A church built in the 1920s in memory of the 500,000 British and Commonwealth troops who died during the battles for Ypres during the first World War has finally been completed with the installation and dedication of a ring of eight bells. St George’s Memorial Church was built in the Belgium town of Ypres, which was all-but flattened during the war. The church’s bell tower was given by the Knott family in memory of their two sons who were killed in the war, but there was insufficient funds to buy bells. On Sunday, the Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, dedicated the new ring of eight bells.
In the intervening years, the bell tower had been used as storage space. A fund-raising campaign to pay for new bells was launched last year as part of events to mark the centenary of the war.
The bell wheels were made by David Town of Northallerton, in Yorkshire, England; and were delivered to the foundry of John Taylor & Co in the Leicestershire town of Loughborough. Taylor’s foundry is the largest bell foundry in the world and the last surviving bell foundry in England.
Once complete, the bells went on a journey which began in August with a civic send-off from the War Memorial Tower in Loughborough, took in the Great Dorset Steam Fair near Blandford, before being taken to the Tyne Cot Cemetery – the largest burial ground managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with almost 12,000 burials.
They left Tyne Cot, near Passchendale, on the back of two vintage lorries: a Thornycroft and a Dennis, which were both built in 1915 and saw service in the Great War. Before arriving at the St George’s Memorial Church, they were taken to the Menin Gate – a memorial arch built in the centre of Ypres. The dead of the war are commemorated here every night with the sounding of the Last Post and a minute’s silence.
Eight bells on the back of two 1915-vintage lorries at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, en route to their new home at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres.
Photo: St George’s Memorial Church
On Sunday, more than 200 people gathered at St George’s for the dedication of the bells, which, the church says, will “launch a new perspective to the remembrance of the sacrifice given by so many in [Ypres] during the Great War.”
The church “was packed with local people, members of veterans organisations, and bell ringers from all over the United Kingdom,” the Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, said. “The service included some stirring traditional hymns, and a reading from the Book of Numbers 10:1-10 – ‘the silver trumpets’. I had not previously noticed that Moses’s silver trumpets had two uses, just like English church bells have had – to summon people to assembly and also to warn of impending war.”
During the service, a set of 16 hand bells that had been cast in the 1800s were rung. They have been presented to St George’s by the grandson of former owner Charles Coles. They will be storied in the new ringing chamber to be used by local and visiting ringers.
Before the new ring of eight bells were rung for the first time, Bishop Robert prayed: “In the faith of Jesus Christ, we dedicate these bells. May they proclaim Christ’s message of love and salvation to this parish; May they warn the heedless, comfort the sorrowing And call all willing hearts to prayer and praise.”
As the bells rang, the bishop continued: “May the ringing of these bells awaken in the hearts of all who hear them the desire to worship God in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”