The custom of observing a minute’s silence on Remembrance Day is largely due to one Australian man, soldier and journalist Edward Honey.
Honey suggested the idea of ‘the Great Silence’ while working at a newspaper in London in 1919.
Edward George Honey (1885-1922) was born in St Kilda, Melbourne, and educated at Caulfield Grammar School.
He served briefly with the British Army during the First World War before being medically discharged as an invalid with shellshock.
He had worked on The Argus (now The Age) in Melbourne and then joined the Evening News, a halfpenny newspaper, in London.
On 8 May 1919, Honey reported he was saddened that Armistice Day had been celebrated as a joyous occasion.
Using the pen-name Warren Foster, he suggested instead a brief but solemn ceremony:
‘Five little minutes only. Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession. Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough.’
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities… so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance. – King George V
His idea did not take hold immediately but, a few months later, a South African statesman, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, suggested the same concept and it was put before King George V.
Edward Honey then attended a private rehearsal with the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace where it was decided five minutes was too long.
King George delivered his now famous message, asking: ‘… at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities… so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance…’.
The custom of one or two minutes’ silence now occurs throughout much of the former British Empire.
Edward Honey lived only long enough to see three Armistice Days (now known as Remembrance Day). In 1922, at the age of 37, he died of tuberculosis. His widow, Millicent, like many women at the time, was left impoverished.
Today, the soldier who promoted remembrance is commemorated with a small plaque in Northwood Cemetery, London, and a modest monument near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
- Eric Harding. Remembrance Day Silence. Melbourne: Eric Harding, 1965.
- Muriel F. Orford. ‘Lest we forget: a tribute to the late Edward George Honey.’ Victorian Historical Magazine. 32. Vol. 32. No. 2 (November 1961): 119-123.
- Muriel F. Orford. Papers of Muriel F. Orford. National Library of Australia. MS 2060.