The Guardian, 12 August 2018, wrote:
In the early morning of 11 November more than 3,000 bell towers across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will ring out with the sound of “half-muffled” bells, like a slow march, in solemn memory of those who lost their lives.
Then, at midday, bellringers at each tower across the UK will remove the muffles from the clappers and at about 12.30 they will ring open. “The national mood swings then to gratitude and gratefulness and thanks,” says Christopher O’Mahony, president of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers.
Before 1914 the vast majority of bellringers in the UK were male, but the loss of so many men to war meant many more women took up the role. Today there are between 30,000 and 35,000 men and women bellringers in the UK, and still more are being sought for Armistice Day. The aim is that bells sound not just in the UK but across the world.
The British and German governments are encouraging other countries to ring bells at the same times in the same way, expressing the reconciliation of former enemies in sound. “Bells will ring out across the world to replicate the outpouring of relief that took place in 1918, and to mark the peace and friendship that we now enjoy between nations,” says the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright.
I love the sound of church bells ringing, and I am sure that all the bell-ringers taking part have spent many hours of dedicated hard work in preparing for what has been billed as a celebration, one hundred years on, of the first Armistice Day, when peace was declared at the end of a most terrible war.
"A passing-bell, for those who died as cattle" - in the words of Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth.
However , I have very mixed feelings about this. I spent seven years, in my spare time, researching a book on those named on my local war memorial, not to glorify, in a nationalistic way, the wars in which they died, but to record their suffering and their loss to their community. I believe I might have done the same, had I settled in Germany, for the local war memorial where I lived. My understanding, strengthened by accounts I've read of wars of all kinds, is that soldiers and civilians suffer on all sides, regardless of who it is judged initiated hostilities. I am currently reading the excellent A War in Words: The First World War in Diaries and Letters by Svetlana Palmer and Sarah Wallis, in which the authors note that little over a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, five empires were at war and millions of soldiers were mobilised, all the nations involved convinced they were fighting a defensive war, forced upon them by someone else.
With the current toxic climate in Britain, I expect plenty of flag-flying and jingoistic drum-banging by right-wing nationalistic elements, along the lines of 'our boys died for our country, and now it's being taken over by _____ (insert perjorative xenophobic term)'. It would be as well to remember that Britain and her allies called on the men of their colonies and dominions to join the fight, and that many did so and lost their lives - these included men of the Caribbean (the fathers of the Windrush generation who we have seen treated so disgracefully in recent times), Africans, Indians (including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs), Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians. The Neuve-Chapelle Memorial in the Pas de Calais, for example, commemorates more than 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers who lost their lives on the Western Front during the First World War and have no known grave. Chinese labour corps were brought in to clear away the debris of that war, including thousands of abandoned and decaying corpses.
Harry Patch said: "War is organised murder, and nothing else." Can we in all honesty and decency celebrate the end, 100 years ago, of one war, when so much of humanity is still undergoing appalling atrocities world-wide, in some cases being killed with weapons manufactured in Britain and being sold for profit, disregarding any other principle? The In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres has a banner hanging over its exit gate listing the wars fought throughout the world since 1918. I'm sure it's grown considerably longer since the first time I visited.
Lastly, I suspect our current Tory government, whom I regard as being very much part of our current toxic social and political climate, will be playing the 100th Armistice for all it's worth, as an opportunity to parade their ideology and views on British values. Will this include a commitment to improving conditions for those ex-servicemen and women who now live by begging on our streets (an echo perhaps of the thousands of ex-soldier tramps of the 1920s), suffering from PTSD, and refused universal credit? Will the government continue with their verbal attacks on EU leaders, portraying them as the enemy of British interests in the Brexit negotiations, often adopting scandalously insulting language from WW2 for a cheap soundbite in the Mail, Sun or Express, and generally directed at our German friends? Will they give due credit to the contribution the European project has made in bringing peace to Western Europe since 1945 - where for so many centuries the blood of fallen soldiers in ongoing conflicts has fertilised its land? Will they work harder to solve the issue of the internal borders on the island of Ireland, where peace accords, fought so hard for, are in danger of collapsing?
I honour with reverence and gratitude the men and women who suffered and died in World War One, and I also have great respect for all the thousands of volunteers up and down the country who have been busy organising events for this one hundredth armistice, however, I for one don't want to see Theresa May's or any of her cabinet's long faces at the Cenotaph on 11 November.
Harry Patch on the War:
Former servicemen pensions:
2018 Armistice Day events: