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The Unknown Soldier -the WW1 Centenary Service at Westminster Abbey 2014

Updated on October 13, 2014

"What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end. Is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.."

Thomas Steam- from "Little Gidding"

Read by Rachel Stirling at Westminster Abbey

WW1 Centenary

WW1- Centenary Lights out

On August 4th 2014 thousands of people took part in Lights Out.

This was a symbolic turning off of lights between 10-11 pm.

Leaving a single candle burning.

The event was organised by 14-18 Now.

A Cultural programme designed to mark the WW1 Centenary.

Who were inspired to create the event by the words of the then-

Wartime Foreign Secretary Edward Grey.

"The lamps are going out all over Europe: We shall not see them lit again in our lifetimes"

Amidst our often hectic modern lives this time was observed by many.

Across Britain Public buildings in London and other cities lights were switched off.

An light installation was lit in London which sent a line of light up into the sky.

Households across Britain lit a single candle.


Poetry WW1

"War broke and now the Winter of the World

With perishing great darkness closes in"

Lines from -1914- By Wilfred Owen

Read by Actor David Morrisey

Westminster Abbey WW1 Centenary

The Unknown Soldier-WW1 Centenary

As candles burned a Commemorative Service was held at Westminster Abbey in London.

In which the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was an integral part.

The Unknown Soldier was remembered at the beginning of the service.

In the foreword from the speaker- people were asked to remember our forefathers sacrifice.

But also to use the Centenary period as a time of discovery of our history.

To have a better understanding of how conflicts affect generations.

By doing this to promote Peace in our time.

The Service saw a gradual extinguishing of candles held by members of the congregation.

Passages from the Bible, diary and letters from Service men and woman and poetry were movingly read out.

The poetry was read aloud from Poet's Corner- an area of the Abbey that honours poets like C.S Lewis, Charles Sorley and Wilfred Owen.

As the haunting- larks ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams was played by violinist Jennifer Pike.

Four Guardsmen flanked the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier- They represented the four Nations of Britain (of 1914) Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland.

The speakers of the service and members of the Royal Family solemnly filed around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

At 11.00 pm (the exact time War was declared in 1914)Their was silence.

The Duchess of Cornwall extinguished the last oil lamp burning candle.

In the Lady's Chapel a Paschal candle has been left burning for the Centenary period.

This is to represent the Light that forever shines in darkness as Hope.

Light in the Dark


"Oh! Ancient Crimson Curse!

Corrode, consume.

Give back this Universe

It's pristine bloom"

Lines from Isaac Rosenberg- On receiving News Of the War

Read out by Rachel Stirling at Westminster Abbey WW1 Centenary

11th November 2009-The Unknown Soldier

The grave of the Unknown soldier is a powerful focus for prayer and remembrance for people.

Each year a wreath is laid by visiting Heads of State on Remembrance Day.

On the day of 11th November 2009 following the Death of the last soldier of the British Isles.

The Queen laid a wreath to mark the passing of the WW1 Generation.

The Unknown Warrior Westminster Abbey 1920


History of The Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey

During WW1 a Reverend David Railton was assisting with burials in France of fallen soldiers.

He noticed one burial that had a rough cross with an inscription in pencil attached to it.

The words read "An Unknown British soldier" This simple human gesture of remembrance and respect of an unidentified Soldier stayed with the Reverend.

On return to Britain he saw the potential of such remembrance as being needed at a National level.

He suggested the concept and creation of a National symbolic funeral of an "Unknown Warrior"

The idea was given support by the Dean of Westminster, the then Prime Minister David.L.George and King George V

France at the same time honoured and held symbolic funerals.

The British Unknown Warrior of World war one was chosen by Brig Gen L.J.Wyatt, (some say he was blindfolded during the process)

The bodies had been exhumed from the WW1 Battlefields of Aisne, Arras, Somme and Ypres

The Warrior was chosen and the rest were reburied.

In Britain the news of a National symbolic funeral had captured the interest and support from the generally grieving British public.

The idea of a soldier being chosen who was an unknown was important. He could have been anyone's son, any class, religion or rank.

This unknown soldier became everyone's son, father, uncle and brother.

The Unknown Warrior began his Journey home to Britain from Boulogne France. He was placed in a Oak coffin. ( from Oak at Hampton Palace.) and transported to Dover on HMS Verdun.-Then train to London.

On the 11th November 1920 two years after WW1 had ended the Funeral of the Unknown Warrior took place.

The Funeral parade was processional and many people lined the streets in silence.

At the head of the procession was over hundred woman who had applied to walk in the parade to honour the loss of their loved ones.

The Symbolic funeral gave all people somewhere tangible to display their grief and loss after WW1.

The procession led to the Cenotaph and King George V unveiled the Monument. Then two minutes of silence was observed.

The geography of world war one in France meant that modern warfare was fought on ancient battle fields.
The geography of world war one in France meant that modern warfare was fought on ancient battle fields. | Source

Identity loss

Identity Loss

Many identities of soldiers and Officers were lost in WW1 because the fatalities were to high for medical units and survivors to account for.

The types of warfare shell explosions, mortars, grenades, mines, machine guns, chemical gas, flooded shell holes- meant sometimes there was not much left of a battalion.

The dog tags and identity tags of soldiers and Officers were not as robust as thought and many decomposed when buried.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

From 1921 and onwards the concept of the Unknown Soldier has become International.

Tombs of Unknown Warriors have been built in the USA, Portugal, Italy, East Berlin and France.

The Unknown Warrior is a Monument, a single grave, a crypt or Memorial Garden.

The Soldier is always an unknown but to God.

In America at Arlington National Cemetery the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded since April 6th 1948.

The Tomb is guarded by "The Old Guard" 3rd US Infantry Sentinels at all times, day and night.

The Arlington Monument houses the remains of Unknown Soldiers from WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam Wars.

The significance of these Tombs is an important reflection for people to mark the loss of millions.

The Messages- by Wilfred Wilson Gibson- WW1 poems

"I cannot quite remember.......There were five dropt dead beside me in the trench- and three

whispered their dying wishes to me....

"Back from the trenches, more dead than alive,

"Stone deaf and half dazed, and with a broken knee, he hobbled

slowly, muttering vacantly:

"I cannot quite remember.......There were five

"Dropt beside me in the trench, and three

"Whispered there dying messages to me........

"Their friends are waiting, wondering,how they thrive-

"Waiting a World patiently....

"But what they said, or WHO their friends may.

"I cannot quite remember.There were five

"Dropt beside me in the trench-and three

"Whispered their dying words to me."

Poem by Wilfred Wilson Gibson

Read by Mark Gattis at Westminster Abbey

WW1 Centenary.

Hope is a Light in the Darkness


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