Bishop Robert writes about a visit to Ypres and a long-awaited ambition fulfilled

St George’s Ypres was built as a place of remembrance following the horrors of World War 1. The church building included a bell tower, given by the Knott family in memory of their two sons killed in the Great War. But, back in the 1920s, there was no money to buy a set of bells. So the bell tower has been used mainly as a store room and dumping ground. 

Ten years ago, Alan Regin, Steward of the Rolls of Honour of the Council of Bell Ringers, had the idea of equipping the tower with a full set of change ringing bells. Alan carried the project forward during the ministry of three chaplains – Ray Jones, Brian Llewelyn and now Gillian Trinder. A trust was formed to raise the large sums of money needed. Skilled workmen were found to refurbish completely the ringing room. And John Taylor & Co., from Loughborough, the last remaining bell foundry in England, was commissioned to cast the bells. They were delivered to Ypres at the end of August, and on Sunday 22 October, I had the privilege of dedicating them.

St. George’s Ypres was packed with local people, members of veterans organisations, and bell ringers from all over the United Kingdom.

The service included some stirring traditional hymns, and a reading from the Book of Numbers 10:1-10 – ‘the silver trumpets’. I had not previously noticed that Moses’s silver trumpets had two uses, just like English church bells have had – to summon people to assembly and also to warn of impending war.

After the sermon, Andrew Wilby, the Managing Director of John Taylor and Co. Bell Founders in Loughborough, presented a token bell rope to The Revd. Gillian Trinder as a sign of the new ministry at St. George’s Church. We then heard a delightful ‘touch’ rung on a set of handbells, newly presented to St. George’s by Mr. John Coles.

The set of 16 handbells were cast by James Shaw of Bradford in the nineteenth century and were once owned by John’s grandfather, Charles Coles, himself a wonderful ringer. They have recently been restored by Steve McEwan of Whitechapel Handbells and will now be housed in the ringing chamber of St. George’s for use by local and visiting ringers.

At the end of the service, a (very) few of us proceeded to the beautifully refurbished and panelled ringing room, dedicated to Bertram Prewett, a renowned bell ringer who perished in the Great War. These lovely words were used:

“In the faith of Jesus Christ, we dedicate these bells.
May they proclaim Christ’s message of love and salvation to this parish;
May they warn the heedless, comfort the sorrowing
And call all willing hearts to prayer and praise.”

The bells then rang out for the first time!

May the ringing of these bells awaken in the hearts of all who hear them the desire to worship God in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’