Interesting facts about South Africa
2 Minutes of Silence
Research has uncovered several different origins for this tradition, some going back to antiquity. It seems that the tradition of ‘silence’ is a fairly universal one, spontaneously arrived at as a mark of respect to honour the dead or revered.
To him also is due the initiation of the two minutes’ silence observed on Armistice Day.
(Dictionary of National Bibliography, 1931-40)
Apparently, on his farm Amanzi at Uitenhage a charge of dynamite was fired every Armistice Day as a signal for the ‘Two Minutes’ Silence’.
However, although the actual act of initiating the annual ‘Two Minutes’ Silence’ can perhaps be attributed to Sir Percy - as the letter from Lord Stamfordham, the King’s private secretary, reproduced in The Legionary (Vol. VII, no. 5, Nov. 1932) shows - another name must also be mentioned, J.A. Eggar. Mr Eggar was a well-respected local businessman in the Surrey town of Farnham. Local pride and rumour attributes to him the honour of establishing the custom in Great Britain, and a motion was recently put to the town council to erect a memorial plaque to Mr. Eggar. According to an article in the British Legion, this gentleman was a South African businessman living in Cape Town during the First World War, and he suggested a two minutes’ silence at a special service held in 1916.
Whatever the debate over the origins of this custom, it was adopted after the First World War as an act of homage to the untold dead resulting from that conflict. It is for this that it will be chiefly remembered. The idea having been put to and approved by King George V, the following appeal was printed in The Times on November 7th, 1919:
“To all my people” Buckingham Palace, 7th November, 1919.
Tuesday next, November 11th, 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 eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh 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 locomotives 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 can 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.
The overseas dominions were also exhorted to stop and observe an ‘Empire Silence’.
Another candidate for the originator of the Armistice Day silence is Edward George Honey.
Honey published a letter in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919 under the pen name of Warren Foster, in which he appealed for five-minute silence amid all the joy making planned to celebrate the first anniversary of the end of the War. 'Five little minutes only', he wrote, 'Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession … Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough'.
No official action was taken on the idea, however, until, more that five months later, on 27 October 1919, one Lord Milner forwarded a suggestion from his friend, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, to the King's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, for a period of silence on Armistice Day, 11 November, in all countries of the British Empire.
Sir Percy wrote, 'When we are gone it may help bring home to those who will come after us, the meaning, the nobility and the unselfishness of the great sacrifice by which their freedom was assured'.
King George V was evidently very moved by the idea and took it up immediately. There is no record that Sir Percy was prompted by Honey's letter in the London Evening News, but with the King, both Honey and Sir Percy attended a rehearsal for a five-minute silence involving the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace. Five minutes proved too long and the two-minute interval was decided upon.
On 7 November 1919 the King issued a proclamation asking '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 … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead'.