Donald Bell

Donald Bell

Donald Simpson Bell was born in Harrogate in 1890. He trained to become a teacher at Westminster College and while in London played for Crystal Palace.

After leaving college Bell became a teacher at Starbeck College in Harrogate. He also played as an amateur for Newcastle United but in 1912 he turned professional and played for Bradford Park Avenue.

On the outbreak of the First World War Bell became the first professional footballer to join the British Army. He enlisted as a private but by June, 1915 he had a commission in the Yorkshire Regiment. Two days after his marriage in November, 1915, he was sent to France.

Second Lieutenant Bell took part in the Battle of the Somme. On 5th July, 1916 he stuffed his pockets with grenades and attacked an enemy machine-gun post. When he attempted to repeat this feat five days later he was killed. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his action of 5th July. It is the only one ever awarded to a professional footballer.

Primary Sources

(1) The London Gazette (8th September, 1916)

For most conspicuous bravery. 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. Five days later this very gallant officer lost his life performing a very similar act of bravery.