I had not planned to publish a blog this week; I was intending to do so next week. However, the news that people of some influence are backing calls for the award of the Victoria Cross to the Unknown Warrior resting in Westminster Abbey has brought out the keyboard warrior in me.
I am astounded to read in a newspaper article circulating on social media that the Chair of an association, which has claimed the torch of remembrance for four decades, is quoted as backing the idea. My astonishment is compounded by a quote attributed to him that: “There is a groundswell of support among our members that this injustice should be rectified”.
What groundswell, what injustice?
One can only hope he has been misquoted, but I don’t see how that is possible.
I can’t even tell you what expletives I would use in relation to the “groundswell” claim.
Bear with me a minute, I haven’t lost my marbles in going on a short diversion. I draw to your attention a similar, claimed, groundswell of support of which the former (not long resigned) Chair of that association was aware. Back in 2014 a local authority applied for (and received) a grant from a national funder for a scheme which involved closing a popular sport facility used by said Chair. It was claimed in the application form that “Consultation overwhelmingly concluded in favour of …” and “Our proposals … have the support of the majority of the community”. Freedom of Information requests revealed that this groundswell of support was based on survey returns of 175 people from two London boroughs, that option categories of the returns had been amalgamated to enhance the impression of support, that some claims regarding outreach were fabricated, that there had been no meaningful consultation with users and that the powers-that-be made a unilateral decision. Yer man wasn’t happy!
It’s a pity one cannot make an FOI to the Western Front Association.
My partner is a member of the association (and former branch chair) and his views on the award of the VC to the Unknown Warrior have not been canvassed. I see a similar *groundswell* of comments posted on Twitter from members, branch chairs and ex-members. I resigned from the WFA a few months ago, but I note from the special edition of Stand To! recently received by ‘imindoors that it is dedicated to The Unknown Warrior with multiple articles. I cannot locate anywhere within this publication the suggestion that the views of members have been canvassed, or will be canvassed, on the subject of the VC. In any case, are we really to believe that, even if they were broadly in agreement with the idea, the views of 6,000 people should influence and overturn a decision taken, after much deliberation and reflection, at the time and largely endorsed by the Great War generation? That decision being that the Unknown Warrior was “Everyman”.
Other nations might have a different take on their “Unknown”, but the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey is “Everyman”. Everyman includes the valorous, the less so and the villains. Heroes all, they were not. Everyman includes those who were killed before they had even once set foot in a front line trench, those who had been in the front line but were killed by shellfire at “rest” in camps, as well as those that fell in battle – and died in other circumstances too.
Thinking about my great uncle, killed 1st October 1917 in the Ypres Salient, I know 1) where he was killed 2) the likely circumstance of his death 3) that he has no known grave and 4) he was not awarded the VC. Could he be the Unknown Warrior? Possibly, according to 1 -3, definitely not on the count of 4. Was he valorous? Who knows?
I wonder what the current Chair of the association thinks should be the citation for the award of the VC to the Unknown Warrior? Or perhaps that protocol would be dispensed with too?
“Imindoors, who is not on Twitter, is in agreement with those WFA members tweeting their opposition to this idea. But they are only a small sample of the membership. Their opposition is not a “groundswell” but what is the basis for the claim that there is a “groundswell” in support and that some kind of injustice has been perpetrated on Everyman? An Unknown Warrior accorded the highest of honours of being buried amongst royalty in Westminster Abbey.
Image from Westminster Abbey website.