Monday, November 07, 2005

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

poppy day poppyIt always intrigues me how celebrated ‘Poppy Day’ is to this day in the UK. For weeks running up to 11 November, all politicians and TV personalities and many members of the public can be seen wearing poppies. Most large offices will have someone selling poppies, the proceeds going to support the charitable works of the British Legion. In recent years, it seems that there has been a noticeable decline in the sale of poppies in South Africa. Part of the reason must be that the generation that remembered the two world wars is slowly disappearing but another reason could be a perceived lack of relevance to South Africa. Despite large numbers of non-white South Africans serving in both wars, the two world wars are very much part of South Africa’s colonial legacy, something that South Africans are trying to distance themselves from.

However, most South Africans would be very surprised to learn of the South African origin of the idea of commemorating the 11th hour of the 11th of November with two minute’s silence:

Captain P.N.G. FitzPatrick, the son of Sir Percy FitzPatrick (author of Jock of the Bushveld amongst many other achievements), was killed in the First World War at the age of 28. In commemoration of the death of his favourite son, Sir Percy FitzPatrick bought Delville Wood, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting involving South Africans. That’s where he later constructed the South African memorial to those who gave their lives in the First World War. After that he decided to take the commemoration of his son’s death and those of others further.

He’d been impressed by a one-minute silence kept in his local church in 1916 after the South African casualty lists had been read out and this gave him an idea. The date and time of the Armistice – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month –inspired Sir Percy to suggest an annual commemoration across the Empire. He was able to feed this suggestion to King George the Fifth who promptly took it up and issued a “call to the nation” at the beginning of November 1919 asking that “for the brief space of two minutes, [there be] a complete suspension of all normal activities… to perpetuate the memory of the Great Deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.” And that’s how the Remembrance Day silence was initiated. Soon, the papers were reporting that “the whole world stands to attention.” The King acknowledged his thanks to Sir Percy Fitzpatrick for suggesting this simple act of gratitude. A year later, in November 1920, the silence was held again, this time at the Cenotaph at the time of its unveiling. Sir Percy was himself in attendance.


Blogger GAMBIT said...

Well I never knew it was a South African who implemented the 2 minutes silence. You live and learn.

2:41 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

I have a follow-up post on this subject, it seems an Australian pipped him to the post by 5 months!

3:09 pm  
Blogger GAMBIT said...

What do the Australians know about keeping quiet even for two minutes ?

3:13 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Apparently said Australian called for a 5 min silence but that was deemed impractical. By all his countrymen! :-) No, by the military or whoever it was that decided upon the eventual time.

3:29 pm  
Blogger GAMBIT said...

As said ... did not think that Australians could keep quiet for a great length of time.

3:04 pm  

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