Royal Family marks Unknown Warrior centenary

Wednesday, 11th November 2020

Royal Family marks Unknown Warrior centenary

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall attended a service to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day, Wednesday 11th November 2020.

The Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP, also attended.


After a two-minute silence and a bugler sounding Last Post, The Prince of Wales began the service by laying a wreath of red roses and bay leaves on the Unknown Warrior’s grave in the Abbey’s nave. The wreath was a replica of that laid by his great-grandfather, King George V, at the original burial service in 1920.

The centenary service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, who said in his bidding: ‘We gather on this holy ground a hundred years after a man, unknown by name or rank, was laid to his final rest in this royal house. The Abbey was crowded that day and so were the surrounding streets. In the aftermath of a great and terrible war a nation gathered in silence, in shock and grief. Here, and on that day, all thoughts of sacrifice, of victory, and of nation gave way, at this graveside, as great crowds acknowledged a very human loss.

‘This grave, on which no foot falls, has since become a place of pilgrimage, a place of honour, and a place where first citizens and very ordinary citizens come to stand in silence, because here words fail us. Here we remember, here we dare to hope, and here we pledge ourselves to reconciliation.

‘On this day of armistice and on this centenary, we gladly recommit ourselves to the duty of remembrance. We will never forget. We pray for all victims of conflict and for those who grieve over them. We pray that we may know peace and be peacemakers. We pray for the coming of that kingdom where we will all be named and known, all forgiven, and all redeemed. We pray, confident that he and we are known unto God.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby gave the Address.

The Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage read The Bed, a new poem written for this service.

The Reverend Nicola Frail CF, Senior Chaplain, read from the memoirs of the Reverend David Railton, and Cerys Matthews read from a letter written by a widow after attending the burial of the Unknown Warrior. The Prince of Wales read John 15: 12–17

Ruby Turner, accompanied by Jools Holland (piano), sang Abide With Me, one of the hymns which was sung at the Warrior’s funeral in 1920.

While the Abbey Choir sang the anthem Lord thou hast been our refuge (Ralph Vaughan Williams) the Padre’s Flag was carried through the church and laid on the altar by Guardsman Rhian Morgan of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, accompanied on the procession through the Abbey by Raphael Taylor-Davies of the Abbey’s Brotherhood of St Edward carrying the Paschal Candle.

Prayers were led by the Reverend Mark Birch, Precentor, and said by: Corporal Christopher Finney GC; Colour Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC; Cadet Warrant Officer Nicholas Amakye; The Right Honourable The Lord Freyberg; Linda Booth, Royal Navy & Royal Marines Widows’ Association; and the Venerable David Stanton, Canon in Residence.

Canon Stanton read 1 Corinthians 15: 19–22 and the Prime Minister read an extract from the diary of a blind veteran who attended the burial of the Unknown Warrior.

The centenary service was sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey, conducted by James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers, and the organ was played by Peter Holder, Sub-Organist. The Band of the Grenadier Guards, directed by Captain Ben Mason, also played.

Before the service, an Abbey bell ringer tolled the tenor bell in the northwest a hundred times - one blow every six seconds.


Order of Service from a Service to mark the Centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior (PDF, 308KB)

Read the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon