Following the First World War it was felt that there should be some national focal point for those whose loved ones had been killed, but whose bodies could not be identified and given a named grave. The idea had first been proposed by an Army Chaplain, David Railton, and he wrote to the Dean of Westminster Abbey in 1920 suggesting that a tomb be positioned in the abbey with a single unidentified British soldier in as a symbol for all the others left in France and Belgium. Four unidentified bodies from different battlefields were laid in coffins and an officer with closed eyes picked one at random for burial in Westminster Abbey. A coffin of oak from trees at Hampton Court Palace was made and a medieval crusader’s sword from the royal collection affixed to the top. The coffin was interred in the abbey, surrounded in soil from some of the major battlefields of World War One, and soon became a place of pilgrimage for many.
This image was likely taken shortly after interment and shows a variety of wreaths and the union flag on top of the headstone:
The text on this stone is not the final wording, as this was just a temporary headstone. This was eventually replaced with the final headstone still seen today. An article in the October 12th, 1921 issue of the Daily Express reported:
UNKNOWN WARRIOR.,NEW INSCRIPTION FOR THE ABBEY TOMB. On Armistice Day, November 11, the tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey will be covered with a black slab of Belgian marble. A new inscription will be placed on this great stone. The marble has just reached the Abbey, it was brought over by Mr. Wright, the officer of works who has charge of the repairs to the fabric. The lettering will be cut by an Abbey stonemason.
Until the day of the ceremony the new inscription will remain a secret. The wording has been chosen after long and careful deliberation, and will be much longer than that now cut in the temporary stone. The King has approved of the new words.
The tomb is daily the centre of a quiet, emotional-crowd of visitors, who gaze at the simple slab and study the wreaths and inscribed flags and streamers which are the world’s tribute to the dead heroes of the Great War. In one wreath are many rosaries and religious tokens taken evidently from the bodies of dead soldiers.
The wording on this, the final stone, reads:
Beneath this stone rests the body
Of a British warrior
Unknown by name or rank
Brought from France to lie among
The most illustrious of the land
And buried here on Armistice Day
11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of
His Majesty King George V
His Ministers of State
The Chiefs of his forces
And a vast concourse of the nation
Thus are commemorated the many
Multitudes who during the Great
War of 1914 – 1918 gave the most that
Man can give life itself
For King and country
For loved ones home and empire
For the sacred cause of justice and
The freedom of the world
They buried him among the kings because he
Had done good toward God and toward