Silence at commemorative events

The period of one or two minutes' silence is central to commemorative ceremonies. It is a mark of respect and a time to reflect on the significance of the day and remember those who have died in war.

On Remembrance Day, a one (or two) minute silence traditionally commences at 11 am, the 'eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month'. This is the time when the armistice ending WW1 came into effect. This silence is the key element to Remembrance Day ceremonies throughout the British Commonwealth.

Over the years it has been incorporated into Anzac Day and other commemorative ceremonies.

Origins of the remembrance silence

A Melbourne journalist, Edward George Honey, first proposed a period of five minutes' silence for national remembrance, in a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919:

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.

The suggestion came to the attention of King George V. After testing the practicality of a five-minute silence—a trial was held with five Grenadier Guardsmen standing to attention for the silence—the King issued a proclamation on 7 November 1919 which called for a two-minute silence. His proclamation requested that 'all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead'.

At 11 am on 11 November 1919, Australians, for the first time, paused and stood in silent tribute to the men and women of the Australian Imperial Force who died on battlefields in the Middle East, Gallipoli and Europe.

In 1997 the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, issued a Proclamation urging all Australians to observe the one-minute silence on Remembrance Day to remember those who have died or suffered for Australia's cause in all wars and armed conflicts.

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