Why Are There Two Minutes of Silence on Remembrance Day?

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The two minutes of silence observed every Remembrance Day is meant as a time of reflection and contemplation on lives of the millions of soldiers who died in World War I. The idea for a brief silence originated in South Africa with Sir Harry Hands, Mayor of Cape Town, on May 14, 1918. King George V, hearing about it, proclaimed a two-minute silence a year after the armistice.

In May of 1918, the war raged, causing fear, anxiety and despair among citizens of Cape Town. Sir Harry Hands requested that everyone pause at noon for two minutes of silence. The people of Cape Town repeated this until the Armistice of Compiegne went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Reporters in Cape Town told stories of the gatherings to other cities and states. Eventually knowledge of this practice reached England and the other allies. Australian journalist Edward George Honey's letter to the London Evening News in May 1919 is usually credited with introducing the concept to London and the king.

Following a banquet for the President of France on the previous night, King George V held the first official Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919. He proclaimed that "all locomotion should cease" at 11:00 a.m. to allow everyone to focus on "reverent remembrance of the glorious dead." This became a tradition that lasted until 1939, when it was moved to the Sunday nearest November 11 so that it didn't interfere with war efforts in Great Britain, then embroiled in World War II.