In September 2016 the Friends of The Green Howards Museum, together with The Yorkshire Regiment, will hold a series of events in and around Contalmaison, France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and to remember members of the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) who lost their lives in the battle…

The principal event of the weekend will be a service at Bell’s Redoubt on Saturday 10th September at 10.45 am to commemorate the life of Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell VC, the only English professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

This will be followed by the laying of wreaths at the Contalmaison War Memorial. Following a Vin d’Honneur at lunchtime, there will be an England vs France football match to commemorate 2Lt Bell’s achievement. The English team will be made up of members of Bradford Park Avenue FC (Bell’s club at the time of the war) and The Yorkshire Regiment; they will play against local side Albert.

On the Sunday morning further short ceremonies will be held to commemorate other regimental VC recipients at the Somme – Major Stuart Loudoun-Shand VC, Private William Short VC and Captain Archie White VC MC who survived the battle:

  • Bray Road Cemetery, Fricourt
  • Norfolk Cemetery
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Gordon Dump

Attending throughout this weekend will be soldiers from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, The Band of The Yorkshire Regiment, members of the Green Howards Association, members of the Bell and Loudon-Shand families, as well as local dignitaries.

2Lt DS Bell VC

A superb athlete and footballer, he was born in 1890 and educated at Harrogate Grammar School before going to Westminster College to train as a teacher; there he turned out for Crystal Palace FC. On return to Yorkshire in 1911, he taught at Starbeck Primary School near Harrogate, continuing to play amateur football for Bishop Auckland and Newcastle United, where he gained a reputation as an outstanding fullback. He was then approached by Bradford Park Avenue FC in 1912 to play as a professional, an attractive opportunity to eke out his meagre teacher’s salary.

He made his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 13th April 1913 and made five league appearances for the Bradford 1st XI before WW1 started. As right back for the team he had an amazing turn of speed, a talent that was to be put to great use in the war.

Not long after hostilities began in August 1914, he volunteered for the Army, the first professional footballer to do so, and in November at the age of 24, he was released from his contract and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment as a private soldier, where he was quickly promoted. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Yorkshire Regiment (as the Green Howards were then titled) before being sent to France in November the following year to join the 9th Battalion. On leave in June 1916, a month before his death, he married Rhoda Bonson in Kirkby Stephen.

Because of his athleticism and leadership, he was selected for the dangerous role of leading bombing teams. On the afternoon of 5th July 1916, shortly after the start of the Battle of the Somme, he was in charge of a small group of bombers who were ordered to capture an enemy position dug in along the crest of a ridge, a mile to the south west of Contalmaison, named ‘Horseshoe Trench’.

The citation for his Victoria Cross reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery at Horseshoe Trench on 5th July 1916. During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine gun. Second Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up the communication trench and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver and destroying gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack. Five days later this gallant officer lost his life performing a very similar act of bravery”.