The success of the silence resulted from a variety of factors. In part its symbolic association with the moment when the guns ‘fell silent’ signalling the end of the slaughter was a significant element. The ‘religious’ quality of the silence – a silent prayer – clearly affected many. More importantly perhaps its success also depended on the public and private nature of the commemoration – the silence enforced public unity of action. The solidarity of the community was enforced by the fear of public shame.

Today it is difficult to fully understand those moments or know what people thought about in those two minutes. But some clues can be gleaned from contemporary writing. It is likely that then (as now) most people were guided by the public language surrounding the ceremony and so the newspapers, politicians, religious leaders and various interest groups with their own agendas contributed to how people thought about the silence and in large part what they thought about in those two minutes. And so it is today.

The recent attempts to ‘revive’ the two minutes silence by sentimental old men and as an adjunct to fundraising seem to disrespect the memory of those whose loss and misery gave meaning and significance to those two minutes.

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