IMPACT

Even at the beginning of the 20th century towns and cities were bathed in an ever present background noise, it would be hard to imagine what a city would be like without all this deliberate noise. 'Nobody can imagine what a silent London - still for two minutes - is like. No traffic, no business, no talking - nothing for a brief but sacred time.' is how the Daily Express thought about it on the day of the first silence. While the silence was observed equally in rural areas, there its effect was less overwhelming. It was in the great industrial centres where its effects were felt most powerfully – ‘it was particularly impressive. The sudden hush of great industrial works could almost be felt’ was how it was seen in Belfast.

For two minutes after the hour of eleven had struck yesterday morning Plymouth stood inanimate with the nation… Two minutes before the hour the maroons boomed out their warning in one long drawn out note… As the hour struck a great silence swept over the town. People halted in their walk, chatter ceased as if by magic, traffic stopped and the rumbling note of industry stayed.’

A particularly most impressive manifestation of the interruption of ordinary life came on the railways:

And so on that winter morning a great silence fell over the North British - a silence symbolic of the stillness that had fallen over the battlefields when the guns had stopped firing a year ago to the very minute. All over the system from Northumberland to Inverness-shire, on mainlines and branches, in sheds and yards, passenger trains, goods trains and shunting engines stopped wherever they happened to be. Engine crews stood bare-headed at their footplates, passengers sat silent in their compartments. Great stations fell suddenly silent, travellers froze into immobility. People had much to remember; few in those trains and stations had not lost a friend or relative in the recent war. Of the 4,836 men of Northern British Railway who joined the armed forces 775 had not returned.

The stoppage was extraordinary. Telephone exchanges stopped putting through calls. In the industrial north, textile mills stopped the machinery for the two minutes. In the Midlands, engineering firms halted. In the south west, the naval dockyard at Devonport stopped still, at the other end of the country Rosyth did likewise. In many schools special assemblies were called. The success of the 'silence' depended on on the particular circumstance

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‘It is axiomatic that really great things cannot be repeated.’ wrote Alexander Cameron the day after. ‘Yesterday’s tribute was simple solemn, spontaneous and (in the restricted sense) universal. Let it also be unique. This would give it true distinction, and make it (as it deserves to be made) in the highest degree historic and memorable.’