Prelude [00:00:00]Steve Johnson: The current Government advice, based on science, is to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives. Like other activities, bell ringing is fundamentally affected by this, in a way not seen since World War 2, when the Government of the day singled out a special purpose for the bells. Many people believe that the bells only rang again on VE day. But in this episode, 27 bell ringers of today, tell us a much more interesting story as they read the elegant words from the contemporary records in the bell ringers’ paper: the Ringing World.
At the end of our story, 2 bell ringers tell us about where they were on VE day in 1945.
Introduction [00:00:47] Cathy Booth: In Britain, we had church bell ringing for centuries until suddenly on the 13th of June, 1940, 9 months after the start of World War 2, people heard on their wireless, that church and chapel bells were not to be rung except for if there was an invasion.
But who were the persons that decided that the bells should be used in this way? We find this out in the House of Lords in 1943. Lord Geddes is quoted in Hansard as saying :
Hansard – 31st March 1943 [00:01:21]
Simon Davies: My Lords, you may be interested to hear the origin of the order about the ringing of the bells. It was at Tunbridge Wells. Lord Ironside, who was then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was in my room ,and there were also present General Thorn and, I think I’m right in saying my noble friend Lord Knollys.
We had just got the first detachments of the Local Defense Volunteers formed, and the only part of the Local Defense Volunteers who had arms at that time were the Kentish and some of the Sussex companies. The whole thing was very nebulous, and it was thought that at any moment we might see parachutists is dropping down from heaven.
I think it was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff who said: “How are you going to get these Local Defense Volunteers together if parachutists suddenly appear ?” and somebody in the room – not I, but I could not be sure which of the others said, “Why we will ring the church bells until we could think of something better.”
That was in early May, 1940, and the War Office have been thinking of something better ever since. That signal at that time was supposed to be used only in the Counties of Kent and Sussex and in the rural areas, but somehow or other the order became more or less sacrosanct, and spread all over the country.
It was trimmed and pruned, and sprouted new legs and arms, and it became one of the essential pillars of the defense of the country. It is a complete mystery to me why that it should be so, but I’m assured by War Office representatives that it is.
Ringing World (RW) – 30th April 1943, poem written in November 1941 [00:02:57]
Cathy Booth: But now let’s progress chronologically, starting back in 1941 with a poem, not published until much later. It’s by the poet Mr AP Herbert and it’s called ‘Bring back the bells’.
If we can not inform the town
That parachutes are coming down
Without inviting Huns to search
For targets in the parish church,
The old inventive British brain
Had better, surely, think again.
RW article 26th June 1942 [00:03:32]
Cathy Booth: In June, 1942 the Ringing World reflected that:
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