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Frederick William Bell

Frederick Bell (1875-1954) was the first Western Australian to be awarded a Victoria Cross.

Frederick William BELL joined the Customs Department as a cadet in November 1894. 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 took part in several actions, was seriously wounded and 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 16 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.

Frederick Bell, 6th Western Australian Mounted Infantry, was a Perth-born volunteer in the first Western Australian contingent of troops sent to South Africa. He took part in some of the early battles. He came home in February 1901, but soon left again as an officer in the sixth contingent. While rescuing a dismounted man during fighting at Brakpan, Transvaal, South Africa, his own horse fell under the combined weight of the two men. Giving his mount to the other rider, he provided covering fire to allow him to escape.
Bell later lived in parts of Africa, served in the British army in the First World War, and eventually retired to Britain, where he died.

Western Mail, Saturday 12 October 1901, page 60
The intelligence that Lieut. F. W. Bell, of the Sixth Western Australian Contingent, has been awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant conduct at Brakpan, when several members of the Fifth and Sixth Western Australian Contingents (including Lieut. Forrest) were either killed or wounded, will be received with much satisfaction throughout the State, as it is the first case in which a member of a Western Australian contingent has been granted the high distinction. The news was conveyed to the Government on Monday, in the following cable message from the Agent-General in London, Mr. H. B. Lefroy:—"A notification has been inserted in the London 'Gazette' that Lieut. F. W. Bell has been granted the Victoria Cross for gallant conduct at Brakpan on the 16th of May last."
Writing on May 19 to the local Military Department of the occasion on which Lieut. Bell so distinguished himself, Captain Campbell said:—"With General Kitchener's Column, near Carolina.—On Thursday, the 16th, I received orders from General Kitchener to proceed to a farmhouse to pick up a Boer family and take some waggons, and burn all food and fodder in the house. On reaching the place, the women gave me some information about three waggons in a spruit. On crossing the spruit, the Boers opened fire on us. I at once took a position and gave the order for dismounted duty; but, finding the enemy pretty strong, I remained in the position for some time. I afterwards advanced on horseback, and gave the order for dismounted duty, with fixed bayonets, and occupied a position further to the front. Mr. Bell was on my right flank, Mr. McCormack on my left, and Mr. Reid again on the extreme left with a division. Mr. Reid was driven back, after having been shot through the groin, and having had one man wounded. After some heavy firing my right flank was driven in (under Mr. Bell), and the only thing left to me was to retire the main body. Our fire was most effective. The enemy's strength was supposed to be 200, and mine was 86. During the operations on this day my casualties were:—Five killed and one officer and four men wounded. The men killed were:—335, Private B. Fisher; 341, Private F. Page; 385, Private F. T. Adams; 403, Private J. Semple; and 339, Private A. Blanck (who has since died). The wounded were:—Lieutenant Reid Corporal Cunningham, (485) Private H. Rule, and (437) Private W. Nicholls. The Fifth Contingent were operating on our extreme left, their casualties being also very heavy. I will write this despatch up more fully through the medium of my diary, and will forward it on at the first opportunity. I beg to mention particularly Mr. Bell. During the retirements he came on a man dismounted, and took him on his horse with him. The horse fell with them both, and, being unable to remount, Mr. Bell covered the retreat of the man until he was safe. I wish also to mention Mr. Reid, as he again took his division into action after being severely hit. I would particularly mention also No. 510, Bugler E. N. Blight, for his splendid service in the field."

References and Links

Australian War Memorial page.

Thanks to Rob Ward for drawing my attention to all of the above.

Garry Gillard | New: 9 January, 2020 | Now: 15 January, 2024