The War Cabinet discussed the proposal for the suggested silence on the 5th November 1919 and decided that, despite concern that ‘a precedent would be established, which, in remote years, after the passing of the present generation, might conceivably prove inconvenient’ it would go ahead, subject to the King’s approval. The ‘realisation of the nation of its deliverance from great perils of the war’ was more important than any other considerations but the suggested three minutes silence was felt to be too long. A pause of one minute ‘as adopted in the United States of America on the occasion of President Roosevelt’s funeral’ would be ‘more impressive’.

The King agreed to a two minutes silence, and all newspapers carried his request for a national pause, with a final reminder on the day itself.

‘In quiet graves beyond the seas sleep a million British men who paid the price of victory’, according to the Daily Express editorial on the 11th November. ‘It is our duty to see that they did not die in vain, and for the accomplishments of that duty all classes must combine as they did to win the war, unselfishly and harmoniously. There must be a truce in domestic quarrels, and an end to industrial strife. We must all pull together lest the rewards of victory be thrown away.’

We can see here how the silence was being presented to the public, and the establishment's concerns with national unity, management of dissent and legitimising the war. The two minutes silence was to symbolise harmony which would overcome the conflict and cracks appearing in post war society. The commemoration would, in effect, be a defence of the existing social order.

Rituals such as the silence (which quickly became capitalised Silence) may be defined as having a certain significance and meaning by those who invented it but it does not necessarily mean the same thing to everybody else. In a plural society a wide range of interpretations are possible and Armistice day always produced competing interpretations. The Daily Herald for example welcomed the idea of the silence but put a wholly different interpretation on it.


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"The Legion is committed to ensuring that the ‘Torch of Remembrance’ is passed on to today’s school children. Our children are the world’s future - it is important that they understand the lessons of history so that the same mistakes may never be repeated." BL 2005

What exactly does all this mean? What is the 'Torch of Remembrance' and why should we care about it? What are the 'lessons of history' and which lessons should we 'understand'? What mistakes should not be repeated? Behind this bland statement lie the politics of war.