I was watching a movie yesterday called War Horse. In this movie they mentioned that when England joined World War I, the church bells stopped tolling until the war ended. Then, the bells started ringing again.
What was the reason for that?


'War Horse': It's hard to care about animals while you're waiting for the sound of church bells.

  • 3
    Unrelated but an interesting note: in early 1918 Germany melted down churchbells to use them to make ammunition because metal was scarce.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 4:08

2 Answers 2


Church bells have both an ecclesiastical use, and a secular use. In the secular realm, church bells are used to notify the local inhabitants of emergency conditions (particularly in an era when wireless & TV are not commonplace). Church bells were silenced to prevent false alarms.

Ringing church bells was forbidden by the Defense of the Realm Act.

During the war, Church bells thoughout the land were silenced, destined only to toll the ominous news that our shores were being invaded, so that now its unfamiliar resonant chime fell like music on our ears. BBC People's War although this refers to WWII

Wikipedia also notes,

In World War II in Great Britain, all church bells were silenced, to ring only to inform of an invasion by enemy troops.[25] The episode "The Battle of Godfrey's Cottage" of the BBC sitcom Dad's Army included a scene where the church bells rang by mistake, leading the Home Guard to believe that an invasion was taking place.

And a citation in the same wiki article leads me to the quote

"Bells came into use in our churches as early as the year 400, and their introduction is ascribed to Paulinus, bishop of Nola, a town of Campania, in Italy. Their use spread rapidly, as in those unsettled times the church-bell was useful not only for summoning the faithful to religious services, but also for giving an alarm when danger threatened."

  • 1
    My mother, a young woman with (then) 2 small children during the war, recalled her terror when hearing "ding, ding, ding" whilst walking with my elder siblings - only to turn a corner and find men working on some piping!
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 7:18

Bells were not banned during World War 1 - it was World war 2. And they did not stay silent until the end of the war - Churchill ordered them to ring out to celebrate victory at El Alemein in 1942. Ringing resumed in 1943. For an entertaining podcast episode , where bell ringers of today read from the contemporary records of the time go to the fun with bells podcast

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