Donald Simpson Bell, the only English footballer to have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross, is to be given a new memorial almost one-hundred years after his death. He was the first of 2,000 footballers to enlist in the First World War and was honoured by King George V after he ran across open ground to attack a German machine gun post, killing fifty men on 5 July 1916. Having assaulted the gunner, he threw hand grenades and other bombs into a dugout before being killed five days later.
Bell played football for Crystal Palace, Newcastle United and Bradford Park Avenue, and the memorial that was erected to him near the French village of Contalmaison is gaining a new memorial stone and plaque in honour of his valiant efforts. His story has left a lasting legacy as just four years ago, the Professional Footballers’ Association bought his Victoria Cross medal at auction for £252,000, which at the time was the third highest price ever paid for a Victoria Cross.
In a letter to his mother, Bell was modest in his actions, claiming “I must confess that it was the biggest fluke alive and I did nothing. I chucked the bomb and it did the trick.” A report in the London Gazette in 1916 read “This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack. Five days later this very gallant officer lost his life after performing a very similar act of bravery.”
The stone for Donald Bell will be erected this summer.