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The Two Minutes Silence

The first minute is for thanksgiving for those that survived
and the second is to remember the fallen.

Flanders Field GravesAt 05.30 in the morning of 11 November 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice Agreement in a remote railway siding in the heart of the forest of Compiègne. Soon wires were humming with the message : ‘Hostilities will cease at 11.00 today November 11th. Troops will stand fast on the line reached at that hour…’.

Thus, at 11.00 on 11 November 1918 the guns on the Western Front in France and Flanders fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare, warfare that had witnessed the most horrific casualties - more than 60 000 on the Somme in one day.

World War One (then known as the Great War) had ended. The time and date attained an important significance in the post war years and the moment that hostilities ceased became universally associated with the remembrance of those that died in that and subsequent wars and conflicts. The Two Minutes silence to remember all who paid the supreme sacrifice was a result of this expression. And it all began in Cape Town.

When the first casualty lists recording the horrific loss of life in the Battles of the Somme were announced in Cape Town Mr JA Eagar, a Cape Town businessman, suggested that the congregation of the church he attended observe a special silent pause to remember those in the South African casualty list. It was the church also attended by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.

In May 1918, the Mayor of Cape Town, Councillor H Hands (later Sir Harry Hands) at the suggestion made by Mr. RR Brydon, a city councilor, in a letter to the Cape Times initiated a period of silence to remember the events unfolding on the battlefields of Europe and the sacrifices being made there. Mr Brydon’s son, Maj Walter Brydon, three times wounded and once gassed, was killed on 12 April 1918.

The pause would follow the firing of the Noon Gun, the most audible signal with which to co-ordinate the event across the city.

Rose in gardens at RosedaleThe boom of the gun for the midday pause of three minutes for the first time on 14 May 1918 became the signal for all activity in the Mother City to come to a halt. Everything came to a dead stop while everyone bowed their heads in silent prayer for those in the trenches in Flanders.  As soon as the city fell silent, a trumpeter on the balcony of the Fletcher and Cartwright's Building on the corner of Adderley and Darling Streets sounded the Last Post, the melancholy strains of which reverberated through the city. Reveille was played at the end of the midday pause. Articles in the 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. The result of the Mayor’s appeal exceeded all expectations. One journalist described a young woman dressed in black, who came to a halt on the pavement and furtively dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.  “One could not but wonder what personal interest she had in the act of remembrance”, he wrote.

A few days later Sir Harry, whose son, Capt Richard Hands, a member of ‘Brydon’s Battery’, had been mortally wounded in the same battle in which Maj Brydon had been killed, decided to shorten the duration of the pause to two minutes, “in order to better retain its hold on the people”. 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. It had, however, become a pause throughout the British Commonwealth from 11 November 1919.

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, author of the book Jock of the Bushveld, had been impressed by the period of silence kept in his local church after the horrific loss of life at Delville Wood became known and the casualty lists had been read out. He had a personal interest in the daily remembrance as his son, Maj Nugent Fitzpatrick, battery commander of 71st Siege Battery, was killed on 14 December 1917 by a chance shell fired at long range. Sir Percy  was understandably deeply affected by the loss of his favourite son and was also so moved by the dignity  and effectiveness of the two minute pause in Cape Town that the date and time of the Armistice inspired him to an annual commemoration on an Imperial basis. He suggested this to Lord Northcliffe but was disappointed by his reaction. He therefore approached Lord Milner who forwarded to the King’s private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, the  suggestion that the two minute pause of remembrance should be observed annually in order to honour those who had fallen in the Great War.  King George V was obviously moved by the idea.

On 7 November 1919 The Times of London carried this message from the King :

‘Tuesday next November 11, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the world carnage of the four preceding years…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 locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect silence, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead”.

Sir Percy was in America on business when he read on 12 November that the first Two Minute Pause had been observed in England the previous day. He was so moved by the experience that he could not leave his room at the hotel for an hour or two.

The Times newspaper reported, “Throughout the British Empire, from the jungles of India to the snows of Alaska, on trains, on ships at sea, in every part of the globe where a few British were gathered together, the Two Minute Pause was observed”.

On 30 January 1920, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick received a letter signed 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.

The Two Minute Pause was re-introduced in Cape Town during the Second World War.

The solemn pause of silence has been adopted around the world, regardless of race, religion or culture. It is the greatest mark of respect that anyone can collectively pay to those who lost their lives in defence of their country.

REMEMBRANCE IS ALL WE CAN GIVE TO THEM

The Two Minute Pause is a world-wide silent echo of Cape Town’s Noon Gun.

Note: Sir Percy Fitzpatrick was the prime mover of the project to purchase from France the land on which the Delville Wood Memorial was built, and was Chairman in South Africa of the committee which raised funds to build the memorial. One of his first tasks was the replanting of the actual forest, which was accomplished with acorns collected from a tree at Franschoek, Western Cape, grown from one of six acorns brought from France by a French Huguenot when he fled from France in 1688.


Lionel Crook
23.10.08
(composed from many stories of the Two Minute Silence)