The Two Minute Pause

The Two Minute Pause

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the author of the famous book “Jock of the Bushveld”, lived in Cape Town and had a son named Nugent.  During the First World War Nugent enlisted in the artillery and was sent to Europe with his regiment.  He saw action in several battles but his luck ran out and he was killed on 14 December 1917.

Sir Percy was friendly with Sir Harry Hands, the then Mayor of Cape Town.  Seeing the grief of his friend at the loss of his son, and realising that this traumatic situation had been repeated many times and was set to continue into the foreseeable future, Sir Harry began looking for something that would rally people around the bereaved.

Sir Harry decided to draw the attention of the public in Cape Town to the earth shattering events playing out in Europe by introducing a two minute pause after the firing of the Noon Gun.  After promulgating the event in the local newspapers the first two minute pause was observed on 14 May 1918.  Newspapers report that when the gun had fired a lone trumpeter on the Cartwright Building in Adderley Street sounded the mournful tones of The Last Post.  Traffic came to a halt, people throughout the city paused at whatever they were doing for two minutes. All fell silent except for perhaps a restless horse, a mother quieting an unruly child, the barking of a dog and the distant clang of a tram bell. All minds were focussed on the carnage taking place in Europe.

Some thought of family members who were in action somewhere and said a silent prayer; here and there a woman dressed in black would wipe away a tear or two and others would wonder what the nature of her loss was.  After two minutes, the trumpeter sounded the All Clear and normal life resumed.  Some people travelled to the city from far flung places simply to experience the poignant two minutes of silence.

So successful was the concept of pausing to remember that Sir Percy wrote to King George V in England suggesting that this idea be repeated and included newspaper clippings of the event.

The King was so impressed with the idea and made it known that it was his wish that on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month all the gallant soldiers who had made the supreme sacrifice in the war should be remembered in this fashion.

It is thus fact that Cape Town’s Noon Gun gave rise to the modern practise of observing a silent pause in memory of the dearly departed.

A world-wide silent echo of the Noon Gun?