New Exhibition Looks At Unknown Warrior Memorial's 'Poignant' Story

It is nearly 100 years since the Unknown Warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

A new exhibition is exploring the history of the Unknown Warrior Memorial in Westminster Abbey.

The National Army Museum has created an exhibition looking at the significance of the memorial to mark the centenary of the Unknown Warrior being laid to rest.

The Unknown Warrior was a British soldier killed during battle in World War One and whose remains were selected for burial at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day 1920, where the tomb remains to this day.

Last week, Her Majesty the Queen attended a small private ceremony at Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the soldier's burial.

Curator Justin Saddington told Forces News the new exhibition is a "fascinating and poignant story" about the act of commemoration that took place 100 years ago.

Discussing the exhibition, the curator explained it begins by asking a question: "Who was the Unknown Warrior and why is he important?"

While the warrior's identity "was never known and never will be", Mr Saddington said the question can be answered "more broadly".

"He's one of the many thousands of British servicemen who were killed during the terrible fighting of the First World War but whose bodies could not be identified," he continued.

"The selection of the Unknown Warrior is one of its most intriguing and delightfully mysterious aspects of this story.

Unknown Warrior Memorial in Westminster Abbey DATE UNKOWN used on 061120 CREDIT NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM
The Unknown Warrior Memorial in Westminster Abbey (Picture: National Army Museum).

"What we can broadly know is that it involved the exhumation of a number of bodies from the western front, most likely four bodies, from different battle areas, named Ypres, Somme, Arras, and the Aisne."

He added: "Each body was brought back to a chapel hut at the Army's headquarters at St Paul, near Arras, and there, at midnight on the 8 November, General Wyatt, the Commander in France, entered the chapel hut and chose the body to be the Unknown Warrior."

The idea for the Unknown Warrior Memorial was first conceived by David Railton, a chaplain who served with the British Army on the Western Front during the First World War.

Mr Saddington explained that the chaplain was inspired by "an encounter with a rough wooden cross" in Armentières, in France.

The cross had an inscription on it: 'An unknown British soldier'.

"He was deeply moved by this," the curator explained, and upon reflecting on what he had seen, Reverend Railton "came up with the idea of returning one such missing soldier, [an] unidentified body, to Britain to be the symbol of all who suffered this terrible fate."

Now, the Unknown Warrior Memorial in Westminster Abbey forms part of state visits.

"It's really an important part of the British state infrastructure," Mr Saddington said.

The final part of the exhibition also looks at the significance of the monument in the international context and how other countries have also adopted the concept.

"It is an idea which has captured the imagination of the whole world and now dozens of countries around the world have their own 'unknown soldier' monuments," he said.