Treading on graves

Archie described the next part of the day as the most interesting: they turned off the Mall onto Whitehall, and made their way to the Parliament Buildings.  The driver pointed out the Foreign Office and Admiralty “on top of which the naval men watch for ‘Zeps.'” (1)

They stretched their legs at Westminster and had a tour of the Parliament buildings. “They are beautiful. Then we crossed the street to Westminster Abbey and were just in time to see the colors of a Canadian regiment being placed on Wolfe’s monument for safe keeping. We saw all sorts of weird tombs, and even some ghastly figures and trod on graves of many great men.” (1)

The most famous grave now in Westminster Abbey is that of the Unknown Warrior, an anonymous British soldier exhumed in France and reburied “among kings” (2 Chronicles 24:16) close to the entrance of the Abbey. That funeral was two years after the Armistice — twenty-five months of war and hundreds of thousands of dead lay between Archie’s treading on graves and the cessation of firing. No one steps on the grave of the Unknown Warrior, coffined in English oak, and buried in French earth, under a slab of Belgian marble. (2)


The painting, by Frank O. Salisbury, shows the interment on November 11, 1920. Not only was the unknown warrior buried among the tombs of kings in the abbey, but he was also buried in the presence of not one, but three kings — the reigning monarch, George V, and the sons who would become Edward VIII and George VI.

“Our course now lay along the Victoria Embankment, where we saw Cleopatra’s Needle and the Bank of England. We next stopped at St. Paul’s Cathedral a handsome structure. We went up to the Whispering Gallery and then climbed another series of stairs up to the promenade, from which we secured a beautiful view of central London.” (1)

Finally, they had a chance to “hustle” into a restaurant for a”hasty lunch”. (1)

(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:59-61. October 7, 1916. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) “Unknown Warrior,” Westminster Abbey

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

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