Friday, August 1, 2014

Bells of joy, bells of pain

When I was a child in Grafton, nobody ever talked to me about the churches of London. (These days, I’ve made up largely for the lost information.) But all the children of Australia were familiar with the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons.


We were bewildered about the curious final lines of the nursery rhyme:
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.
But we had fun in playing the game of Oranges and Lemons, and bringing down our arms to encircle the child who was consequently “caught out” at that moment.


Only later would I hear about public executions in London. The warder would carry a candle and ring a handbell in the early hours of the morning to wake up a condemned man.

The nursery rhyme mentions the church of St Leonard’s Shoreditch where my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jane Harris [1812-1889] was christened on 14 February 1812.


For several years in Paris, in the 1970s, I worked daily alongside Pierre Schaeffer [1910-1995], inventor of musique concrète and founder of the research service of the French Broadcasting System (the context that enabled me to create TV documentaries in the USA, Britain and Sweden).


Pierre had taken the personal initiative, on the evening of the liberation of Paris (Thursday 24 August 1944), of broadcasting a radio message asking priests in the churches of Paris to ring their bells.

A century ago, on 1 August 1914, the front pages of newspapers were covered with the story of the assassination of Jean Jaurès (the subject of my previous blog post, here). Later on in the day, the walls of France were covered in posters announcing a general mobilization.


France was henceforth preparing for war. Over the next 4 years horrendous happenings that would lead to the deaths of 1.4 million French soldiers and a third of a million French civilians.


At 4 o’clock in the afternoon of 1 August 1914, the bells of the nation rang out a grim tocsin, warning that there were terrible events on the horizon.


This afternoon at 4 o’clock, the same tocsin will be rung throughout all the cities, towns and villages of the nation, to commemorate the centenary of the start of the participation of France in World War I.

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