Two-minute silence

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This article is about the two minutes' silence during the Remembrance Day commemorations. For a more general overview of moments of silence, see Moment of silence.


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: one minute was a time of thanksgiving for those who had returned alive, the second minute was to remember the fallen. During the silence a bugler played the Last Post and then Reveille to signal the end of the silence. A Reuters correspondent in Cape Town cabled a description of the event to London and from there word spread to Canada and Australia.[1] 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 became an official part of the annual service on Armistice Day. The meaning behind his proposal was stated to be:[2]

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:[3]

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.” [[4]]

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.”[5]

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick was thanked for his contribution by Lord Stamfordham, the King's Private Secretary:

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 [6]

See also


  1. Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 138."2-Minute Wave of Silence" Revives a Time-honoured Tradition. Accessed on 5 June 2014.
  2. Adrian Gregory, the Silence of Memory (1st edition, 1994), pp 9-10.
  3. Daily Express, 7 November 1919, p1.
  4. The First South African – A P Cartwright. P 224
  5. See also “A Two-Minute Silent Pause to Remember: Time From Africa” (by JA Abrahams)
  6. The Two Minutes Silence

Further reading

External links