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We all want to play our proper part in national affairs, but some times it’s easier than others.
There was no plan when Princess Diana died – her death came out of the blue, but ringers everywhere responded instantly. I heard it on the 7am news and I went to church earlier than normal to fit muffles to the bells. So when the ringers arrived for morning ringing we were ready to go with the sombre, respectful sound of half muffled ringing.
In contrast, the Sovereign’s death was long anticipated. Church and state both had detailed plans. A decade ago I was involved in discussions about the role ringing would play in ‘Operation London Bridge’. Our aim was a co-ordinated response from ringers to fit in with national plans when they were announced. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s a military saying that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and in this case it seems the enemy for church and state was reality. Ringers received conflicting announcements, some quite late, about what was expected, which made the logistics quite hard.
The problems revolved around the period of rejoicing for the new King inserted in the middle of mourning the late Queen, which meant un-muffling and then re-muffling the bells – a lot of work, made more difficult with the times changing. The Rector and I had a similar problem with when to raise the flag from half to full mast and then back down to half mast again until the funeral.
Despite the confusion (and despite many ringers being away) we rang all eight bells half muffled for an hour at noon on the morning after the Queen’s death – perhaps the most important time.
On the Sunday afternoon we paid a further tribute with a public quarter peal on handbells. It was originally planned for Heritage Weekend but when Wokingham Heritage events were cancelled we decided to go ahead and ring it in memory of the Queen. We rang on the lawn and invited the public to drop in and watch, which over a dozen people did, on a lovely sunny afternoon.
John Harrison (September 2022)
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