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Bell, Bertram Charles (1893–1941)

by P. S. Sadler

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Bertram Charles Bell (1893-1941), airman, grazier and farmer, was born on 5 April 1893 at Coochin Coochin station, Boonah, Queensland, son of James Thomas Marsh Bell, pastoralist, and his wife Gertrude Augusta, a daughter of James Norton. He was educated at Toowoomba Grammar School and later joined his brothers in managing the family properties, Coochin Coochin and Camboon.

When World War I broke out Bell was visiting England and was asked by the Queensland agent-general to take the first 'Queensland' motor ambulance to France. Arriving at Boulogne in September 1914, he served for six months as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross and the Australian Voluntary Hospital, and then took private flying lessons in England. On 2 May 1915 he was commissioned as a probationary flight sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service and was posted to No.1 Squadron, R.N.A.S., at Dunkirk in July. He remained there for eighteen months, carrying out reconnaisance and bomb-dropping missions, correcting naval gun fire and, finally, serving as a fighter-pilot flying Nieuport Scouts. Promoted flight lieutenant in April 1916, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for 'conspicuous skill and gallantry' as a pilot of reconnaissance, photographic and fighter aircraft. In February 1917 he transferred to No.3 Squadron, R.N.A.S., then supporting the Royal Flying Corps at Amiens; in two months service he shot down at least six enemy aircraft. Promoted to flight commander in March, he later received the Distinguished Service Order in the field for 'conspicuous bravery and skill in attacking hostile aircraft' during fourteen combat missions; he was also mentioned in dispatches during this period.

From April 1917 until the end of the war Bell commanded No. 10 Squadron, R.N.A.S. Flying Sopwith triplanes and later Sopwith B.R. Camels, it served with the Royal Flying Corps at Droglandt, west of Ypres, from May to October 1917, and remained on the Western Front until the Armistice; by then its pilots had accounted for 321 enemy aircraft. The squadron's final task had been to assist the Belgian Army during the Flanders operation. Bell was later awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre avec Palme. No.10 was redesignated No.210 Squadron on the formation of the Royal Air Force in April 1918, and Bell held the rank of major from that date. He left the R.A.F. in March 1919 after refusing the offer of a permanent commission, and returned home to manage Coochin Coochin.

On 24 April 1926 Bell married Adeline Grace Barnes at St Mark's Anglican Church, Warwick. They made their home at Aroo, a farm on the Coochin estate, which they converted into one of the most modern in Australia, winning several awards for fodder conservation and farm design. The onset of World War II disturbed Bell; he tried to enlist but was told that his contribution to the war effort should be as a farmer. Early in June 1941 he suffered a breakdown and, survived by his wife, a son and a daughter, died at Brisbane on 15 June.

His brother Victor Douglas Bell, O.B.E., was also a distinguished airman. A major in the R.A.F. during World War I, he commanded No.80 Squadron in 1918-19.

Select Bibliography

  • H. A. Jones and W. A. Raleigh, The War in the Air (Oxford, 1922-37)
  • London Gazette, 21 Apr, 12 May 1917
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 May 1935
  • N. S. Pixley, ‘The Bells and Coochin Coochin’, JRHSQ, 8 (1965-69)
  • P. S. Sadler, ‘Bertram Charles Bell: a biographical sketch’, Sabretache, Apr 1977
  • Pastoral Review (Melbourne), 16 July 1941
  • B. C. Bell papers, including a draft history of 210 Squadron (privately held).

Citation details

P. S. Sadler, 'Bell, Bertram Charles (1893–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bell-bertram-charles-5190/text8727, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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