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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bell, Frederick William (1875–1954)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Frederick William Bell (1875-1954), by unknown photographer

Frederick William Bell (1875-1954), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, A03687

Frederick William Bell (1875-1954), soldier and colonial administrator, was born on 3 April 1875 in Perth, son of Henry Thomas Bell, clerk, and his wife Alice Agnes, née Watson. Educated at A. D. Letch's preparatory school and at the government school, Perth, he joined the Western Australian Public Service in November 1894 as a cadet in the Department of Customs where 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 first saw action at Slingersfontein, and later took part in the relief of Johannesburg and of Pretoria and the battles of Diamond Hill and Wittebergen; on 19 July 1900, in a sharp engagement at Palmeitfontein, he was seriously wounded and was 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.

After his discharge in May 1902, Bell 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. Made an assistant political officer later that year he held the post until 1910. While in Somaliland he took up big-game hunting and in 1909 narrowly escaped death when he was badly mauled by a lion. He was assistant resident in Nigeria in 1910-12 and from then until the outbreak of World War I was an assistant district commissioner in Kenya. In 1914 Bell, who had been commissioned in the 4th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry in August 1907, served in France with the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. He was mentioned in dispatches and promoted captain in October 1915. On his return to England he was made commandant of a rest camp and promoted major; later, in the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he commanded an embarkation camp at Plymouth. Two of his three brothers were killed in action with the Australian Imperial Force.

After the war Bell returned to the colonial service as a district commissioner in Kenya. In May 1922 in London he married a divorcee Mabel Mackenzie Valentini, née Skinner, and in 1925 went into retirement in England. His wife died in 1944 and on 20 February 1945 he married a widow Brenda Margaret Cracklow, née Illingworth. He revisited Western Australia in 1947. His wife survived him when he died at Bristol on 28 April 1954.

Select Bibliography

  • Aust Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons, Great Britain), 1925, 2506
  • Duckboard, Mar 1968
  • 'Reprimand of Kenya Official', Times (London), 23 Apr 1925, p 11
  • West Australian (Perth), 1 May 1947, 30 Apr 1954
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 1 May 1954, p 8.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Bell, Frederick William (1875–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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