The 2 minutes silence; an eye witness account of South Africa’s unique gift to Remembrance

Did you know that the two minutes silence and its association to Armistice Day (11/11/11) or Remembrance Sunday has a uniquely South African origin?  The featured image, taken in 1918 captures this South African gift to the modern-day Act of Remembrance.  It shows the mid day pause in Cape Town – the entire town at standstill to remember the tremendous sacrifice of South Africans (and British) servicemen and women in World War 1.

At the request of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (the author of Jock of the Bushveld), this mid day Cape Town ritual was adopted by King George V a year later in 1919 when he decreed it as the international bench by which Britain and all her Commonwealth were to remember the fallen and sacrifices of war.  This amazing story is covered in a previous Observation Post (for an in-depth read see this link The ‘2 minutes silence’ is a South African gift to the Act of Remembrance).

Accompanying this image is an amazing eye-witness account of this very South African event which now shapes how the Western World and many other modern states now remember the fallen.

Read on for a fascinating and riveting first hand account that should make every South African very proud of our heritage and our contribution to remembering human kind’s sacrifices in the quest for universal peace and individual freedom.

THE MID-DAY PAUSE – CAPE TOWN 1918 – WORLD WAR 1.

One of the most memorable institutions of the 1st World War period in Cape Town was the Mid-day Pause, when, every day on the stroke of noon, all the traffic of the city was suspended for two minutes, whilst the crowds in the streets bent their heads in silent prayer and communication with our soldiers who were fighting and dying in France.

Written by A.D. Donovan in 1918.

“I was walking along Adderley Street, talking to a friend, when a street clock overhead began to utter its twelve strokes. Before it had done striking- at its fourth or fifth stroke – the boom of the Signal Hill gun came and a bugle from Cartwright’s balcony began to sound the “Last Post.” And immediately everybody and everything in the street and all around, and in the side streets, stood still – quite still.

Stood absolutely still! If you have not seen it, you can hardly imagine it. For, believe me, it makes some demand on the imagination. No written or printed words can describe the suddenness of it. The boom of a cannon, the note of a bugle, and then every man’s head bared, as if by one single gesture – and after that no more sound, no more movement. Just complete silence, complete stillness, like that of a quiet gathering in the churchyard at the terrible moment when a body is being let down with silent ropes into the earth. And this in the crowded street of a big city!

In the first few seconds of the pause your ear detected the last traces of sound and movement – the angry oath of a wagoner as he pulled his team to a stand-still; the final jingle of a set of hansom-cab bells, the last throb of a motor car, the brief echo of a tramway gong, the last interrupted shrieks of a group of coloured boys who were dragging down from Longmarket Street a box on wheels, loaded with vegetables. In two or three seconds – quicker than you could say the words – these faint remnants of human sound and movement had died away. Then it was all silence: all stillness.

Think of it! The whole life, movement and action of this busy little world of Adderley Street suspended, stopped, stricken dumb, petrified. As if by some sudden act of the supernatural, every moving body and every moving thing had been turned into stone or iron. A sea-bird in the distance, circling over the stunted turret of the pier, a stirring of the folds of a drooping flag on its mast above a tall building as it catches the breeze. Besides these, no movement – not a sound, not a tremor, but the quiet breathing of those that are near you in the crowd.

The sudden and solemn unanimity of this pause in the very midst of the city’s day gets a queer grip on your emotions, gets somehow down deep inside you. From an almost indistinguishable group, high up at the corner of the upper balcony of Mansion House Chambers building, there comes the strains of “The Last Post,” trumpeted over the heads of a silent and motionless city. The proud melancholy, the gallant, triumphant sadness of those last, wailing, silvery notes seemed to find an echo in the very depths of your heart. You felt the curious lump in your throat, and you had an idea that in the intense stillness and silence everybody around you was aware of it. Your hand fidgeted with the hat you held in it. . . . But then you perceived that nobody was paying any attention to you – that everybody was absorbed in his own emotions of those silent minutes. . . . You saw here and there a woman in black fumbling secretly for a handkerchief, and you pictured her having some special interest, some special sorrow, in one of the rows and rows of bare crosses in Delville Wood, in Gauche Wood. . . . “The Last Post”!

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Bugler playing The Last Post from the Cartwright’s balcony

The sound of the bugle dies away on the last sad, heroic note. The motionless detachment of the crowds is emphasised by a succession of sounds that emerge out of the background of silence – the distant shriek of a railway engine, the impatient neighing of a horse somewhere down the street, the near-by throbbing of a motor-lorry that is in a hurry to be on its way again. But I think that what to me most emphasised the solemn stillness of the occasion was that while I stood in the roadway, midway in the “pause” there came from some shop or office behind, the ringing of a telephone bell. This telephone bell was plainly audible to the motionless crowds in the centre of Adderley Street. It rand and rang and rang with a faint, distant tinkle, but there was no one to answer it ; for even in the shops and offices the clerks, the attendants and the customers were standing rigid in communion with the heroic and distant dead. It tinkled on and on, and then died away altogether ; and there was nothing left but silence and the bared heads of men and the bowed heads of women ; and dear thoughts and sad memories and – here and there – tears in the eyes of brave women, as the big clock overhead shifted its longer hand to one minute past twelve, two minutes past. . . . .

And then, at a quick signal, the silenced and the stillness were broken. The two minutes’ pause had expired. The motor cars, the trams, the taxis, the cabs, the wagons, all began to move again (just as if someone had begun to turn the handle of a moving picture machine), and the human beings resumed their ways up and down and across the street. The fez of a Malay cabdriver that I had been observing over the heads of the motionless crowd – a scarlet spot against the yellowish and windowed wall of the Post Office – now moved along, with a whip lashing the air overhead. The confused and animal-like bleats and groans and moans of taxis and motor cars filled the street again. The gongs of the tramcars made a background of discordant, riotous brass. The carts and the heavy wagons began to creak and rumble again : their drivers waved their long whips and shouted. The effect was just as if a cinematograph operator, finding his film “stuck,” had got control of it again.

It was all over until tomorrow. Tomorrow, again, at twelve o’clock, there would be the communion of the strong and living with the dead and dying and the wounded, of the people comfortably at home in Cape Town with the souls and thoughts of their beloved brave who were offering their young lives in France. . . . .

And these are my feeble impressions of the mid-day pause – feeble, because written or printed words can convey no real sense of the beautiful simplicity and brevity of the ceremony, its unrehearsed, spontaneous order and decorum, its complete and most reverent silence – a sharp, clear-cut interruption in the day’s traffic of the city.”

CAPE TOWN 1918 BY: A.D. DONOVAN

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The Last Post followed by 2 minutes silence, this official video of The National Memorial Arboretum in the United Kingdom captures sentiment and legacy of the pause as would have been experienced in Cape Town in 1918 after the Last Post was played.  Play it to the end and reflect the event in your ‘minds eye’, imagine the sacrifice – it’s very poignant and moving.


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Extract and featured image taken from a condensed article; “The Celebration of Peace” Booklet, issued in 1919 by the Cape Town Peace Celebrations committee for distribution throughout the Schools of the Cape Peninsula.

“…. a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

This is arguably one of the most highest decorated and bravest South African characters you’ll ever meet, a man with a true warrior’s heart.

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Lt. Col John Sherwood Kelly VC, CMG, DSO.

Lieutenant Colonel John “Jack” Sherwood Kelly VC CMG DSO joined the Kings Own Scottish Borderers in July 1915 when he was a Major.  The entry into the Regimental history reflects an extraordinary character and neatly sums him up:

“A new Major has joined us. The new Major was a Herculean of Irish-South African origin with a quite remarkable disregard for danger”.

The four-times-wounded Kelly was not a Regular officer but a formidable and experienced commander with a combat record going back to the 1896 Matabele Revolt. During his military career he achieved fame and notoriety for his mixture of heroic exploits and explosive temperament.

His Story, the early years.

The twin sons John Sherwood Kelly and Hubert Henry Kelly were born on 13 January 1880 in Lady Frere in the Cape Colony in South Africa as the son of James Kelly of Irish decent. James Kelly was at one time mayor of Lady Frere and believed in justice for all and was himself a hero. On 08 December 1876 James Kelly saved the lives of 25 people when the Italian ship, SS Nova Bella, ran into trouble at the St John’s river mouth.

John (also called “Jack”) attended the Queenstown Grammar School, Dale College in King William’s Town and St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown. At school John was keener on the outdoor activities such as horse riding and boxing, in which he excelled, than school work. During this period John first lost his mother, with whom he had a very close relationship, when he was only 12 and a year later in 1893 he lost his twin brother Hubert in a riding accident.

The 2nd Anglo-Boer War and the Matabele Revolt

In 1896, age 16, John enlisted in the British South Africa Police (BSAP) and saw action in the Matabele revolt in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). With the outbreak of the 2nd Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902) he enlisted in the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers and saw action as a Trooper in the Relief of Mafeking as a Private in Colonel Plumer’s Column.

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Boer Forces with a 94 Pounder ‘Long Tom’ besieging Mafeking

On 08 January 1901 John was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Imperial Light Horse (ILH) and later joined Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts as a Lieutenant and saw action in Rhodesia, Orange Free State and Transvaal. He was twice mentioned in despatches during this time.

After the Anglo Boer War (1899 – 1902) John returned to civilian life were he worked in his father’s store, but this was not what John had in mind, he was a warrior at heart  – and what he does next is an extraordinary journey which sees him take part in battles all over the world.

Somaliland 

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The ‘Mad’ Mullah

Having resigned his commission he volunteered to serve with the British forces again in Somaliland for the 3rd Expedition against Haji Muhammad Abdullah Hassan (known to the British as Mad Mullah) over the period November 1902 to July 1903.

South Africa sent a British Mounted Infantry Company (141 men) from the 4th Bn The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, commanded by Captain G.C. Shakerley, and a Boer Mounted Infantry Company, known as the Somaliland Burgher Corps (100 men) commanded by Captain W. Bonham DSO.   The men brought their own horses and 50% spares for remounts.  In a strange twist, John Sherwood-Kelly joined the Boer Corps. During the period he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

In 1904 he was reduced to a Trooper again and returned to South Africa where he worked at first as a trader and later as a recruiter of native labour in the Transkei. In 1905/6 he again saw action during the Zululand Bambatha Rebellion.

Over the period 1906 to 1912 John was involved in the family business in Butterworth which was involved in the recruiting labour for the mines.

The Irish ‘Home Rule’ Crisis 

Finding a lasting solution for the Irish crisis remained a challenge for the British and in 1910 another attempt failed. The situation deteriorated and by 1912/13 the call went out for “all unionists” to return to Ireland. Being from Irish descent John and another brother of his, Edward answered the call and travelled to Ireland where they both joined the Ulster Volunteer Force.

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Ulster Unionists gather during the Home Rule Crisis in 1910

With war clouds gathering over Europe late 1913 and early 1914 the Irish crisis dropped on the list of priorities and by July 1914 John and Edward travelled to London. John being a man that liked adventure saw the gathering of war clouds as an opportunity for him to become involved.

John soon joined the 2nd Battalion King Edward’s Horse as a Private. With a chest full of medals it was not long before John was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. During this time John met Nellie Green and soon John and Nellie were active in the London social life.

Gallipoli Campaign and his DSO

During the Gallipoli campaign a Jack Sherwood-Kelly, would command the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and would be decorated with a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions.

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Kings Own Scottish Borderers on the offensive during the Gallipoli Campaign

On 21 October 1915 John’s lungs got badly burned by gas from the Turks and he was evacuated to the hospital, but returned to the frontline on 28 October. After his return John led his men to in a frontal attack to capture a Turkish trench that was threatening his own forces. Only 6 men returned and John was wounded three times. For this John was awarded the Distinguish Service Order (DSO). The first South African to be awarded the DSO during World War One.

During his leave to recover his wounds, John married Nellie on 22 April 1916. Early May 1916 saw John recalled to the front once again in command of a battalion, this time the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as part of the 29th Division preparing for the upcoming Battle of the Somme.

The Somme Offensive

In France, leading his Battalion from the front during the fighting in the Beaumont Hamel sector John was shot through the lung and he was saved by Jack Johnson until he could be evacuated back to London.

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Officers of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers take a tea break during the Somme Offensive

During July 1916 John and his wife Nellie embarked on a recruiting tour to South Africa where John was received as hero. On his return to England in September 1916 John immediately reported for duty. John remained in England and on 29 November 1916 received his Distinguish Service Order (DSO) from King George V.

During November 1916 John was posted to the 3rd Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers as a Major. Very soon after arrival requested to be transferred to the 10th Norfolk Reserve Battalion

On 01 January 1917 John Sherwood Kelly was awarded the Distinguished Order of St Micheal and St George, Third Class or Companion, post nominal CMG. It is awarded for service to the Empire, partly for his recruiting drive in South Africa.

Ypres and Passchendaele

In February 1917 John was again posted to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as Officer Commanding. Early part of 1917 saw a new British offensive in Vimmy and Arras which was followed by offensives in Ypres and Passchendaele. A smaller offensive was planned for November 1917 in the Cambrai sector, using the new weapon “the Mark 1 Tank”.

On 20 November 1917, the opening day of the first Battle of Cambrai, 87th Brigade advanced on Marcoing, three miles south-west of Cambrai. 1st Battalion, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, crossed the Canal de St Quentin by the lock east of Marcoing copse.

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Men of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers advancing in the Cambrai sector 20th November 1917

For his gallantry during the crossing of the canal and in leading the attack against the enemy defences on the far side, Acting Lieutenant Colonel John Sherwood-Kelly was awarded the highest accolade for bravery – the Victoria Cross. (VC)

Two companies of 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment, crossed the canal by the railway bridge at Marcoing and one at the lock by the railway station at the north-eastern outskirts of the town. During the action Sergeant C. E .Spackman was awarded the VC for attacking a machine-gun which threatened this advance.

In the same action John was also awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). His citation reads as follows:

“For most conspicuous bravery and fearless leading when a party of men of another unit detailed to cover the passage of the canal by his battalion were held up on the near side of the canal by heavy rifle fire directed on the bridge. Lieutenant Colonel Sherwood-Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally led the leading company of his battalion across the canal and, after crossing, reconnoitred under heavy rifle fire and machine gun fire the high ground held by the enemy.

The left flank of his battalion advancing to the assault of this objective was held up by a thick belt of wire, where upon he crossed to that flank, and with a Lewis gun team, forced his way under heavy fire through obstacles, got the gun into position on the far side, and covered the advance of his battalion through the wire, thereby enabling them to capture the position.

Later, he personally led a charge against some pits from which a heavy fire was being directed on his men, captured the pits, together with five machine guns and forty six prisoners, and killed a large number of the enemy.

The great gallantry displayed by this officer throughout the day inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and it was mainly due to his example and devotion to duty that his battalion was enabled to capture and hold their objective”.

The Germans launched a counter attack which was successfully repelled by the 29th Division during which time Acting Captain A. M. Lascelles, another South African hero, of the 14th Durham Light Infantry who was also awarded a Victoria Cross (VC). John returned to a hospital in London having been gassed again.

On 11 January 1918 the London Gazette reported that John had been awarded the Victoria Cross which he received from King George on 23 January 1918 at Buckingham Palace.

North Russia

After the end of World War 1, John Sherwood-Kelly took command of the second Battalion of the Hampsire Regiment in the North Russian Campaign in July 1919.  Here he came under criticism from the British Command in Russia, firstly for withdrawing his troops from an attack against the Bolsheviks at Trotsia, he cited improper terrain to attack (it was a mash), no communication and stiff resistance from the Bolsheviks.

But the criticism did not stop there, in 1919 the British developed a new and more effective gas, they chose to trial it on the Bolsheviks. John Sherwood-Kelly was now in command of a very mixed outfit on the railway front as part of the Vologda Force, and he was ordered to carry out the attack on the Bolsheviks under the cover of a large ground discharge of this new poisonous gas.  John objected, possibly because of his experience of gas and wounds he had sustained from it, but also because he felt the objects of the raid could be achieved by other means which did not put his men to overt risk.

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Troops of the Hampshire Regiment in Vladivostok 1919

The gas attack did not take place, and John was relieved of his command and returned to Britain.  On arrival, he promptly went to the press and publicly criticised the British campaign in North Russia in the Daily Express and Sunday Express.

Incensed that such a highly decorated officer should be so critical, Churchill wanted an example made, and against all advise not to , John Sherwood Kelly was court marshalled on the 6th October 1919 on the grounds of contravening The Kings Regulations (which restricted officers from dealing with the media on military matters).

John pleaded guilty, but also entered a plea in mitigation, which read:

“I plead with you to believe that the action I took was to protect my men’s lives against needless sacrifice and to save the country from squandering wealth it could ill afford.”

He was found guilty and severely reprimanded. A man of very strong principle he resigned from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel just two weeks later and entered politics.

Politics

John Kelly-Sherwood stood for the Conservative Party and took part in two General Elections for the constituency of Clay Cross in Derbyshire. His controversial and outspoken style even struck a chord among hardened socialist supporters in this largely mining seat. He was defeated in the 1923 elections and again in 1924. However, true to his character, during the election rallies, Kelly again hit the national headlines having thrashed some hecklers at Langwith.

In later years, Kelly worked for Bolivia Concessions Limited building roads and railways across Bolivia and went big game hunting in Africa where he contracted malaria and died on the 18th August 1931.  He was granted a full military funeral and is buried at Brookwood Military cemetery in Surrey, England.

An incredibly brave man who stood head and shoulders above his peers, his military career and military exploits are nothing short of impressive, a proper leader of men and a pure South African warrior of the highest order. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg for anyone who wants to learn more about South Africa’s finest.


Researched by Peter Dickens with extract from The VC and the GC, The Complete History, published by Methuen, The VC and GC Association in 2013, Wikipedia and Charles Ross’ article for The South African Legion with grateful thanks. Image copyrights – Imperial War Museum.

 

The ‘2 minutes silence’ is a South African gift to the Act of Remembrance

Many people do not know that the two minutes silence and its association to Armistice Day (11/11/11) or Remembrance Sunday has a South African origin.  It is one of our greatest gifts to humankind, yet most South Africans are completely oblivious of it.

The featured image taken in 1918 is a rare and unique one, it shows South African civilians stopping what they are doing in the middle of Cape Town and standing to attention for two minutes silence, signalled when the noon day gun was fired.  Not common today in Cape Town but a daily occurrence during war years.  So how did this unique practice become a worldwide standard for remembrance?

Read on and learn a little why South Africans should stand proud of what they have given the world; when on Remembrance Sunday and on Armistice day in November, the western world stands silent in remembrance for two minutes … and take heart that this entire ceremony has South African roots.

The end of Word War 1 – Armistice Day 11/11/11

BgtOUCICMAAvwfLAt 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.World War One (then known as the Great War) had ended.

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South African troops in a support trench on the Western Front, Fresenberg Ridge, 22 September 1917

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, South Africa.

Cape Town’s unique remembrance during WW1 

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 the famous South African author of “Jock of the Bushveld”.

In May 1918, the Mayor of Cape Town, Councillor H. Hands (later Sir Harry Hands) at the suggestion made by Mr. RR Brydon, a Cape Town City Councillor, 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.

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Cape Town’s noon day gun

The pause would follow the firing of the Noon Gun (a tradition instituted in 1902 and fired everyday at 12:00 from Signal Hill), simply put the gun was the most audible signal with which to co-ordinate the event across the city of Cape Town.

The boom of the gun signalling the midday pause of three minutes was heard for the first time on 14 May 1918.  It 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.

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Rare photo of the midday pause in Cape Town – 1918

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 witnessing the midday pause 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”.

In terms of the meaning of “two minutes” it was also argued that the first minute is for thanksgiving for those that survived war and the second minute is to remember the fallen.

There is even an eye-witness account of the midday pause in 1918 which eloquently outlines the event – see the Observation Post story on it by following this link: The 2 minutes silence; an eye witness account of South Africa’s unique gift to Remembrance

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.  This is another rare photo of soldiers and civilians paused and standing at attention for two minutes of silence on Cape Town’s streets in 1942.

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Rare photo of the midday pause of Remembrance in Cape Town during World War 2 – 1942

Today, the tradition of the midday gun has continued, as any Capetonian can attest – regular as clockwork it goes off at 12:00, and although the pause is no longer part of the ritual in Cape Town, the idea of the ‘pause’ for two minutes remembrance has survived.

That this ritual survived is by no means in a small way either, but in such a way that it now concludes how we as modern human beings in the western world remember the war dead and sacrifice.  It started when it became the official two minute ‘pause’ throughout Britain and the British Commonwealth from 11 November 1919, and here is how that came about, and once again – surprise – we have a South African from Cape Town right at the centre of it.

Step in Sir Percy Fitzpatrick 

Now, back to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.  He 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.

The King Decrees 

Sir Percy then wrote to Lord Milner and described the silence that fell on the city during this daily ritual. Taking into consideration that the guns of war finally fell silent at 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month (November), Sir Percy felt that the idea of observing the two-minute silence at that time and on that date, would give the Act of Homage great impact, and proposed that this became an official part of the annual service on Armistice Day.

The meaning behind Sir Percy’s proposal was stated as:

It is due to the women, who have lost and suffered and borne so much, with whom the thought is ever present.
It is due to the children that they know to whom they owe their dear fought freedom.
It is due to the men, and from them, as men.
But far and away, above all else, it is due to those who gave their all, sought no recompense, and with whom we can never re-pay – our Glorious and Immortal Dead.

Sir Percy’s letter was received by Lord Milner on November 4, 1919, reviewed and accepted by the War Cabinet on November 5, and was immediately approved by King George V.

George V, then King of the United Kingdom, shortly afterwards on the 7th November 1919, proclaimed by decree.

“Tuesday next, November 11, is the first anniversary of the Armistice, which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and the victory of Right and Freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the meaning of the Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of their feeling, it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice comes into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for a brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all our normal activitiy 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 … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

Sir Percy when he heard the news that his suggestion had reached the King stated: “I was so stunned by the news that I could not leave the hotel. An hour or two afterwards I received a cable from Lord Long of Wexhall: ‘Thank you. Walter Long.’ Only then did I know that my proposal had reached the King and had been accepted and that the Cabinet knew the source.”

Later, Sir Percy was thanked for his suggestion of the two minute silence by Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary who wrote:

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

And so the tradition of 2 minutes of silence during remembrance occasions was born, a unique South African gift to world, a simple peaceful gesture that in deep solitude remembers the end of all war – not the beginning.

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Story and images researched by Peter Dickens.

Image copyrights include The Imperial War Museum and “The Celebration of Peace” Booklet, issued in 1919 by the Cape Town Peace Celebrations committee for distribution throughout the Schools of the Cape Peninsula.

South Africans in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge – WW1

Rare photo of South Africans in action during World War One. Battle of the Menin Road Ridge; part of the Ypres initiatives. A wounded South African being given a hot drink by a Padre and a comrade, after the attack on Potsdam (a German stronghold near Zonnebeke). Near Potijze, 20 September 1917.

Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum