Double Military Cross hero named after Crimean battle

Edward Inkerman Jordan Bell had war in his blood – his middle name was a famous Crimean battle. The 1st Football Battalion captain, who played for Crystal Palace and Southampton, was wounded at the Somme and later killed as he won his second Military Cross.

Edward Inkerman Jordan Bell was named after Inkerman, the battle in which his father had fought as an infantry major in 1854 as British and French troops defeated the Russian Imperial Army. Bell, born in Gibraltar in 1886, was used to more gentle pursuits, playing a handful of games on the right wing as an amateur for Palace and a pro for Southampton in 1907 and 1908.

Corrected ‘grave football error’ in papers

Living in Aldershot, Hants, and working as a Government contracts inspector, he also turned out for amateur side South Farnborough.

Bell temporarily took command of the 17th Middlesex in July 1916 after Major Frank Buckley was wounded at Delville Wood on the Somme. A few months earlier as adjutant, he had stepped in to defend the battalion on a lighter subject. An unthinkable rumour that the 17th’s team had lost a football match against the 2nd South Staffords had found its way into the London press. Bell wrote to the newspapers to correct the grave error.

Son ‘inspired’ The Great Escape film

The battalion lost 36 dead and 200 wounded in the fierce two-day fight for Delville Wood. Bell was among those hit and received his first Military Cross for repelling a counter-attack “with great determination” and rescuing several men from a blown-up dugout.

The battalion’s war diary said “all ranks behaved with great gallantry. The devotion to duty was magnificent. The Division has been thanks by GHQ for capturing the wood”. Bell’s second Military Cross was awarded posthumously.

After the 17th Middlesex was disbanded in February 1918, he served on the 99th Brigade staff and on March 24, 1918, was killed by a shell as he organised ammunition supplies near Arras. He was 32.

Six months later, Bell’s widow Edith had a son, also named Edward Inkerman Jordan. In World War II he became an acting RAF squadron leader and was captured and imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, the PoW camp that inspired post­war films The Wooden Horse and The Great Escape.

Bell Jr won the DFC and also served in the Korean War as a major in the North Staffs Regiment.

Remembering the Somme

This year marks the 100­-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The Royal British Legion is calling on communities across the UK to take the time out from their daily lives to honour those who fell. We have created a Somme 100 toolkit which contains everything you need to organise a Remembrance event in your community.

Make your own commemoration to Captain Edward Bell or one of the other casualties of the First World War by simply placing a virtual poppy in their memory on our Every Man Remembered website.

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