Sunday, 24 January 2016

First Award to the 1st/5th Bedfords

Monday 24th January 1916: Private R Bell has received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross, and was included in the list published this morning, the official record stating that it was awarded: “for conspicuous gallantry and determination during operations at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli Peninsula, on many occasions, notably the following: On August 15th 1915, he organised and led a party of men when their officers had become casualties. On August 16th he went out under a very heavy fire, dressed and brought in a wounded officer. On August 17th he made a valuable reconnaissance of a Turkish position”.

While he was only a private in August, when his gallantry earned him this decoration, he has now been advanced to the rank of Company Quarter Master Sergeant. He has recently been in the Fern Hill Auxiliary Hospital, Bacup [Lancashire] to which he went from a Manchester hospital after a lengthy stay in Saint Elmo hospital, Malta. Last week he was discharged from hospital and arrived at Bedford.

Writing recently about some of his experiences Company Quarter Master Sergeant Bell said: “Suddenly the lieutenant gave a little gasp and exclaimed ‘They got me that time’. I helped him to a bit safer cover a few yards away and found he was hit through the leg just above the knee. The bullet had gone right through his leg and out the other side. I made a few suggestions as to his safety, but the lieutenant said he would crawl back and tell one of the men to come down and give me a hand when it was dusk. I didn’t like letting him go, but after he had left me I looked round and saw a lot more heaps of khaki lying about. I found seven men and one officer all dead. They looked as if they had been dead a couple of days. I began to get anxious about Lieutenant R(1), as we had pre-arranged that he should give a certain signal. Glancing to my right, I saw him creeping along in the wrong direction. He had evidently lost his way and was getting nearer the enemy’s lines. I yelled to him to stop where he was and I would come. I got to him and had to bandage his leg, as the dressing had slipped through his crawling among the bushes”.

“After this was done, I found out I was in the same boat as himself – I could not tell just which direction to make for. We arranged that I should make my way back to our trenches and ask the others to hang something over the parapet as a guide. I started off and, after a few minutes dodging about the bushes and rocks I noticed a khaki helmet ‘bob up’ for a second or so. When I succeeded in getting to the trench I went and reported the circumstances to Lieutenant N. He and R being personal friends, he was much cut up. He offered to hold up the periscope above the parapet as a guide for me to bring in the wounded lieutenant. Well, I needed to have a charmed life that day; the Turks could not hit me beyond riddling my water bottle and helmet, while a bullet went through my boot, skinning a couple of toes. However, by difficult bursts of crawling I succeeded in getting the lieutenant back and subsequently went back to endeavour to reach a wounded Londoner. I got to him and tried to lift him, but he was in too much pain and the firing so heavy that I had to abandon the task. He was too badly wounded to get in without a stretcher, so I made him as comfortable as I could, gave him some water and promised to come down again for him with s stretcher. However, things so turned out that I did not get the chance to go again myself”.

Source: Luton News 27th January 1916

(1) This may be Lieutenant Rawlings, mentioned as being with 3rd/5th Bedfords in the article on 20th January - he would have gone home with his wound and then been posted to a second or third line battalion for recuperation.

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