The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.
The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.
Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.
That was how the Manchester Guardian reported the first ever Two Minute Silence which took place in London at 11am on 11 November 1919.
The day was specifically dedicated by King George V on 7 November 1919 as a day of remembrance for members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I. November 11 was chosen specifically to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918; hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”.
This year, there has been a very special commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I at the Tower of London.
An evolving art installation titled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red has been on display since the summer. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, 888,246 ceramic poppies have progressively filled the Tower’s famous moat, with each poppy representing a British military fatality during the war.
The final poppy will be ‘planted’ on 11 November.
The poppy has been used since 1920 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. Inspired by the World War I poem In Flanders Fields, they were first used by the American Legion to commemorate American soldiers who died in the war. They were then adopted by military veterans’ groups in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The video below, from 1941, shows a factory where injured men from both the First and Second World Wars were working to make poppies.
Nowadays, the WI gets involved in all sorts of ways as well. This year, members of the First Tower and Millbrook Women’s Institute in Jersey have sowed poppy seeds as part of a social media campaign to mark the First World War.
Joan Cadoret, of the First Tower and Millbrook WI, said “It’s 100 years since the Great war and over the next four years we hope to commemorate that. It was such a horrendous time.”
Other WIs have created their own crafted poppies to help with the Poppy Appeal. Kingston knitted their poppies for the British Legion while Felsted WI made theirs from balloons and Pinner WI is creating a wreath made of their own knitted poppies.
Bestwood Village WI members got together to crochet poppies as part of BBC Radio Nottingham’s Big Poppy Knit Exhibition where over 66,000 poppies were on show representing each of the 11,000 Nottinghamshire men that fell in the Great War.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.