Two-minute silence

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In the United Kingdom and other countries within the Commonwealth, a two-minute silence is observed as part of Remembrance 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.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state‍—‌the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Commonwealth of Nations Intergovernmental organisation

The Commonwealth of Nations, normally known as the Commonwealth, is a unique political association of 53 member states, nearly all of them former territories of the British Empire. The chief institutions of the organisation are the Commonwealth Secretariat, which focuses on intergovernmental aspects, and the Commonwealth Foundation, which focuses on non-governmental relations between member states.

Remembrance Day memorial day on 11 November

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of First World War on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month", in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.



South Africa

The practice of the Remembrance Day silence originates in Cape Town, South Africa, where there was a two-minute silence initiated by the daily firing of the noon day gun on Signal Hill for a full year from 14 May 1918 to 14 May 1919, known as the Two Minute Silent Pause of Remembrance. [1]

Cape Town Capital city of the Western Cape province and legislative capital of South Africa

Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa, colloquially named the Mother City. It is the legislative capital of South Africa and primate city of the Western Cape province. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality.

Noon Gun

The Noon Gun has been a historic time signal in Cape Town, South Africa since 1806. It consists of a pair of black powder Dutch naval guns, fired alternatingly with one serving as a backup. The guns are situated on Signal Hill, close to the centre of the city.

Signal Hill (Cape Town) Mountain in Cape Town

Signal Hill/Lula Lula Mountain, or Lion's Rump, is a landmark flat-topped hill located in Cape Town, next to Lion's Head and Table Mountain.

This was instituted by the then Cape Town Mayor, Sir Harry Hands, at the suggestion of councillor Robert Rutherford Brydone, [2] [3] [4] [Note 1] on 14 May 1918, after receiving the news of the death of his son Reginald Hands by gassing on 20 April, adopting into public observance a gesture that had been practised sporadically in city churches since 1916. [5] The first trial observance endured for three minutes on 13 May, after which the Mayor decided that it was too long, and published a notice in the Cape Argus that it should be altered to two minutes instead of three. [1]

Sir Harry Hands was a British colonial politician, who served from 1915 to 1918 as mayor of Cape Town, South Africa. He is credited with instituting the first practice in the world of an official two-minute silence to honour loss of life in conflict, following the death of his eldest son Reginald Hands in World War I, at the suggestion of councillor Robert Rutherford Brydone,.

Reginald Hands English rugby union player

Reginald Harry Myburgh Hands was a South African cricketer who played in one Test match in February 1914. He died in France as a result of injuries sustained on the Western Front during the First World War. His death was an indirect cause of the tradition of the two-minute silence, instigated by his father Sir Harry Hands when Mayor of Cape Town.

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. Brydone and Hands organised an area where the traffic would be brought to a standstill and the first silence was observed at Cartwright's Corner in Adderley Street. As the city fell silent, a bugler on the balcony of the Fletcher and Cartwright's Building on the corner of Adderley and Darling Streets sounded the Last Post, and the Reveille was played at the end of the pause. It was repeated daily for a full year.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.This short official ceremony was a world first. [4] [2] [1]

Adderley Street street in Cape Town, South Africa

Adderley Street is a street in Cape Town, South Africa. It is considered the main street of the central business district (downtown) of Cape Town. The Christmas lights, night markets, main train station and numerous shops and restaurants and office towers are on this thoroughfare.

Bugle Brass musical instrument

The bugle is one of the simplest brass instruments, having no valves or other pitch-altering devices. All pitch control is done by varying the player's embouchure. Consequently, the bugle is limited to notes within the harmonic series. See bugle call for scores to standard bugle calls, all consisting of only five notes. These notes are known as the bugle scale.

Last Post British and Commonwealth bugle call

The "Last Post" is either a B♭ bugle call, primarily within British infantry and Australian infantry regiments, or an E♭ cavalry trumpet call in British cavalry and Royal Regiment of Artillery, and is used at Commonwealth military funerals, and ceremonies commemorating those who have been killed in war. Its duration varies typically from a little over one minute to nearly three minutes. For ceremonial use, the Last Post is often followed by "The Rouse", or less usually the longer "Reveille".

Memorial to the events in Cape Town, located on Adderley Street Two Minutes of Silence and Remembrance 01.jpg
Memorial to the events in Cape Town, located on Adderley Street

A Reuters correspondent in Cape Town cabled a description of the event to London. Within a few weeks Reuter’s agency in Cape Town received press cables from London stating that the ceremony had been adopted in two English provincial towns and later by others, including in Canada and Australia. [6] [1]

Reuters international news agency

Reuters is an international news organization. It is a division of Thomson Reuters and has nearly 200 locations around the world. Until 2008, the Reuters news agency formed part of an independent company, Reuters Group plc, which was also a provider of financial market data. Since the acquisition of Reuters Group by the Thomson Corporation in 2008, the Reuters news agency has been a part of Thomson Reuters, making up the media division. Reuters transmits news in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Urdu, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. It was established in 1851.

The midday pause continued daily in Cape Town and was last observed on 17 January 1919, but was revived in Cape Town during the Second World War. [7]

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 was held on Signal Hill on 14 May 2018 at the firing of the Noon Gun. [5]

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick was impressed by and had a personal interest in the daily observance of silence, his own son, Major Percy Nugent George Fitzpatrick, having been killed in action in France in December 1917. [7] [8] He had originally been introduced to the idea of a two-minute pause to honour the dead when his local church adopted the idea proposed by a local businessman, J.A. Eagar,when details of losses at the Battle of the Somme first came through to Cape Town in July 1916. [9] [7]

in 1919 he approached Lord Northcliffe (the founder of both the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail) with the intention of campaigning for it to be observed annually and Empire-wide. His idea was not taken up. [9] Writing to Lord Milner, then Colonial Secretary in September or October 1919, [10] he 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. He acknowledged that the idea came from Mr Brydone's Cape Town pause, saying that other towns followed its example but "nothing was as dramatic as the Cape Town observation simply because of the midday gun". [2] The meaning behind his proposal was stated to be: [11]

  • 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.

King George V

Milner raised the idea with Lord Stamfordham, the King's Private Secretary, who informed the King, George V, in a note on 27 October 1919: [10]

The enclosed came to me some weeks ago from an old South African friend of mine, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who is probably known to you, at any rate by name. I ought to have sent it before.I don't know if such a thing is practicable. But it seems like a fine idea. I think that H.M. would like to see it...

The King was enthusiastic and sought approval from the War Cabinet on 5 November. It was immediately approved, with only Lord Curzon dissenting. A press statement was released from the Palace on 7 November 1919, which was published in The Times: [9]

To all my people,
     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 that great deliverance and of those who 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 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities.
     During that time, except in the rare cases where this may be impracticable, all work, all sound, and all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.
     No elaborate organisation appears to be necessary.
     At a given signal, which could easily be arranged to suit the circumstances of each locality, I believe that we shall all gladly interrupt our business and pleasure, whatever it may be, and unite in this simple service of silence and remembrance.
           GEORGE R.I. [12] [13]

First two-minute silence on Armistice Day - 11 November 1919

To Fitzpatrick's his great delight he read: [14]

"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: [15]

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.

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick was thanked for his contribution by Lord Stamfordham: [4]

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.

Edward George Honey

The Australian government recognises Edward George Honey as originator of the idea, but he only aired the suggestion (in a letter to a London newspaper) nearly a year after the custom had been initiated in Cape Town, and no convincing trail of evidence has been shown to suggest that his letter had any impact on either Fitzpatrick's or the King's motivation.

How to observe the silence

The British Legion recommends this order of observance:

  1. At 11am, the Last Post is played.
  2. The exhortation is then read (see below).
  3. The Two Minute Silence then begins.
  4. The end of the silence is signalled by playing the Reveille.

The exhortation (excerpt from Ode of Remembrance): "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.

"Response: "We will remember them." [16]

This order of proceedings is not followed in the UK National Service of Remembrance in London, but is often used in regional ceremonies and in other Commonwealth countries.

See also


  1. Brydone's surname is currently incorrectly spelt in the SA Legion article (and on the plaque and in other articles), and they have incorrectly ascribed the death of a different man (Major Walter Brydon) as his son. Major Brydon led the unit in which Harry Hands' son died, and had died only a few days before.

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The following lists events that happened during 1918 in South Africa.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 J.C.Abrahams (Tannie Mossie. "Cape Town's WWI Mayor -Sir Harry Hands" (PDF). Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 "The Scot who began the two-minute silence". 8 November 2018. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  3. "Two-Minute Silence - Watsonian Contribution". 8 November 2018. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 "The Two Minutes Silence". South African Legion. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  5. 1 2 Anton Taylor (March 2018). "Honouring a Century of Silence". The Old Diocesan. 1 (Mar 2018): 58–60.
  6. Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 138."2-Minute Wave of Silence" Revives a Time-honoured Tradition. Accessed on 5 June 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 Dickens, Peter (4 November 2016). "The 2 minutes silence; an eye witness account of South Africa's unique gift to Remembrance". Archived from the original on 17 November 2018. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  8. "South Africa War Graves Project: PNG Fitzpatrick" . Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  9. 1 2 3 Street, Peter (7 November 2014). "The great silence begins". Archived from the original on 17 November 2018. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  10. 1 2 Harding, Eric (May 1965). Remembrance Day silence: First proposed by Edward George Honey, Australian journalist (Supplementing article by Mrs. M.F. Orford, Victorian Historical Magazine, November 1961). Melbourne: Eric Harding. OCLC   220250498.
  11. Adrian Gregory, the Silence of Memory (1st edition, 1994), pp 9-10.
  12. Armistice Day: King's Message to the People of the Empire, The Sydney Morning Herald, (Saturday, 8 November 1919), p.12.
  13. The Glorious Dead: Tribute to Their Memory: The King's Desire for Armistice Day, The Wanganui Herald, (Saturday, 8 November 1919), p.5.
  14. Cartwright, Alan Patrick (1971). The first South African: the life and times of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. Cape Town: Purnell. p. 224. (Originally cited in Moment of Silence article.)
  15. Abrahams, Joan.A. A Two-Minute Silent Pause to Remember: Time From Africa. (Originally cited in Moment of Silence article.)
  16. British Legion. "Two Minute Silence". Archived from the original on 14 November 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.

Further reading