From the History in the Margins Archives: The Great Silence


Whether you know it as Armistice Day, Poppy Day, Remembrance Day or Veterans’ Day, November 11 is a time to honor those who died in war and thank those who served.

The day of remembrance has its roots in the end of World War I. The war ended on November 11, 1918. When the word reached England that the the armistice had been signed, the country broke out into a spontaneous party. (The Savoy Hotel alone lost 2700 smashed glasses to the celebration.) No stiff upper lip allowed.

When the first anniversary of the Armistice drew near, dancing in the streets of a post-war world no longer seemed appropriate . Neither did letting the day go unnoticed. Some assumed that special church services were the proper response. Australian soldier and journalist Edward George Honey wrote a letter to the London Evening News suggesting a moment of silence “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. He asked for “Five silent minutes of national remembrance…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 asked for five minutes; he got two. King George V called for all Britons to stop their normal activities “so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of every one may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

If you can, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month–pause for a moment. If you can’t? Thank a veteran. Buy a poppy, if you can find one. Pray for peace.

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