diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 12, 2017

Yesterday the country paused for two minutes to remember its war dead. Today we'll do it again. But why?

Monday 11th November 1918
The Great War ends at 11am on 11th November - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month - following the signing of the Armistice in a railway carriage earlier that morning. Soldiers and citizens across Europe celebrate, and reflect. [newsreel]
Tuesday 11th November 1919
In May an Australian journalist called Edward George Honey* writes a letter to the London Evening News proposing a national silence on the first anniversary of the Armistice. In October his idea is passed to King George V, who announces "for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities… so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead." The Manchester Guardian reports "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." [newsreel]
* Edward dies in 1922 at the age of 37. You can see his grave in Northwood Cemetery, Hillingdon.
Thursday 11th November 1920
The Cenotaph is unveiled in Whitehall. An unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield is buried in Westminster Abbey in The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior. [newsreel]
The two minute silence on Armistice Day is now an annual commemoration. 
Friday 11th November 1938
The official national commemoration is held on a weekday for the last time. [newsreel]
 Sunday 12th November 1939
Following the outbreak of World War Two, the government chooses to move the Two Minute Silence to the Sunday closest to 11th November. This is a practical measure to ensure that the nationwide pause does not interfere with factory production. Acts of remembrance are scaled down and no service is held at the Cenotaph.
 Sunday 10th November 1940
Sunday 9th November 1941
Sunday 8th November 1942
Sunday 14th November 1943
Sunday 12th November 1944
 Sunday 11th November 1945
The first "second Sunday in November" following World War Two, by coincidence, is also Armistice Day. National commemorations at the Cenotaph resume, now to remember the dead of two world wars. [newsreel]
 Sunday 10th November 1946
Rather than reverting to 11th November the Two Minute Silence remains on the closest Sunday, which is officially named Remembrance Sunday. [newsreel]
Many citizens continue to pause for two minutes on 11th November, because this is the actual anniversary.The monarch, armed forces and politicians continue to gather reverently on Whitehall on the second Sunday in November, and the official Two Minute Silence takes place at 11am.
Saturday 11th November 1995
For the 50th anniversary of the end of WW2, the British Legion campaigns for the reinstatement of a Two Minute Silence on Armistice Day. Capturing the national mood, millions do indeed fall silent, and the double-commemoration is up and running.
Sunday 12th November 1995
The following day, the official Two Minute Silence takes place as usual.
The British Legion's Two Minute Silence now takes place on 11th November. "As the national custodian of Remembrance, the Legion believes that when 11 November falls on days other than Sundays, Remembrance should be brought into the everyday life of the nation on those days as well." Only in 2001, 2007 and 2012 have the two days coincided, with a single Two Minute Silence rather than two.The National Service of Remembrance is still held on the second Sunday in November at the Cenotaph on Whitehall, London to "commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women involved in the two World Wars and later conflicts." Only in 2001, 2007 and 2012 have the two days coincided, with a single Two Minute Silence rather than two.
Saturday 11th November 2017
The British Legion organises wreath-laying ceremonies at war memorials across the country, holds a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum, and encourages the nation to pause for two minutes at 11am... which much of it does.
Sunday 12th November 2017
Services and ceremonies are held across the country, with the national focus at the Cenotaph where the royal family, leading politicians and members of the Armed Forces lay wreaths. The nation pauses for two minutes at 11am.
Sunday 11th November 2018
Thanks to a 1-in-7 quirk, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One actually falls on a Sunday, focusing everyone's thoughts on a single day rather than Remembrance Sunday looking like a calendar oddity.
Monday 11th November 2019
But the 100th Armistice Day falls on a Monday.
Sunday 10th November 2019
Here we go again, off-kilter, remembering twice.

So the answer to the question "Why do we stop for two minutes twice?" is twofold. Firstly, a wartime economic measure shifted the commemoration from 11th November to a moveable Sunday, and nobody's ever moved it back. And secondly the British Legion believes that a Sunday isn't good enough, pausing on the actual anniversary is best, and if that interrupts the flow of working life all the better.

In short, the church and government believe it's important to remember, and the British Legion believes it's important to be seen to remember.

I wish we could settle on one date or the other, and stop this unnecessary repetition. Doubling the Two Minute Silence merely dilutes and downplays our reflection, and in today's world it's ever more important to Never Forget.

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