Tower’s tribute to its five lost WW1 bell ringers

Five bell ringers from one church who lost their lives in World War One will be remembered as their successors ring out for peace on November 11.

It is believed that 1,400 bell ringers lost their lives during WW1. They included five from one church in South Wales who are not as yet listed on the national bell ringers’ Roll of Honour.  Today’s bell ringers at St Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major, will be remembering them, along with 30 others from the small coastal town who were killed, as they join in the ringing for peace on November 11.

The ringers killed were the young bell captain, Bruce Davies, 29, his brother Max, 24, blacksmith David Legge, hay-cutter and deputy bell leader William Thomas, 28, and Daniel Rees, 35, a farmer who died in the influenza epidemic that followed the war.

WW1 memorial plaque at St Illtud’s Church

While their names were all included in the town’s Roll of Honour, for some reason they were not included in the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers’ Roll of Honour. However, their role as bell ringers came to light in May this year when a box containing the minutes of the meetings of the Llantwit Society of Bell Ringers from 1908-25 was handed over to David Bounds when he took over as Ringing Master for Llantwit Major and St Athan. Following further research with the town’s historical society, Dave and his wife Hilary are now applying to the Central Council to include the five men from Llantwit Major in their revised Roll of Honour.

“It is a great shame that the role of these men as bell ringers has been hidden for so long,” says Dave, who has been a bell ringer at St Illtud for 52 years and was Master and Chairman of Llandaff and Monmouth Association of Church Bell Ringers for five years.

“We have six bells in the tower and in those days it was a great honour to be a bell ringer. If you missed more than one Sunday a month you were asked to leave the Society and there were fines for being late. There were seven or eight in the team in those days and it would have been devastating to lose five men from such a small group – they would have been a very close team.”

Today there are 17 bell ringers in the parish, including seven new members, recruited as part of a national campaign, Ringing Remembers, to keep the skill alive in memory of those killed.

They will be ringing continuously at three times at St Illtud on November 11. From 9.15-9.45am they will ring half-muffled before the morning service. At 12.30pm they will join in the national bell ringing and at 7.05pm following the lighting of the town’s beacon, they will take part in the “ringing out for peace”.

“We will be ringing in a relay as there are only six bells but everyone wants to be part of it,” says Dave, who sadly won’t be able to ring fully himself as he broke his arm recently. “It will be very tight for us all to fit into the tower but I don’t think anyone would want to miss it, – particularly now that we know that among those who gave their lives were five who stood here before us and pulled these ropes as we do now.”

 

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

Memorial window at St Illtud’s Church dedicated to those who died in WW1

Bruce Vowles Davies was a mason before the war and leader of the bell ringers. He became a gunner in the 81st Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery and was killed in action on August 12 1917, aged 29. He left a wife, Mary, and four children. He was buried in a military cemetery near Ypres.

Bruce’s brother Max Davies was a bricklayer and served as a Corporal in the 123rd Field Company of Royal Engineers. He died on August 10 2018, aged 24, and was buried in a military cemetery at the Somme.

David Arthur Legge was a blacksmith who enlisted into the 510th London Field Company Royal Engineers. He fought at Gallipoli before he was killed in action in the Pont Remy area of France in March 1917.

William Thomas was a hay cutter who worked on farms in the Vale of Glamorgan and was the deputy leader of the bell ringers. He enlisted in the Welsh Regiment as one of Kitchener’s Army. He was severely wounded in 1916 and died at a hospital in Plymouth on February 19, 1918, aged 28. His body was interred in St Illtud’s churchyard.

Daniel Owen Rees was a farmer who served as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. He died of influenza while on his way home from France on March 10, 1919, aged 35. He was buried in Etaples.

Biography details from the Llantwit Major History Book Aspects of History Volume 13.