One minute's silence as a symbol of commemoration

 

At 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, on Remembrance Day, we pause for 1 minute of silence. That minute is a special time to remember those Australians who died in wars, conflicts and peace operations.

History of its symbolism

Edward George Honey, a Melbourne journalist and World War I veteran, was living in London in 1919. Honey wrote a letter that was published in the London Evening News. He suggested that the commemoration on Armistice Day should be a brief but solemn ceremony, including a pause of silence for 5 minutes. That period would honour the service and sacrifice of those who had died during World War I:

Five little minutes only. Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession. Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough.

Honey's contribution to commemoration is honoured by a small plaque in Northwood Cemetery, London, and a monument near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

A grey plaque set in concrete with the words in Memory of Edward George Honey 1885- 1922

The plaque at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, commemorating the Australian man who suggested a minute's silence, Edward Honey. Sir John Monash Centre.

Also in 1919, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, a South African politician, suggested observing a period of silence on Armistice Day. Fitzpatrick's suggestion was presented to King George V, who agreed. However, 5 minutes was deemed too long and so it was changed to 2 minutes.

King George V delivered his famous proclamation:

... 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 … in perfect stillness, the thought of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the Glorious Dead.

Crowds gather around a monument draped in 2 flags

The Cenotaph at Whitehall, 1920, showing King George V unveiling a permanent World War I memorial on Whitehall in London, 11 November 1920. © IWM (Q 31488)

What it means to us today

Today, the tradition of observing 1 minute of silence is upheld throughout Australia and the wider Commonwealth each Remembrance Day.

More recently, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) launched an awareness campaign on social media with the hashtag #1MS. This activity honoured the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice and 80th Anniversary of the start of World War II.

Many Australians have an ancestor, relative or neighbour who has served or died in wars, conflicts, and operations. It's often this personal connection that they remember. Others who don't have a personal connection to Australia's service history might reflect on the impact of war on Australia and the world.

Engage more with this topic

Take a moment to reflect on who you'll be thinking about during the 1 minute's silence on Remembrance Day. On social media, share your personal commemoration using the hashtag #1MS.

Watch a series of #1MS videos, asking all Australians to reflect on who they'd honour during the moment of silence on Remembrance Day.

We gather stories of ordinary Australians who've had extraordinary experiences serving in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations all over the world. Watch our veterans' stories.

Read the Australian War Memorial's explanation, A period of silence. It includes a 2-minute video looking at the history behind the minutes' silence.


Last updated: 9 November 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), One minute's silence as a symbol of commemoration, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 4 December 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/commemoration/symbols-commemoration/one-minutes-silence-symbol-commemoration
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