WW100 – New Zealand's First World War Centenary Programme ran from 2014 to 2019

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Bells across New Zealand to ring out for the Armistice Centenary

06 November 2018

The crowd in Cathedral Square, Christchurch, celebrating the news of the signing of the Armistice. Image courtesy of the Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Record number: AWNS-19181121-35-2

Belltowers throughout New Zealand will be ringing out in the Roaring Chorus – one way that WW100 is suggesting New Zealanders commemorate the upcoming Armistice Centenary – and in doing so join Armistice bellringing campaigns across the world. At 11.02am on Sunday 11 November 2018, a cacophony of joyful noise will break the two-minute silence of remembrance being observed nationwide at 11.00am, recapturing the newfound peace and hope for the future that the signing of the Armistice brought.
New Zealand’s Roaring Chorus connects with a campaign led by the UK government, supported by the German government, inviting nations to participate in international bellringing. Other countries including the USA are contributing, and even the remote location of Rothera Research Station in the Antarctic is expected to join.
Churches across New Zealand will join in. In Christchurch, where the city’s cathedral was badly damaged after the February 2011 earthquake and its bells are still inoperable, its ringers have formed a band with those at St Paul’s in Papanui where they will ring a quarter peal of Plain Bob Major. St Andrews Anglican Church will also ring out during Armistice commemorations in Cambridge – the sister city of Le Quesnoy – as will First Church of Otago in Dunedin, and many smaller churches nationwide.
Reverend Jacynthia Murphy convinced her parish at St Martin's at St Chad's in Sandringham to restore its church bell so it could particpate. The bell had long been silent after its rope had frayed and finally severed, but last month Frank Bartley – the parish's 80-year-old treasurer – climbed a tall ladder and twisted himself into the tower to fix it.
Sarah Davies, director of the First World War Centenary Programme WW100, reports many churches have registered Armistice Centenary events. “It is fantastic that so many bellringers are joining the Roaring Chorus. New Zealand will be amongst the first countries in the world to commemorate the Armistice Centenary, and our bells will be echoed around the world as other nations contribute the sound of theirs. It will be poignantly beautiful.”
The Rangimarie peace bell of the National War Memorial Carillon will toll eleven times to mark the start of the two-minute silence of remembrance at 11.00am at the official Armistice Centenary National Ceremony in Wellington. At 11.02am, there will be a celebratory fanfare played by the full bells of the carillon, in unison with the Roaring Chorus across New Zealand. A carillon is the largest musical instrument in the world, and Wellington’s example is the thrid largest carillon in the world.
Historic accounts show that there was spontaneous bellringing in celebration of peace at the time of the Armistice. For instance, a 1918 letter written by a Kinloch girl to her local newspaper says: “The steamer Ben Lomond began to whistle coming up the lake when the news of peace came through. Mum got the cowbell and I got the school bell, and we made a great noise with them” (Otago Witness, 27-11-1918).

More examples of Roaring Chorus participation

  • In commemorations nationwide, thousands are expected to make jubilant noise with vintage car horns, cannons, waiata, cheers, whistles, hooters and even pots and pans. Fire and Emergency New Zealand and New Zealand Police have invited available fire appliances and police cars to ring their sirens, and Maritime New Zealand has invited vessels in New Zealand waters to join the commemoration with their horns. Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries and Interislander ferries will be sounding their horns, as will KiwiRail’s scenic and freight trains.
  • The Ringing Remembers campaign, run from the UK by the international Central Council of Church Bell Ringers and the Big Ideas Company, aims to recruit 1,400 new bellringers, the same as the number lost in the war. Three of the recruits in New Zealand are being taught the art of bellringing by Adrian Grant, tower captain at St Matthew-in-the-City, the historic Anglican church in downtown Auckland. The new recruits have been trained specially for the occasion, and next Sunday will form a band with their bellringing family members, comprising two mother-daughter pairs and two sisters. One of them is a serving officer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
  • Foxton Little Theatre will ring the bell in its home – a former Presbyterian church built in 1867, and the oldest building still in use in the Manawatu-Horowhenua area. The bell has not rung the bell since the 1970s.
  • The Wellington Combined Society of Bell Ringers is set to ring a 45-minute quarter peal at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Canon Simon Winn has devised ‘A Service of Remembrance and Commitment to Peace’ prior, incorporating period music and poetry, soldiers’ reflection and statements from the Governor-General and Prime Minister which are available to the public. Worshippers will crowd on to the cathedral steps with handbells, whistles, drums and voices to add to the Roaring Chorus while the bells peal overhead.