The war and the silence

By | November 12, 2018

At the end of the First World War at 11 AM, on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent.

A piece of film depicting a recording of that moment has been used by Coda to Coda to create an audio interpretation of this event. Their insertion of some birdsong after the gunfire stops appears to have been a bit of poetic license, although this detail has some historical basis.

The German novelist Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) fought on the Western Front:

He awoke each morning to a choir of partridges and larks that thrived in this new shrub habitat. Most impressive to him was how untroubled the little songbirds were by the shelling. “They sat peaceably over the smoke in their battered boughs,” he remembered, “in the short intervals of firing, we could hear them singing happily or ardently to one another, if anything even inspired or encouraged by the dreadful noise on all sides.”


Joanna Scutts writes:

On November 7, the king [George V] issued a proclamation calling for “a complete suspension of all our normal activities” for two minutes at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, during which, “in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.” In the run-up to the ceremony, newspapers printed reminders and editorials explaining how the Silence (as it tended to be labeled in the interwar years) would be marked and what it meant: unity, order, and a commitment to peace. They described it in poetic, near-mystical terms, as a transcendent rite of national identity.

The Two Minutes’ Silence is an “invented tradition,” in the historian Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase, its authorship and origins lost in the rapidity and totality of its cultural embrace. It became something that had always been there, that people had always done. Yet it came together haphazardly, the result of creative and contingent decisions. Even the choice of Armistice Day, November 11, as the focal point of national commemoration—not the anniversary of the signing of the peace in July—was a last-minute call. Silence, it seems, had already had a hold on the British imagination: it was precisely the moment the guns fell silent, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, that people wanted to commemorate. [Continue reading…]

1918: The Day The Guns Fell Silent (BBC TV, 1998):


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