The significance of silence

Silence for one or two minutes is included in ANZAC and Remembrance Day ceremonies as a sign of respect and a time for reflection.

On the first anniversary of the First World War armistice, two minutes’ silence was instituted to honour the sacrifice of those who had died during the war as part of the main commemorative ceremony in London.

Australian journalist and First World War veteran Edward George Honey appealed for a five minute silence in 1919 by writing a letter to the London Evening News. A similar proposal was made by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African statesman, in October 1919. Whenever South African troops suffered heavy losses during the First World War, a period of silence was observed at noon in Cape Town. 

King George V readily agreed when the proposal was presented. 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. King George V 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 minutes 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, 11 November. Over the years, the two minutes' silence was also incorporated into Anzac Day and other commemorative ceremonies.

At leagues 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 a 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.