2/LT DONALD SIMPSON BELL VC
9th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own)
On sale now – a bronze statuette to commemorate the centenary of the First World War
The Friends of the Green Howards Museum have commissioned a bronze statuette to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and have selected Donald Bell, one of 12 VCs won by Green Howards in that war, as a shining example of valour and sacrifice and to honour all those Green Howards who served in the war. The statuette shows Second Lieutenant Donald Bell, as the leader of a bombing team, charging at a German trench on the Somme in July 1916, an act that was to win him the Victoria Cross. He is the only English professional footballer to be awarded the VC, Britain’s highest award for valour.
A superb athlete and footballer, he was born in 1890 and educated at Harrogate Grammar School before going to Westminster College to train as a teacher; there he turned out for Crystal Palace F.C. On return to Yorkshire in 1911 he taught at Starbeck Primary School near Harrogate, continuing to play amateur football for Bishop Auckland and Newcastle United, where he gained a reputation as an outstanding fullback. He was then approached by Bradford Park Avenue F.C. in 1912 to play as a professional, an attractive opportunity to eke out his meagre teacher’s salary.
He made his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 13th April 1913 and made five league appearances for the Bradford 1st XI before the First World War started. As right back for the team, he had an amazing turn of speed, a talent that was to be put to great use in the war.
Not long after hostilities in August 1914 began he volunteered for the Army, the first professional footballer to do so, and in November, at the age of 24, he was released from his contract and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment as a private soldier, where he was quickly promoted. He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Yorkshire Regiment (as the Green Howards were then titled) before being sent to France in November the following year to join the 9th Battalion. On leave in June 1916, a month before his death, he married Rhoda Bonson in Kirkby Stephen.
Because of his athleticism and leadership, he was selected for the dangerous role of leading bombing teams. On the afternoon of 5th July 1916, shortly after the start of the Battle of the Somme, he was in charge of a small group of bombers who were ordered to capture an enemy position dug in along the crest of a ridge, a mile to the south west of Contalmaison, named ‘Horseshoe Trench’. The citation for his Victoria Cross read:
“For most conspicuous bravery at Horseshoe Trench on 5th July 1916. During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine gun. Second Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up the communication trench and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver and destroying gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack. Five days later this gallant officer lost his life performing a very similar act of bravery”.
Captain Archie White, a fellow Green Howard and old school friend of Donald Bell who also won a VC on the Somme, wrote: “Probably no one else on the Front could have done what he did. Laden with steel helmet, haversack, revolver, ammunition and Mills bombs in pouches, he was yet able to hurl himself at the German trench at such speed that the enemy would hardly believe what they saw…”.
He is buried in the CWGC Cemetery at Gordon Dump nearby. The spot where he was killed in Contalmaison is called ‘Bell’s Redoubt’ and is marked by a memorial erected in 2000 by the Green Howards and the Professional Footballers’Association. A commemoration service will take place there in 2016 to mark the centenary of his act of valour and death. His Victoria Cross is now owned by the PFA and is on display at their Museum in Manchester.
The statuette is made by Peter Hicks Ltd and sculpted by Mark Smallman. It is in bronze resin, 8 inches high, on a round wooden plinth, with an eye for historical accuracy. The following engraving is on the base: 2Lt Donald S Bell VC, 9th Yorkshire Regt, the Somme 1916.
The statuette is on sale now at a total cost of £100.00 (inclusive of postage and packaging). It can be ordered through the Green Howards Museum Shop by post: Green Howards Museum, Trinity Church Square, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 4QN or online www.greenhowards.org.uk.