Armistice 100: Hornchurch bell ringers get ready to honour war dead
- Credit: Ellie Hoskins
When the First World War ended church bells rang out across the land.
“Bells burst forth in joyful chimes”, one newspaper reported a day after November 11, 1918, Armistice Day.
The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers drew up a roll of honour for those who lost their lives in the 1914-1918 conflict.
A total of 1,077 men were reported dead at the time, but recent research uncovered 323 more who died.
John Brockhurst, from Hornchurch, was one of them. He rang regularly at St Andrew’s Church in Hornchurch.
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At the start of the war John was in the territorials before going to Gallipoli where the allies were trying to capture Constantinople and knock Turkey out of the war.
He was invalided home before being sent to Palestine following his recovery from dysentry.
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He was killed in action there on November 2, 1917, at the age of 27.
John is part of a proud bell ringing tradition at St Andrew’s where there are 10 bells with the heaviest weighing in at just under a ton. All ten rang for three hours to mark Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle in May.
But if three hours of bell ringing sounds exhausting, spare a thought for Bertram Prewett.
At St Andrew’s he rang a record peal of 15,264 changes – the order bells are rung in – of the bell ringing pattern known as Bristol surprise major. It lasted for a staggering nine hours. St Andrew’s bell ringer, Clive Stephenson, said: “It was a massive achievement of its time. It means an awful lot to us that he did it at St Andrew’s. It was really quite significant.
“He was probably one of the greatest bell ringers of his generation.”
But like so many of his generation, he died relatively young – killed in action on August 31, 1918, aged 39.
His memory has been kept alive after an appeal raised £195,000 to install eight change ringing bells in the tower of St George’s Memorial Church in Belgium, built to commemorate the 500,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died fighting at Ypres.
Change bell ringing is when bells are hung on a wheel attached to a rope allowing them to be swung 360 degrees, stopped, and then rung again.
The room at St George’s where ringers pull the ropes to ring the bells is named the Bertram Prewett Ringing Room in honour of the bell ringer from Bushey.
No doubt Bertram’s example will be in the minds of St Andrew’s band of bell ringers, the youngest of whom is 14 and the oldest 87, as they prepare to mark 100 years since the end of the war.
On Sunday just before 11am leather caps, or muffles, will be placed over half of each bell’s clapper so each is heard clearly for one ring then muffled for the next – a mark of respect followed every Remembrance Sunday.
From 12.30pm the muffles will be removed and the full sound of the bells will ring out to celebrate the peace that followed the truce.
And it will be at this point that seven new bell ringers, who answered a call to join the national Ringing Remembers appeal, will take to the ropes following weeks of rehearsals.
The new recruits are part of a 1,400 strong band ringing across the country on November 11 in honour of the 1,400 bell ringers who died in the war.
Mr Stephenson said: “They’ve been working really hard and are full of enthusiasm. We’ve been putting in more and more hours over the weeks. Remembrance Day is coming round quickly.”
Bell ringer Paul Stanley said: “It’s been a great way to make friends and remember fallen soldiers.”
Kim Mullan, whose great grandfather died on the Somme, added: “Bellringing is something I’d always wanted to do. It’s a great honour to take part in Ringing Remembers.”
To find out more visit hornchurchbells.co.uk