Donald Simpson BellVCFew acts of gallantry could match that of Donald Simpson Bell, the first professional English footballer to enlist in the First World War, who was awarded the Victoria Cross.Second Lieutenant Bell earned Britain’s highest military decoration for valour for wiping out a German gun post, only to die five days later in the Battle of the Somme on 10 July, 1916.Before the war Bell had a promising football career ahead of him, having turned professional with Bradford Park Avenue Football Club. He made his debut in 1913 as a full-back against Wolverhampton Wanderers and had made five league appearances for the club when the Great War broke out in August 1914.Determined to fight for his country, he asked the Bradford directors to release him from his contract and in November of that year signed up as a volunteer soldier with the West Yorkshire Regiment.He quickly rose through the ranks and in less than a year of joining up had been made an officer in the 9th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (The Green Howards).A year later, in June 1915, having just got married, he was part of Lord Kitchener’s new Volunteer Army which crossed the English Channel to get to the Western Front in readiness for the Battle of the Somme.On the evening of 5 July, 1916, his battalion was given the order to enter the fray and soon captured a German position, known as Horse Shoe Trench. But they quickly came under attack again from another enemy machine gun.Without a second thought for his own safety, 25-year-old Bell crept up a communication trench and then dashed towards the gun across open ground. He was a superb athlete and moved with incredible speed. Within minutes he had reached the post, taking the occupants by surprise. He shot the gunner with his revolver and blew up the rest with hand grenades before throwing more bombs into a dugout, killing more than 50 Germans.He performed a similar act of bravery on 10 July when he and a party of bombers from his battalion attacked a machine gun position head on again. This time he was not so lucky and was killed in the thick of the action.The sportsman was a reluctant hero. In a letter to his mother, describing the event that won him the Victoria Cross, he said: "I must confess that it was the biggest fluke alive and I did nothing. I chucked the bomb and it did the trick."Prophetically , he added: "I believe God is watching over me and it rests with him whether I pull through or not."His comrades, who called him Donny, erected a wooden cross with a railing around it at the spot where he was killed near Contalmaison. In 1920 his body was moved to Gordon Dump Cemetery close to the village.A brother officer paid this tribute to him in 1916: "He knew no fear. He had the courage of a lion, and always seemed to be on the lookout for ways and means of making things easier for his comrades. He was ready to risk his life many times over if only he could lessen the risk to his men and brother officers."
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5608 visitors.Published: 29/09/2008
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Ann Shepherd:I have just been to see his grave. As a lifelong Palace su...22/06/2009