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Church bells in Cobham and Gravesend ring out in memory of war dead

Bellringers who died 100 years ago during the First World War are being honoured in a series of tributes.

The first quarter peal, where bells are sounded continuously for 45 minutes, was held at St Mary Magdalene Church in Cobham on Wednesday morning in memory of William Wakeley Pye.

The 2nd Lt in the 6th Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment was a bell ringer in the village but died during the Battle of Loos on October 14, 1915 after being hit in the head by a bullet.

Church of St Mary Magdalene, The Street, Cobham
Church of St Mary Magdalene, The Street, Cobham

He had enlisted at the outbreak of war and was 23 years old when he was killed on the battlefield. His name is recorded on the war memorial in the church and he is buried in Dud Shell Cemetery in France.

Before the war, 2nd Lt Pye helped on the farm at Jeskyns Court and, as well as being a member of the band of bell ringers at Cobham, he was a member of Cobham Rifle Club and helped with the Cobham troop of the Boy Scouts.

Those who took part in the quarter peal centenary ceremony at St Mary Magdalene Church at 11am were from bellringing towers in Gravesend and Medway.

St Peter and St Paul Church, Milton Road, Gravesend
St Peter and St Paul Church, Milton Road, Gravesend

The 2nd Lt is also on the Kent County Association of Change Ringers’ (KCACR) Roll of Honour of the 81 Kentish ringers who were killed in the Great War. It is in the Ringing Chamber at Canterbury Cathedral.

A quarter peal is also planned to commemorate the centenary of the death of Charles Edward Constant at St George’s Church in Church Walk, Gravesend, at 7.30pm on Friday, October 23.

The Merchant Navy able seaman was killed when SS Marquette was torpedoed south of Salonica, Greece. His name is included on a memorial at Tower Hill, London.

Rochester district ringing master Helen Webb said people were welcome to listen to the tribute, although the ringing room itself has limited space and the church may not be open at the time.

St George's Church, Church Walk, Gravesend
St George's Church, Church Walk, Gravesend

“The ringing rooms at Cobham and Gravesend are upstairs in the towers and there is not much room,” she added.

“It is also a long time for a non-participant to sit still and not cause distractions. But people can certainly listen from the outside.

The Battle of Loos was the largest British battle that took place in 1915 on the Western Front during the First World War. It was the first time the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units.

Despite improved methods, more ammunition and better equipment, British casualties were about twice as high as those sustained by the Germans.

The KCACR Rochester district would also like to hear from anyone who has information about Alan Gates Sandford, who was just 21 when he was killed at Loos.

Although there is no evidence he was a bellringer, the treble, which is the lightest bell in the ring at St Peter and St Paul Church in Milton Road, Gravesend, is dedicated to him.

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