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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > July 2016 > Sporting heroes at the Somme

Sporting heroes at the Somme

Gavin Mortimer tells the story of Donald Bell, the top-flight footballer who sacrificed his sporting career to fight at the Somme
AN OFFICER AND A FOOTBALLER Donald Bell was a professional with Bradford Park Avenue before serving with the 9th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment
GETTY X2, IMAGES OF DONALD BELL COURTESY OF THE GREEN HOWARDS MUSEUM, RICHMOND, NORTH YORKSHIRE

THE FINAL WHISTLE

Donald Bell was looking forward to the start of the new football season in the summer of 1914. At 23, he was in the prime of his life, a strapping six-foot sportsman, who could run the 100 yards in under 11 seconds and had represented his county at rugby union. But football was Bell’s obsession. In 1912, he supplemented the income from his teaching job by turning professional with Bradford Park Avenue, helping them win promotion to the First Division, the top flight of English football.

Bradford now were in the same league as the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa. What a thrill that would be for Bell and his Bradford team-mates.

‘OVER THE TOP’ Soldiers of the British army clamber out of a trench during the Battle of the Somme, 1916
GETTY X2, PRESS ASSOCIATION X2, TOPFOTO X1

DID YOU KNOW?

The bombardment that preceded the start of the Battle of the Somme was so thunderous it could be heard in London – 200 miles away!

But a few weeks into the new season, Bell was no longer with the club. He had become a soldier in the British army, one of the few professional players who decided that – although the football season was continuing as scheduled, despite the outbreak of war – his responsibilities lay elsewhere. “I have given the subject very serious consideration and have now come to the conclusion that I am duty bound to join the ranks,” he wrote to Mr T E Maley, secretary of Bradford Park Avenue in August. The board agreed to release him from his contract and, within a short space of time, the hard-tackling fullback had been transformed into Second Lieutenant Bell, 9th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (the Green Howards).

Bell’s battalion belonged to ‘Kitchener’s Army’, the name given to the volunteers who had flocked to Britain’s recruiting stations in the weeks after the declaration of war on 4 August 1914. They responded to the call of Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, whose stern face stared out from recruitment posters emblazoned with the words ‘Join your country’s army!’ or ‘Your Country Needs You’.

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The July 2016 issue of History Revealed
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