The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
|Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Colonel) Frederick Bell VC|
Born in Perth, Western Australia 03/04/1875. Two of his brothers served in the Australian Imperial Force in WW1; Edgar was killed at Gallipoli and Bert at Pozieres in France.
Fred Bell was initially in the Western Australian Customs Dept, joining as a cadet in 1894; he later became a cashier.
In October 1899, at the outbreak of the South African War, he 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 Pretoria and the battles of Diamond Hill and Wittenbergen: on 19th July 1900, in a sharp engagement at Palmeitfontein, he was seriously wounded in the abdomen and invalided to England. He returned to Perth in February 1901, was commissioned Lieutenant in the 6th Contingent on 8th March and re-embarked for South Africa.
He gained the VC at Brakpan in the Transvaal for bravery in action. He was the first Western Australian to achieve this honour. Details of his action were carried in the London Illustrated News of October 12th 1901, pages 534 and 535, along with two other VC medal winners from different actions.
After his discharge in May 1902 he 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.
He became an Assistant Political Officer later that year, a post which he held until 1910. He took up big game hunting and, in 1909, narrowly escaped death in a lion hunt. He found himself alone as a lion charged. He shot it, but managed only to infuriate it by blowing away its lower jaw. The lion and he wrestled in the dust until help arrived. He spent six months in England recovering from the mauling.
He became Assistant Resident in Nigeria in 1910 and an Assistant District Commissioner in Kenya in 1912. In 1914 he became ill and was sent to England to recuperate.
At the outbreak of WW I, on the eve of his recovery, he immediately volunteered for service. (In 1907 he had been commissioned in the 4th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry). He went to France with the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. He was mentioned in dispatches and promoted to Captain in October 1915. He was also wounded again. He returned to England and was made Commandant of a rest camp and promoted to Major; later he was made Lt Col and became the Commandant of the Embarkation Camps in Plymouth.
After the War he became a District Commissioner in Kenya.
In May 1922, aged 47, he married in London to Mabel Mackenzie Valentini (nee Skinner), a divorcee. She died in 1944.
In 1924/25 he gave evidence at the Masai Inquiry Committee at which his evidence appeared to displease the Government; he was retired in 1925, allegedly on the grounds of age - he was 50 at the time. The Government denied the allegations he gave under oath to the Inquiry.
He remarried on 20th February 1945 to Brenda Margaret Cracklow (nee Illingworth), a widow. At this time he was 69.
He visited Western Australia with his wife in 1947 and took part in a ceremony with other holders of the VC.
Prior to 1952 he lived in England at Darklands, Symonds Yat, Hereford. He moved to 89 Stoke Lane, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol following the purchase of the house by his wife on 11th July 1952.
He died in Bristol on Wednesday 28th April 1954 at the age of 79. He is buried in Canford Cemetery, Bristol. An obituary appeared in The Times on Saturday 1st May 1954. His wife continued to live in the house, apparently with Mary Brenda Cracklow, her retired secretary but also probably an unmarried Sister-in-Law from Mrs Bell's first marriage.
Lt Col Bell had no children of his own.
In 1991 a permanent display about him, including his VC was placed in the foyer of the Customs Department in Fremantle.
LTCOL Bell's Medals on display in Freemantle
Source: James Briggs
Photo of Fred Bell: John Bissett