James Elliot Bell was born in Liverpool, England, in about 1890. The family emigrated to Australia when James was 10 months old. They lived initially in Sydney, where James attended Sydney and Willoughby Public Schools. The family later moved to Orange, where James’ father Robert worked as a commercial traveller.
Following his education James completed a building trade apprenticeship. He later opened Bell Brothers house and land agents in Summer Street with his brother John.
James enlisted in August 1915, joining the 1st Battalion, 12th Reinforcements as a private. The Leader described the recruits’ send-off from the Orange Railway Station as:
A scene of intense enthusiasm, [a] mass of pushing, perspiring, struggling and excited humanity.
In September James returned to Orange, where he was the guest of honour at a valedictory at Orange Public School, and was presented with a wristlet watch by the Methodist Church congregation.
In December Private Bell embarked for overseas service in Egypt. In April the following year he joined the British Expeditionary Force on the western front in France. James fought in the Battle of Pozieres where, on 22 July, he sustained a gunshot wound to the thigh. He was admitted to No 5 General Hospital at Rouen, where he died of his wounds the following week. He was 26 years old. The matron-in-charge later wrote a letter to James’ mother Alice to say:
He was quite conscious till the last day when his leg got so much worse that it was found necessary to amputate it…He was very patient and cheerful and never complained of much pain.
I saw him [James] yesterday about half an hour after he was wounded. He had a compound fracture of the thigh, but was very cheerful and happy. He got his wound in a battle such as any man would be proud to be in. It was Australia’s first big try against all Germany’s best and alongside the best of the Allies, and you will have learned how our boys did their part. I was at an advanced dressing station not far from the line the Germans held the other day, and while I was there helping with our wounded I heard a cheerful voice say, ‘How are you, Dr Colvin,’ and looking, I saw Bell going by on a stretcher. I spoke to him and said I would write and tell his brother. If ever a man was proud of the Australians it is under such conditions as we see them now. You simply can’t quench their cheerfulness or bravery.
James was buried at St Sever Cemetery at Rouen in France. On Sunday 6 August 1916 a special memorial service was held at Methodist Church in Orange to acknowledge the second anniversary of the war and to pay tribute to James and Bert Argall, both of whom had recently died in France. In his address, the Rev. CP Walkden Brown said:
Jim Bell was a good, kind hearted fellow, and there was not anyone more ready or cheerful to do something for the church of his choice.
James is commemorated on Methodist Church Orange Honour Roll and on the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph.
In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte JE Bell”; it was donated by Alex Craw. Very few of the trees are still standing today.
James Elliot Bell’s diary is held by the State Library of New South Wales. The final page of the diary contains the following transcription from James’ Daily Light Book:
This little book is to be sent to my Mother if I should be called before my Redeemer.
My dear Mother,
Weep not for me. I fell doing my Duty. My trust has always been in God. Kind love to all. May God guide you and give you a calm and serene peace.
Your ever loving son.
Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and courtesy copyright holder.