Brookes remembers alumnus Donald Simpson Bell; Battle of the Somme hero

Friday, 08 July 2016

Donald-Simpson-Bell

As the nation remembers those who fought and died in the Battle of the Somme during World War I, Sunday (10 July) will mark 100 years since the death of Donald Simpson Bell; a Westminster College alumnus and the only professional footballer to have been awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). Westminster College is a predecessor institute of Oxford Brookes University.

2nd Ltd Donald Simpson Bell was awarded the VC posthumously following the actions in the Battle. On the 5 July 1916, Donald crossed No-Man’s-Land to destroy a German machine gun. He did so under heavy fire and on his own initiative. Detailing his ‘most conspicuous bravery’ a London Gazette supplement published on 9 September reported: “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.”

A college sports star - he had been captain of athletics and a first team player for cricket, football and hockey as well as playing rugby and swimming for the college – he became a professional footballer, playing for Bradford Park Avenue, before becoming the first professional footballer to enlist.

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.

London Gazette supplement

Bell was the only professional footballer to be awarded the VC. He was 25 when he was killed on the battlefield and was buried where he fell. There is a stained-glass window in his memory at Harcourt Hill Chapel which is based at the University’s Harcourt Hill Campus.

Founded in 1851 as a Methodist teacher training organisation, Rev John Scott was its first principal. He stayed for 17 years and played a major role in shaping the college’s sense of a collegiate and family atmosphere as well as its reputation as a teacher training college. In 2000, Westminster College merged with Oxford Brookes.

There will be information about Donald Simpson Bell in the Brookes Zone at the Cowley Road Carnival on Sunday.