It all began in South Africa. I bet you didn’t know that.
In Asda, Bournemouth, they played Sweet Soul Music during it.
In Ayrshire they once shockingly forgot to do it at all.
It was transplanted to the UK following a proclamation by King George V:
“All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
Yes, you’ve got it: the two minutes’ silence held every year on 11/11 at 11 o’clock. Incredibly effective it was, too, back then. Everyone marvelled at the sudden bottomless silence of Britain’s cities, something never heard before.
Silence is a stiff-upper-lip, emotionally uptight style of commemoration peculiarly typical of its era. So, is silent commemoration of the dead looking a bit dated now that we have become so much more emotionally demonstrative?
Far from it. It not only lives on, it’s spread to mark sad occasions in all sorts of communities.
‘Stowmarket Group held its AGM on 24th February; 32 members enjoyed a ploughman’s lunch prior to the meeting. Tony Payne (Chair) opened the meeting with a minute’s silence as a tribute to Elaine Buffery who died last year.’
‘It was a great shock to us to learn of the untimely death in September, of a lovely gentleman Allan Lyon from Malton, who never missed our meetings, he had been sweeping 10 years and retired in May. It was rather a sad start to the afternoon having to inform everyone there, most having had long chats with him in previous years. We observed a minutes silence and drank a toast in his memory.’
Pretty much everyone does it.
Newcastle United began their first game of the season with a minute’s silence to mourn the deaths of two fans on MH17. In fact, so many football matches begin with a period of silence to mark the passing of a former player that academics have warned us of the diminishing impact that will result from ‘silence inflation’.
It’s a clever idea but what do academics know? Silent commemoration is here to stay. It exerts huge and compelling bonding power over communities of people. Silence is a very eloquent way of saying ‘You’re one of us, we honour you, we miss you.’
They do it differently in Italy, Italians being more exuberant. There, they start with silence then begin to clap around halfway through, building to a crescendo.
The Liverpool-Juventus game in 2005 was the first time the teams had met since the infamous game of 1985 when 39 Juventus supporters were killed in riots. This time, both sets of fans were on their best behaviour. A minute’s silence was held for Pope John Paul II, who had recently died. The Liverpool fans, unaware of the Italian way of commemoration, were shocked when the opposition fans began to clap. So angry were they at their desecration of the silence that they booed them when they stopped. Tricky moment.
In spite of that, the Italian way of silence-and-applause has caught on at football grounds all over the UK. Fans have clapped Bobby Robson, Nelson Mandela, the victims of Hillsborough.
The minute’s applause has taken its place as the alternative to silence, although as one fan has pointed out, ‘What we will lose is the life-goes-on eruption of the crowd once the referee has signalled the end of the silence. Everybody loves that.’