And now we come to the interesting part, here are a few pertinent observations that others and I have made from the bells that we’ve had the opportunity of examining or of owning.
1. These bells are identical to ones used by the Royal Navy, both before and after
Like the aerodromes they served, they were made to do a job
2. They are deeply etched with a crest, King George VI Crown on top, the initials AM
(for Air Ministry) and the year when new.
3. All are dated between 1936 and 1945
On the standard bell the style of the number 3 changed during the course of 1938.
Early 3’s ( also on 1937) have a thin horizontal and later ones (also on1939) are thicker. See this illustrated in a comparative image.
4. They come in two sizes. Since neither is ‘small’, suggest calling them:-
Weight 13kg 21kg
Height 11 inch 12 1/2 inch
Max dia 10 5/8 12 5/8 inch
These dimensions are taken from two 1941 examples
It will be noticed that the large bell is only bigger by barely two inches but its bulk and weight are much greater. As of now we have yet to hear a convincing reason for the need for two bell sizes, patently one cost the AM more than the other. One day we may know the reason why two sizes were specified.
5. Prior to circa 1939 both the standard & large versions were of a slightly different shape to the later ones, detail differences in their shape.
6. Metal types and years. They come in two different materials, both are non ferrous bronze/nickel ‘bell metal’. For want of clarity, one version is brass/bronze in colour and the other is silver. The silver bell is more common
These are our observations:-
a. Large bells are always silver except the very first year 1936. This year only is brass/bronze.
b. Standard bells are all silver until sometime during the course of 1942. In
that year only, both silver and yellow bells exist. So, from half-
In the PICTURE GALLERY section is a photo showing both the 1942 silver and the brass/bronze standing together.
c. Does anyone own a silver bell from 1943, 44 or 45?
d. Engraved crests on brass/bronze bells look slightly different. Examine the pictures in the PICTURE GALLERY section, they show a very original 1942 bell & you will see what we mean.
We see nothing suspicious in this
e. It should be added that if these bells lie neglected for long periods they take on a much darker hue and it can become difficult to tell their true base colour
A deep scratch on the inside is the way to tell
7. Some of the bells have small stamped marks on the very top, two or three initials
and sometimes an arrow. Note that this arrow head is often or always sideways, this
is still to be confirmed. . It should be noted that some have markings that have
become indecipherable and some bells have no markings at all .Having now examined
over a score of bells we see no sinister reason why some have them and some don’t.
You can see some of these stampings in the PICTURE GALLERY section. Of the bells
that we have studied the following pattern has emerged, these we have seen clearly:-
FCO on a 1936, 1938, 1939 and most likely (but not so clear) on a 1937 bell
AHS on three 1940 bells
GB on two 1941 bells
S > T on a 1941, 1942 and 1943 bells.
GB (GB over this sort of arrow) recorded on a LARGE 1941 bell
R O ( RO above this sort of arrow) recorded on a LARGE 1942 bell
We wonder what these mean, do they represent inspection marks or different makers marks. Do you have any real knowledge?
8. Quite some time ago my attention was drawn to two Air Ministry stores numbers and it seems most likely that these were as follows
The AM Stores no 21C/1434 = Standard sized bell
The AM Stores no 21C/696 = Large sized bell
It is not usual for these numbers to be marked on bells. One remarkable bell has turned up with the full stores number stamped on it, dated 1938, it also has FCO & a sideways arrow too, and this is the only such bell that we’ve seen. See it in the Picture Gallery section.
9. It should be noted that we are obviously aware of almost identical bells to ‘ours’ but with a similar but much smaller Air Ministry crest.
The question that is yet unanswered is why the Air Ministry should order bells with two different scripts during the same period. It is easy to assume that they came from different bell suppliers but we suspect that there is more to learn about this.
For the record, it is our observation that the most common Air Ministry bells are the large version with the much smaller crest, they are invariably (always?) dated 1938, 1939 & 1940.
It is the observation of this writer that as it is the fine engraved crest that makes the bell impressive and he has kept his enthusiasm for these bells alone. It is for other to focus on these small script versions
10. During manufacture these bells were machined, a drilled centre hole is invariable in the top of the crown. Some bells, a few, have drilled and threaded holes, occasionally they turn up with a strong eye screwed in place. This eye has been used at some stage to hang the bell.
Whatever specialist device was used to hang these bells originally, it wasn’t these eyes A few bells survive with two original fixing rings one bell that we’ve seen has come complete with a cast iron bracket (see Photo Gallery) that fits the hook very well. We speculate that these bells, whilst still in RAF service,were drilled later on so as to be used on a simpler bracket. Maybe someone has further knowledge about this.
11. These bells often have red paint on them. It is known that in post war years these bells were painted red all over. What is not know yet is whether they were painted red during WW2. It may well be that when their introduction was conceived in the 1930’s they were polished, maybe they had painted tops? It would be remarkable for a bell to be specified with this attractive crest and then immediately painted over. I suggest that at some later point, either during WW2 or after, a directive was sent around ordering them to be painted red for perfectly obvious reasons. Bells thickly painted with red paint must have graced many RAF aerodromes way into the 1980’s, it’s just possible that some of these 1940’s bells might still hang on RAF property
12. Neglected bells sometimes turn up with distressed surface finish, I have regularly seen them described with ‘flawed chrome plating’ or something similar. These flawed bells can often look as if they have damaged plating, see the images in the Picture Gallery section. If you have one like this study the flaws through a magnifying glass, take a small file to the flaw, you will be able to file away the flaw and polish over it. These bells are NOT plated.
13. Inside the bell and clappers. The insides of these bells are rough with a substantial
rusty (usually) steel loop set at the bottom from which the clapper hangs. It is
always worth checking the underside of a bell to check that this loop is in place
as they have been known to rust totally away. Bells left lying outside and upside
down fill with rainwater & over years will then do its worst. The original clappers
are made from iron with a matching non-
14. Do fakes and copies really exist? On a couple of occasions we have heard fakes spoken of. In all our wanderings never once have we been shown a suspect bell OF THIS TYPE so we are unable to comment. Have you bought or seen a fake? If you have please offer images for this website so that your knowledge can be shared. Please note that there are many other sorts of genuine military bells that are erroneously confused with these particular bells. A simple visual check will eliminate all of them
Beyond the above , in all our wanderings never once have we been shown a suspect bell OF THIS TYPE. Have you bought or seen a fake? If you have please offer images for this website so that your knowledge can be shared.
15. Which aerodrome did the bell come from? Occasionally a bell turns up, usually
Sadly in the past bell histories were often not recorded but today the wise collector should be recording his source and what was said.
As the RAF aerodromes were closed down over the decades following WW2 most bells would have gone back into RAF storage units such as RAF Stafford. We suspect the bulk were later sold and would have invariably ended up as scrap metal.
The residue are what we have surviving today.
To KNOW FOR SURE which aerodrome your bell was from is quite unusual. These bells have a value but we suggest you add little for it being yet another bell from RAF Biggin Hill.
16. Desirability of the dates. For purely symbolic reasons most collectors sharing
our interest favor the bell dated 1940 …being the year of the Battle of Britain this
is seen as the most desirable. It must be obvious that any bell dated 1936-
Can this humble writer suggest that as they are dated to the opening of a particular aerodrome other dates should be seen as equally important? The other years are representative of this very important period of Royal Air Force history, the 1936 to 1945 period.
It would be good to add an image of a bell in position on a RAF aerodrome, so far a good one has eluded me. Might you have one that could be added to this site?
If you feel that you are getting the bug and feel the need to find a bell for yourself, make contact, we may know of someone wishing to part with his.
As a final note to this, it should added that these are only observations made after musing over the subject for a couple of years. These notes are a basis on which any further knowledge can be added. Please feel free to make contact with the webmaster, your own observations, explanations or corrections will be most welcome, it will be a pleasure to add further knowledge to this site.
Please share any knowledge that you have.