Derbyshire Remembers

November 12th, 2015

This week is filled with events to help remember those who have lost their lives as a result of conflict. The tradition of Remembrance Sunday and the two minutes silence on November 11th began at the end of World War One and has many links to Derbyshire. Perhaps the most prominent is the involvement of Lord Curzon of Kedleston Hall. He was given the task of making arrangements for the location and service for the Unknown soldier. The idea of the Unknown Warrior was initially thought up by Reverend David Railton, who had served on the Western Front. In 1920 he approached the then Prime Minister, Lloyd George, with his idea that an anonymous soldiers body should be buried at a special ceremony to represent all of the British servicemen that had died during the war. Until then the only national symbol for the servicemen that had died during the War was the temporary wooden Cenotaph that was designed at the last minute by Edward Lutyens and erected just for the Victory Day Parade of 1919. However, the level of public enthusiasm it led to the construction of a permanent cenotaph made from Portland Stone. At First Lloyd George was hesitant to go ahead with the ceremony as he felt that it may reopen recent wounds for those who were mourning. However, he came round to the idea and appointed Lord Curzon to organise it.
The body was selected by exhuming a number of soldiers bodies from war graves and placing them under Union Jack flags at a chapel in st. Pol. Lieutenant Colonel E.A.S. Gell (another Derbyshire figure, from Hopton Hall) and Brigadier General L.J. Wyatt then selected soldier at random to be the Unknown Warrior. It is believed that the final selection was made by Wyatt closing his eyes and placing his hand on one of the bodies. Neither Gell or Wyatt knew who the bodies belonged, all apart from the body of the unknown warrior were reburied in France.

The coffin he was put in was made of English oak and wrought iron and medieval swords selected by the king and surmounted by a shield with the words ‘A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country’. On the morning of November 11th the casket was draped with a union jack flag with a steel helmet on top and was placed on a gun carriage of the Royal Horse artillery, drawn by six horses. It then set off along a long route, preceded by a Firing Party and Regimental bands. The route went through Hyde Park Corner, The Mall and Whitehall where the Cenotaph was unveiled by the King and he placed a wreath of laurel and roses on the coffin (the poppy appeal did not exist until the following year). After a two minutes silence the procession then continued to Westminster Abbey, flanked by a guard of honour consisting of 100 Victoria Cross winners, where the funeral service took place.

The Remembrance Sunday service that takes place at the Cenotaph every year, including the importance of the Cenotaph and the laying of wreaths, is based on the original arrangements that were created by Lord Curzon.

Film footage from Britsih Pathe documenting the journey of the Unknown Warrior from France to Westminster can be seen here