The bells of St. Mary’s toll again

·2 min read

ST. MARY’S – No reason to mark moments of extraordinary service escapes the attention of The Loyal and Antediluvian Bell Ringers of St. Mary’s, it seems.

The hardy band – who first gained local fame by tolling the bells of several churches in Guysborough County to honour essential workers during the first lockdowns of the pandemic last year – recently rejoined to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Dervish, the first Arctic convoy of allies in the treacherous Murmansk Run to Russia on Aug. 21, 1941.

Said St. Mary’s bell-ringer-in-chief Neil Black, who is also chairman of the Heritage Goldenville Society: “We tolled the bells 16 times at 12 noon in memory of brave souls and a magnificent effort.”

The Aug. 31 event involved Sherbrooke’s St. James Presbyterian, Liscomb’s Anglican and three other area churches. Nine St. Mary’s ringers joined a coordinated, international bell-tolling effort that included the HMCS Sackville – the last Flower Class Corvette in Canada – HMS Belfast (U.K.), USS Slater, USS Texas, the Russian submarine K-21, the Russian cities of St. Petersburg, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kronstadt and the Russian St. Nickolas Orthodox Church in Reykjavik.

In a backgrounder on the event, Gary Reddy – commanding officer of the Sackville, a museum ship moored in Halifax – said, “The significance of the bell ringing is based on an old Russian tradition of marking the New Year. Eight strokes make the old man and another eight strokes the youngest in the crew.”

He added: “A total of 30,672 merchant ships rendezvoused at Halifax prior to commencing their trans-Atlantic voyage…during the Second World War. Convoys would rendezvous with our American Allied ships from New York and commence the arduous transit to Europe together. In the summer of 1941, the Russian seaports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were added to the list of destination ports. Called the “Murmansk Run” these convoys were the most dangerous operations carried out by the Allied navies.”

Said Black about the loyal order’s next moves: “We started back at the beginning of COVID-19…[but] now with our world improving we are still tolling bells for special occasions.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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