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100 years ago: London John Nodes Funeral Services role in bringing back the Unknown Warrior from France

As the nation remembers those lost in war on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, John Nodes Funeral Service of north London has more reason than most to remember the events of 100 years ago.

On 10 November 1920, Kirtley Nodes, the fourth generation of his family to work in the funeral profession, accompanied the casket carrying the Unknown Warrior back from the First World War battlefields.

In the last week of October 1920, the British Undertakers Association was asked by the Government to make the casket for the Unknown Warrior to be transported from France and buried in Westminster Abbey.

The National President of the Association at the time was H Kirtley Nodes, whose father, John Nodes, had buried Prince Louis Napoleon.

Kirtley Nodes proposed that the Association, forerunner of the National Association of Funeral Directors, should gift the casket to the nation. Members were asked to contribute one shilling (5p) per head to the appeal.

It was Army Chaplain, Rev David Railton, who suggested to the Dean of Westminster that an unidentified fallen soldier be transported from Flanders.

The soldier represented all those who died on the First World War battlefields, whose bodies were never identified, providing a focus for their grieving families. This symbolic event captured the hearts and minds of the nation.

The casket and ironwork were completed in just over a week and transported to Westminster Abbey in John Nodes’ Rolls Royce hearse to remain overnight before being driven to Charing Cross station for loading onto the train.

Kirtley Nodes and John Sowerbutts, Secretary of the London Centre of the Association, had the honour of escorting the casket to Boulogne.

On Tuesday 9 November, they were driven to the chapel of the old chateau in Boulogne. The body of the Unknown Warrior was brought there in a battle-scarred military ambulance covered with a Union flag.

More than one million people came to pay their respects to the soldier who represented all the sons and husbands lost on the battlefields of Northern Europe. During the interment ceremony in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920, King George V placed a wreath of red roses and bay leaves on the coffin.

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