When the verger of St Margaret's church in Blackwood, George Glastonbury, rings its bell each Sunday, there is one soldier in particular for whom it tolls.
James Herbert Spencer was a miner from the town who went to war with the Monmouthshire Regiment in 1914. He was selected, as were many Gwent miners, for his skill at working underground to serve in a dangerous but brutally effective form of warfare.
The bell inscribed in his memory is testament to the dangers these soldier-miners faced and which ultimately killed him.
By November 1914 the war on the Western Front was bogged down into siege conditions. Just as sieges had been broken since ancient times, both sides rediscovered the art of tunnelling under enemy positions and detonating explosive to destroy them.
Men from the Monmouthshires, including Sgt Spencer were at the heart of this operation.
In April 1915, the men from the Monmouthshires, now part of the 171st Tunnelling Company were set to work digging three tunnels to the German lines 100 yards away to capture the strategic ‘Hill 60’.
The tunnels were small, some only three feet high by two feet wide. They would emerged from eight hours of digging, soaked in sweat and muddy water.
By the 10th April the tunnels had reached the German lines and at precisely 7pm on 17th April, 6,000lb of gunpowder was exploded, spewing debris over 300 feet into the air and for over 300 yards around.
The German lines had been obliterated. It had taken around two minutes to capture the hill.
Shortly after, Sgt Spencer was in charge of a party working at the trenches when the Germans blew up the neighbouring British tunnel, burying one man and partly burying another. Braving the gas that filled the chamber, Sgt Spencer went down to haul them out. He was overcome by the fumes and when he was brought out he was dead.
Perhaps in recognition of the particular kind of hell the soldier-miner had to endure and the selfless way he met his end, parishioners paid to have a bell cast in his honour, inscribed with the words:
‘To The Glory Of God In Memory Of Sergt. J.H. Spencer, Who Was Gassed At Hill 60, France, June 2nd 1915, When Nobly Attempting To Save A Comrade’.