Reflections on Armistice Day

What we now call Remembrance Day and have done since the end of World War II, was originally called Armistice Day.  It commemorated the end of hostilities at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  The first Armistice Day was held at 11am on that day in 1919 throughout Britain and the Commonwealth.

It came about because in a letter published in a London paper in May 1919, an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, proposed a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in the First World War.  This was brought to the attention of King George V who issued a proclamation which called for a two minute silence in these words:

         “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness,
the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated
on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

When I was a little girl my mother told me of the exquisite description of the first two minute silence – it must have resonated with many people.  Here are the words used the day after Armistice Day in 1919 in the Manchester Guardian :

“The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.

Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also.  Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’.

An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern.  Everyone stood very still ….      The hush deepened.

It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility.  It was a silence which was almost pain ….       And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”

******

The following year, on the same day, The Times reported: “…the great multitude bowed its head….   People held their breath less they should be heard in the stillness…    A woman’s shriek rose and fell and rose again, until the silence bore down once more.  The silence stretched on until, suddenly, acute, shattering, the very voice of pain itself – but pain triumphant – rose the clear notes of the bugles in The Last Post…”

 

Angela Williamson
kangaroomarch@gmail.com

Enlist now to march in the Kangaroo March Re-enactment.