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‘Bias’ and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior


FOR a century he has lain entombed at the heart of our nation, a poignant, powerful symbol of remembrance and sacrifice.

But the peace of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey is being disturbed with a suggestion that the choice of his body was influenced by ‘unconscious bias’ because he is almost certainly white and British. 

The curator of the National Army Museum, Justin Saddington, has apparently discovered that the memorial committee tasked in 1920 with finding an unidentified soldier from the Western Front to be honoured as the Unknown Warrior made no mention of Indian and other combatants in its search.

He is reported as saying: ‘That should be taken as evidence of unconscious bias really, that fact that they’re not discussed. This is a time 100 years ago when racism was much more ingrained, there was in fact a colour bar for black officers. There are wider issues with race, and this boils over into commemoration as well.’

Mr Saddington said he does not believe outright racism played a part, but that those involved in choosing the body may have been influenced by demands for British remains. 

The body was one of four exhumed from their original battlefield graves and chosen apparently at random by a British Army commander in France. It was transferred to the Abbey for a dedication service on November 11, 1920.

Since then, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior has been visited by millions as possibly the most striking memorial of the Great War.

Mr Saddington undoubtedly has a host of interesting findings to share from his researches about the process of choosing the body. But why use the trendy soundbite of ‘unconscious bias’ in relation to it? Surely he could have found a better choice of words.  

Unconscious bias is, of course, a condition dreamed up to make all white people guilty. It’s a classic catch-22. Even if you’re sure you don’t have it, you can’t prove it – because it’s unconscious. You just don’t know you have it, so it’s no use denying it. It’s the original sin all whites are born with.

Some take a stand against it. In September, up to 40 Tory MPs refused to take part in Parliament’s unconscious bias training, accusing the Commons authorities of ‘pandering to the woke agenda’.

Such training is big business in Britain and abroad, said to be worth around £5billion a year in the US alone, with dozens of companies offering either live seminars or online courses. Even though it is widely contended that it doesn’t work, it’s a box many corporations and individuals tick so that they can avoid a racism backlash.

So how sad it is to see such a mealy-mouthed, woke and worthless phrase being used in the sacred context of the Unknown Warrior. As a counterpoint, let us recall the words inscribed on his tomb:

‘Beneath this stone rests the body of a British warrior, unknown by name or rank, brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day 11 Nov 1920 in the presence of His Majesty King George V, his Ministers of State, the Chiefs of his Forces and a vast concourse of the nation.

‘Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914-1918 gave the most that Man can give – life itself – for God, for King and country, for loved ones, home and Empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world. They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house.’

Lest we forget.

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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