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Steven Broomfield

Unknown Warrior question

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Steven Broomfield

On a FB page which I frequent, someone posted an absolutely ghastly bit of free verse (I'll spare you any link so as to avoid upsetting anyone - it really was appalling), and this has led to someone stating that 'from what we know now' the Unknown Warrior was almost certainly killed in 1914 or early 15. I asked about this and received the response that documents released under the 80-year rule confirm that the body - as opposed to what was said at the time - certainly didn't come from Gallipoli or other Fronts, but purely from France. I await a reply as to the date question, but does anyone have any light to shed?

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Ron Clifton

I have read somewhere that "early" burials were chosen so that only unidentifiable skeletons would be included in the selection.

 

"France" may have included Belgium but the inscription on his grave clearly states "brought from France".

 

Ron

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Steven Broomfield

Thanks

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johnboy
Posted (edited)

I wonder if the original Headstone is still over the original grave and if NOK were informed of exhumation? , or was the body from an unknown soldier grave?

Edited by johnboy

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Ron Clifton

From an unknown soldier's grave, by all accounts. Or possibly the grave of an unknown sailor, airman or marine, hence "Unknown Warrior".

 

Ron

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johnboy

Ron

My question was poorly put.Is there a possibilty of a grave in France/Belgium still marked as unknown soldier complete with headstone but empty grave?

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Ron Clifton

Possible, Johnboy, but unlikely, since by the time the body was repatriated I don't think that many graves actually had permanent headstones (though I could be wrong on that). I think it is more likely that any grave marker was either removed or recycled for another grave.

 

Ron

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Ghazala

Ben Macintyre wrote this some years ago

 

“George V was unenthusiastic initially, worried that it might create a “morbid sideshow”, but in 1920, with millions grieving for lost sons, fathers, brothers, husbands and lovers, the plan was revived. Four unidentifiable bodies were dug up from the battlefields of the Somme, Aisne, Arras, and Ypres. General L.J. Wyatt, commander of British troops in France, selected one at random.

The body was encased in a magnificent oak coffin donated by the British Undertakers Association. The Unknown Warrior arrived in Britain to solemn fanfare, and was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey beneath six barrels of earth from Flanders fields and a marble slab: “They buried him among the kings Because he Had done good toward God and Toward His house.”

The Times described the ceremony as “the most beautiful, the most touching and the most impressive this island has ever seen”. Mourners could imagine, for a moment, that their own unrecovered dead might be inside that coffin. That was undoubtedly a comfort, but the Unknown Warrior also reflected the dehumanising effect of mass death; here lies Tommy Atkins, Everyman and no one.

The authorities did not reveal the fate of the three soldiers not selected for anonymous immortality. They were unceremoniously tipped into a shell hole alongside the road to Albert. Known unto God. Known unto nobody.”

 

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RaySearching

The is a three page article in the December 2018 issue of Stand Two

describing how the body was chosen

Well worth a read,

the article  may dispel a few myths  surrounding how the unknown warrior was chosen

 

Ray

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kenf48

The Abbey authorities stipulated the remains should be ‘skeletal’, to avoid cremation.  In a letter to the Telegraph 11 November 1939 General Wyatt in charge of the operation described the remains as ‘mere bones’.  As a consequence the remains collected came from 1914/early 1915.

 

As Neil Hanson describes it in the ‘Unknown Soldier’ it was an ‘outrageous deception’ for the bereaved of those who died later.  Hanson  also cites a Major Pilditch who, searching for the grave of a fallen comrade noted that the “progress of successive attacks could clearly be seen from the equipment on the skeletons...’

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nigelcave

Ron C wrote: 

 

'Possible, Johnboy, but unlikely, since by the time the body was repatriated I don't think that many graves actually had permanent headstones (though I could be wrong on that). I think it is more likely that any grave marker was either removed or recycled for another grave.'

 

 

 

In the early editions of Rose Coombs' Before Endeavours Fade (i.e. v late 70s, v early 80s) and removed from later editions, I seem to recall that she said that the unknown soldier from Belgium was taken from Bleuet Farm CWGC; and there is a 'space' in that cemetery (or there was when I last visited, well over thirty years ago now). Unfortunately I cannot for the moment find my first, very tattered, copy of this wonderful book. Why she wrote that I have no idea; but I can remember the great battlefield guru Tony Spagnoly agreeing with this.

 

 

 

 

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Gunner Hall

According to the CWGC,  the earliest casualty interred at Bleuet Farm  died 17/6/1917.  Pte Hugh Quigley, 1SCOTS.  All of the other 444 have dates of death later than that,  I can't see any evidence of grave concentrations. 

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kenf48
1 hour ago, Gunner Hall said:

According to the CWGC,  the earliest casualty interred at Bleuet Farm  died 17/6/1917.  Pte Hugh Quigley, 1SCOTS.  All of the other 444 have dates of death later than that,  I can't see any evidence of grave concentrations. 

 

As General Wyatt wrote in his letter to the Telegraph, "I had no idea even of the area from which the body I selected had come; no-one else can know it."

 

Which is probably why it was not mentioned in later editions of 'When Endeavours Fade" (it's certainly not in my (signed) fifth edition -1986).  Great care was taken to avoid any speculation, the burial parties were dismissed after placing the four bodies on stretchers at his HQ.  The bodies were covered with the Union Jack so those who recovered the remains could not know which was chosen. 

 

18 hours ago, Ghazala said:

 

The authorities did not reveal the fate of the three soldiers not selected for anonymous immortality. They were unceremoniously tipped into a shell hole alongside the road to Albert. Known unto God. Known unto nobody.”

 

 

General Wyatt also attempted to scotch the account the bodies which were not chosen were 'tipped into a shell hole', he wrote, "the other bodies were removed and reburied in the military cemetery outside my headquarters at St Pol".  

Rose Coombs also notes the Unknown Warrior was chosen in a hut near the cemetery at St Pol-Sur-Ternoise, of course if Wyatt's account is correct there should be at least three 'unknowns' in the cemetery.  

 

None are mentioned on the CWGC site, and the last burial of a soldier was May 1919, with the final WW1 casualty interred, Annie Miller QMAAC in July 1920.  All these burials were in Plot E.  Their fate, and the location pf their initial recovery (beyond the four battlefields previously mentioned) will always remain unknown.

 

Ken 

 

 

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Marilyne
On ‎08‎/‎05‎/‎2019 at 11:54, Ron Clifton said:

 

"France" may have included Belgium but the inscription on his grave clearly states "brought from France".

 

 

 

if I recall well… and confirmed here by Ghazala I see… one of the coffins came from Ypres, and that's Belgium… so unless it is recorded somewhere that it's NOT the Ypres coffin that was selected (and I don't think the general knew what coffin came from what battlefield), it is possible that the Unknown came from Belgium and not France…

 

M.

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caulkheader
20 hours ago, johnboy said:

Ron

My question was poorly put.Is there a possibilty of a grave in France/Belgium still marked as unknown soldier complete with headstone but empty grave?

This is how the Australians handled it.

2157.JPG

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14276265

And for Canada...

 

 

 

265

 

Canadian unknown.jpg

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Ron Clifton

I knew about the unknown Australian (previously buried at Villers-Bretonneux) but the Canadian one was news to me.

 

I believe that the French handled matters slightly differently: of the original six bodies, the five not buried under the Arc de Triomphe were buried in a single row in one particular cemetery, possibly at Verdun.

 

Ron

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caulkheader
3 hours ago, Ron Clifton said:

I knew about the unknown Australian (previously buried at Villers-Bretonneux) but the Canadian one was news to me.

 

I believe that the French handled matters slightly differently: of the original six bodies, the five not buried under the Arc de Triomphe were buried in a single row in one particular cemetery, possibly at Verdun.

 

Ron

I know I am being pedantic, but to save confusion for anyone now wishing to visit, after seeing this thread. The Australian 'unknown' was originally in the Adelaide Cemetery, not the 'main' Aussie Cemetery at nearby Villers-Bretonneux.

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Ron Clifton

Thanks for the correction, caulkheader.

 

That would explain why I couldn't find it on the last occasion I visited Villers Brettoneux! I did find an empty and unmarked plot and I thought that was it.

 

Ron

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Fattyowls
21 hours ago, Ron Clifton said:

I believe that the French handled matters slightly differently: of the original six bodies, the five not buried under the Arc de Triomphe were buried in a single row in one particular cemetery, possibly at Verdun.

 

Spot on Mr C; at Faubourg Pave just on the eastern side of the town on the road out to Etain. When I was searching the forum for a photo (all mine are 35mm unfortunately) I spotted that Maxime Weygand stated that they were interred at the ossuary on the Thiaumont-Douaumont ridge. I have a vague recollection that they may have lain in the chapel before the ceremony, but they were taken to the citadel for the ceremony. But I may be very much mistaken.

 

Pete.

 

P.S. While searching I also found that Faubourg Pave is a CWGC site too; despite having been there multiple times I'd completely forgotten that too.

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Marilyne

The difference between the British on the one hand and the Canadian & Australian on the other, is that the "dominion" unknowns were chosen from existing cemeteries in 1993 and 2000. I can't imagine them starting to exhume a number of soldiers and then going through the motions as in 1919. the Canadian was chosen near Vimy and the Australian near Villers Bretoneux for the obvious symbolic reasons.

when the British unknown soldier was chosen, lot of cemeteries were still being made and digging them up was, logistically speaking, not a big burden.

 

Pete, I do have pictures of the Faubourg Pavé graves of the "not chosen unknowns". I'll post them later on… they're on my external disk at home.

If I forget, please remind me…

 

M.

 

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Knotty
On 08/05/2019 at 18:29, johnboy said:

Ron

My question was poorly put.Is there a possibilty of a grave in France/Belgium still marked as unknown soldier complete with headstone but empty grave?

 

Not to forget the New Zealand unknown warrior exhumed from his resting place at Caterpillar Valley cemetery. Similar to the Canadian headstone but inscribed in Maori above an English translation.

(Looking for the photo I took...will post when found)

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Marilyne

here's the pictures I promised from Verdun:

 

1048304863_VerdunVille047.JPG.a50ea23f9faa8f4e07b78495a82b1b42.JPG

618509829_VerdunVille048.JPG.99db1996573ad3729fd27cdda149d78a.JPG

1047184843_VerdunVille049.JPG.afee599c2afb8b2f20cfd241c39ada47.JPG

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edwin astill
On 09/05/2019 at 14:47, Marilyne said:

 

if I recall well… and confirmed here by Ghazala I see… one of the coffins came from Ypres, and that's Belgium… so unless it is recorded somewhere that it's NOT the Ypres coffin that was selected (and I don't think the general knew what coffin came from what battlefield), it is possible that the Unknown came from Belgium and not France…

 

M.

If the body selected was from Belgium it would also be correct to say that it was brought from France ie the place where the body was selected by the general.

 

E Edwin

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