The haunting bells ring­ing out to mark a na­tion’s loss

This morn­ing, the ring­ing of thou­sands of vic­tory bells will hon­our the Ar­mistice louder than ever, writes Guy Kelly

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page - Troo Ar­til

This morn­ing, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day, si­lence will reign over al­most every city, town, vil­lage and ham­let around the coun­try.

A mo­ment of quiet re­flec­tion in commemoration of the ser­vice­men and women who have fallen in the line of duty has been ob­served in Bri­tain every year since 1919. As ever, at the Ceno­taph to­day, a bu­gler from the Scots Guards will mark the be­gin­ning of the pause by play­ing the Last Post, and then, two min­utes later, an­nounce its com­ple­tion with the bright Reveille.

But this year there’ll be ex­tra noise. At around mid­day, as ser­vices of re­mem­brance con­clude ev­ery­where from the Isles of Scilly to the Orkneys, the air will be filled with the sound of tens of thou­sands of ring­ing church bells.

The ca­coph­ony will be the close of a year-long cam­paign, Ring­ing Re­mem­bers, which in­tends to com­mem­o­rate the 1,400 bell ringers who died in the First World War by re­cruit­ing the same num­ber of new ringers. Led by com­mu­nity en­gage­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion Big Ideas, in partnership with the Cen­tral Coun­cil of Church Bell Ringers and the Bri­tish and Ger­man gov­ern­ments, the cam­paign’s am­bi­tion was grand – es­pe­cially with only 12 months to achieve it – but as The Tele­graph can ex­clu­sively re­veal, the re­sponse has far sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions. Last week, there were more than 2,400 new cam­pa­nol­o­gists learn­ing to ring bells, and more than 3,000 to­tal sign-ups. “The aim was to get to 1,400, a sym­bolic re­place­ment for the num­ber lost, but won­der­fully we’ve smashed it,” says Lord Nick Bourne, the min­is­ter for faith, whose depart­ment helped on the cam­paign. “We’re go­ing to have a bulge soon – there won’t be enough bells for them all to play, which is a lovely prob­lem,”

It’s an of­ten over­looked mo­ment in his­tory, but on Nov 11 1918 bells played a key role in mark­ing the end of the First World War. When the Ar­mistice had been signed at 5am and it was agreed that hos­til­i­ties were to cease six hours later, the prime min­is­ter, David Lloyd Ge­orge, con­sulted his War Cabi­net to de­ter­mine how to spread the mes­sage that war had ended.

A num­ber of meth­ods were cho­sen: the press would be alerted, Navy ships would be dressed, the or­der pro­hibit­ing pub­lic clocks from striking should be lifted and, fi­nally, there should be a bloody great din. Bells be­came the What­sApp of their day.

“The Com­man­der-in-Chief of the Home Forces should at once in­form all Home Com­mands, and should take the nec­es­sary steps to cel­e­brate the news by the fir­ing of ma­roons, play­ing of bands, blow­ing of bu­gles, and the ring­ing of church bells through­out the King­dom,” a govern­ment memo read.

Last Tues­day, Lord Bourne joined a mot­ley group of ringers at St Mary’s Church, Rother­hithe, in south Lon­don, as they pre­pared to play their part in repli­cat­ing that noise later to­day. St Mary’s is one of at least 3,000 bell tow­ers that will be ring­ing – though given the grass­roots cam­paign was driven by vol­un­teers spread­ing the word in their own com­mu­ni­ties, the fig­ure may be closer to the max­i­mum of 5,000.

“One of the great, sur­pris­ing things is the amount of young peo­ple that have joined up. I ex­pected it to all be older peo­ple, but look!” Lord Bourne says, ges­tur­ing at an ar­riv­ing group. Their ages range from late-20s to mid-60s, and they meet here every Tues­day and every Sun­day.

One is Leanne ne Master­ton, an ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant at City ty search firm Odgers Berndt­son, who ho started bell ring­ing at the end of Au­gust. She was look­ing for “some­thing chal­leng­ing” to do in her spare time, and found out about Ring­ing Re­mem­bers on the in­ter­net.

“I had never held a Sally [the of­ten multi-coloured fluffy part of the rope that bell be ringers pull] in my life, but I’d looked into my fam­ily and there were bell ringers, on and off, through the years,” she says. “I re­ally couldn’t be­lieve be how skilled they were we when I joined for my first fir les­son, to con­trol this mas­sive bell with a pul­ley pu and make beau­ti­ful be mu­sic. And they’re t so wel­com­ing, too. t I’ve made a new set of friends with it.” Dur­ing the First World War Master­ton’s grand­fa­ther, who served se in the King’s Troop the Royal Horse Ar­tillery, lied about his age and signed up when he was just 15. He was one of 12 broth­ers, all of whom fought. Three were lost. As she rings on Sun­day, she will be re­mem­ber him.

“He wouldn’t be drawn on the war, never telling his sto­ries, like a lot of peo­ple of his gen­er­a­tion,” she says. “There are fam­ily con­nec­tions with al­most every ringer I’ve met, but that’s the na­ture of the First World War, isn’t it? You can talk to any­one and you don’t need to dig too deep be­low the sur­face to find out they were af­fected by it in some way.”

In the bell tower, where Lord Bourne ap­peared to catch a nasty rope burn mid-pull, vol­un­teer bell­ring­ing teacher and team leader Louise Booth was putting re­cruits, new and old, through their paces. As they prac­tised, it was a strangely hyp­notic sight: re­laxed con­cen­tra­tion on their faces, big, ex­ag­ger­ated move­ments, per­fect tim­ing and a thun­der­ous noise from the eight bells above.

“If you’re ring­ing and ev­ery­body can do it, it’s al­most like med­i­ta­tion,” says Booth, whose par­ents were bell ringers, mean­ing she’s been at it since she was 10. “Then there are all the num­ber pat­terns, called meth­ods, we can ring. There are thou­sands. You’re al­ways learn­ing.”

To­day, churches can ring what­ever method they like; the point is, as it was a cen­tury ago, just to cel­e­brate. St Mary’s will be keeping it sim­ple by mainly ring­ing “rounds” – ring­ing the bells in or­der down the scale – and they’ll be part of a net­work that will cover the coun­try.

“Bells bring peo­ple to­gether,” Lord Bourne says. “It’s usu­ally a joy­ous sound, and it’s not an ex­clu­sively Bri­tish thing but I think it is quite Bri­tish, isn’t it? Peo­ple like hear­ing them around the coun­try.”

With an ex­tra 3,000 ringers signed up, you’d bet­ter hope so. There are “pock­ets around the coun­try where more are still needed”, Ms Booth says, but the cam­pa­nol­o­gist pop­u­la­tion is in rude health again.

Per­son­ally, she will be ring­ing for her great un­cle, Ge­orge Calver­ley Ker­foot, a ri­fle­man in the 18th Bat­tal­ion, King’s Royal Corps, who died in Bel­gium on Oct 3 1918 – one month be­fore Ar­mistice. He was 19 years old.

“It’s amaz­ing when you read the sto­ries, it makes you think about the loss of life in such a short time. You can’t imag­ine it, can you?” she says.

To­day, she’ll think of him dur­ing the two minute’s si­lence. Then she’ll think of him again as the bells ring out. As all the bells ring out.

‘A sur­pris­ing thing is been how many young peo­ple have joined up to ring bells’

Never for­get: pop­pies at Christ Church, Great Ay­ton, above; Leanne Master­ton, be­low; bell ringers in Rother­hithe, Lon­don, top right

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.