Tomorrow, had the terrible Covid-19 not struck, tens of thousands would have gathered at the tomb of Canada's unknown soldier of WW l. They would have joined hands and hearts, not in celebrating any war, but to give remembrance to about 57,000 Canadians killed and another 141,000 wounded in the Great War.
This gathering traditionally takes place at Ottawa's Confederation Square, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but tomorrow it will probably be carried via the internet instead.
This tomb has been on the visiting agenda of many heads of government, bureaucrats/politicians from around the world and also members of the Royal Family whilst in Ottawa.
The idea of the memorial comes from the November 1920 unveiling of the Unknown Warrior's tomb at Westminster in London. A commitment was then made to have the same done in Canada. It only took till 2000 to see the light of day. These remains were exhumed from near Vimy and brought home to Canada in May 20 years ago.
Knowing that Canadians took past in the London ceremony I recently did an internet search for their names.
In a rather stunning result, the first hit I came up with was from a newspaper in Pennsylvania. It was from Pottsville, about 100 miles North West of Philadelphia.
Regular followers of this blog might remember the name of Pottsville. And it is thanks to this fellow... and my blog.
Each of the guard were later awarded the Medal of Honor, (an event that became part of the illegal scandal of 1917) when some 1,000 medals where removed from the official records. A matter often noted in these blogs in the past.
The Medal of Honor recipient was born in Atlantic Canada, as was one other guard member. He too was awarded a Medal of Honor that was later purged. Here is a picture of the very medal Hanna was awarded...
The connections of this story to Pottsville is due to my locating his grave for his Canadian descendants. It is in Pottsville.
It lay apart last night in a room especially....
Whilst hoping to get some names of the Canadians in attendance, this article did not contain any. Another site did note that two Canadian private soldiers, one from a Canadian infantry unit, and one from a Canadian Machine Gun unit, were on the guard of honor back in France that escorted the Unknown Soldier to the French shore on its first leg of the journey back to England. But their names are also unknown to me so far.
Nor did the article tell of the very man who played such an instrumental role in the creation of the memorial in London.
That man was a chaplain by the name of David Railton, MC. He was serving in his religious capacity during the war and actually at the front lines. There he saved many wounded soldiers lives and was awarded the MC... the Military Cross... for his bravery.
While on brief respite at his billeted quarters near Armentieres France, he visited a small backyard and noted a small white wooden cross marking a grave. In a black pencil note it read... "An Unknown British Soldier, 1916, member of the Black Watch."
After much thought and discussion over the next few years, he finally contacted the Right Reverend Bishop Herbert Ryle, Dean of Westminster with the thoughts that this concept should be adopted and a unnamed soldier should be exhumed from a grave in France and moved to Westminster, with an appropriate ceremony to boot.
After due consideration the powers to be right up to HRH George V approved and a plan was developed and put into action as evidenced by the great news story from right here in Victoria in 1920. Here it is...
Here also is a group picture of Victoria Cross recipients said to be the Honour Guard for the London Memorial....
While the original request from the padre called for the monument to be called the unknown comrade, officialdom thought it was too provoking and ought to better reflect that the remains were of an interred warrior, which in itself reflected service in the army and navy, marines and newly created Air Force of the day.
The public were advised that since the Abby space was very limited in size, any seeking entrance to see the ceremony at the Abby had to write to request permission.
100 women were selected who lost all of their sons, others were so selected for having lost their only son. One 13 year old girl wrote telling of the horrible loss of NINE brothers. She and the above were admitted, as was a 12 year old boy who wrote and said..."that man in the coffin might be my daddy."
The procession, unveiling of the new Cenotaph on Whitehall and the actual coffin were shown to the select crowd on May 11th, 1920. At exactly 11 am there was the call for the two minute silence, and then, the cenotaph was first unveiled for public viewing. Then they moved into the Abby to see the actual coffin being lowered into the grave. It lay in earth undisturbed since the Abby was first built in the 11th century.
Over 40,000 viewed the grave on the first day, and some 1.25 million would pay their respects within the next week.
This marker is the ONLY AREA within the Abby where visitors are forbidden to walk.
I would highly recommend you take a few minutes and google the Unknown Warrior at Westminster and you will find at least 3 very short video clips.
They are most interesting!
I shall return to this space on November 22 and hope you will join me then.
In the mean time I would appreciate it if you could do me a favour.
Please pass this blog to your friends and neighbours.
Nowhere else in the blog world will you find blogs like these, now well over 500 strong. You could also send a quick note to the local press to tell them of this work. Their audiences would surely appreciate the work done here.
Thanks, and cheers till Sunday the 22nd.