On 4 November 1919, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, former British high commissioner to South Africa, wrote the following words to the war cabinet: “In the hearts of our people there is a real desire to find some lasting expression of their feeling for those who gave their lives in the war.”
Sir Percy suggested that that ‘expression’ could be made through a regular “three minutes’ pause”. The war cabinet agreed and so, with King George V’s approval, set about planning a service of silence (though for two minutes instead of three) on the first anniversary of the Armistice, 11 November 1919.
When the clock struck 11 on the first Remembrance Day, Britain came to a standstill. Trams stopped running, workers put down their tools, emptied into the streets and bowed their heads.
As the Manchester Guardian reported the following day: “It was a silence which was almost pain… and the spirit of memory brooded over it.”