To be a pilgrim

While the general public began receiving support to visit the cemeteries, it was ‘The King’s Pilgrimage’ in 1922 that set the precedent of Establishment figures touring our sites and sanctioning our work.

People began to visit the former battlefields of the Western Front soon after the war ended. This film tells their story…

Passport for George V, listing his surname as ‘THE KING’. © CWGC.

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On a week-long tour of France and Belgium, King George V travelled with Fabian Ware and Field Marshal Douglas Haig to more than 30 cemeteries and memorials in various states of development. This included Tyne Cot – which would become the largest Commission cemetery in the world – and the early ‘experimental’ cemeteries Forceville and Louvencourt.

Photographs of The King’s Pilgrimage, 1922. © CWGC.

Before the tour a grieving mother approached Queen Mary and asked the King to lay flowers at her son’s grave. This example would be followed a year later by Elizabeth, the future Queen Consort and Queen Mother. Recalling her own missing brother Fergus Bowes-Lyon, on her wedding day Elizabeth laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. This tradition continues to today: it was performed after the marriages of both the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. © CWGC.

From George V onwards members of the Royal Family have visited our sites throughout the world to pay homage to the dead. As well as attending remembrance services at Tyne Cot and the Menin Gate, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has unveiled prominent monuments to the Second World War: Runnymede Air Forces Memorial, the Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial and the Ottawa Memorial. Our rare archive footage captures some of these royal occasions.

Members of the Royal Family visiting CWGC sites