Category Archives: Officers’ peals

Cyril Frederick Johnston (9 May 1884 – 30 March 1950)

This is the sixth in the series on the men who rang in the officers’ peals of 1919, Johnston rang the seventh bell at Putney.  He is also listed on the Surrey Association roll of honour as a Croydon ringer.

A head and shoulders photo of a man with a large moustache wearing military uniform. He is standing just inside the left hand end of an arch over a church doorway.

Cyril Frederick Johnston taken from the photo of the band which rang at South Croydon on 3 May 1919 (he is back, second from left in the full photo)

Johnston probably needs the least introduction of all the members of the original band. He was born on 9 May 1884, the son of Arthur Anderson Johnston, partner in what was then the firm of Gillett, Bland & Johnston.  Arthur was the nephew of Arthur Anderson MP who founded P&O, and Arthur worked for P&O until the death of his uncle, when he bought into the then firm of Gillett and Bland.  Prior to his joining the firm had been involved only in clockmaking, but following the death of Bland in 1884, bell founding was added, initially purely for clock bells.

Cyril was educated at Whitgift School, Croydon (where he rose to colour sergeant in the school’s cadet corps), and then joined his father in the firm in 1902.  He was then formally apprenticed to his father for four years until 1907, when he became a partner.  By that time he had already been making initial experiments with tuning bells, and was increasingly involved in promoting projects of recasting or augmenting rings.  On the night of the 1911 census he was staying in Wimborne Minster, presumably in connection with the recasting, rehanging and augmentation of the ring there that year.

Following the outbreak of war he seems to have initially tried for a commission in the Motor Transport section of the Army Service Corps.  By the time he was actually gazetted to the Horse Transport section on 26 September 1914 he had already joined the 1st Public Schools’ Battalion (later to become 18th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers) as a private on 3 September – all ranks of these battalions had been pupils at public schools.  He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the same battalion on 27 October.  The four Public Schools Battalions trained around Epsom. On 2 June 1915 Johnston was promoted to lieutenant, on 26 June the battalion was formed into 98th Brigade with the other three Public Schools Battalions.  In July Johnston began to have health issues, and began to have extended periods of leave, this meant he did not go overseas with the battalion in November 1915, and was transferred to 28th Battalion, one of two reserve battalions for the Public Schools’ Battalions.

Three-quarter length photo portray of a moustached man in military uniform.  The cap and collar badges are the flaming grenade of the Royal Fusiliers

Johnston photographed as a Royal Fusiliers officer © IWM (HU 116434)

Eventually he was diagnosed with a hernia, which he blamed on ringing a 2 ton bell in 1913, he was operated on by the famous abdominal surgeon Sir Arbuthnot Lane on 13 December 1915.  Although the operation was a success, the amount of time he had spent on leave meant that he was required to relinquish his commission on 2 March 1916.  However, his recovery continued, and on 18 May 1916 he was recommissioned, now in the (socially) elite Grenadier Guards.  He joined the 3rd Battalion in France on 26 September 1916.  On 22 October his father died suddenly after playing golf at Mitcham Common.  He was granted leave to return home for the inquest and funeral but had returned to the front by the time of a Surrey Association meeting at Streatham in mid-November.

Johnston & Gillett had begun contributing to the war effort quite quickly, initially making ammunition boxes.  Their existing strengths in brass founding and making clocks were soon turned to the manufacture of artillery fuzes.  At some point after the death of Arthur Johnston, it was decided that Cyril could make a greater contribution to the war effort by leaving front line service as a subaltern, and being released to the Ministry of Munitions to return home and run the foundry’s war work.  Initially he remained a serving officer, receiving army pay and allowances, but in early 1918 he was one of a number of officers who were actually working in other roles to be demobilised (to save the army money).  The final formal relinquishment of this second commission did not come until 7 February 1921.


Barnard Halsey Tyrwhitt-Drake (22 August 1882 – 25 January 1936)

This is the fifth in the series on the men who rang in the officers’ peals of 1919.

A fairly young man in army uniform, but also a clergyman's "dog-collar", his cap has the cross pattee badge of the Royal Army Chaplains' Department

The Revd Barnard Halsey Tyrwhitt-Drake, taken from the photo of the band which rang the peal attempt on 3 May 1919 (he is front right on the full photo)

Tyrwhitt-Drake was from a family that had provided several MPs for Amersham, with the family’s principal seat being Shardloes.  They descended from Sir Richard Drake, cousin and agent to Sir Francis Drake.  Like many upper-class families, they also provided a number of military officers, and clergy.  Barnard Halsey Tyrwhitt-Drake was the grandson of an army officer who fought at Waterloo and subsequently became one of the family’s MPs.  His father, William Thomas Tyrwhitt-Drake entered the clergy, and was the Vicar of Great Gaddesden when Barnard was born on 22 August 1882.  He was educated at Tyttenhanger Lodge, St Alban’s,  Haileybury College, and then went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1901, and it was there he really took up ringing (he had had some lessons at home).  After graduation in 1904 he was admitted to Wells Theological College for ordination training.  He was ordained deacon on 21 December 1905 and priest in 1906, both in Wakefield Diocese, serving a curacy at Almondsbury, Huddersfield, until 1909.  He then had a year in South Africa with the Railway Mission in the Diocese of Grahamstown, before returning to Hertfordshire for a further curacy at Hitchin until 1912, then Sandy, Bedfordshire, before taking up his first incumbency at Thundridge at the end of 1914.  He married Dorothy Doncaster at Ewell, Surrey, on 11 November 1914.  He was elected president of the Hertford County Association in early 1916.

He was interviewed by the Chaplain General on 27 May 1916 and accepted for service as a Chaplain to the Forces, which began on 19 June 1916, initially at Clipstone Camp in Nottinghamshire and then the Royal Engineers training centre in Newark, before proceeding to France on 20 June 1917.  He was invalided home sick in April 1918, and decided not to his extend his contract when it expired on 20 June 1918 as he was needed in his own parish.

After the war he remained at Thundridge until 1925, then three years at Wiggington, Hertfordshire, followed by a move to Norfolk, first six years in Watlington, then in 1934 to Walsoken where he died on 25 January 1936.  He and Dorothy had had three children: Barnard Peter in 1915, Dorothy J in 1917 and Guy W in 1922.

The Duffield brothers: William Charles (13 November 1895 – 28 May 1984) and Edward Patrick (21 December 1898 – 5 January 1995)

The fourth in this series on the ringers in the officer’s peals of 1919 is effectively combined with what would logically be the sixth post: Edward Patrick Duffield rang the fourth in the original peal at Putney while his older brother, William Charles Duffield rang the sixth.

William was born in Tasburgh, Norfolk on 13 November 1895, and Edward (Ted) on 21 December 1898, sons of William Lant Duffield and Florence Rachel (nee Fuller). They had an elder sister, Rachel Constance, and several younger brothers, of whom James Frederic (Jim) would also serve in the war. Their father was a miller and was steadily increasing his interests in local mills. He was also a ringer and actively encouraged the family to follow him.

The brothers were educated at the City of Norwich school before starting to work for their father. Following floods in 1912 there seem to have been some financial difficulties, and this may be the reason why both William Charles and Ted had moved to Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, and were working for William Hipwell at Stoke Mills when war broke out.
William Charles joined the Bedfordshire Yeomanry very soon after the outbreak of war and had two spells in France. He was then commissioned into 3rd Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, in 1918 and posted to Egypt where he was attached to 123rd Outram’s Rifles, an Indian Army regiment. He contracted dysentery (again, his two spells in France were also terminated by this illness) on 27 October 1918. He was invalided home on 22 January 1919, arriving at Southampton on 22 February. He was still being treated at 2nd London General Hospital, based in St Mark’s College, Chelsea, at the time of the Putney peal.
After the war, following a few years in South Africa, William Charles developed the family business. As Duffield’s Feeds it’s still a family business today. Ted was a salesman for the firm and lived in Colchester where he was a town councillor (and mayor). He also played croquet to national standard. His war service began only in May 1918 when he joined the RAF. He was still in training when the Armistice was declared. On finally completing his training he was commissioned on 20 January 1919, but demobilised the same day.
The Duffield brothers rang in a peal at Saxlingham on 18 June 1914 when the average age of the ringers was eighteen and a half years old, then the youngest peal band on record.

Eight young men in suits, four standing beind, four seated in front. Positioned in front of the porc of a flint-built church

Back Row from left Edward P Duffield, Alfred Funnell, Cecil Chamberlin, James Duffield, Front Row. William C Duffield, George H Cross, Frank Copeman, Bertie F Turner. All the members of the band served in the war with Alfred Funnell and Bertie F Turner killed. Image courtesy of Jan and Dr Jeff Fox of the Saxlingham War Memorials website (and ringers at Saxlingham)

Major J H R Freeborn FRIBA FRICS (1887-1971), Benhilton’s almost Olympian hammer thrower

The third ringer to be covered in this series on those who rang in the officers’ peals of 1919 is Major J H R Freeborn who has already been extensively covered on this blog as he was a ringer at Benhilton before the war, although he was not actually included on the original Surrey Association roll of honour. The original blog post on him is therefore reposted below for completeness. He was a captain at the time of the peal, only gaining the rank of major during the Second World War.

Head and shoulders sot of a moustached man in army uniform, standing just in front of the right hand end of the arch over a church doorway.

Major John Harley Bridges Hesse, from the photo taken of the band at the peal attempt at South Croydon on 3 May 1919 (he is back, second from right, in the full photo)


John Howard Richard Freeborn moved to Sutton after graduating from Cambridge in 1914. He rang at Benhilton several times in 1915, but then – despite having lost the sight of his left eye following an accident in his youth – managed to obtain a commission in the York and Lancaster Regiment. His existing injury meant he had no overseas service, and finished the war a captain having spent much of his period in the army as an adjutant to regiments of the Volunteer Training Corps (the Sutton unit of which he had been involved with even before receiving his commission). He was a regular ringer in Benhilton again from late 1918 into 1919. He was commissioned again in the Second World War, that time serving between 1940 and 1943, and leaving the army with the honorary rank of major, after which he was universally known as Major Freeborn. He is…

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Edward Maurice Atkins (11 July 1890 – 16 September 1964)

This is the second in the series on the men who rang in the officers’ peals of 1919. This post is about the man who rang the second bell in the original attempt at Putney, and conducted all three attempts.

A moustached man wearing the uniform of an officer in the Royal Engineers, with a wound strip on his sleeve

Atkins cropped from the photo of the May 1919 band. He is front, second from right in the full photo.

Maurice (as he was usually known) was the son, nephew, and grandson of clergymen. He was born in Leicester on 11 July 1890, the son of Edward James Atkins and Edith May Atkins (it’s not clear if his parents were related to each other). His father then had a curacy in Foxton, where his sister, Dorothy May Atkins, was born on 25 March 1894. By 1901 the family were living at the Vicarage in Isham, Northamptonshire. It was there he learned to ring, as did his sister Dorothy.
He went to Wellingborough Grammar School and from there to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics and mechanical science. He graduated in 1912, and was articled to civil engineer JB Bell. He was a month short of completing his articles when he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers on 1 October 1914. After initial training at Chatham, he was posted to a field company of the New Army. He seems to have been based around Shrewsbury, or at least found some time to ring there over Christmas 1914. He was posted to France with 104 Field Company, 24 Division, on 1 September 1915. The division was soon thrown into the Battle of Loos, and suffered heavy casualties. In early January 1916 he had a brief home leave.
Then on 14 January 1916, near Hooge, Belgium, on a bright moonlit night, he was moving down a trench when he was hit in the left thigh by a sniper’s bullet. The bullet hit the inside of his thigh and passed right through, breaking the femur. He was evacuated to a dressing station at Vlammertinghe, then by motor ambulance to 10 Casualty Clearing Station. After then being taken on No 7 Stationary Hospital at Boulogne, he was finally brought back to England on 25 February 1916. He spent time in various military hospitals, and had to undergo several operations, also contracting the bacterial infection erysipelas. By October 1917 it was clear that he would not recover sufficiently to return to action and he was discharged from the army, though he continued to receive treatment. He was given a desk job in the Ministry of Munitions, and was living in north west London. He still couldn’t walk far without a stick when he conducted the officers’ peal.
Perhaps because of his wound he did not return to practice as an engineer after the war, but instead became a patent examiner at the Patent Office in Holborn in July 1920. A year later he called a peal of Bob Minor at Isham, the first inside for his sister, and first for the treble ringer, Miss Frances Canaan. On 13 September he married Frances at Isham, with both managing to ring for the service. They settled in London, ringing primarily at St Augustine’s, Kilburn. Their son, David E Atkins was born on 11 November 1924. On Atkins’ retirement from the Patent Office they moved to Teignmouth. He continued ringing until shortly before his death on 16 September 1964.

Albert Edward Christian York Bramble (22 June 1894 – 22 April 1974)

This is the first in a series of posts on the ringers who took part in the peals rung by all-officer bands in 1919, it covers the man who rang the treble.

A young man in RAF uniform stood front of the flint wall of a church

York Bramble, cropped from the photo of the band which rang at Croydon in May 1919. He is back right in the full photo.

Bramble, or York-Bramble as he later became, was born at South Cerney, Gloucestershire, on 22 June 1894, the oldest of four children of Albert Edmund Bramble and Alice Emily, nee Swain. Albert senior does not seem to have had very steady employment, with censuses and baptismal records giving a variety of occupations from journeyman baker, salesman, labourer, and eventually in Albert junior’s service records, male nurse. Albert junior’s brother, Edmund George Robert Victor Bramble would also become an RAF officer.

York-Bramble was educated at Cirencester Grammar School 1905-1910, and from there went to the University of Bristol to train as a teacher 1912-1914. It was here he learned to ring. He qualified First Class in his professional training, and with Distinction in Mathematics. He was then employed by London County Council, and having finished his training placements, began work at Kennington Road Boys’ School, Lambeth in September 1914.

In March 1915 he joined up at the Duke of York’s Barracks in Chelsea. He initially joined 2/2nd London Casualty Clearing Station, a Territorial unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps, but a year later he was transferred to 3/4th London Field Ambulance, by which time he was a serjeant. During some of his early training he was based in Richmond Park where he would probably have had his first sight of the Royal Flying Corps’ balloons, either in the park itself, or at the Roehampton Club.

In February 1917 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps and began training with them. He was appointed a Balloon Officer in May 1917, and also seems to have come up with some sort of balloon-related invention. He was posted to France in May 1917, but returned to England in December. He had to relinquish his commission on 24 July 1918 due to an unspecified illness. He returned to his old job at Kennington Road.

He had married Marjorie S Lloyd in Brighton in 1917, and from 1921 was teaching in Brighton. He was also involved in a local gliding club, and just before the Second World War qualified as a private pilot. In December 1939 he rejoined the RAF, serving in technical roles, and eventually rising to the rank of squadron leader.

In 1955 he founded the College of Campanology to try to improve teaching of ringing. Due to his somewhat difficult personality this was sadly rather a failure. He died on 22 April 1974.