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Freedom March and commemorative stone dedication for First World War VC hero

The Yorkshire Regiment will exercise their rights to march through Harrogate for one of their own on Tuesday 5 July, as part of a commemorative stone dedication ceremony for Donald Simpson Bell, VC.

The regiment will march through the town with ‘flags flying, bands playing and bayonets fixed’ before joining the borough’s Mayor, the High Sheriff and the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, and family members of Donald Bell – the first professional footballer to enlist in the British army after World War 1 was declared – for a special stone laying commemoration at the Cenotaph marking the 100th anniversary of Bell being awarded the Victoria Cross.

The commemoration is part of a Government campaign to honour all First World War VC recipients and will see paving stones laid out in the their birth places over the four years of the 100th anniversary of the war to remember the acts of valour that led to the award.

The aim is to honour the bravery of the VC recipients, provide a lasting legacy of local heroes within a community, and enable residents to get a better understanding of how their area played its part in the First World War story.

Donald Simpson
Donald Simpson VC

Donald Simpson Bell was awarded his VC on 5 July, 1916 for, as the London Gazette reported, “conspicuous bravery.  During an attack… a hostile machine gun….2nd Lt. Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench and then……rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver, and destroying gun and personnel with bombs.”

Bell‘s heroic actions were believed to have saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack; five days later whilst performing a very similar act, he was killed.

At the stone laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in Harrogate at 11am on Tuesday 5 July, the Lord Lieutenant will lead a commemoration and dedication service.

The service will include a reading by Colonel Mantell MBE of the Green Howards (Yorkshire Regiment), of the original letter sent to Donald Simpson Bell’s parents telling them of his death.  A poem about Donald Bell sent in from a reader that was published in the Herald on 26 July 1916 will also be read out.

Donald Simpson Bell had no children of his own, having only married a month before he was killed.  However, around thirteen of his nieces and grand-nieces, nephews and grand- nephews, will be attending the commemoration service on 5 July 2016,

  • The VC commemorative stones are made of Scoutmoor Yorkstone, and are 60cm square.  The stones include the name of the individual, their rank and regiment (at the time the VC was awarded) and the date of the action for which the VC was awarded
  • Charlie MacKeith from London won the competition to design the stone; it uses the material, form and lettering of memorials use by the War Graves Commission
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