Quiet homage to pals who didn't come back

After a gap of 56 years, millions of Britons again observe two minutes' silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Royal British Legion spent six months campaigning for it, write Clare Garner and Sophie Goodchild. Yesterday it was there again at 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month: the sound of silence. Across Britain, widely if sporadically, the old habit of two minutes' silence to commemorate the moment the "war to end wars" ended in 1918 was once again observed on the anniversary date itself.

Traffic in cities did not stop and shopping streets continued to bustle. The broadcasting networks did not observe the silence - they will do so today for the ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. But in many places veterans held ceremonies and here and there pedestrians and shoppers paused and bowed their heads.

For Barbara Budden, 55, shopping in Selfridges, on London's Oxford Street, it brought backemotional memories. She said: "It was nice to see everyone stop. It was deathly quiet. I lost relatives during the war. It means a lot to me to remember."

The silence was first observed in 1920 and continued until 1939. After 1945 Remembrance Day was moved to the nearest Sunday to 11 November. Other European countries continued to honour the 11-11-11 tribute. The Legion hopes it will now become an annual event in Britain.

Old soldiers who can remember 11 November 1918 are now but a handful. Nick Keating is one. "With chaps getting killed or badly wounded all around, you were always wondering every minute when it would be your turn. It comes like water out of a tap. Everything they've got they fling at you. You don't get time to think what's going to happen to you in a second's time. You don't get any warning.

"I was never injured. I must have been too slim for them to hit me. I was lucky. I remember one time I was having a casual chat with a chap - just like you and I are having now - and he dropped dead at my feet. A bullet went through his head but I never had any idea where it came from. I lost about half my pals.

"Should people observe the two minutes' silence? Definitely. There were British troops who died for their freedom."

Warrant Officer Keating, of 104 Battery, the Royal Artillery, saw action throughout the First World War: at Ypres, the Somme, and Passchendaele. He won the Military Medal in Italy. He was most definitely observing the silence when the clock touched 11 yesterday in the courtyard of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where he is the senior pensioner. His memories are as vivid as ever. He is 103.