World War One: The King’s Pilgrimage

May 5, 2020 By [email protected]_84 Off

In the deafening silence of the early twenties, Great Britain was a grieving woman who had lost sons, brothers, husbands and lovers.

In 1922 the Royal entourage of his Majesty King George V which included Field Marshall Earl Haig and Major General Sir Fabian Ware, the head of the War Graves Commission, travelled across Northern France honouring the thousands who had died in the Great War.

The journey was intended to set an example and show that not only the people, but the Royal Family as well had been affected by the Great War. The party inspected cemeteries, memorials, some of which were still under construction, and met local civilians who had been affected by the war. In particular, during the Pilgrimage, the Royal party visited Graves of soldiers from all the Imperial Dominions.

Those sites visited included the Etaples Military Cemetery where George V laid a wreath on the Grave of a soldier at the request of the soldier’s mother to Queen Mary. At Notre Dame de Lorette, which was the resting place for thousands of French and colonial War dead, George V met Ferdinand Foch who had led the French army in the final year of the war.

In particular, Rudyard Kipling was touring the area for the grave of his dead son Jack, and was often asked to meet the king.

The pilgrimage began on the 11th May in Belgium, and after a formal state visit, the King and the royal party travelled by Royal Train through Belgium and France and visited the war cemeteries. Locations included Zeebrugge, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Brandhoek Military Cemetery and Ypres Town Cemetery. Whilst in Ypres, the Royal party visited the planned Menin Gate memorial.

Eventually crossing into France, the Royal party spent a day at Vimy. This location was not yet the site for the well-known Vimy Memorial and whilst at Vimy, the king sent a Telegram to Lord Byng who had been in command of Canadian troops who had fought and died at Vimy.

Following the visit to Vimy and the visit to Notre Dame de Lorette, the pilgrimage passed near or through the battlefields of the Great War. Cemeteries visited include Warlencourt, Warloy-Baillon, Forceville and Louvencourt to name a few.

On the final day of the Pilgrimage, the 13th May, the party began at Etaples Cemetery, where the king, at his request, met representatives of the Imperial Dominions. The pilgrimage then travelled to the Meerut Cemetery where the king met Sir Alexander Cobbe who was the representative of the Secretary of State for India. The final point of the tour was at the British Cemetery at Terlincthun, where George V carried out, as his dignitaries described, the ‘crowning act of Homage’.

The cemetery is located high on the cliffs above Boulogne. A fleet of joint French and British ships waited for the king and the act of escorting him home. Before alighting for England and joined by Queen Mary, George V visited the graves of the British war dead. The royal couple were joined by Haig (representing the army), Earl Beatty (representing the Navy) and General de Castelnau (representing the French). In the final act of honouring the dead, the King laid a chaplet at the Cross of Sacrifice and saluted the dead with a two minute silence. Facing the stone of remembrance, George V made an eloquent and moving speech composed by Rudyard Kipling.

Part of the speech read

“Here, at Terlincthun, the shadow of his monument falling almost across their graves, the greatest of French soldiers, of all soldiers, stands guard over them. And this is just, for side by side with the descendants of his incomparable armies, they defended his land in defending their own”.

This speech in turn was followed by a speech in French by General de Castelnau, which referred to the sea breeze bring the scent of England to France. More wreaths were laid by the French High Command and the concluding ceremony centred on the Stone of Remembrance which was draped with the British flag, then Queen Mary laid another wreath. The ceremony ended as the French guards of honour lowered their standards and buglers from both the British and French armies played the Last Post.