My late father was the most difficult man in the world for whom to buy presents.
Granted, he loved songstress Dame Vera Lynn, who was the “sweetheart of the forces” in the Second World War. As long as she had a new album out my problem was solved.
He couldn’t have cared less about sports. Dad had no discernible hobbies other than reading, but because he bought books by the caseload, you never knew what he’d already read.
Then we noticed something miraculous. Dad started buying bells. The first was an old hand-held school bell. None of his 10 children knew why. He discovered it in a second hand shop, and it just took his fancy.
When he followed that by purchasing a large patio garden bell, word rocketed around my brothers and sisters. The Old Man was into bells. Our gift-buying problems were over.
My father died in 2009, and my wife recently came across his bell collection stored in our basement. She laid out four dozen bells on the dining room table, and it was the first time I’d ever seen them all together.
Many were fascinating, but one particular bell stood out.
Not long after the Second World War ended, a dinner was held at a London, England restaurant hosted by the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund - a charity that assisted serving and retired RAF personnel.
Following the dinner, an auction was held that featured a limited number of a new bell, called the Royal Air Force Victory Bell. Each carried an image of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. They were cast from aluminum taken from German aircraft shot down over London during the Blitz.
The bidding reached £1,200 for a single bell, or the equivalent in purchasing power of about $29,000 (CN) today.
Two of those Victory Bells are included among the vast collection at the Air Force Museum in Comox, B.C.
And there’s an R.A.F. Victory Bell in my Dad’s collection.
The “V” on the bell’s handle is a clear reminder of Churchill’s eloquent description of the brave men who took to the air to defend Britain in its hour of mortal peril, saying: “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”
Considering the death and destruction that went into their making, the bells are a macabre battlefield relic.
But they are also a reminder of a heroic generation and the fearful times in which they lived, and the enormous debt their children owe that can never fully be repaid.
Lest we forget.
Phil Egan is editor-in-chief of the Sarnia Historical Society. Got an interesting tale? Contact him at [email protected]