A nationwide campaign to recruit 1,400 bell ringers as a tribute to those killed in WW1 resulted in seven new members at Llantwit Major. Ruth Lloyd describes why she was one of those who signed up.
I first heard of the Ringing Remembers campaign to recruit bell ringers while listening one evening to The Archers on Radio 4. I knew little of this but as I flicked onto Facebook on my phone later that evening, the sound of the Llantwit Major bells wafted on the breeze over the town – one of the things I love most about the town. Suddenly a post on the Town’s Hub popped up. It was an advert saying that as part of Ringing Remembers, St Illtud’s Church Tower was also recruiting new ringers just like the characters in The Archers. It was serendipity!
I had always fancied ringing church bells ever since growing up on a farm in Mid-Wales where the little bell from St David’s Church would chime across the valley; calling the villagers and country folk alike to weddings, christenings, funerals and church services throughout the year. So without further ado, I messaged the Tower Captain and his response was immediate – I was invited to join the bell ringers for a practice session on the following Thursday. I was so excited, I told everyone I knew and no-one believed me.
I was completely blown away by the whole evening. The band of bell ringers were highly skilled musicians, yet so welcoming and encouraging. I was offered a go on the ropes and I leapt at the opportunity and there I was pulling the tail end of the rope with both hands as the bell rang. That is when it happened. From that minute on I was hooked, I really wanted to learn. I couldn’t stop smiling; this bell ringing was brilliant, just as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Yet it seemed incredibly complicated and a real challenge. I could see that it was going to be a marathon as opposed to a sprint, but being prepared to commit, put in the hours and practice whenever possible, I eagerly said, “Sign me up!”
Within hours I was clicking on the Ringing Remembers website and enlisting as a new bell ringing recruit in memory of the five ringers from Llantwit Major who had died during WW1. They were the young bell captain, Bruce Davies, 29, his brother Max, 24, blacksmith David Legge, hay-cutter William Thomas, 28, and Daniel Rees, 35, a farmer who died in the influenza epidemic that followed the war. It is one of my life’s greatest honours to stand at the bells where they once stood.
I am completely and utterly in love with bell ringing. The new learners meet with the experienced members every Saturday morning for a practice session, with the clappers tied, so that we don’t disturb the good people of Llantwit Major. For hours we laugh and giggle, focus and concentrate as we tug and pull, lose control, rope-burn our fingers, get a grip, pull the Sally, follow with a perfect back stroke, bang the stay, bounce the bell, learn to control, stand the bell, follow each other and now ring rounds. Learning to ring the bells is proving to be one of the most magical and rewarding experiences of my life.
The physical benefits are manifold – you certainly get a workout on those ropes as some of the bells are so heavy. But with the right technique it is all possible. The mental workout is unbelievable – I don’t know how I will ever get my head around “ringing the changes”, it is difficult enough just to “ring-a-round” for this newbie. You can always learn something new as a bell ringer and you will be forever developing – just the thing for a person who enjoys a challenge. The camaraderie is second to none too, everyone is supportive, happy to help and encouraging. I wish I could bottle the enthusiasm in the tower on a Thursday evening practice, it is priceless!
Then of course came our ‘Big Day’; November 11th 2018. We at the St Illtud’s Bell Tower rang on three separate occasions. The experienced ringers rang, half-muffled, at 9.15am as a sign of respect to commemorate the fallen from all conflicts. It really was beautiful, a mysterious and magical sound echoing around the town and floating past the cenotaph. This was truly a fitting tribute for all the men and women who sacrificed their lives.
At 12.15pm the entire band gathered in the tower, like sardines in a tin, yet full of anticipation and excitement as we waited for our turn on the ropes. First taking the tail-end from the previous ringer then pulling down on the Sally, closely watching each other’s speed and rhythm, we were ringing on a Sunday! On Armistice Day! As the bells “rang out for peace” there really was a sense in the room that we were part of a very special event. I have to admit feeling quite overwhelmed with emotion at times, especially when the Tower Captain read the roll of honour for the young men who had once rang there. I felt so deeply honoured and privileged to have been part of such an occasion and will always be grateful to the teachers and fellow-ringers.
The whole experience was then repeated in the evening for “Battle’s Over” after the beacon had been lit near the square and the bagpipes had played. It was such a wonderful experience, emotional, and filled with pride – we had achieved the goal of bell ringing in memory of those 1,400 ringers who lost their lives and sent out a clear message for Peace.
Even though our Tower Captain talks about Treble Bob, Doubles and Plain Bob, Plain Hunt and hours and hours of peals, which are way beyond my comprehension at the moment, I shall continue to practise, improve and hopefully become an accomplished ringer. One thing is for certain, I am learning new skills, facing new challenges and have made so many, wonderful, new friends.
Long may we ring together!