Thursday, 11 November 2010

On this day in Scottish military history #9 - The Burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey

What has the Unknown Warrior and Westminster Abbey got to do with Scottish military history? The reason I’m posting this that it is worth pointing out that there is a chance the man buried in the most revered grave in London ninety years ago today was a Scot.

No-one knows for sure who he is because so much trouble was gone to, to make sure his identity would never be known. He could have been any rank, from any regiment, from any of the British Empire troops who fought on the Western Front.

He could have been a Scot in a Scottish regiment or in a corps like the Royal Field Artillery; he could have been a Scot serving in an English or Irish or Welsh regiment. He could have been a Scot in a Canadian, Australian, New Zealand or South African unit because thousands of Scots served in those armies. He could have been a Scots officer in an Indian regiment even because death was a great leveller and he could have been a corporal or colonel.

And that is the point of the unknown warrior. He could have been any one of over 200,000 men from the British Empire who died on the Western Front and have no known grave. He was an everyman.

Today any serviceman or woman who is tragically killed in Afghanistan is returned home and is given a military funeral with pall-bearers and firing party. Before that they are reverentially driven through Wootton Basset after their body is flown into RAF Brize Norton.

95 years ago the men who died in France and Flanders and have no known grave were buried where they fell. No ceremony in the UK, and no grave for relatives to mourn at.

With no body to bury they could visit their local war memorial and see a name. They could also go to London and visit Westminster Abbey. There they could lay a poppy on the grave on the unknown warrior and imagine that was their son, or husband, or brother, or father in a proper grave, honoured by the King and his ministers, generals and admirals and the great and good of the land.

During the two minutes silence today as we remember the fallen and the perils they faced at the front, also stop and think of those families left at home who had lost a loved one and never gave up hope that one day their missing soldier would somehow turn up at their door.

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