Remembrance - The two minutes silence

'The two minutes' silence to commemorate the first anniversary of the ceasefire of 11 o'clock on 11 November 1918 was almost as much of a surprise to the general public as the ceasefire itself had been. The decision to mark the first anniversary of the Armistice with a silent pause in the life of the nation was taken very close to the anniversary itself.'   The origins of the silence can be found in a minute dated 4 November 1919, submitted to Lord Milner for the consideration of the War Cabinet by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, former British High Commissioner to the Dominion of South Africa, His son had been killed in France in 1917. He wrote:

'In the hearts of our people there is a real desire to find some lasting expression of their feeling for those who gave their lives in the war. They want something done now while the memories of sacrifice are in the minds of all; for there is the dread - too well grounded in experience - that those who have gone will not always be first in the thoughts of all, and that when the fruits of their sacrifice become our daily bread, there will be few occasions to remind us of what we realise so clearly today.

During the War, we in South Africa observed what we called the "Three minutes' pause " At noon each day, all work, all talk and all movement were suspended for three minutes that we might concentrate as one in thinking of those - the living and the dead - who had pledged and given themselves for all that we believe in…

Silence, complete and arresting, closed upon the city - the moving, aweinspiring silence of a great Cathedral where the smallest sound must seem a sacrilege… Only those who have felt it can understand the overmastering effect in action and reaction of a multitude moved suddenly to one thought and one purpose.'

The War Cabinet discussed Fitzpatrick's proposal on 5 November and approved a 'Service of Silence' on Armistice Day. Lord Milner was placed in charge of making the arrangements. The only amendment the Cabinet made was to amend the duration to one minute, - subject to approval from the King. (The precedent for a minute's silence can be found in the silence observed at Theodore Roosevelt's funeral that same year). Milner drafted a 'personal request' for the King and took it to Buckingham Palace. The King discussed it with his private secretary Lord Stamfordham and altered the duration of the silence to two minutes. Milner then arranged for the release of the finalised draft to the Dominions and the press. It was carried by all national newspapers on 7 November 1919:

'Tuesday next, November 11, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the world wide carnage of the four preceding years and marked the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of the Great Deliverance, and of those who have laid down their lives to achieve it. To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of this feeling, it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of our normal activities. No elaborate organisation appears to be required. At a given signal, which can easily be arranged to suit the circumstances of the locality, I believe that we shall gladly interrupt our business and pleasure, whatever it may be and unite in this simple service of Silence and Remembrance'.


 This page created 12 November 20099