In the United Kingdom and other countries within the Commonwealth, a two-minute silence is observed as part of Armistice Day to remember those who lost their lives in conflict. Held each year at 11.00am on 11 November, the silence coincides with the time in 1918 at which the First World War came to an end with the cessation of hostilities, and is generally observed at war memorials and in public places throughout the UK and Commonwealth. A two-minute silence is also observed on Remembrance Sunday, also at 11.00am.
The Remembrance Day silence originates in Cape Town, South Africa where there was a daily three-minute silence, known as the Three Minute Pause, initiated by the daily firing of the noon day gun on Signal Hill. This was instituted by the then Cape Town Mayor, Sir Harry Hands, on 14 May 1918, after receiving the news of the death of his son Reginald Hands by gassing on 20 April, adapting into public observance a gesture that had been practised sporadically in city churches since 1916. Signalled by the firing of the Noon Gun on Signal Hill, one minute was a time of thanksgiving for those who had returned alive, the second minute was to remember the fallen. Today, a plaque in front of the Standard Bank building in Adderley Street commemorates the Two Minute Silence. A ceremony commemorating the centenary of the Two Minute Silence is due to be held on Signal Hill on 14 May 2018 pm the firing of the Noon Gun.
During the silence a bugler on the Fletcher and Cartwright building played the Last Post and then Reveille to signal the end of the silence. Newspapers described how trams, taxis and private vehicles stopped, pedestrians came to a halt and most men bared their heads. People stopped what they were doing at their places of work and sat or stood silently.
A Reuters correspondent in Cape Town cabled a description of the event to London and from there word spread to Canada and Australia. Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, writing to Lord Milner in November 1919 described the silence that fell on the city during this daily ritual, and proposed that this become an official part of the annual service on Armistice Day. The meaning behind his proposal was stated to be:
- It is due to the women, who have lost and suffered and borne so much, with whom the thought is ever present.
- It is due to the children that they know to whom they owe their dear fought freedom.
- It is due to the men, and from them, as men.
- But far and away, above all else, it is due to those who gave their all, sought no recompense, and with whom we can never re-pay - our Glorious and Immortal Dead.
Sir Percy's letter was received by Lord Milner on 4 November 1919, reviewed and accepted by the War Cabinet on 5 November, and was immediately approved by George V. A press statement was released from the Palace:
Tuesday next, 11 November, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the meaning of the Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.
To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of their feeling, it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice comes into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for a brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activities.
He submitted his suggestion to King George V. To his great delight he read: The whole World Stands to Attention." "Cables from every part of the world showing how the King's message had been accepted and interpreted, were printed. From the Indian jungles to Alaska, on the trains, on the ships at sea, in every part of the globe where a few British were gathered together, the Two-Minute pause was observed." []
In his own words, Sir Percy stated:
I was so stunned by the news that I could not leave the hotel. An hour or two afterwards I received a cable from Lord Long of Wexhall: "Thank you. Walter Long." Only then did I know that my proposal had reached the King and had been accepted and that the Cabinet knew the source.
Dear Sir Percy,
The King, who learns that you are shortly to leave for South Africa, desires me to assure you that he ever gratefully remembers that the idea of the Two Minute Pause on Armistice Day was due to your initiation, a suggestion readily adopted and carried out with heartfelt sympathy throughout the Empire.— Signed Stamfordham.
- Anton Taylor (March 2018). "Honouring a Century of Silence". The Old Diocesan. 1 (Mar 2018): 58–60.
- The Two Minutes Silence
- Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 138."2-Minute Wave of Silence" Revives a Time-honoured Tradition. Accessed on 5 June 2014.
- Adrian Gregory, the Silence of Memory (1st edition, 1994), pp 9-10.
- Daily Express, 7 November 1919, p1.
- The First South African – A P Cartwright. P 224
- See also "A Two-Minute Silent Pause to Remember: Time From Africa" (by JA Abrahams)
- Helfrich, Kim (10 November 2011). "The tradition of two minutes' silence started in Cape Town". The New Age. Archived from the original on 3 August 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
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