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UK government begins bell-ringer recruitment drive ahead of Armistice Centenary

Posted on: January 5, 2018 10:07 AM
Six bell ringers from Edington Priory Church in Wiltshire lost their lives in the First World War.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Two British government departments are working with the UK’s Central Council of Church Bell Ringers to recruit 1,400 new campanologists ahead of the centenary of the First World War armistice on 11 November 2018. As part of commemorations in the UK, bells will ring out from churches and cathedrals in cities, towns and villages across the UK. Some 1,400 bell ringers lost their lives in teh First World War, and the Ringing Remembers campaign is designed to “keep this traditional British art alive in memory of the 1,400 who lost their lives – linking together past, present and future,” the government said in a statement.

The campaign is being run by the Departments of Communities and Local Government, and Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, in collaboration with Big Ideas Community Interest Company and the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers.

Big Ben – the famous bell at the top of Britain’s Parliament – will also strike at 11 am to mark the centenary. The iconic clock tower is currently enveloped in scaffolding while major works take place, and the bells have been silenced to protect the workforce. But they will be switched back on again on 11 November this year to mark the centenary.

The event will mark the end of five years of commemorations of the First World War. Church bells across the UK remained restricted throughout the course of the war and only rang freely once Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918.

“The Ringing Remembers campaign will be a fitting end to our projects, events and activities that have marked the end of the First World War and a tribute to the heroic men and women who sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy today,” the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. “As the centenary commemorations draw to a close, our priority is to make sure we continue to keep the history of the First World War alive for generations to come, even as it falls out of living memory.”

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, said that during the course of 2018, “we will look at how we went from the German offensive in spring 1918 to peace, and I have no doubt the public will once again help us tell this important story and share their own connections to the First World War.

“On 11 November 1918 the ringing of church bells erupted spontaneously across the country, as an outpouring of relief that four years of war had come to an end. I am pleased that to honour that moment and the 1,400 bell ringers who died in the war, we will be recruiting 1,400 new bell ringers to take part in the commemorations”.

When the war came to an end, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers wrote to all bell towers to compile a Roll of Honour of ringers who were killed in the war. At the time 1,100 men were recorded. During the First World War centenary events, the Council has reviewed the list and discovered a further 400 bell ringers who died in service.

Two bell towers – Edington in Wiltshire and Bamburgh in Northumberland – lost six ringers each during the war.

The commemorations on 11 November will begin at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at St Symphorien near Mons, Belgium. This is where the war began in 1914, and where the war’s first and last casualties lie. Britain’s first commemorations of the centenary took place here in 2014. “It offers a fitting place to reflect on the cost of the war,” the Government said.

The national commemorations will conclude with a service at Westminster Abbey on the evening of 11 November, at which the congregation will be invited to reflect on the centenary and recognise the impact of the war after the Armistice; as well as giving thanks to all those who were affected over the course of the conflict.