Ralph McTell - The Unknown Soldier: Centenary Edition (Featuring Sir Billy Connolly, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Liam Neeson) (2020)

Ralph McTell has been a much beloved singer-songwriter in the UK for decades, but he is virtually unknown in America except for his outstanding "Streets of London" that he released here almost fifty years ago.

The veteran folkie and singer-songwriter with the great baritone voice had this to say to Folk Radio UKone of Great Britain's leading music blogs - about the recent 100th anniversary of the memorial built in Ypres, Belgium that is dedicated to the missing 50,000 unknown British and commonwealth soldiers who died during what was then called The Great War: I believe the funeral of The Unknown Soldier is one of the most profoundly moving ceremonies ever conducted. It took place in 11 / 11/ 1920 and was attended by thousands who stood in reverent silence as the coffin was paraded through the streets of London on a gun carriage, drawn by six black horses. The king walked behind the cortege, the bereaved families of those lost in the terrible carnage of WW1 had a fitting and deeply affecting acknowledgement by the state, of the sacrifice of thousands of young men whose bodies had no known graves.”

In honor of the occasion McTell composed "The Unknown Soldier: Centenary Edition," his new song that can be purchased through iTunes or through his website

The song contains spoken word contributions from British celebrities Sir Billy Connolly, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Liam Neeson O.B.E. The sad score is played by The Southbank Sinfonia.

According to Folk Radio"All proceeds from sales of the single will be donated to the Royal British Legion, the country’s largest Armed Forces charity, with 235,000 members, 110,000 volunteers and a network of partners and charities; helping to give support wherever and whenever it’s needed." You can also donate directly to the Royal British Legion here.

You need to listen to this song at least twice to fully appreciate it: first by listening to it while following along with the lyrics and then by watching the official video. Both are below.


More than fifty thousand names
Are carved on Ypres' Menin gate
Of soldiers who have no known graves
Just their destiny and date
Witness and last testament
Name and rank and regiment
Is now all that survives
From so many squandered lives
And for every name inscribed
The poor bereaved were left to mourn
The passing of all those who died
With no white cross on tended lawn
No place to go to contemplate
The sacrifice this wicked waste
No footprint left to show where once they trod
Allegedly known unto god
From Ypres Arras Aisne and Somme
Six unknown soldiers were exhumed
A blindfold general picked one man
And reverently they brought him home
Six black horses drew the hearse
Through silent London crowds immersed
In deepest thought belief or wishful prayer
That it might be their own boy there
The metal tyres on the carriage wheels
Played the tuneless requiem
The sky as grey as bayonet steel
Above the sombre hatless men
One more enemy to kill
That remaining sense of guilt
That through it all somehow they had survived
Returned to mothers sweethearts wives
Familiar streets their own backyards
Their medals and all praise ignored
Relieved to be his honour guard
And walk with him their true reward
While far from pomp and circumstance
Across the autumn fields of France
The trenches start to slowly fill and fade
The bloody page turned by the ploughman's blade
Thankfully we'll never know
If he was constant strong or frail
Scared or brave in equal parts
Country tanned or city pale
A carefree youth or thoughtful lad
Not wholly good or wholly bad
A bomb does not judge how you played your part
A bullet stops a lions heart
With softest cloth and gentlest broom
To sweep and wipe cathedral dust
Like dried tears from this marble tomb
Take care for he was one of us
In perfect irony and grief
The bride's bouquet becomes a wreath
And wrapped beneath dark angels folded wings
Tommy Atkins rests with kings.

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