Silence for one or two minutes is included in the Anzac Day and Remembrance Day ceremony as a sign of respect and a time for reflection.
The idea for the silence is said to have originated with Edward George Honey, a Melbourne journalist and First World War veteran who was living in London in 1919. He wrote a letter to the London Evening News in which he appealed for five-minutes’ silence, to honour the sacrifice of those who had died during the war.
“Can we not spare some fragment of these hours of Peace, rejoicing for a silent tribute to these mighty dead? Individually yes! Too many of us know we will for our own kith and kin, for the friend who will never come back. But nationally? I would ask for five minutes, five little minutes only. Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession.”
In October 1919, Lord Milner put to the King a suggestion made by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African, for a period of silence on Armistice Day in all the countries of the empire. Fitzpatrick’s idea had its origins in a period of silence that was observed at noon in Cape Town following heavy losses among the South African Brigade on the Western Front; this observance had continued until the end of the war.
King George V agreed to the proposal. But after a trial with the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace, at which both Honey and Fitzpatrick were present, the period of silence was shortened to two minutes. It is unclear whether Honey and Fitzpatrick ever met or discussed ideas about the silence.
On 6 November 1919, the King sent a special message to the people of the Commonwealth:
“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,” the decree read.
“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 concentrate on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead.”
Two minutes’ silence was first observed in Australia on the first anniversary of the Armistice and continued to be observed on Remembrance Day, 11 November.
In 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute silence at 11.00am on 11 November each year, to remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts.
The period of silence has over the years been incorporated into ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and other commemorative ceremonies where silent contemplation is appropriate.