William John Albert John Bell was born in Moneymore, Co Derry, on 20 November 1888. He was the second child and first son of John Bell and Margaret Ann Bell née Cinnamond. John Bell, who was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary, was born in Co Cavan around 1856. Margaret Ann Cinnamond was born in Co Down around 1861. They married in Newcastle, Co Down, on 7 August 1884. John stated that he was a policeman living in Rathfriland, the son of George Bell, a farmer. Margaret Ann stated that she lived in Magherasaul, the daughter of James Cinnamond, a farmer.
The following month (15 September 1884) John Bell was transferred to Derry City, with the rank of Acting-Sergeant. A daughter, Mabel Lilly Elizabeth, was born at Creggan Street on 13 May 1885. On 1 November 1885 John Bell was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Around this time he was transferred to Moneymore in South Derry. The Bell family settled in the village, where a daughter, Margaret Cinnamond Matilda (Maggie), was born on 14 March 1887. Albert was born on 20 November 1888. Two years later, on 11 October 1890, came the birth of Laura Beatrice Lillie Elizabeth, who was known as Laura. A son, James Alexander, was born on 12 July 1892 but died from pneumonia on 5 September 1893.There were two subsequent additions to the family: Leonard Harper Moore (Harper) was born on 10 April 1894 and Adelaide Mary Georgina (Ada) on 25 April 1896.
John Bell retired from the police force in October 1901. He had served for twenty-five years but was a comparatively young man, being 44 years of age. The 1901 census, taken on 31 March, shows that his wife Margaret Ann was operating a hotel in Hanover Street, Coagh, at this period, but it appears that sometime later the family moved out of the village to the nearby townland of Ballygonny More. The 1911 census shows the family living there, and John Bell describes himself as “Farmer & Ex Sergt RIC”. Also in the family home were his wife Margaret Ann, daughters Laura and Ada, and son Harper. The oldest daughter, Maggie, had married neighbour Samuel Lamont on 6 November 1906: a few years later they decided to emigrate and on 1 May 1909 they took leave of Ireland, bound for Brooklyn, New York. The oldest son, Albert, had followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Royal Irish Constabulary.
Albert Bell was living in Coagh when he joined the police force on 16 May 1907. On 9 November of the same year he was posted to Ballinamallard, Co Fermanagh. His police number was 62605, and he was described as William JA Bell, born Londonderry, Presbyterian, joined from Tyrone, 5 feet 11 3/8 inches tall. He was transferred to Belfast on 1 July 1910 and was based at Brown Square Barracks. Albert may have found the big city a change from the tiny village in rural Fermanagh: in any event he resigned from the force on 30 June 1912. The official record declares “No reason stated” for his resignation, but he may have already made up his mind to emigrate to New Zealand.
It is not known exactly when Albert Bell emigrated but it was obviously prior to the outbreak of war in July 1914. In New Zealand he joined the police force and was based in Wellington, where he worked in the fingerprint office of the criminal investigation department. When he enlisted in the New Zealand Army on 24 July 1916 at Trentham Camp, near Upper Hutt, Wellington, he gave his occupation as police constable, his address as 18 Portland Crescent, Wellington, and his last employer as the New Zealand Government (Wellington). In his medical report he was described as aged 27, height 6ft 2in, weight 13st 6lb, fresh complexion, blue eyes, brown hair, and he was passed as fit.
He was promoted to sergeant in October 1916. Sergeant Albert Bell belonged to the 1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, and the regiment embarked for England on 12 February 1917. In England he passed the examination for commissioned rank and became a sergeant major. It was possibly around this time that he visited his family in Coagh when he had leave. Albert’s widowed father was seriously ill: his mother had died on 29 June 1914, aged 53 years.
Back at camp in England, as a sergeant major he was deputed for training work but so anxious was he to see action that he reverted to the ranks on 1 June 1917. Five days later he attained his wish, being posted to France as a private. The following month he was promoted to lance-corporal. His war record reads as follows –
Embarked Wellington 12 February 1917; disembarked Plymouth, England, 2 May 1917 and marched in to Reserve Group, Sling Camp.
Reverted to the ranks 1 June 1917.
Proceeded to France 6 June 1917; joined 1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, in the field 25 June 1917 and posted to 8th Company.
Appointed Lance Corporal to complete establishment 21 July 1917.
Wounded in action 31 July 1917 (gunshot wound, neck) and admitted to No 3 NZ Field Ambulance same day and then transferred to 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station; to No 2 General Hospital 3 August 1917; to NZ Base Depot, Etaples, 3 September 1917.
Transferred to 2nd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment, 14 September 1917; rejoined 1st Battalion, 19 September 1917.
Admitted to No 1 NZ Field Ambulance, 26 October 1917 (influenza); transferred to NZ Stationary Hospital 27 October 1917; rejoined unit in the field 19 January 1918.
Detached to Musketry School 27 January 1918; rejoined unit, 4 February 1918.
Wounded in action (remained at duty) 9 February 1918.
Wounded in action (third occasion) 16 February 1918 (gunshot wound, chest, penetrating); admitted to NZ Field Ambulance, 17 February 1918; transferred to No 2 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, 17 February 1918.
Died of wounds (gunshot wound, left lung, penetrating), 5 am, 21 February 1918.
At Albert’s request, Nurse Claire Gass wrote the following letter to his father, the widowed John Bell who was terminally ill with stomach cancer –
Dear Mr Bell
Before this reaches you, you will have heard that sad news of your son’s great sacrifice. I know the chaplain here has written to you already, but because your boy especially asked me to write, I want to send you this letter and express my sympathy for you in your grief, though could you have seen how splendid he was in those last few hours, I am sure there could be room for nothing in your heart but pride that your son was so much of a man, and had taken his courage and his manhood home with him to his God. As you probably know, he was shot through the chest, and from the first his condition was a very critical one. Later the doctors knew it was hopeless, and he was not allowed to suffer. He too, knew towards the end that he would not live, and spoke to me of dying, and asked me if, after he had gone, I would write to his father. I asked him if he had any special messages to send, and he said, just tell him how and when I died. He told me that you were in hospital in Ireland. He is buried in the cemetery here. It is called Lijssenthoek Cemetery and is about a mile from Poperinghe. The graves are carefully tended and during the last year the cemetery has become a very large one. The few personal effects your boy brought here with him will be sent to you through the war office in England.
Your son came into our ward during the night at 2.20am, Feb17th and he passed away at 5.00am on the morning of the 21st. He was so sweet and grateful for every little thing we did for him, and his beautiful character was so clearly marked on his face and fine physique, that my heart aches for you in your loss of such a son.
I remain yours, very sincerely
Claire Gass, Nursing Sister
Lance Corporal Albert Bell was interred in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. His grave reference is AWMM XXVII. E. 8A
He is commemorated on the Coagh War Memorial in Hanover Square.
Bell A. L/Cpl. O.R.N.Z.
Attestation of William John Albert Bell, 22 July 1916, on enlisting in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Sergeant Major Albert Bell and Sergeant Turnbull
Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
The headstone of Albert Bell in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery
The Bell family headstone in the graveyard at Ballygoney Presbyterian Church
Coagh War Memorial
Bell A. L/Cpl. O.R.N.Z.
Sergeant Major Albert Bell and Sergeant Turnbull