Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November 11, 1920: Interment of the British Unknown Soldier

The mass slaughter of the Great War prompted contemporaries to find new ways to remember and mourn. The fact that many of the millions of fallen remained unidentified led to the suggestion one of their number be honored at a national commemorative site. The tombs of both the British and French Unknowns were dedicated on the anniversary of the Armistice in 1920, the former at Westminster Abbey (pointedly placing the commoner alongside the kings), the latter at the Arc de Triomphe. (The US Unknown was interred in Arlington Cemetery a year later.)

This card dates from the dedication of the British tomb.

The Christian symbolism so often associated with national memory is evident on the exterior, which seems to feature forget-me-nots and/or violas rather than the poppy, which acquired its iconic commemorative status (reproduced in silk) the following year.

Pictured at left of the interior is the Cenotaph (commemorating the war dead but containing no body) in Whitehall by Sir Edwin Luytens, dedicated on the same occasion. It replaced a temporary structure that he had designed for the Victory (Peace) Parade in 1919. The Poetry Library lists the poem among its "lost quotations," whose source remains to be identified.

The anniversary of the end of the war, originally called Armistice Day, became Remembrance Day (the closest Sunday to November 12; since 1945) in the Commonwealth and Veterans Day (1954) in the US.

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