Silence for one or two minutes is included in ANZAC and Remembrance Day ceremonies as a sign of respect and a time for reflection.
The idea for the two-minute 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 minute’ silence, to honour the sacrifice of those who had died during the war.
In October 1919 Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African, suggested a period of silence on Armistice Day (now commonly known as Remembrance Day) in all the countries of the empire. Throughout the war, whenever South African troops suffered heavy losses on the Western Front, a period of silence had been observed at noon in Cape Town.
Fitzpatrick’s suggestion was presented to King George V, who readily 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 abou the silence.
On 6th November 1919, the King sent a special message to the people of the Commonwealth:
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.
The King requested that “a complete suspension of all our normal activities” be observed for two miutes at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” so that “in perfect stillness the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead”.
Two minutes’ silence was first observed in Australia on the first anniversary of the Armistice and continues to be observed on Remembrance Day, 11th November. Over the years, the two-minute silence has also been incorporated into ANZAC Day and other commemorative ceremonies.
At league clubs around Australia the remembrance silence has become part of the nightly six o’clock (previously nine o’clock) ritual, when any light other than the memorial flame is dimmed, members stand in silence, and then recite the ode.
In recent times, one minute of silence has been observed at Australian commemorative events, such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies. The reason behind this change is largely unknown.