1875 - 1954 (79 years)
||Frederick William Bell  |
||Perth, Western Australia, Australia 
||Perth Western Australia
|Cadet Western Australian Customs Department and later Cashier |
||Boer War - South Africa
|Enlisted as a private in the 1st West Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent |
||Frederick William Bell
In uniform during the Boer War
||Western Australia Transvaal Contingent
Western Australian Transvaal Contingent lining up on Karrakatta Station, near Perth 75h November 1899. Fred is listed as one of those present, he was a private at the time
||1899 - 1901
||Boer War - South Africa
- He first saw action at Slingersfontein, and later took part in the relief of Johannesburg and Pretoria and the battles of Diamond Hill and Wittenbergen: on 19th July 1900, in a sharp engagement at Palmeitfontein, he was seriously wounded in the abdomen and invalided to England. He returned to Perth in February 1901, was commissioned Lieutenant in the 6th Contingent on 8th March and re-embarked for South Africa.
He gained the Victoria Cross at Brakpan in the Transvall for bravery in action. He was the first Western Australian to achieve this honour. Details of his action were carried in the London Illustrated News of October 12th 1901, Pages 534 and 535, along with two other VC medal winners from different actions.
||16 May 1901
- Lt William Frederick Bell won the Victoria Cross for consipicuous gallantry at Brakpan in the South African War (Boer War). On the 16 May 1901 at Brakpan, Transvaal, South Africa, when retiring under heavy fire after holding the right flank when he saw a colleague who was dismounted. In spite of the intensity of fire he turned about, went to the man's aid, and took him up behind him on his horse. The weight of the two men proved too great for the animal, which fell with them. Bell thereupon insisted that the man should mount the horse and make his escape. Bell remained behind and covered his retirement until he was out of danger.
The following is a more detailed account of the action at Brakpan:
"In May and June 1901 the Fifth and Sixth WA Mounted Infantry Contingents were searching for Boer parties in open country east
of Johannesburg. In a severe engagement on 15 May, five members of the Sixth Contingent were killed. The following day Boers
ambushed the Contingent in long grass in marshy country. They let the leading scouts pass by, then opened fire at close range on the
main body. Galloping for the safety of high ground, the West Australians were pursued by Boers firing from horseback. A retreating
horse fell with its rider. Lieutenant Bell hoisted the man up behind, but their combined weight was too great for his horse. Bell sent
the man on to safety on the horse while he gave rapid covering fire from behind an anthill, covering not only the man's retreat but that
of Captain Campbell, a brother officer with another rescued rider mounted behind him. For his bravery that day, Bell was awarded the
||Frederick William Bell's Military honours
Medals consist of - Left to right
Victoria Cross; Queen's South Africa Medal (clasps for Wittenbergen, Diamond Hill, Johannesburg, and Cape Colony); King's South Africa Medal (clasps for South Africa 1901 and 1902); Africa General Service Medal (clasp for Somaliland 1908-10); 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal with Oak Leaf (Mention…
||British Colonial Service - British Somaliland
|Assistant Political Officer - He held this post until 1910. |
||British Colonial Service - British Somaliland
|Assistant District Officer |
||British Colonial Service - Nigeria
|Assistant Resident |
||British Colonial Service - Kenya
|Assistant District Commission - held this position until 1914 when he became ill and was sent back to England to recuperate. |
||World War I
- At the outbreak of World War One he immediately volunteered for service. He went to France with the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. He was mentioned in dispatches and promoted to Captain in October 1915. He was also wounded again. He returned to England and was made Commandant of a rest camp and promoted to Major; later he was made Lt Col and became the Commandant of the Embarkation Camps in Plymouth England.
||British Colonial Service - Kenya
|District Commissioner - After the first World War he became the District Commissioner in Kenya. In 1924/25 he gave evidence at the Masai Inquiry Committee at which his evidence appeared to displease the Government; he was retired in 1925, allegedly on the grounds of age - he was 50 at the time. The Government denied the allegations he gave under oath to the Inquiry. "Masai Inquiry Committee" in the 1925 index. an entry for 23rd April, page 11 which read:|
"Reprimand of Kenya Official
Lord Delamere's Criticisms (from our correspondent). Nairobi April 20th
In the Kenya Legislative Council Lord Delamere moved a resolution drawing attention to the reprimand and notification of termination of his services given bythe Government to Col FW Bell VC, a District Commissioner, following hisevidence before the Masai Inquiry Committee.
Lord Delamere stated that Col Bell had given evidence that certain sums of the
Native Trust Fund earmarked for certain purposes had been diverted to other purposes; also that he was ordered to send askaris (native troops) to round up
Masai children, who were forced to attend school against the wishes of theirparents; and further that he had characterized permission given to superior officers to allow Masai warriors to maintain their war-like insignia as very injudicious.
The resolution was defeated. The Government contended that Col Bell's
retirement was previously recommended because he had reached the age limit
and was not connected with the evidence, although it was true that action was not
taken in regard to Col Bell's retirement until the evidence was given. The
Government stated that it retains the right to censure officials who criticize the
policy of their superiors, even when giving evidence. It also denied the truth of
the allegations made.
Lord Delamere, in the same resolution, asked the Government to abandon the
practice of instructing natives beforehand as to the evidence they were expected
to give, and quoted a statement of Col Bell that he had been ordered to hold a
meeting of the Masai for this purpose before the sitting of the Committee. The
Government denied tampering with witnesses, asserting that it endeavoured to
assist the Inquiry, but Lord Delamere regarded it as significant that the native
speeches which were delivered to the Parliamentary Commission had been
typewritten beforehand. He said he was fighting for principles and had no
personal interest to serve."
I later found out, in an entry in The Times for 24th June 1924, that Lord
Delamere had been a member of the Inquiry Committee (I never did manage to
find out why the Committee had been set up in the first place). It was crystal
clear that Lord Delamere had been deeply disturbed by the treatment handed out
to FW whose only "crime" seems to have been that he told the truth about matters
which the Government didn't wish to accept - was it not ever so? FW was not
only a brave man, but also an honourable one who suffered for his honesty.
||28 Apr 1954
||Bristol, Somerset, England
Lt Col FW Bell VC; obituary
The Times Saturday 1st May 1954
"Lt Col Frederick William Bell, who won the Victoria Cross for conspicuous
gallantry at Brakpan in the South African War, died at Bristol on Wednesday
at the age of 79.
He won the decoration on May 16th, 1901, at Brakpan. He was retiring under
heavy fire after holding the right flank when he saw a colleague who was
dismounted. In spite of the intensity of fire he turned about, went to the man's
aid, and took him up behind him on his horse. The weight of the two men
proved too great for the animal, which fell with them. Bell thereupon insisted
that the man should mount the horse and make his escape. Bell remained
behind and covered his retirement until he was out of danger. Bell also saw
active service in Somaliland and later in the 1914-18 War.
He later served as a political officer in British Somaliland and as an
administrative officer in both Nigeria and Kenya Colony. He retired from the
colonial service in 1925 and at the time the circumstances surrounding his
retirement received a considerable amount of prominence. The late Lord
Delamere moved a resolution in the Administrative Assembly of Kenya
drawing the attention to "the reprimand and notice of termination of his
services, given by the Government to Lt Col FW Bell VC, a District
Commissioner, following his evidence before the Masai Inquiry Committee".
The Government contended that Bell's retirement had been previously
recommended on the ground that he had reached the age limit, and that it
was not connected with the evidence that he had given."
||Canford Cemetery, Bristol, Somerset, England
||Memorial Service Held at Fred's Grave
On 16th May 2001 the Centenary of Fred's winning of the VC, It was honoured with a ceremony around his grave
||Ceremony around Fred's grave in honour of the 100th anniversary of him winning the Victoria Cross.
J.N. Tidmarsh MBE JP The Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, A Royal British Legion Flag Bearer, Lt Col Mike Phelps Australian Army, Col Brian John The Head of the local branch of the Royal British Legion and Canon Roy Harrison Chaplain to the Gloucestershire County Branch of the Legion
||Tucker Family Tree
||12 Oct 2009 |
||Henry Thomas Bell, b. 1848, Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia |
||Alice Agnes Watson, b. 07 May 1853, Perth, Western Australia, Australia d. 04 Sep 1936 (Age 83 years) |
||Perth, Western Australia, Australia 
||Group Sheet | Family Chart
- The following notes were Extracted from "The Search for Lt Col FW Bell VC" by James C Briggs
Born in Perth, Western Australia 03/04/1875. His paternal grandfather was George
Bell (b. UK 1818; d. Western Australia 29/11/1908). On 24/01/1846 George married
Lydia Charlotte Duffield (b. UK 04/06/1829; d. Western Australia 23/07/1915).
George arrived on the "Napoleon" in Fremantle in 1840 (by 1865 he's listed as
a carpenter in the Western Australian Almanac). Lydia and her mother arrived with early settlers
in about 1831, her father, John Hole Duffield, (Frederick's maternal grandfather)
having arrived in Fremantle on HMS "Warrior" in 1830. They had 12 children
between 1846 and 1872, 7 girls and 5 boys. Henry Thomas (1848-1923), Lt Col
Bell's father, was the second child.
English period after his forced retirement. I knew that the
address where he and his second wife lived prior to their removal to Bristol
was "Darklands, Symonds Yat, Hereford". Back in 1952, when they moved
to Bristol, Symonds Yat lay right on the border of Monmouthshire,
Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Monmouthshire and Herefordshire no
longer exist as separate Counties. Where was I to turn? I put off the decision
until mid May when I rang the General Property Services of Bristol City
Council. They were a bit bemused by my request of help as to where to look
for information; never-the-less, after some internal consultations, they
suggested that I rang Gwent County Council, since they thought that
Symonds Yat was now in that domain. BT rapidly gave me the correct phone
number and again, after some internal discussions, in which it became clear
that they had no records, they gave me the number of the Hereford Record
Office, which still exists as a separate entity in spite of the County now being
Hereford and Worcester. I rang and told them the information that I was
trying to gain about Frederick Bell. There and then they checked the Electoral Registers,
but with no result; they next turned to Kelly's Directory for 1941 and
discovered that Frederick, presumably with his first wife who died in 1944, lived
at "Pengwyn", Symonds Yat. They also told me that a Mrs Cracklow was
living at "Darklands", Symonds Yat. (Mrs Cracklow was FW's second wife
whom he married in 1945). They then checked the 1934 Directory and
established that both Frederick and Mrs Cracklow were at the same addresses.
Unfortunately the next oldest Kelly's that they had was for 1922, when I knew
that Frederick was still in Kenya. All of this Hereford information came over the
phone in the course of about 20 minutes.
It thus appears that FW lived in Symonds Yat - a very beautiful part of the
world incidentally - at least from 1934. Initially he was with his first wife,
whom he married in London in 1922. She died in 1944 and about a year later
he married Mrs Cracklow, a widow, whom he must have known for many
years since they both lived in the same area. When his first wife died he moved into "Darklands", owned by Mrs Cracklow and it was for this reason
that she, and not he, purchased the house in Bristol. Whether he ever owned
"Pengwyn" or merely rented, I don't know. However, see (5).
I now regarded Frederick's story as complete. I submitted an account of my searches
to The Military History Society of Australia and they were delighted to
publish it in their journal Sabretache - the address having been given me by
John Black. (Sabretache 1997:38/2:3-12)
In 1871 Henry Thomas married Alice Agnes Watson (07/05/1853 -
04/09/1936); they had 10 children between 1873 and 1894 and FW was the
Of his siblings the eldest, Luna Alice (25/04/1873 - ?), married a Mr Cox and
was living in the UK in 1936. Two of his brothers served in the Australian
Imperial Force in WW1; Edgar was killed at Gallipoli and Bert at Pozieres in
France. For more family details see " Appendix".
Frederick was initially in the Western Australian Customs Dept, joining as a cadet in 1894; he later became a cashier.
In October 1899, at the outbreak of the South African War, he enlisted as a
Private in the 1st West Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent. (At this
stage of the development of Australia the individual States acted on their own
in these matters: only in 1901 did the States combine to produce an
He first saw action at Slingersfontein, and later took part in the relief of
Johannesburg and Pretoria and the battles of Diamond Hill and
Wittenbergen: on 19th July 1900, in a sharp engagement at Palmeitfontein,
he was seriously wounded in the abdomen and invalided to England. He
returned to Perth in February 1901, was commissioned Lieutenant in the 6th
Contingent on 8th March and re-embarked for South Africa
He gained the VC at Brakpan in the Transvaal for bravery in action. He was
the first W Australian to achieve this honour. Details of his action were
carried in the London Illustrated News of October 12th 1901, pages 534 and
535, along with two other VC medal winners from different actions.
All Crosses are engraved with the date of the action on the back and the
recipient's name on the back of the Clasp. However FW was originally
presented with an unengraved Cross in South Africa, one of several taken out
for presentation in the field by the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward
VII. It was returned to the War Office for engraving. In the meantime
another Cross with Fredericks's name on it had been prepared for presentation and
sent separately to South Africa, but it was later melted down. (There is
another version of this story which says that the medal was presented by the
Prince to FW in London on 11th July 1902).
After his discharge in May 1902 he 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.
He became an Assistant Political Officer later that year, a post which he held
until 1910. He took up big game hunting and, in 1909, narrowly escaped
death in a lion hunt. He found himself alone as a lion charged. He shot it, but
managed only to infuriate it by blowing away its lower jaw. The lion and he
wrestled in the dust until help arrived. He spent six months in England recovering from the mauling.
He became Assistant Resident in Nigeria in 1910 and an Assistant District
Commissioner in Kenya in 1912. In 1914 he became ill and was sent to
England to recuperate.
At the outbreak of WW1, on the eve of his recovery, he immediately
volunteered for service. (In 1907 he had been commissioned in the 4th
Reserve Regiment of Cavalry). He went to France with the Royal Irish
Dragoon Guards. He was mentioned in dispatches and promoted to Captain
in October 1915. He was also wounded again. He returned to England and
was made Commandant of a rest camp and promoted to Major; later he was
made Lt Col and became the Commandant of the Embarkation Camps in
After the War he became a District Commissioner in Kenya.
In May 1922, aged 47, he married in London to Mabel Mackenzie Valentini (nee
Skinner), a divorcee. She died in 1944.
In 1924/25 he gave evidence at the Masai Inquiry Committee at which his
evidence appeared to displease the Government; he was retired in 1925, allegedly
on the grounds of age - he was 50 at the time. The Government denied the
allegations he gave under oath to the Inquiry.
He remarried on 20th February 1945 to Brenda Margaret Cracklow (nee
Illingworth), a widow. At this time he was 69.
He visited W Australia with his wife in 1947 and took part in a ceremony with
other holders of the VC.
Prior to 1952 he lived at Darklands, Symonds Yat, Hereford. He moved to 89
Stoke Lane, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol following the purchase of the house by
his wife on 11th July 1952.
He died in Bristol on Wednesday 28th April 1954 at the age of 79. He is buried
in Canford Cemetery, Bristol. An obituary appeared in The Times on Saturday
1st May 1954. His wife continued to live in the house, apparently with Mary
Brenda Cracklow, her retired secretary but also probably an unmarried
Sister-in-Law from Mrs Bell's first marriage.(5).
Lt Col Bell had no children of his own.
In 1979 W Australia celebrated the 150th anniversary of its first settlement. 150
brass plaques were placed in the pavements of Perth; his details are on the one
In 1984 a medal dealer offered his VC (and other medals) for sale to the family
in WA. The asking price was apparently A$43,000, possibly for the VC only.
The medal had been sold much earlier (details unknown, but possibly by his
widow or step son) and went to Canada. See (5) and last paragraphs of this text.
It then reappeared on the market in London from where the offer to the family
came. In view of the price the family were forced to decline the offer.
However the WA Government was alerted about the sale and made
arrangements for one of their representatives to make the acquisition. The
story hit the WA newspapers on 12th Oct. 1984. The medals are now on
permanent display in the WA museum. The medals, 10 in all, consist of the
VC; Queen's South Africa Medal (clasps for Wittenbergen, Diamond Hill,
Johannesburg, and Cape Colony); King's South Africa Medal (clasps for
South Africa 1901 and 1902); Africa General Service Medal (clasp for
Somaliland 1908-10); 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal with
Oak Leaf (Mention in Dispatches), Coronation Medals for Edward VII,
George VI and Elizabeth II.
In 1991 a permanent display about him was placed in the foyer of the
Customs Department in Fremantle.
- Extract of a Letter sent by Frederick William Bell to his parents, Printed in "The West Australian Mercury" newspaper of 21st October 1901.
dated 10th August and says:
that since his last letter:
"The contingent have had a tough time, but are recompensed by the results of
same, taking in all 50 prisoners, innumerable waggons, cattle, horses and
sheep; also mealie and foodstuff. This morning we left Ermelo after spending
yesterday there in collecting the inhabitants who were the Boers' best friends.
We fought a pretty severe rear-guard action coming away; as we evacuated,
the enemy again going in and following us to this camp, the strength of the
commando being 800. Many handsome buildings we were compelled to burn,
and last night was unique in my experience. Imagine a dozen houses at least
in blaze at one time; and again our column camped on the outskirts, having
huge bonfire concerts, with instruments looted from the adjacent houses,
including at least five pianos among the different regiments, everybody
enjoying the scene and life, and merriment prevailing on all sides. Such a
sight is not easily forgotten and, no doubt, the night of 10-8-1901 will live a
long time in our memories. A few nights since we had the good fortune to bag
25 prisoners. Marching all night we surrounded a farm just as dawn was
breaking. We fixed bayonets and charged with a yell, with the result of
capturing without a shot. Some trouble was experienced in getting them out
of the houses, but a few men with cold steel worked wonders. They were,
indeed, a motley lot and, strange to say, amongst them were some old enemies
of ours whom we had previously met at Brakpan. We identified them by
saddlery, wearing apparel etc., etc., taken from the killed at that place. One
man was also wearing a ring our men recognised as belonging to a dead
comrade. Our prisoner tried very hard to hide himself in the roof; it was
funny to see him poked out of hiding with a bayonet. In this capture, as
Tommy would say, we "got our own back".
We are now on route to Carolina and, on arrival there expect a good mail. In
regard to letters lately captured at Reits, I can place very little reliance on
them. The prisoners taken assure us that Botha has not the least intention of
giving up. This trek we have been in a lot of the same country as when with
Kitchener. The third night out we secured 18 prisoners in the same manner
as before mentioned. This portion of the Transvaal is now one burnt out and
blackened mass. The want of grass is beginning to tell on the Boers' cattle and
horses; those captured by us are, many of them, in poor condition. Only this
morning we shot over 50 wild ones driven in by us and found to be useless.
A few words in reference to the contingent. The men have now thoroughly
settled down to the work and are beginning to understand the wily burgher
and his many varied and own peculiar ways of fighting; they have not had, as
predicted in the first, a huge picnic. Hard work and plenty of fighting have
been the general thing, intermingling with severe night marches in the biting
cold. There are few things more fatiguing or trying than the latter. How
entirely different everything now is when compared with the general advance
of eighteen months ago, unless actually experienced, very few can form any
idea of what a prolonged and severe campaign like this really means.
Country, one devastated burnt and blackened mass; home and belongings
consigned to the flames, as each column winds along; cattle, sheep and
livestock either destroyed or driven in; families given short notice to leave
their all and come along after watching the destruction of homes they have
known since childhood. I am not, in the least, an admirer of the Boer or his
ways, but, taking all these things into consideration, I cannot censure him for
killing as many of us as possible. What would Englishmen, or Australians, do
under the same conditions as our enemies but fight to the last? Blood is
thicker than water. Even so, we cannot but admire the Dutch women for their
loyalty, self-sacrifice and devotion they have shown to the men fighting
against us; now alas, for them, a forlorn cause. Small skirmishes are now the
order of the day. The Boers are now broken up into small parties.
Nevertheless, hey cause us plenty of hard work, with minimum risk to
themselves; knowing every nook and corner as they do, it is a simple matter
for them to evade us. Night work appears the only way of surprising them as,
owing to the intensely cold weather, they are compelled to take shelter in
some of the farms. Snipe, snipe, snipe from ridge to ridge, and so the
rear-guard usually gets it. Guerilla war-fare is now the correct term. From
information gleaned from recent prisoners bagged, this struggle seems no
nearer termination than it was twelve months ago. The man who changeth
not is the Australian soldier. He goes his way happy in the possession of loot
and a good horse, and although, perhaps, the weight of a little pig or,
perchance a duck on the saddle tells on his mount, he fights none the worse
for it. The latest scheme has been collecting kaffirs; the spectacle of a
regiment of niggers of all ages and descriptions, from the picaninny to the
aged gin with not enough clothing amongst them to make a decent dishcloth,
is indeed funny. So they do their daily march in rear of the convoy, carrying
their worldly belongings with them. One of the most striking features of the
campaign is the necessary destruction of yoke oxen, horses, mules etc. These
poor dumb brutes are forced along until they drop from sheer exhaustion,
being then shot and left to rot. When I tell you I have seen as many as twenty
oxen drop on one march, you will form some idea of the number required;
horses even in greater proportion are destroyed. Good old John Bull is ever
ready with a fresh one; his purse strings are being pulled severely,
however.Something out of the ordinary I witnessed the other evening. We had
collected a number of Dutch women and children. It being Sunday night in
camp, they asked permission to sing hymns. On being granted them, and after
going through well known "Sankey's", assisted by our own Tommies, they
sang "Where is my wandering boy tonight?", first in their own tongue and
then in ours. This last would have been quite as successful as the former, only
our fellows would be original and substitute the word "girl" in lieu of "boy",
which caused the ladies, after singing the Dutch National Anthem, to retire,
and so the proceedings ended with "God Save the King" from the lusty throats
of three or four hundred Britishers. probably you are wondering where the
Boers' supplies are coming from and how he exists. 'Tis a simple matter, for
every farm there are at least two kaffir kraals; until quite recently these have
been left intact by us, notwithstanding they all contained large supplies of
mealies, millet etc. As the Boer believes in Might before Right, the
consequence is that the kaffir has to part with his stock. We are the sufferers.
In addition to this, his cattle are unmolested, with the result of the Boer
coming behind and helping himself. There are supplies hidden in the country
to keep them for many months to come. We are continually bringing to light
such things. A favourite place for hiding different articles is their graveyards,
shaping the earth so as to resemble a newly made grave. We make some very
fair finds in these places; also in the rocks and on the banks of steams we dig
up loot of all descriptions.
A rather amusing incident occurred prior to leaving Ermalo. I was behind
with a small post. It appears that two privates remained in town after the
column had moved out, with the result of the Boers coming in on top of them.
As they only had one horse, they tossed a coin as to who would remain
behind, whilst the other took his chance of running the gauntlet. The man
who decided to ride for it had a bad time, for as he approached me I gave my
men the order for volleys, never dreaming he was one of our own men, as I
knew the enemy to be in the town. By his waving and shouting I saw
something was amiss, and let him approach. Fortunately he was not hit, only
scared. The man who was compelled to remain was wounded and taken
prisoner, being subsequently released, and arriving at camp the same evening.
Both belonged to the Scottish Horse."
- [S22] James C Briggs, The Search for Lt Col FW Bell VC (Reliability: 2).
- [S21] Department of the Atorney General, W.A. Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages, 1875 (Reliability: 3).
Surname Bell, Given Names Frederick William, Place of Birth Perth, Father Henry Thomas, Mother Watson Alice Agnes, Registration Year 1875, Registration No. 16289
- [S21] Department of the Atorney General, W.A. Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages, 1871 (Reliability: 3).
Surname Bell, Given Names Henry Thomas, Sex Male, Place of Marriage Perth, Spouse Surname Watson, Spouse Given Names Alice Agnes, Registration year 1871, Registration No. 3371