b. 03/04/1875 Perth, Australia. d. 28/04/1954 Bristol.
Frederick William Bell (1875-1954) was born on 3rd April 1875 in Perth, son of Henry Thomas Bell, clerk, and his wife Alice Agnes, née Watson. Educated at A. D. Letch’s preparatory school and at the government school, Perth, he joined the Western Australian Public Service in November 1894 as a cadet in the Department of Customs where he later became a cashier.
On the outbreak of the South African War in October 1899 Bell enlisted as a private in the 1st West Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent. He first saw action at Slingersfontein, and later took part in the relief of Johannesburg and of Pretoria and the battles of Diamond Hill and Wittebergen; on 19th July 1900, in a sharp engagement at Palmeitfontein, he was seriously wounded and was invalided to England. He returned to Perth in February 1901, was commissioned lieutenant in the 6th Contingent on 8 March, and re-embarked for South Africa. On 16th May at Brakpan, Transvaal, while his unit was retreating under heavy fire, he went back for a dismounted man and took him up on his horse. The animal fell under the extra weight and Bell, after insisting that his companion take the horse, covered his retreat; for this action he received the Victoria Cross—the first awarded to a Western Australian.
After his discharge in May 1902, Bell joined the Australian section of the coronation escort for King Edward VII. He then settled in Perth but returned to England, joined the colonial service in 1905 and was appointed to British Somaliland as an assistant district officer in April. Made an assistant political officer later that year he held the post until 1910. While in Somaliland he took up big-game hunting and in 1909 narrowly escaped death when he was badly mauled by a lion. He was assistant resident in Nigeria in 1910-12 and from then until the outbreak of World War I was an assistant district commissioner in Kenya. In 1914 Bell, who had been commissioned in the 4th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry in August 1907, served in France with the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. He was mentioned in dispatches and promoted captain in October 1915. On his return to England he was made commandant of a rest camp and promoted major; later, in the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he commanded an embarkation camp at Plymouth. Two of his three brothers were killed in action with the Australian Imperial Force.
After the war Bell returned to the colonial service as a district commissioner in Kenya. In May 1922 in London he married a divorcee Mabel Mackenzie Valentini, née Skinner, and in 1925 went into retirement in England. His wife died in 1944 and on 20th February 1945 he married a widow Brenda Margaret Cracklow, née Illingworth. He revisited Western Australia in 1947. His wife survived him when he died at Bristol on 28th April 1954. He was buried in Canford Cemetery. His medal group was laced for sale at a Spink auction in Canada in 1984 and was purchased by the Government of Western Australia for historical reasons as Frederick Bell had been born in Perth the capital of the State of Western Australia in 1875. Since 1984 the Bell VC medal group has been lodged with the Western Australia Museum in Perth.
In July 2016, a decision was made to loan the Frederick Bell Victoria Cross group to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra for a period of around three years. The VC group has gone on display in the AWM’s Hall of Valour. It is now back in Perth.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ARMY MUSEUM OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA, PERTH.
CANFORD CEMETERY, BRISTOL, AVON. SECTION 0, COLOUR PINK, GRAVE 126
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Kathy Goulding – 2 images of his medal group at the Army Museum of Western Australia.
Richard Yielding – Bell VC Plaque at Karrakatta Cemetery and Crematorium, Perth
Gary Richardson – Bell VC Memorial at King’s Park, Perth