Footballer and First World War VC winner Donald Bell


Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell was the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.

A native of Harrogate, Yorkshire, he trained as a teacher at Westminster College, London, and was appointed assistant master at Starbeck Council School near Harrogate. He supplemented his income by becoming a professional footballer with Bradford Park Avenue, having already played for Crystal Palace and Newcastle United as an amateur.

He made his debut for Bradford against Wolverhampton Wanderers as a defender on 13 April 1913. In all, he made five appearances for the club before the war broke out in August the following year.

Having been released from his professional contract, Bell signed up as a volunteer with the West Yorkshire Regiment in November 1914 aged 24. He was promoted sergeant in 1915 and by June had been commissioned as a second lieutenant.

His citation for the Victoria Cross reads as follows:

[ London Gazette, 9 September 1916 ], La Boiselle, Somme, France, 5 July 1916, T / Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, 9th Bn, The Yorkshire Regiment.

For most conspicuous bravery ( Horseshoe Trench, France ). During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine-gun. Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under 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 similar act of bravery.’

Second lieutenant Bell was killed in action on the 10 July 1916, aged 25, south east of Contalmaison. He was first buried where he fell, and later interred in the Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers-la-Boiselle, France, four miles north-east of Albert.

Donald Bell’s Victoria Cross and campaign medals were formerly on display at the Green Howards Museum in Richmond, Yorkshire. They are now on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

His medals were sold by Spink of London in 2010 for £210,000

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