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The tradition of two minutes’ silence started in Cape Town

The time and date of hostilities ending in World War I, 11 am on November 11, 1918, have attained important significance internationally, as has the two minutes’ silence to remember all who died or were injured in that war and all conflict thereafter – and it all began in Cape Town.

When the first casualty lists recording the horrific loss of life in the Battle of the Somme were announced in Cape Town, local businessman JA Eagar suggested the congregation of his church observe a special pause to remember South Africans on the list.

In May 1918, the then mayor of Cape Town, later Sir Harry Hands, initiated a period of silence to remember events unfolding on the battlefields of Europe. The pause would follow the firing of the noon gun, the most audible signal to coordinate the event across the city.

The boom of the noon gun for the three-minute midday pause for the first time on May 14, 1918 became the signal for all activity to stop.

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, author of Jock of the Bushveld, was inspired to an annual commemoration across the empire.

After two failed approaches, he forwarded his concept to the king’s private secretary and a message from King George V was carried in The Times of London on November 7, 1919.

It stated, inter alia, his “desire and hope that at the hour when the armistice came into force there may be, for the brief space of two minutes, a complete suspension of all normal activities”.

Giles said the two-minute pause has been adopted around the world, regardless of race, colour, religion or culture, as the greatest mark of respect anyone can collectively pay to those who lost their lives in honour of their countries.

“Worldwide the two-minute pause is the silent echo of Cape Town’s noon gun.”