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100 years after the First World War, Simon Armitage is writing a moving homage to the Unknown Warrior


"You are the son we have lost, and your rest is ours": 100 years after the First World War, the poet award winner Simon Armitage is writing a moving homage to the Unknown Warrior

  • Simon Armitage, 57, will read the poem The Bed on television at a service on Armistice Day
  • He said it "tells the story of the recovery and return" of the body of the unknown warrior
  • The poem also refers to the tradition of royal brides sending bouquets of flowers to the warrior's grave
  • The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are expected to join the service

The poet award winner Simon Armitage has written a moving homage on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the burial of the unknown warrior.

He will read his poem The Bed – the title is a metaphor for the anonymous soldier's grave – at a service on Armistice Day at Westminster Abbey today.

Armitage, 57, said yesterday, “The poem tells the story of the recovery and return of the unknown warrior's body from the battlefields of World War I to his grave at Westminster Abbey.

“I was very impressed by the ritual detail that went into the making of the coffin and tomb, and thought of a bed in which I could rest in peace.

57-year-old poet laureate Simon Armitage will read his poem The Bed – the title is a metaphor for the grave of the anonymous soldier – during a truce service on television at Westminster Abbey

"His anonymity makes him every son, every responsibility, and the poem concludes that we owe him his rest because our rest was paid for with his life."

Previously, he wrote a series of poems inspired by panoramic photos of battlefields related to the Battle of the Somme.

The bed reflects how the unknown warrior with a “rough wooden cross” “was broken and slept roughly in an earth grave” before he was buried “among sleepy poets and dozing saints” in the abbey.

It tells how "tiptoe of royal brides in satin slippers dress and crown you with bright flowers" – a reference to the tradition of royal brides who lay their bouquets of flowers on the warrior's grave, which the Queen Mother began when she married the Queen future George VI in 1923.

She laid her flowers in memory of her brother Fergus, who was killed in the Battle of Loos in 1915.

Mr. Armitage ends his poem with the moving words: "All of this for a soul with no name, rank, age or home, because you are the son we have lost and your rest is ours."

Princess Elizabeth's wedding bouquet of orchids was pictured on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in November 1947

Princess Elizabeth's wedding bouquet of orchids lay on the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in November 1947

The grave of the Unknown Warrior symbolizes all who died for their country in the First World War, but whose place of death was unknown or whose corpse remained unknown.

It was inspired by Rev. David Railton, who served as chaplain on the Western Front during World War I and saw a grave marked by a rough cross and a note in pencil that read "An Unknown British Soldier".

He then wrote to the then Dean of Westminster, Herbert Ryle, with a proposal for a memorial to the fallen with no known grave.

His idea was supported by George V – the Queen's grandfather – and then Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The body was selected from four unidentified British soldiers exhumed from four battlefields and transported back to Britain.

King George V places a wreath on the coffin of an unknown British soldier in November 1920 before the soldier is buried in the tomb of the Unknown Warrior

King George V lays a wreath on the coffin of an unknown British soldier before the soldier's funeral in the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in November 1920

It was brought from northern France and buried on November 11, 1920, two years after the end of the First World War. The grave, which contains soil from France, is covered with a slab of black marble from a quarry in Belgium.

Father's flag, the Union flag that Mr. Railton gave to the abbey and that covered the coffin of the unknown warrior at his funeral, will play a central role in today's commemoration.

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are expected to join the service which will be shown on BBC1 from 10.30am.

It will include a talk by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

The Queen, who was advised not to attend the service because of the coronavirus pandemic, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Warrior's funeral last Wednesday.

The 94-year-old monarch asked for a private pilgrimage where she wore a face mask for the first time in public.

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