One Magazine’s Bruce Hetherington delves into the world of bell ringing ahead of ‘Ringing Remembers’ – a nationwide ringing of the church bells on 11th November for the centenary of World War I
It’s amazing where a story can lead you. A couple of weeks ago this short item about the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day caught my eye:
The government’s four year programme of centenary events will culminate on 11 November 2018. During the day, church and other bells will ring out as they did in 1918 to mark the end of the war. The government is supporting the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers to recruit 1,400 bell ringers – the number that were lost during the war – to create a national peal that will echo the impromptu outpouring of relief and joy that took place 100 years ago.
I decided to check in with a friend who rings the bells in our village church bell ringing team to see if he could give me any background to this initiative. He suggested a pint down at the Teign House Inn and that’s where this story unfolded.
It turns out bell ringers are independent minded! Especially down here in Devon where we have two organisations representing the ancient art. On the one hand we have the Devon Association of Bell Ringers, who represent the art of ‘call change ringing’ and whose members tend to be found in the smaller parishes and villages in the county, and on the other we have the Guild of Devonshire Ringers, who practice ‘method ringing’, and who are the oldest such organisation in the country.
I am not going to be foolish enough to come down on either side. Clearly there are sometimes differing points of view, however my friend’s team are members of the Association and he describes the relationship between the two as similar to that between followers of Rugby League versus Rugby Union, with his lot being League.
It took most of a pint to explain the difference between the two different types of bell ringing, with the Association (call change ringing) concentrating on the clarity of rhythmic ringing in simple musical sequences, while the Guild ringers, with their method ringing, well, it’s quite intricate – relying on memory to create a continually changing sound.
The difference between the two types can have some unexpected outcomes.
Our local team of bell ringers recently took up an invitation to go over to Ypres in Belgium, where a set of eight UK made bells were installed in the town’s St George’s Memorial Church last year. Ypres was the scene of three massive WW1 battles that culminated in Passchendaele from July to November 1917, and the town now hosts daily memorial and wreath laying services to honour those that fell.
Our team was there on the same day as a regiment from New Zealand (whose headgear has given them the name ‘lemon squeezers’) and a group of schoolchildren from Churston Ferrers Grammar among others, and after the services they joined the local bell ringers.
The only problem was the locals, new since last year to the art of bell ringing, are being taught method ringing! They hadn’t heard our team’s ‘call change’ ringing, and took some convincing it was actually legitimate.
The good news is that both the Guild and the Association are throwing their full weight, and bell ringing power, behind the ‘Ringing Remembers’ Armistice national peal on November 11th, and for our local team it represents the culmination of four years of memorial ringing.
At the start of the 100th anniversary of WW1 a local historian did some research into the 17 villagers from our village who lost their lives in WW1, and on the 100th anniversary of each passing our bell ringers have rung out a memorial peal.
Sadly the last was in memory of Private George Henry Moore of the 9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment. He died on 4th October, just over a month before Armistice was declared.
And then, on November 11th as they did 100 years ago, the bell towers will ring out across the length and breadth of the country as we remember all that gave their lives in that tragic war. Who was to know at the time that the same powers would crash into an equally tragic conflict just twenty one years later?
It’s been seventy three years since the Second World War ended – and perhaps the bells ringing out on November 11th will remind us just how easily the illusion of peace can desert us. The structures and institutions that preserved the peace since 1945 are creaking a bit at the moment, and while some may need overhauling, we should never lose sight of what initially inspired them.
For more on Ringing Remembers, visit www.big-ideas.org/project/ringing-remembers
Learning the Ropes – How to get involved:
You could also learn from an accredited Association of Ringing Teachers (ART) teacher. Learning to ring with an ART teacher means you will be taught using the latest teaching methods. All ART teachers adhere to ART safeguarding policies and are DBS checked. You will be registered on to the Learning the Ropes Scheme; a progressive learning scheme for new ringers, which breaks down learning to ring into clearly defined chunks, giving you a sense of progress in developing a skill that in reality can take years to master. www.ringingteachers.org
Alternatively turn up at your local tower when next you hear the bells. Once they’ve completed the peal, they will be happy to help.