26 June 2007

For some time it was noticed that the stone lying over the tomb of Major General Edward Bell VC, CB, in St Mary's Churchyard, Kempsey, Worcestershire, had been deteriorating badly. Therefore, a project to rectify this problem was initiated by Granville Angell and his 'Victoria Cross Grave Concern', under the auspices of the Worcestershire Provenance of Freemasonry, that Edward Bell's grave has now been completely restored.

At noon on Tuesday, 26th June 2007, a ceremony was held to re-consecrate the ground in which Edward Bell is buried. The service was taken by the Rev John Guy, Masonic chaplain for Malvern, and in attendance were representatives of the sucessor regiment of the 23rd, the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The great granddaughter of Edward Bell VC also attended the ceremony, where it was revealed that Bell's brother Montague died in the Crimea, succumbing to cholera that swept the battlefields.

The first major battle that took place during the Crimean War ( 1854-56 ) was the Battle of the Alma on 20th September 1854. The Allies decided to launch a pincer movement against the Russians. The French were to advance along the sea shore on the right flank before scaling the cliffs and capturing the heights. The British were to advance on the centre and left flank. The British troops were deployed into a long line, two deep across a two-mile front, and crossed the river Alma under heavy fire, encountering on the far side, steep rocky ground leading up to the Heights occupied by the Russians.

In the centre the 23rd Regiment ( Royal Welch Fusiliers ) closed in remorselessly on the Greater Redoubt, disregarding the blasts of grapeshot that cut through their ranks. Sensing victory, the Fusiliers surged forward. Captain Edward Bell, spotting a Russian gun team in difficulties, ran forward and clapped his pistol to the driver's head, telling him to clear off. He did so, immediately. Bell turned the gun team's head, but after being ordered back to his company, slapped the lead horse on the rump, sending it bouncing down the slope towards the river Alma.

Later, after the Russians had recaptured the Great Redoubt, they advanced down the slope encountering a thin line containing the remnants of the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and 7th Royal Fusiliers, and men from other regiments who had taken part in the initial assault. So heavy were the casualties among the officers of the 23rd that Captain Bell was the senior survivor. Once he was aware of this he assumed command and was able to restore some sort of order to the regiment's line and control its movement.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 24 February 1857 ], Battle of Alma, Crimea, 20 September 1854, Captain Edward William Derrington Bell, 23rd Regiment.

Recommended for his gallantry, more particularly at the Battle of the Alma, where he was the first to seize upon and capture one of the enemy’s guns, which was limbered up, and being carried off. He, moreover, succeeded to the command of that gallant Regiment which he brought out of action; all his Senior Officers having been killed or wounded.

Edward Bell was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Portsmouth on the 2nd August 1858.

After Captain Bell had captured the Russian gun he started to return with it to his own lines. At this point his divisional commander, Major General Sir George Brown, appeared. This Peninsular War veteran was heartily disliked throughout the army, to the point that one of his junior officers described him as 'an old wretch'. True to form, Brown had no praise for Bell, and instead ordered him back to his company, without the gun.

Despite his being given a dressing down for leaving his position, other higher authorities had noticed Bell's courageous foray, leading to his award of the Victoria Cross.

Medal entitlement of Major General Edward Bell - 23rd Regiment ( Royal Welch Fusiliers )

  • Victoria Cross
  • Companion, Order of the Bath ( CB )
  • Crimea Medal ( 1854-56 )
    • 3 clasps:
    • "Alma" - "Inkermann" - "Sebastopol"
  • Indian Mutiny Medal ( 1857-58 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Lucknow"
  • Knight, Legion of Honour ( France )
  • Order of the Medjidieh ( Turkey )
  • Turkish Crimea Medal ( 1855-56 )


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Iain Stewart, 26 June 2007