Big Ben Silent Minute: Chimes and Prayers for Peace

Big Ben Silent Minute

Could Big Ben’s chimes have played a part in winning World War II?

At least one Nazi official thought so. While being interrogated by the British after the war, he gave his opinion of why Germany had lost. He said, “During the war, you had a secret weapon for which we could find no counter-measure, and which we did not understand, but it was very powerful. It was associated with the striking of Big Ben at 9:00 p.m. each evening. I believe you called it the ‘Silent Minute’.”[1]

The Idea

The idea for this mysterious weapon had begun to take form more than twenty years earlier, when Wellesley Tudor Pole was a major in the British army during the First World War. He started thinking about taking one minute of silence each day to honor the men who had died in battle.

But when the Second World War came along, and the UK’s future was looking uncertain at best, Major Pole thought the one minute per day might be better used to bring about peace. He began campaigning for a national daily minute of silence when everyone would unite their thoughts and prayers for peace. It could be one minute of praying for peace, of meditation for peace, or just a wish for peace, according to each person’s beliefs.

It Can’t Hurt

At first, no one really paid any attention to the Major’s unusual idea. But then the Blitz started. From September 7, 1940, London was bombed nightly and it would continue for 57 consecutive nights. The Major’s plan surely couldn’t make things any worse. So King George VI and Winston Churchill got on board.

On November 10, 1940 at 9:00, all of Briton was gathered around their radios to find out how the war was going. The announcer explained that Big Ben chiming out 9:00 would be broadcast before the news from then on. The people of Briton were asked to take that one minute during the chiming to pray for, or visualize, peace. As everyone knew they were in for another night of bombing, there probably weren’t many who didn’t participate.

The British weren’t the only ones practicing this Minute of Silence: The Commonwealth countries participated, and it was even recognized in the US by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The BBC estimated that those participating in the Silent Minute ran into the millions.

Big Ben Silent Minute

Did it Help?

We can’t say whether the Silent Minute was a factor in winning the war, as the German officer believed, or whether it helped the British hold on to their determination because these are things that can’t be measured. But we do know that the British kept their determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and that they did eventually win the war (with a bit of help, of course).

After World War II, the Silent Minute faded from public thought. In 1947, the Big Ben Silent Minute became a Sunday evening only broadcast. Then in the 1960s, the evening news was moved from 9:00 to 10:00, and the Silent Minute broadcast ceased altogether.

A Revival

It almost faded from public memory until 1994. That’s when Dorothy Forster revived the movement and registered the Big Ben Silent Minute Charity in the UK. The organization asks participants to observe one minute of silence at 9:00 pm local time so there will constantly be peaceful intentions going up around the clock. Those who participate pray, meditate, or seek peace in their own way for all the regions of the world where there are wars and conflicts. And unfortunately, there are still many of them.

[1] The Sydney Morning Herald, May 12, 1951

*The Silent Minute website:

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Big Ben_ A Handsome London Monument
Click the image for Big Ben in his own words– an excerpt from a story I contributed to The Wisdom of Monuments book.
Margo Lestz
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  1. Wow! Another terrific blog, Margo! When all else fails pray! it is interesting that an officer from the Third Reich that was trying to eradicate religion felt as though it made a difference, maybe he knew something!
    Thanks for the fantastic lesson!

    1. Thanks Bob. There are so many interesting bits of history that get lost along the way – and I just love discovering them. Big Ben is one of my favourite monuments and I like thinking he helped to pull everyone together and give them hope.

  2. Well I don’t believe in prayer but I do believe in human spirit. Get enough people focussed on the same concept at once and who knows. If what it did was instill a common mental strength in listeners that lead to that common feeling of strength each time they interacted during their day to day life then that sounds plausible to me. Really interesting again Margo and thanks for bringing history to the fore.

    1. Thanks Sandra. I was researching Big Ben for another article when I found this little tidbit. I thought it was so interesting and I had never heard it before. History is so fascinating!

      1. We are placing our version of the “Silent Minute” on Facebook soon, together with a prayer for our country. We must pray for the coming election and beyond.

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