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War and ringing

Many people are drawing analogies between the current situation and wartime. By coincidence I have been researching the effect of wartime on local ringing. It began with an article for The Wokingham Paper to be published alongside widespread ringing for VE Day 75, which in the current situation will not now happen.

For centuries bells have rung for victories in war, along with other public events, but wars were fought overseas, far from the nation’s bell towers, and had limited impact on week by week ringing.

In WW1 the fear of night raid zeppelins being guided by the sound of church bells led to a ban on ringing after dark. WW2 was worse – the government decided that ringing church bells would be a good way to raise the alarm in the event of an invasion, so any other ringing, including clock bells, was banned completely for over three years.

During WW1 nearly half the ringers around Wokingham saw active service, and one in four of them died. But the number of local ringers, which had been growing since long before the war continued to grow until 1919, but then dropped significantly from 1920.

During the ban on ringing in WW2 local towers lost over half their members but a massive recruitment and training effort after the ban lifted the numbers back to pre-war levels in just a few years.

The other significant effect on local ringing was the recruitment of women. They entered the labour market during WW1 and in three local towers (including All Saints) they also entered the tower. But most towers were less progressive, and women remained a small minority during the inter-war period. Far more women joined in the post war recruitment, which set local ringing on the path to where it is today with a roughly equal balan.

During both wars ringers were encouraged to continue to meet together, and ring together if permitted, but that isn’t allowed in the current crisis, but we have ‘met’ socially online. The only communal ringing has been on handbells in ringing families, though some of us have rung with remote ringers in  a virtual tower developed by American ringers.

John Harrison (April 2019) 


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