Soldiers’ Harrogate march celebrates footballer turned war hero

The Yorkshire Regiment excerise their right to march through Harrogate as part of an event for one of their own, Donald Simpson Bell, VC.  Picture: Tony Johnson.
The Yorkshire Regiment excerise their right to march through Harrogate as part of an event for one of their own, Donald Simpson Bell, VC. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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Soldiers marched through the centre of Harrogate as part of an event in honour of the first professional footballer to enlist in the British Army after the outbreak of the First World War.

Family members of Donald Simpson Bell, who was awarded the Victoria Cross 100 years ago to the day, gathered at the Cenotaph where they were met by the Yorkshire Regiment.

Donald Bell VC, the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.

Donald Bell VC, the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.

The regiment arrived with flags flying, bayonets fixed and with the band playing as they exercised their right to march through the spa town earlier today.

The borough’s Mayor, the High Sheriff and the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, also joined the war hero’s family at the Cenotaph where a special commemorative stone was laid.

Second Lieutenant Bell was awarded the VC, Britain’s highest military honour, on July 5, 1916 for, as reported at the time, “conspicuous bravery”.

Newspaper reports record how during an enemy machine gun attack, Mr Bell crept up a communication trench, then rushed across the open under heavy fire to attack the gun placement. He shot the gunner with his revolver, and destroyed the gun and personnel with bombs.

His actions were believed to have saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack. However, five days later whilst performing a similar act, he was killed - his death coming a month after he had married.

Yesterday’s service, led by the Lord Lieutenant, featured a reading by Colonel Mantell of the Green Howards of the original letter sent to Mr Bell’s parents informing them of his death. A poem about Mr Bell, published in the Herald newspaper on July 26, 1916, was also read out.

The commemoration is part of a campaign to honour all First World War VC recipients.