Originally timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE day, this unique episode sees host Cathy Booth, joined by a whole cast of ringers, bust the myths about ringing during World War II. This is the full version of ‘thirty voices, seventy-five years, one story’. And what a story!

Bell towers across the country are currently silent due to the coronavirus pandemic. Unprecedented is currently a much-used word, but in this case not warranted, as we discover that 2020 is not the first time in living memory that ringing has had to stop.

Cathy discovers the true story of this earlier ban on ringing, brought to life from archived letters and articles, and the amazing true-life experiences of people who were there, including Dennis Brock, Britain’s oldest bell ringer and Eric Hitchins who rang his first peal on VE Day 1945.

The parallels with the current situation are striking. We discover that ringers’ concerns echo down the years, with their distress at the prospect of not being able to ring at Easter felt as keenly then as now. And, it appears, they were just as resourceful when locked out of their towers. Oh, and not much has changed with the locals either – always complaining about the noise of the bells, until, of course, there’s a ban!

We obviously all know end of the story as we wouldn’t all be here today had the ringers not got back to their towers, rolled out their recruitment plans and shared their passion for ringing. This is a hopeful, positive and inspiring tale – truly a story for our times.

Story behind the story

Knowing bell ringers were missing their ringing due to the Coronavirus ban, Cathy wanted to produce an episode of Fun with Bells that looked back at the time when bell ringers endured a similar ban – in World War II. Believing, as many historians do, that the ban was only lifted on VE Day, she asked Alan Regin to help her find bell ringers who had lived through the ban and could tell her about not being able to ring and what it was like being able to ring again.

Alan replied to Cathy, by return email, with suggestions of who Cathy could talk to and also sent 41 attachments, mostly scans of articles and letters published in the Ringing World during the war.

Cathy enjoyed reading the eloquent language in the Ringing World and realised that, as well as the original idea of interviewing those that were there, there was a story portrayed in these Ringing World passages that was not widely known. She then pondered how to put this across in the podcast until she hit on the idea of having current day bell ringers reading the passages. 

As she only thought of the idea on the 23rd April and wanted the podcast to be published on 7th May, to coincide with VE day, there was only 2 weeks to get everything done.

Some of the people doing the recordings had links to their predecessors including Stephen Hoare from Thame who read the letter from Harry Badger. 

And there were laughs as somebody sent in the wrong recording which contained frustrated expletives!!

Fortunately bell ringers are great at teamwork and with many people’s input, most notably Rose Nightingale and Steve Johnson the project was completed in time.

Top 5 take aways

  • Why not take a leaf out of the book of the WW2 ringers and have a go at handbells during the lockdown.
  • Now, like then, is the perfect time to put together your recruitment plan for when ringing returns.
  • Why not research the local history of your tower and the local paper reports of the time. Do you know anyone who remembers the bells being rung to celebrate VE day in 1945?
  • Find out more about the ringers who lost their lives in the Second World War in the The Central Council Rolls of Honour https://cccbr.org.uk/resources/roh/
  • Many ringers had been planning to ‘ring for peace’ to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE day. Although that’s not possible, why not think about marking the day in some other way https://ve-vjday75.gov.uk/

Comments on this episode from our legacy website:

bethemmajohnson: (2020): Thanks for this podcast Cathy, really interesting and entertaining.

The abridged version of this episode is called 'Lifting the WWII ban on ringing'

Sponsor: This podcast is sponsored by the Association of Ringing Teachers (ART).  To find out more about learning to ring, learning to teach or other resources to support your ringing go to bellringing.org.

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