories or memoirs, is the use of England/English as a synonym for Britain/British. 

 

As I recall, In his book “Ireland’s war”, Prof Jeffrey wrote specifically about the contemporary sources that interchange Country names and even incorporated symbols/emblems that seems quite jarring to today’s reader. 

 

 

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When I lived in Scotland I used to get rather annoyed when the locals would say that it was Scotland that won WW1 and WW2. And they didn't mean Britain. Same tging on many memorials there.

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Steven Broomfield
14 hours ago, Wexflyer said:

 

I think both interpretations are reasonable on their face. But one factor in favor of the interpretation I put forward was already mentioned by someone elsewhere: It was know that the selected "body" (actually skeleton, as you say), was destined for Westminister Abbey. A purely English location. Would it have been thought appropriate to select a Scottish Presbyterian or Irish Catholic for burial in a CofE church? Probably not.

 

Again, I disagree. Westminster Abbey is, effectively, the State Church: it's across the road from the Palace of Westminster (the centre of Empire governance), and just down the road from the residence of the Head of State (and of the Head of the Government). 

 

I think you're looking at it from a too 21st-century viewpoint: it wasn't done to upset anyone: it was done because it was the way things were in the early 20th century.

 

As an aside, possibly irrelevant but possibly not - how many Cross of St George flags do you see in footage of the 1966 World Cup Final? I'd suspect you see as many, if not more, Union Flags. Except in the southern part of Ireland, in the early part of the 20th century I would suggest 'nationalism' was extremely limited. That went on a long time. You only have to look at the electoral fortunes of the SNP or PC to see that popular Nationalism is a pretty modern construct

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On 02/09/2020 at 17:55, Wexflyer said:

and I think he meant precisely what he said - an English soldier. Not German, French, Scotch or Irish, or any other sort of colonial.

The selection was made, at the stipulation of the Abbey authorities, from the cemeteries of the battles of 1914 which would mean decomposition was well advanced and they were 'mere bones'.   This stipulation suited the Army as there was no chance the remains could be that other than a regular soldier.  The remains could not, as has been suggested here be a member of the CLC nor any other unit from the Empire, neither as  the current Dean of Westminster recently declared in a Radio 4 interview, 'it could have been a woman'. (Nearly drove into a tree when I heard that particular bit of Cof E 'inclusivity'). 

They were not the remains of a German soldier, the exhumation parties would have recognised that in an instant.  It was a very careful process and by no means random.

 

The parties were sent out as was, and probably still is, in ignorance as to the purpose of their mission. They were simply instructed to exhume a body from a grave in a cemetery marked as  "An Unknown British Soldier" - if there was any form of identification on the body it was to be re-interred and another chosen. It was relatively easy to identify a body from 1914 and the fact the remains were British from scraps of uniform, or as was cited on another thread, "boots and buttons".  The remains were to be taken to St Pol where on arrival the exhumation parties were dismissed and took no further part in the process of selection.

 

In his memoir, 'Wars and Shadows' the late General Sir David Fraser (b. 1920 of Anglo-Scots heritage) observed that between the wars everyone knew, 'the English had won the war'.  It was not considered 'lazy usage' as contemporary newspapers show.   As has already been pointed out here nationalism in the UK is a late twentieth century, post WW2 construct. 

 

The authorities were well aware the remains could have been from another religious tradition other than Anglican, and therefore from any of the 'home countries'.  On the morning of the 8th November, before the chosen remains were moved and taken to Boulogne,  chaplains from the Church of England, roman Catholic and non-Conformist religion each held a service in the Chapel at St Pol.

 

It is possible, the 'unknown British soldier' exhumed from the battlefield cemeteries came from any part of what was then Great Britain, it is also possible but on the balance of probability unlikely, he may have been from a different heritage but serving in the British Army.  There can be little doubt he was an 'unknown British soldier', the first Empire troops to arrive in France were from India who landed in late September 1914, other colonial or Empire troops were no deployed in any organised fashion until much later, the canadians in March 1915, Anzacs in 1916, the CLC as has been suggested not until 1917.  The remains were not those of a soldier, or non-combatant from Australia, Canada or any other country.

 

There was still an element of deception on the part of the authorities and the Army in that he was not a conscript, nor even a Kitchener volunteer but that does not mean the symbolism of loss was any the less in 1920.

 

There are any number of well informed threads on the topic of "The Unknown Warrior" on the forum I'm at a loss to know what this discussion has to do with the White Feather movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  I regret I must disagree with you.  I have seen NO evidence thus far that there was any plan/actuality to select a 1914 Regular. What is the source of your information for this?? There is an account from c.1972 - on the Westminster Abbey site, from one of officers involved to the effect that the remains of each man on a stretcher were examined  at St Pol to ensure there was no means of identification of the remains.

  I cannot see also that the remains of any man put up for the final selection could be  narrowed down by "buttons and boots". For one thing, this would mean a clear way of identifying whether the man was Officer or OR-and I have seen nothing about whether there was any active discrimination (one way or the other) on this. 

"They were not the remains of a German soldier, the exhumation parties would have recognised that in an instant."

    Yes, but only if there was some surviving evidence of German kit.  Thus, the UW could not have been completely "unidentifiable"- I would suggest that skeletonised remains -without any trace of "boots or buttons" etc would also have to have been excluded  for lack of certainty as to which country the man was from (I am aware-but only from the very eccentric farmer who maintained a chunk of trench system just outside Ypres- he claimed that human remains found in "his" trenches were allocated to CWGC or Volksbund on the basis of whether the bones were yellowish or white-the latter supposedly being German because of differences in wartime diet)

     When I put up-tongue in cheek- that if the UW was WHOLLY unidentifiable, then there was a statistical chance the person could be CLC, other ally (Empire or Foreign) or even German. The point was to draw out that the selection was not quite as random as some might believe.- that there had to be enough to identify the body as being in the British Army but not enough to identify further-eg by emblems of rank or kit. As far as I am aware, those involved were silent on whether any/none of those selected was specifically either Officer or OR.

  In political terms, to confine the selection to 1914 regular army remains would have caused an outcry-the totality of the British Army of 1914 was but a small percentage of those who served in the British Army during the whole war.

 

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9 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

I have seen NO evidence thus far that there was any plan/actuality to select a 1914 Regular. What is the source of your information for this??

 

Battlefield Tourism David W. Lloyd references documentation at TNA in the Public Works catalogue WORK 20/1-3.  It is presumed, because the arrangements were made in great haste the Abbey authorities sought to keep it simple.

9 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

  In political terms, to confine the selection to 1914 regular army remains would have caused an outcry-the totality of the British Army of 1914 was but a small percentage of those who served in the British Army during the whole war.

 

There are conflicting accounts as to the selection process in France and Flanders but probably the most accurate description of the process was the letter Brig.-Gen Wyatt wrote to the Telegraph in November 1939.  He describes the remains as 'mere bones'.  His motivation for the letter is not known but it may have been to put to rest speculation as Britain once more went to war.

One of these accounts was Captain Harry Cope, described as 'the man in charge of the exhumation', he wasn't.   It's more likely he was in charge of one of the four  (or six depending which account you subscribe to) exhumation parties. He claimed one body of an 'unknown' was exhumed by his party and was identified as Canadian and therefore rejected. (I appreciate this goes against the 1914 date, but suggests the exhumation parties were selective.)

 

George Kelland who was in charge in France and who examined the bodies on arrival at St Pol is adamant, 'it was a British soldier, unknown to man but known unto God'. 

The autobiography cited in the article below has now been published by Helion

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/11/tomb-unknown-warrior-army-chaplain-secret

 

The legacy was the story of the selection as published, a largely subservient population would believe what they were told and the administration and decision making was not their concern. What the individual believed was important, we shall never know which cemeteries were chosen, neither will we know which body Wyatt pointed to, great care was taken to ensure this was so otherwise the myth would not survive.

 

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1 hour ago, kenf48 said:

The legacy was the story of the selection as published, a largely subservient population would believe what they were told and the administration and decision making was not their concern. What the individual believed was important, we shall never know which cemeteries were chosen, neither will we know which body Wyatt pointed to, great care was taken to ensure this was so otherwise the myth would not survive.

 

 

   Exactly so- One definition of "History" is" the Myths we live by". However the selection was managed, the idea did work. It is interesting to read up on how the UW for Australia, NZ and Canada was selected in much more recent times.

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Why is this discussion being simultaneously conducted on two separate pages of this Forum?

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
19 hours ago, kenf48 said:

  As has already been pointed out here nationalism in the UK is a late twentieth century, post WW2 construct. 

It was stated in a previous posting that 'Popular' nationalism is a late twentieth century construct.

This is incorrect, although awareness of it in South East England might have been.

 

The current 'popular' national parties of Wales and Scotland, Plaid Cymru and the SNP were formed in 1925 and the early 1930s respectively.

But they didn't arise from nowhere.

There was a significant Home Rule movement in both countries in the latter part of the 19th century.

In Wales, the Liberal Party, including the Parliamentary party (of which TE Ellis and Lloyd-George*) were leading members) were advocating large measures of home rule for Wales, although the signal was lost amongst the much louder noise about Irish Home Rule.

 

*I think it was Lloyd George who made a speech in the Commons once, advocating Irish, Scottish and Welsh Home Rule.

A disdainful heckle from the Tory benches went along the lines of "...and Home Rule for Hell too?"

To which Ll-G instantly replied:

"Every man to speak for his own country..."

 

There was a significant extra parliamentary support for Welsh nationalism in the 1930s, and this led to the imprisonment of 3 prominent Welshmen, Saunders Lewis a writer, DJ Williams a schoolmaster and Lewis Valentine a non-conformist minister, for an act of terrorism/pacifism, where early works for a military bombing training school on the Llyn Peninsula was set on fire.

Edited by Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
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There are so many discrepancies between so many accounts of the Selection of the British Warrior that we may relax in the knowledge that he will for ever be Unknown except to God.

 

Clearly the Sutton transcribed account is a most important contribution. Unfortunately it seems not to have been dated, but appears almost verbatim with Wyatts' letter to the D Tel some 19 years after the event.

For a coherently written and properly referenced booklet see The Story of the British Unknown Warrior by Michael Gavaghan. He leans most heavily on Wyatt but differs [as do several other important contributors] on the disposal of the rejected three bodies.

 

My purpose in adding to the dialogue is to point out the absurdity of even attempting to choose an "English" corpse, or an Irish one, or a Scottish one, or Welsh, or RC ,or C of E, or whatever.

Even if the suggested preference for a 1914 death were true, the received idea that any given battalion had an overwhelming membership from a particular area of the nation is risible. A glance at the 1911 census should convince anyone of that. The ground-breaking analyses of national/area/county origin in the various infantry regiments by GUEST have surely put to bed for ever that simplistic belief. 

If the caricatured English Protestant Officer Class had subconsciously wanted to choose 4 or 6 cemeteries ,each guaranteed to contain a randomly chosen Tommy Atkins, or exclude a RC Irishman, the odds were very stacked against them.

 

 

If one searches 1911 Census Demographics  led by GUEST it becomes obvious that many units had vast spreads of origins for their men. I will find some examples.

 

At random: 

1st Bn Scots Guards - Egypt  - 1911 Census. 753 named men of whom 749 recorded their place of birth. Very slightly more Scots-born than the 2nd Battalion. 

 

Country of Birth

England      429     = 57%
Scotland     266     = 36%
Ireland         38
Wales            8
SA                 2
US                 2
Australia        1
India              1
Jamaica         1
S America      1

Unknown       4
Total          753

Edited 16 hours ago by Muerrisch
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56 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

The ground-breaking analyses of national/area/county origin in the various infantry regiments by GUEST have surely put to bed for ever that simplistic belief.

 

   Amen to that. I hope he is well and prospering with his excellent history work. The problem ,of course, cuts both ways- The numbers of Irishmen serving in other regiments other than Irish is well-known. But also the number of English-born serving in "Irish" regiments as the war progressed-I have just been bashing away at a local casualty  transferred from his native London to 2 Royal Dublin Fusiliers-and the Medal Roll shows a hefty number of transfers from other London regiments.

  It does raise a small point with regard to the Australian.NZ and Canadian UWs of recent decades- A strong chance indeed that one/all might actually be British by birth.  As you say, the matter is suitably-and thankfully-obscured both at the time of the original UW or since. It is an occasion where-pretty much uniquely- the obsessive secrecy of the British administrative system might actually have done something right. Perhaps even obscurantism has a place in the affairs of the nation.........

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  • 6 months later...
BullerTurner
On 01/09/2020 at 14:48, Steven Broomfield said:

 

Many, many years ago we visited Builth Wells. The war memorial there is instructive, and Mr Google provided me with a picture.

 

'Live thou for England

We for England died'

Builth Wells.jpg

Duw, mun!  There’s hard...

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