Bedlam and silence: the awful sounds of peace


Remembrance Sunday this year falls on 11 November, exactly 100 years after Armistice Day. To mark the occasion London’s Imperial War Museum has a programme of exhibits and events that look at the moment peace broke out. 
What comes through strongly is the sonic quality of that moment. On the battlefield, there was an instant silencing of artillery fire, as shown in the graphic record above, based on sound ranging film. That did not necessarily bring with it feelings of peace. In a moving collection of archive audio recordings, one woman serving in Calais at the time recalls: “Do you know, strangely enough, we wept, because the silence was so awful. You see we’d been used to the noise of guns, all day long, all day long, all day long… it was so strange to have silence.”
London, by contrast, was a riot of noise and jubilation. A young garments worker in Mile End recalls people singing and dancing in the streets and even on trains. Another woman remembers seeing “absolute bedlam” breaking out in Trafalgar Square, with people burning cars, driving about and clambering onto the roofs of taxis.
We’ll be reflecting on sound and silence ourselves on Remembrance Sunday when we will be leading The London Ear walk. We’ll start at 11am with two minutes silence and listen out along the way for City church bells eerily echoing themselves as they are rung half-muffled.