Silence, poppies, and colonials

This day in London’s history. On the 11th of November 1919 the first two minute silence was observed; it commemorates the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when World War I ended.

The two-minute silence was proposed by an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, who felt that a respectful silence was a good way to to remember those who had given their lives. He wrote to the London Evening News suggesting a five-minute silence, and his letter, published on the 8th of May 1919, was brought to the attention of King George V.

On the 7th of November 1919, the king issued a proclamation calling for a two-minute silence:

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

When the 11th of November falls on a weekday, the British Royal Legion hosts ‘Silence in the Square’ in Trafalgar Square when thousands of people attend to hear music and readings and to place poppy petals into the fountains.

During the devastation of World War I, poppies were the first things able to grow on the scorched battlefields, and inspired John McCrae, a doctor serving there with the Canadian Armed Forces, to write a poem, ‘In Flanders’ Field’ (sometimes also called ‘We Shall Not Sleep’, which begins:

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,

The Poppy Appeal is the Royal Legion’s biggest fund-raising campaign and came about at the suggestion of Moina Belle Michael, an American professor and humanitarian, who vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance, and sold the first Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy on 9th November 1918, two days before the declaration of the Armistice.

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