On Nov. 11, 1918 – one hundred years ago this Remembrance Day – bells rang out across Europe and all over Canada. The bells pealed from every church steeple and clock tower to tell a populace heartsick and weary from four terrible years of war that the conflict we now call World War I was over at last. For many Canadians, the ringing of the bells meant that beloved husbands, sons and fathers would be coming home at last. That the horror and danger in which those far-off loved ones had lived the past years of their lives were over. That they could return to their farms, their trades, and their families.
It is almost impossible for us, who have never lived through such a time, to imagine what joy the sound of the bells must have brought those hearers in cities, towns and villages across our country.
But for many others, the ringing of the bells announcing the Armistice would have been bittersweet at best. Like their friends and neighbours, they would have been happy that the brutal, senseless conflict was finally over; but for them, there would be a son, husband or father who would never come home. The bodies of their loved ones would lie through eternity in cemeteries far away across the ocean.
As Canada marks Remembrance Day 2018 this coming Sunday, bells will toll again in many places. The Royal Canadian Legion and the federal government have partnered for the Bells of Peace project, urging communities and churches to ring their bells 100 times, precisely at sunset, to commemorate the end of the Great War and to remember those who served and, in so many cases, died in the conflict.
It is sure to be deeply moving to ring and to hear the bells, and to think about what that sound must have meant 100 years ago.
Here in Queensborough, we will be doing our part. At 4:46 p.m. Sunday – the precise moment of sunset in Queensborough on Nov. 11, 2018 – our community’s bells will start to ring, once every five seconds, until they have rung 100 times. And the community is warmly invited to come and take part, and to help ring the bells.
Where are our bells? They are in the steeple of St. Andrew’s United Church, and in the clock tower of the Queensborough Community Centre, the historic building that was once our village’s one-room school. One hundred years ago there would have been more bells – those in the steeples of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches, none of which are still operational – but we are fortunate that we still have two historic bells that can be rung, just as they certainly would have been a century earlier.
A flyer going out to mailboxes throughout Queensborough and area this week invites everyone to come and take part. But even if you live outside our area, you are welcome to join us and, if you’d like, to help ring the bells. Just come to St. Andrew’s (812 Bosley Rd.) or the community centre (1853 Queensborough Rd.) no later than 4:15 p.m. Sunday.
We especially hope children and teenagers will come and take part, as a way of learning about the Great War and the people from their own community who gave so much in it. Any who are too little to pull the bell ropes themselves are welcome to get a helping hand from a parent; there will be some veteran bell-ringers on hand to help out as well.
On the walls of both the community centre and St. Andrew’s, there hang plaques listing the names of people from Queensborough who served in both the First and Second World Wars. Those names will be read out prior to the bell-ringing, as we remember their service.
Descendants of those who fought in the Great War are especially welcome. Anyone who has photos or letters from the war era that they could bring to show is encouraged to do so.
After the bells have been rung, everyone will be invited to stay at the church or the community centre for hot cider and conversation. We hope this will be a way to bring together the members of our community – those who’ve lived here all their lives, along with those who’ve only moved to Queensborough quite recently – to share and celebrate our history.
In asking that the bells be tolled at sunset, the Legion has cited a beautiful and well-known line of poetry: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them.”
The poem, entitled For the Fallen, was written by a Briton, Robert Laurence Binyon, and published in the Times newspaper in the U.K. in September 1914 – very early in the war. Before it was over, so many more would fall. You can read the full poem here – it is quite lovely – but I particularly like two of the stanzas:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Indeed we will. I hope you can join us in Queensborough at sunset this Sunday as we do so.