Remembering: Colonel Bill Bell

Colonel Bill Bell, who has died aged 100, was awarded an MC in Tunisia in 1943 and a DSO in Italy the following year. In July 1944 Bell took command of the 6th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment (6 LR) in Italy. In September, during the breakthrough at the Gothic Line, he rallied two of his companies which had suffered many casualties after coming under heavy enemy defensive fire. In the winter months, he led his battalion in periods of continuous action, often in situations where the Germans attacked his positions in divisional strength using tanks and infantry. The citation for the award of a DSO concluded: “Colonel Bell has served in this Battalion in all ranks from platoon commander to commanding officer. His conduct and gallantry throughout the war and his inspiring leadership in action have been outstanding. By his personal leadership in the thick of battle he has often turned difficult situations into major successes.” Francis Cecil Leonard Bell was born at Bourne, Lincolnshire, on September 25 1912 and educated at Gresham’s School, where he excelled at sport, especially hockey, which he later played for Lincolnshire. He qualified as a solicitor and, in 1937, moved to London to join the Board of Trade’s legal department, working there until the outbreak of war. He had been commissioned into the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (TA) in 1931 and transferred to 6 LR in 1939. Bell accompanied this unit to France as part of the BEF and was evacuated from Dunkirk in a flat-bottomed Chinese river gunboat. He was mentioned in despatches. In January 1943 he landed in Algiers and two months later, as a company commander of 6 LR at Sedjenane, Tunisia, he was awarded an MC for repelling a series of determined attacks and for frustrating an outflanking movement. The citation also stated that, in the face of relentless sniping, he had attempted to rescue a wounded officer who was lying in the open. The officer died as Bell reached him. Bell was put in temporary command of the battalion during the final battles of the North African campaign when the CO was killed in action. He commanded “B” Company during the landings at Salerno in September 1943 and in fierce fighting at Monte Cassino in the winter of 1943-44. He accompanied 6 LR when it moved to Greece and then on its return to Italy in the final month of the campaign. After the war Bell returned to the Board of Trade, remaining until 1953, when he was appointed assistant legal adviser to Lloyds Bank; he eventually became chief legal adviser. Remembered as a very able lawyer and for his integrity, strength of character and fine judgment, he retired from the bank in 1977 and, for the next five years, served as a director of the British Bankers’ Association (then known as the Committee of London Clearing Banks), and chairman of its European Legal Committee. He was appointed non-executive director of two of the bank’s subsidiaries after his retirement. He attended reunions in Lincolnshire until he was in his late 80s and served as trustee and president of the Battalion Benevolent Fund. He was president of his local branch of the Royal British Legion for many years. In 1967 he was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment (Territorial). In retirement, settled at Chiddingfold, Surrey, Bell was able to indulge his enthusiasm for fishing and shooting. A man of considerable charm, he was excellent company, and loved good food and wine; at his 100th birthday party he enjoyed several glasses of vintage Pol Roger . Bill Bell married first, in 1942, Mary Wynne Jacob. She predeceased him, and he married secondly, in 1999, Priscilla Muir, who survives him with a son and daughter of his first marriage.

Colonel Bill Bell, born September 25 1912, died December 20 2012

Source: Telegraph
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