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Remembered Today:

Selection of the Unknown Soldier candidates


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On 12/09/2020 at 22:20, Skipman said:

Does anyone else agree with me that it is simply wrong even to try to identify the unknown soldier?

 

Mike

Apologies for being late, but yes, absolutely wrong.

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11 minutes ago, headgardener said:

Isn't this the key element in Hedley's comment, though.....? (EDIT:.... or, at least, that's how I see it) 

 

 

This seems central to our discussion of this topic, and all theories (conspiratorial or otherwise) arise from it. 

 

FWIW, I definitely do not have an agenda here. 

 

I have ordered Hanson's book. I hope that more authors [historians, which Hanson says he is not] will write accounts so that some cross-checking is possible.

Obviously in my circumstances I can no longer pursue sight of primary sources.

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It’s not difficult to accept the mind sets of those with the authority at the time, wishing the remains of an Old Contemptible, a guaranteed 1914 soldier, the Navy had waived their right and the Army was free to choose. Nor is it difficult to accept the church, or anyone else, had preference for only skeletal remains to be interred in the abbey. The selection being from partially decomposed remains seems a ghastly thought and surely not one that would be entertained by those dealing with the process of selection or the ultimate burial.

The public needed to be convinced it was going to be a fair selection, a diligent process and ceremony in a very short space of time. The belief that it could be anyone of those who would never come home, who would will never have a known grave, had to be conveyed and accepted to a grieving nation baying for an explanation. He had to represent a husband, a son, a brother, a father. It was estimated that by Monday 15th  as many as a million and half had filed passed the Cenotaph at least half a million had paid their respects at the grave of the Unknown Warrior. The grave was finally closed on the dull evening of Thursday 18th, filled with more soil from the battlefields and temporary sealed with an inscribed slab of York stone. Hanson writes ‘At the last moment a woman approached the Deanery, with a maple leaf sent from Canada by a soldier who had won the VC at Lucknow. ”She asked this to be placed on the coffin before the grave was sealed up and her wish was carried out”. (p 474)

 

Norman Collins was appointed Burial Officer after the successful attack at Beaumont-Hamel in November 1916, his memoirs go into vivid detail regarding this work – perhaps better described here as recorded in 152nd Inf Bde War Diary - 24th November 1916

‘During this period of duty in the trenches the battlefield was almost entirely cleared, not only were all the bodies of those killed on Nov 13th collected and transported to Auchonvillers cemetery but 669 skeletons which were found lying out in ‘No Man’s Land’ were buried. Those were the remains of soldiers of the 2nd Seaforth Highrs, Middlesex Regt, Royal Fusiliers and a Newfoundland Inf. Regt who had been killed on July 1st; on the battle front of one of our battalions about 545 of these skeletons were buried. Few identifications of them could be obtained as their identity discs had either been removed previously or had been eaten by rats which swarmed amongst the corpses. Altogether the bodies of little short of 1,000 soldiers were dealt with.’

 

In essence all that was required was an unidentified and unidentifiable khaki clad skeleton – the charnel house would produce a grotesque harvest. There was enough evidence on some burial returns and even more on the newly concentrated burials to aid an easier selection. Smith states ‘the … 3 bodies should be rediscovered and again buried as unknown British soldiers’ – which gives some suggestion that all those chosen for selection were exhumed from previously registered graves, he also mentions the presence of commission staff - I know nothing of their involvement. other than this. Whilst there was still many unburied remains, most were well hidden by November 1920 – two springs and summers of growth, inhabitants tirelessly trying to re-establish their lives wouldn’t aid the quick finding of skeletal remains. Driving to each of the four battle areas where exhumation and concentration work was being carried out may appear to be a logical time saving way of finding just a khaki clad skeleton. He’s already been exhumed, searched for effects but nothing left other than the  rags of a GS uniform and bone – no one can ever know his identity now, it’s lost to man.

If the order of the day passed down to the exhumation parties was to specifically bring back only the skeletal remains of a 1914 soldier, then yes, the public were grossly deceived and if they were prepared to deceive from the top it conjures up a rather ridiculous notion in my head. FM Sir H Wilson was the one who cited, rather than ‘Soldier’, it should be ‘a neutral word like “warrior” as so to include Navy and Air Force as well as Army’. (Hanson, p 424)

 

Lloyd George accepted Dean Ryle’s proposal in principle on the night of 15th October 1920 just over three weeks before the selection took place at midnight on Sunday 7th November. Tuesday 2nd November is the earliest date I have to hand for any publication relating to the proposal of an unknown soldier to be buried in the abbey although no selection process is mentioned, perhaps there are earlier reports that conveyed some reassurance of a neutral selection  – was there time for news of a selection process to filter to those still at the front clearing the old battlefields?

The clipping from the Leeds Mercury Friday 12th November 1920 -posted above - appears something like an official red herring and possibly where the ‘six’ was first aired in response to a growing distasteful national speculation of deception, perhaps Wyatt's and Smith's recollections are blushed herrings too. It doesn’t matter.

 

It's how and why we remember, what ever we have inside us that keeps this act and momentum alive, a resonance that has a strong and  profound meaning in our lives and one that's  shared by many. I inherited my root of what the Unknown Warrior represents from my father, inherited clearly from his father. From an early age, the stroke of 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month has always been an act of Remembrance, a resonance that continues in my family and the roots we’ve sown. I’m happy to believe however the ultimate choice and process was decided by those at the top, I’m also happy to believe the lowly and temporary ranks of the British Army, no matter what their remit for a task, no matter how they carried it out, they had some pitiful say in that final choice.

 

Edited by jay dubaya
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6 hours ago, jay dubaya said:

Edited 5 hours ago by jay dubaya
adding detail for the conspiracy sheep

 

To repeat - nobody has ever alleged that there was a conspiracy. We are looking for a better understanding of how this decision was made. This points to the organisation of the project, not rogue individuals.The use of the term 'sheep' in this context is absolutely uncalled for, and out of keeping with the tone and tenor of this thread and of the standards of the GWF.  Because people disagree with you, don't assume that they are fools or knaves or 'sheep'.

 

Your long and otherwise informative thread does point to one other aspect of the story which points to a 1914 body selection, that the bodies of post-1914 bodies were sufficiently decayed to allow for sanitary burials, that is with only clean bones. The church demanded a 1914 body for burial, because they thought that only a corpse of this vintage would be sufficiently clean enough for burial without cremation. Of course, this belief was erroneous. The soil of the Western Front was heavily-manured and rich in bacteria which ensured rapid decomposition of the bodies. From this point of view, a post-1914 corpse would have met the Abbey's sanitary requirements. The army knew this but the church did not. This begs the question of why did the army pass up the opportunity to enlighten the clergy. Because it suited the army's book?

 

We really need to know which individuals drew up the short-list of cemeteries, which cemeteries they chose and why. Until then, we are not going to make much progress.

 

 

 

 

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Is it thought that an officer would be excluded as a candidate? It is quite possible that a man may be identified as an officer but rank/regiment unknown and it could be seen as reverse discrimination to exclude him. Otherwise the UW is not immediately relevant to the family of an officer with no known grave.

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10 minutes ago, PhilB said:

Is it thought that an officer would be excluded as a candidate? It is quite possible that a man may be identified as an officer but rank/regiment unknown and it could be seen as reverse discrimination to exclude him. Otherwise the UW is not immediately relevant to the family of an officer with no known grave.

 

  Something I keep mentioning.   As with "regular" boots -a way to identify "Old Contemptibles. There are references to checks being made at St. Pol-with the suspicion-unsupported by evidence- that anything that identified  one of the candidates as "British" may quietly have been removed,just in case of future nosy s*ods like us. The obvious marks of different uniform,boot/shoes,etc might possibly have been removed then to completely anonymise the issue- the paradox remains that there must have been SOMETHING to identify the UW as "British" but whatever it was could further be used to narrow down/exclude particular candidates. Hence-sdid further anonymisation take place,just to make sure?

     I have ordered the Hanson book because I am not satisfied with the provenance of "bag of bones" stuff. I look forward to its citation and references-otherwise we are in King Alfred and the cakes, Lions led by Donkeys territory- trying to look back for references pre-Hanson.

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1 hour ago, voltaire60 said:

 

  Something I keep mentioning.   As with "regular" boots -a way to identify "Old Contemptibles. There are references to checks being made at St. Pol-with the suspicion-unsupported by evidence- that anything that identified  one of the candidates as "British" may quietly have been removed,just in case of future nosy s*ods like us. The obvious marks of different uniform,boot/shoes,etc might possibly have been removed then to completely anonymise the issue- the paradox remains that there must have been SOMETHING to identify the UW as "British" but whatever it was could further be used to narrow down/exclude particular candidates. Hence-sdid further anonymisation take place,just to make sure?

     I have ordered the Hanson book because I am not satisfied with the provenance of "bag of bones" stuff. I look forward to its citation and references-otherwise we are in King Alfred and the cakes, Lions led by Donkeys territory- trying to look back for references pre-Hanson.

 

I mostly agree but:

 

a minor point is that after the early battles junior officers discarded swords, picked up rifles and often wore OR clothing and webbing, distinguished only by shoulder ranking.

 

A major point is that Hanson writes of himself as appended below. Not exactly the profile of an author to be used as an important reference, although I reserve judgement until my copy arrives.

However, people who live in glass houses ........... such as an ex scientist writing about the 2nd RWF or badges ..............

More about the author

Neil Hanson
 Follow

Biography

The path that led me to become an author was a pretty rambling one. Along the highways, byways and frequent cul de sacs of a very chequered career, I've been a plasterer's mate, an ice-cream salesman, a holiday camp redcoat, an art gallery director, and simultaneously an art critic and a rugby commentator - now there's a combination you don't see every day. I've also been the editor of the drinker’s bible, The Good Beer Guide, and the owner of the highest pub in Britain, and I've travelled round the world twice, edited an assortment of obscure magazines, made a couple of television films, been a radio broadcaster in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and written for newspapers around the world.
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7 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

To repeat - nobody has ever alleged that there was a conspiracy. We are looking for a better understanding of how this decision was made. This points to the organisation of the project, not rogue individuals.The use of the term 'sheep' in this context is absolutely uncalled for, and out of keeping with the tone and tenor of this thread and of the standards of the GWF.  Because people disagree with you, don't assume that they are fools or knaves or 'sheep'.

 

Your long and otherwise informative thread does point to one other aspect of the story which points to a 1914 body selection, that the bodies of post-1914 bodies were sufficiently decayed to allow for sanitary burials, that is with only clean bones. The church demanded a 1914 body for burial, because they thought that only a corpse of this vintage would be sufficiently clean enough for burial without cremation. Of course, this belief was erroneous. The soil of the Western Front was heavily-manured and rich in bacteria which ensured rapid decomposition of the bodies. From this point of view, a post-1914 corpse would have met the Abbey's sanitary requirements. The army knew this but the church did not. This begs the question of why did the army pass up the opportunity to enlighten the clergy. Because it suited the army's book?

 

We really need to know which individuals drew up the short-list of cemeteries, which cemeteries they chose and why. Until then, we are not going to make much progress.

 

 

Interesting: I wondered if JW was having a dig at me: an introduction and a conclusion to his submission might have helped clarify if I were to be annoyed or  smug. I am still wondering. JW step forward please!

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a minor point is that after the early battles junior officers discarded swords, picked up rifles and often wore OR clothing and webbing, distinguished only by shoulder ranking.

 

   Fully agree-  with a BUT!    Well aware of the precautions taken to dress as ORs - rifle, OR tunic, no visible signs of rank,etc. Boots might be a problem- In the latter shindig the late and much lamented Humph -invalided in Italy- reported that the first thing he noticed when a stretcher came in was what colour shoes the man was wearing-he was a Guards officer.

 

     I reserve judgment on Mr. Hanson-wish him well- but references and citations are all. He is an Oxford history graduate,so he must have learned something. The matter of another recent and successful author who appeared to have invented a Great War junior officer (as outed by a much missed friend on GWF) does not fill me with much faith in generalist writers coming up with "new" history. 

    I think I must follow Mr. Asquith's policy-wait and see.

 

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On 14/09/2020 at 16:46, Steven Broomfield said:

. Must we dishonour him, and those who served with him, by picking at the threads of his burial shroud?


I couldn’t put it better myself. I find some of this discussion in poor taste. 

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In my day, officers’ boots were quite different from ORs’ boots being distinctly softer, brown and smooth - no need to iron the pimples out!

Edited by PhilB
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19 minutes ago, PhilB said:

In my day, officers’ boots were quite different from ORs’ boots being distinctly softer, brown and smooth - no need to iron the pimples out!

 

    You could afford an iron!!!!     What happened to a spoon and box of matches?

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33 minutes ago, pudsey63 said:


I couldn’t put it better myself. I find some of this discussion in poor taste. 

 

Care to be more specific please: what or who offends? I for one have learned a great deal from colleagues, including those with whom I disagree,

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16 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

    You could afford an iron!!!!     What happened to a spoon and box of matches?

It’s no coincidence that the handle of an army spoon made an excellent iron! It does make the point though that an officer‘s body  would have easily been recognisable as such. Were officer/OR WW1 boots similar? The officers may have donned OR uniform and accoutrements but I would guess not OR boots. And, as the Grimsby Chums photo shows, the boots were among the last things to rot.

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28 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

 

Care to be more specific please: what or who offends? I for one have learned a great deal from colleagues, including those with whom I disagree,


Hi Muerrisch, I have learned a lot too, and have every respect for the knowledge and expertise on this forum. I say I find some of it in poor taste, and that is down to my own particular sensibilities. Maybe it’s because, as the great Bill Bailey would say, I’m ‘speaking as a motherrrr’. I’d rather think of the Unknown Warrior as a venerated representative of all the lost men, from whatever theatre, than a bag of bones, whatever the cold reality may be. 
I don’t expect many people will agree with me, but that’s my take on it. It’s an interesting academic exercise, with a human tragedy at the centre of it, albeit on a massive scale. I am content to believe that the authorities did what they thought was best at the time, that it brought immense comfort to the bereaved, and we can respect that. 

Edited by pudsey63
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If the expression quoted from my edit has baited or offended in any way then I profoundly apologise, there was no intention of any kind directed at the forum nor it's members as a whole or individually. Should anyone take anything I've posted as ammunition that alludes to this or any conspiracy - so be it. I will assume nothing of those that disagree with me - why would I? I seek a better understanding of the grief and mourning this industrial war created, how the vast number of missing were justified and accepted - this resonated deep into society and every corner of this nation felt it's blow and it didn't sit well with some. I have no agenda with conspiracy - hidden or otherwise.

 

The Unknown Warrior perpetually laid to rest in the house of god, the final resting place for the most prestigious of this country - this burial site wasn't given up lightly, it was and possibly still is the largest collective gift this country has given it's people. It would be interesting to know the King's initial response to the proposal and how LG eventually won him over.

Evidence suggests there was contemporary rumours and there is some suggestion it was the process of selection that caused the stir - how early these rumours started, what the basis of them was or from where they originally came is unknown to me, there may be further evidence that alludes to this. Conspiracy has roots in rumours. - scandalous accusations filtering through the country with perhaps the prospect of being deceived in such a way at a time of national grief was perhaps enough for some to question the validity of who lay in the tomb at Westminster Abbey. Capt. Hope's account appears just one day after the ceremony, four days after he had conducted his part of the task - why does he state 6 were recovered, why mention the unknown Canadian? Wyatt first publicly addressed these rumours some 19 years later and perhaps Smith too much later in 1978 (both state 4 bodies) - plenty of time for rumours to manifest for some that couldn't or wouldn't believe he was just an Unknown Soldier - a conspiracy in the minds of some and one it may seem has filtered through a generation - I've spoken to an elderly adamant one! I pay his opinion in the matter with little attention but it's an opinion he has aged with and one that casts some form of mindset from the time.

 

Any progression with the with the selection or indeed the elimination process I fear will be pure speculation at best, there was always going to be a tenuous paper trail in any direction. Although Hanson cites much reference material it's beyond my reach here

 

Jon

 

 

 

 

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16 minutes ago, PhilB said:

I think you may underestimate the respect we have for the UW and all the men of WW1, Pudsey. 

 

I underestimate no ones respect Phil......I'll get my coat.

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51 minutes ago, PhilB said:

I think you may underestimate the respect we have for the UW and all the men of WW1, Pudsey.


Not at all Phil, that’s why I didn’t point the finger at anyone in particular. We all have different ways of looking at things and that’s fine. And we also express them in different ways. Maybe I should have explained myself in my first post and it was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction but I stand by it. 

33 minutes ago, jay dubaya said:

underestimate no ones respect Phil......I'll get my coat.


Don’t get your coat, that one was for me. 😀

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12 hours ago, pudsey63 said:

Don’t get your coat, that one was for me. 😀


And I thought I was on a roll at offending... looks like I put my coat on backwards and walked into the door. I’ve unruffled my hair and sat back down, I may tentatively remove my coat later.

I’m still to see some evidence of how the process of selecting an unknown soldier was sold to the nation prior to the ceremony, if indeed it ever was.

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3 hours ago, jay dubaya said:


And I thought I was on a roll at offending... looks like I put my coat on backwards and walked into the door. I’ve unruffled my hair and sat back down, I may tentatively remove my coat later.

I’m still to see some evidence of how the process of selecting an unknown soldier was sold to the nation prior to the ceremony, if indeed it ever was.

 

I doubt if "sold" is a relevant word for 1920. The past is a different country.

National newspapers printed facts, few "opinion pieces" and letters from Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

In the main, the population was deferential and well-mannered. "Authority" was not ridiculed or lampooned as a reflex action. The country was not polarised into bitter divisions lubricated by soshulmeejer.

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19 hours ago, jay dubaya said:

If the expression quoted from my edit has baited or offended in any way then I profoundly apologise, there was no intention of any kind directed at the forum nor it's members as a whole or individually.

Then why don't you edit it out?

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31 minutes ago, Hedley Malloch said:

Then why don't you edit it out?

Seems like re-writing / air-brushing out of history - and I am not sure we on GWF wholly approve of that!

Let's please move on to with the more interesting main thrust of this thread.

:-) M

Edited by Matlock1418
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I too would like to move on with this thread but my input appears to be steering it off course.

Just for clarity I have removed the ‘expression’ from my ‘reason for edit’. It has been quoted so will remain in the thread. If I have broken any forum rules regarding this I’m sure the Mods will let me know. 

 

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20 minutes ago, jay dubaya said:

I too would like to move on with this thread but my input appears to be steering it off course.

Just for clarity I have removed the ‘expression’ from my ‘reason for edit’. It has been quoted so will remain in the thread. If I have broken any forum rules regarding this I’m sure the Mods will let me know. 

What is done is done - and I hope the thread moves on smoothly.

I wasn't even considering the Mods when mentioning air-brushing - just any removal from history.

I believe we at GWF don't really like that!

So onwards ... as I, and others I am sure, follow with interest.

Quite a few of us seem to have ordered Hanson's book!

Wonder where we will go next???

:-) M

 

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