The myths of the bell ringing war time ban

A press release for “Thirty voices, seventy-five years, one story

For immediate release   9th May 2020 : Cathy Booth
  • During WW2, as today, bell ringers were not able to ring for an extended period
  • In 1940, ringing the bells was banned pending sounding the alarm for a German invasion (which many people remember)
  • However, in 1943, this ban was lifted (which many people do not remember)
  • ‘Thirty voices, seventy-five years, one story’ is a ‘Fun with Bells’ podcast episode
  • It features current day bell ringers who read from contemporary reports in Hansard and the ‘The Ringing World’ to explain the lifting of the ban:
    • Direct intervention by Churchill
    • Debates in the House of Lords and Houses of parliament
    • Leaders in the national press of the day
    • Letters by the public and Dorothy L Sayers
  • It concludes with VE Day bell ringer memories: 101-year-old POW veteran and 90-year-old who rang his first peal that day

In 1940, the bells were silenced pending an invasion. However, contemporary records reveal an interesting story of how this ban was lifted in 1943.  27 current day bell ringers, from around the country, read the eloquent words from Hansard and ‘The Ringing World’ to provide the story in a podcast episode.  The episode concludes by recalling the significant amount of ringing carried at the end of the war and includes interviews with 2 bell ringers who were there.  On VE Day, Dennis Brock at 101, the world’s oldest bell ringer was tramping through Saxony to reach allied lines and Eric Hitchins was ringing his first peal when he was 15.

Historians frequently get this story wrong.  This may be due to a focus on the oral histories of VE Day, when people recall the initial reason for the ban and then the bells ringing, in force on VE Day.  For example, in the Channel 5 documentary, VE Day – the lost films, the narrator says that the bells had been silent for 6 years. The similar uncorrected memory of Peter Sturts was aired yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

Cathy Booth, who hosts the Fun with Bells podcast for church bell ringers, wanted to publish an episode about the last time bell ringers were unable to ring, which was in WW2.  She had the idea for the podcast on 23rd April and ‘Thirty voices, seventy-five years, one story’ was published 14 days later.  In the podcast equivalent of a Zoom choir, Cathy instructed the ringers to provide their readings by recording them on their smart phones.  There were laughs in the process as one ringer sent in the wrong version containing frustrated expletives. Fortunately bell ringers are great at teamwork and the project was completed on time.

The reviews so far:

“This is a great story, well told”

“It’s a brilliant story”

“Fabulous podcast and brilliantly researched. Thank you so much for such great listening”

“Really great edition.  Well presented by all the readers and so interesting”

“Fabulous and fascinating. Thanks!”

Funwithbells is a podcast a normally aimed at church bell ringers.  However, the 73-minute episode has been edited to provide a 30-minute version for the casual listener. See show notes.

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Cathy Booth
Cathy Booth
Podcast Host