On 8 January 1914, eight men, four from the Army, and four from the Naval Service (two each from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines) gathered at St Mary’s, Gillingham, to ring a peal, the first by an all Armed Services band. One ringer had been held up as he’d been placed on the sick list, so there was unfortunately no time for the photograph they’d planned to have taken. After 2 hours and 57 minutes they succeeded in ringing 5056 changes of Plain Bob Major. The ringers were:
- Warrant Shipwright William Austin Cooke, Royal Navy
- Lance-Sergeant Frederick Augustus Holden, Royal Marines Light Infantry (Conductor and Composer)
- Stoker 1st Class Alfred Arthur Playle, Royal Navy
- Private Frederick James Souter, Essex Regiment
- Corporal George Gilbert, Royal Engineers
- Musician Victor Albert Jarrett, Royal Engineers
- Private Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs, King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
- Lance-Sergeant James Bennett, Royal Marines Light Infantry
The peal was credited to the Kent County Association with Playle and Souter (both Essex men) being elected to the association in a belfry election prior to the start of the peal. It was Souter’s first peal, and Playle’s first on eight bells. They had over 50 years service between them at the time of the peal, and virtually all would go on to serve at least 21 years.
The ringers were planning a subsequent peal of Kent Treble Bob, but there’s no evidence they ever actually made the attempt. Having not managed to have a photo on the occasion of the original peal, the band consoled themselves with the idea that they would have a one taken when the planned board to mark the peal was placed in the church. However, that plan was scuppered by the war, it was not until late October 1914 that the board was unveiled, only Holden was able to attend. Gibbs was already dead, KIA on 26 August 1914 at the Battle of Le Cateau, this would prove to be the worst single day of the war for 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment: 13 officers and 431 other ranks killed, wounded or missing; not even the Somme or Passchendaele saw greater losses on one day for that battalion.
The report of the unveiling was uncovered in the course of research for this site. The details were passed to the three current armed services bellringing guilds, Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (fortuitously, Holden later transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service and then to the RAF). Details of the original composition were found in the Kent County Association report for 1914, and so on 8 January 2014, eight current members of the armed services guilds (not all serving now) gathered at St Mary’s, Gillingham to repeat the feat a century on. They succeeded, in the slightly quicker time of 2 hours 54 minutes, details of the ringers can be found in the report on BellBoard