One day in Armentières

Platform 8 Sign, London Victoria.

Padre Railton’s Unknown Warrior

During the Great War Padre David Railton M.C. found within a garden at Armentières, France a soldier’s grave with a wooden cross. Upon its horizontal beam the inscription “An Unknown British Soldier (of the Black Watch)”.  Railton was moved. His idea, that when this war…this war to end all wars…had ended he would suggest a British Unknown Warrior for the nation and in 1920 he was able to do so. Railton wrote to the Dean of Westminster, Herbert Ryle, who together with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George strongly supported the idea. Lord Curzon of Kedleston, working with a committee, was chosen to plan the service and placement of the chosen warrior for re-burial at Westminster Abbey.

Padre David Railton M.C.

Considerable and dignified planning went into the bringing home of Great Britain’s Unknown Warrior. Four unknown warriors were selected from the areas of the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres. On November 7, 1920 the bodies were taken to a hut used as a chapel for the garrison at St. Pol, France where Brigadier General L.J. Wyatt D.S.O. (General Officer in command of troops in France) selected, without knowing where they came, one of the bodies.

The coffin at Westminster Abbey.

The chosen warrior was then placed in a specially made zinc lined coffin of 2” oak sent from England. Within the coffin’s wrought iron exterior bands a 16th Century crusader’s sword, from the collection of the Tower of London, was placed. A coffin plate was also added and inscribed “A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country”. Draped with a British flag, used by Padre Railton as an altar cloth during the war, Britain’s Unknown Warrior travelled to Boulogne, France and then via H.M.S. Verdun to Dover, England. From Dover the warrior travelled by train arriving at Platform 8 at Victoria Station, London where this solider of the Great War “rested” through the night.

The Unknown Warrior at the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London.

On the morning of November 11, 1920 the coffin was taken upon a Royal Horse Artillery gun carriage pulled by six black horses to the Cenotaph unveiled that morning by King George V. The King then placed a wreath upon the casket, and with many dignitaries as pall bearers, followed by the King, the Royal Family, and British Ministers of State they made their way to Westminster Abbey where a Guard of Honour comprising 100 recipients of the Victoria Cross was in attendance. Among the special guests that included the Queen of Spain and the Queen of Norway, amongst others, was 100 Guests of Honour, women who lost sons or husbands to the Great War.

Covered with a silk funeral pall with Railton’s flag lying atop several thousand mourners walked by the resting warrior while servicemen kept watch. The King, during the service, dropped French soil onto the casket as it was lowered and some days later a further 100 sandbags of French soil completed the internment. Nearly a year later, General George Pershing, representing the United States of America presented Britain’s Unknown Warrior with the Medal of Honor.

To be continued…

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


One Response to “One day in Armentières”

  1. P. Ferguson says:

    Padre David Railton was awarded the Military Cross, announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette November 25, 1916 (Gazette Issue 29837), page 11543.

    Rev. David Railton, Temp. Chapln. to the Forces, 4th Class, A. Chapl. Dept.
    “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He rescued an officer and two men under very heavy fire, displaying great courage and determination. He has on many previous occasions done very fine work.”

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