First Two-Minute Silence
Strangely, arrangements for the first observance of a two-minute silence on what we now call Remembrance Day were made very close to the day itself. Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who had been High Commissioner in South Africa, drafted the suggestion for Lord Milner, who had been Secretary of State for War at the end of WWI , and was in November 1919 Secretary of State for the Colonies. Fitzpatrick had witnessed a daily observation of a silence in South Africa during the conflict, to allow contemplation of the sacrifices being made overseas.
George V was presented with the idea of a one-minute silence on November 5 1919, and approved it - but changed the duration to two. On November 7 a statement by the king was given to the press, which included the words: “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.”
On November 11, at the passing of the eleventh hour, marking the moment the previous year when the Armistice had been signed and the slaughter of WWI had officially ended, such silences were observed throughout Britain, and in the Empire. The national focus was on the Cenotaph in Whitehall, recently designed by Lutyens, for a ceremony attended by king and cabinet and by armed forces’ chiefs, who took it in turn to lay wreaths . Britain’s military dead in the conflict numbered more than 800,000, with twice that many wounded. Some of the survivors attending the moving ceremony may have reflected that the hierarchy which had at best failed to avoid war, and the field marshals who from a safe distance had sent battalion after battalion to die, still took precedence at the ceremony for those dead.
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