b. 03/12/1890 Harrogate, Yorkshire. d. 10/07/1916 Bell’s Redoubt, Contalmaison, France.
Donald Simpson Bell (1890-1916) was born at Queen’s Road, Harrogate, Yorkshire on 3rd December 1890. He was known to family as “Donny”, and his father, Smith Bell, was a factory hand, and later a butcher/cattle dealer. His mother was Annie nee Simpson, and they married on 19th June 1883 in Harrogate. They had a large family, with seven other children other than Donald, who was their fourth child.
Donald was a clever student and was determined to become a teacher. He was educated at St Peter’s, Harrogate, where Charles Hull VC was also a pupil, Harrogate Municipal Secondary School, where he was friends with Archie White VC, and then attended Westminster College from 1909, where he did his teacher training. He was a keen sportsman being awarded colours for rugby, hockey, swimming, cricket and football. In July 1911, he passed the University of London Intermediate Arts Examination.
His talents as a footballer saw him play for Crystal Palace as an amateur, and was offered a county rugby football place with Hertfordshire. He then played football for Mirfield, Bishop Auckland and Newcastle Football Clubs, the latter at the start of the 1911-1912 season. To supplement his teacher’s salary of £2/10 a week, he became a professional footballer with Bradford Park Avenue, making five first team appearances in the 1912-13 and 1913-14 seasons.
From 1911, he was an assistant master at Starbeck Council School near Harrogate and was a junior class teacher at Wesley Methodist Church in Harrogate. Donald enlisted in the 9th West Yorkshire in November 1914. He wanted to join the cavalry, but his athletic prowess was noticed by the recruiters, who thought he would be wasted on a horse. He was quickly disillusioned with Home Service and eager to get overseas. By chance in early 1915 he met Lieutenant Archie White VC, a friend from Harrogate. White was shocked he was not an officer and introduced him to the CO of 6th Yorkshire, Lieutenant Colonel EH Chapman, who recommended him immediately for a commission. He was promoted through the ranks to Sergeant and was commissioned into 11th (Reserve) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment on 10th June 1915. He travelled to France on 25th November.
While home on leave, he married Rhoda Margaret nee Bonson at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kirkby Stephen, Westmoreland on 5th June 1916. There would be no children. Tragically, after only two days with his wife, he returned to the front, where he would not return.
On 5th July 1916, at Horseshoe Trench, The Somme, during an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine gun. 2nd Lt. Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench and then, followed by Corpl. Colwill and Pte. 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.
Donald was killed in action a few days later at “Bell’s Redoubt”, Contalmaison, France on 10th July 1916, while attached to the 8th Battalion. He was buried where he fell and the grave as marked by a wooden cross and surrounded by a rail fence. In 1920 he was re-interred in Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers-la-Boisselle, near Albert. The VC was presented to his wife by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13th December 1916. She received £100 from the Daily Mail and moved to “Charnwood”, Wilmslow. She never remarried.
In addition to the VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The medals were kept by the family until 1964 when his nephew, also Donald Simpson Bell, loaned them to the Green Howards Museum, Richmond, Yorkshire. On 25th November 2010, the medals and memorial plaque were sold at auction by Spinks and purchased for £210,000 on behalf of the Professional Footballers’ Association by Gordon Taylor, the chief executive. They are now on loan to the National Football Museum, Manchester.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: THE PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLERS MUSEUM, MANCHESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: GORDON DUMP CEMETERY, FRANCE.
PLOT IV, ROW A, GRAVE 8
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Sheila Marrison – VC Stone in Harrogate, Yorkshire.
Andrew Swan – Miniature VC Medals at the Green Howards Museum, Richmond.