Lieutenant William Douglas Bell was born 17 April 1892 in Lindsay, Ontario to James Anthony and Katherine (Darach) Bell. He had four older brothers, George, Arthur, Fredrick Archibald and Walter. Their father was a civil engineer. At the time Bell enlisted, his parents were living in St. Thomas, Ontario, but Bell was living in Hamilton, Ontario.
Bell was admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada as a law student in 1910. Law Society records indicate that he was articling under Captain Oswald D. Peat of the firm Lees, Hobson & Stephens in Hamilton, Ontario, who himself enlisted, and survived the War and with the firm McDonald & Boland in Toronto, Ontario.
Before enlisting with the CEF, Bell served in the Militia with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. In November of 1914, Bell enlisted as a Private with the 19th (Central Ontario) Battalion. The 19th Battalion, which was composed of detachments from various Militia Regiments including The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the 48th Highlanders of Canada, was raised in November of 1914 at Exhibition Park in Toronto, Ontario. The 19th Battalion went overseas to England in May of 1915 on SS Scandinavian. The Battalion went to France in September of 1915, where it was part of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division.
Bell was promoted Lance Corporal in England in June of 1915 and to Sergeant in France on 12 November 1915. After undertaking Officer Training, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in June of 1916 and returned to the 19th Battalion. Law Society of Upper Canada students Captain Maurice Cameron Roberts, MC, Private Stanley Smith and Lieutenant Maurice Fisken Wilkes also served with the 19th Battalion.
Bell was seconded to the 4th Brigade Machine Gun Company on 12 August 1916 and killed in action the following month, on 15 September 1916 he was killed on the first day of the Battle of Flers–Courcelette, the first battle of the third phase of Battle of the Somme. He was 24. Bell died on the same day as Wilkes and Lieutenant William Hartley Willard, also a Law Society of Upper Canada student.
Bell’s body was not recovered and he is one of the many Canadians memorialized at the Vimy Memorial in France. The Vimy Memorial overlooks the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge, about eight kilometres northeast of Arras. The ramparts of the Vimy Memorial are inscribed with the names of over 11,000 Canadians who are missing and presumed to have died in France.
There is little in the official record of the CMGC with respect to their actions on 15 September 1916. According to Lieutenant Colonel C.S. Grafton’s history of the CMGC, The Canadian ‘EMMA GEES’:
On this day, when Canadian arms won new lustre, reports from many of the Brigade Machine Gun Companies seem to be totally missing……Apparently the new formations, while they believed they were fighting a war to end all war, had no notion that they were also supposed to do a little writing for posterity.
Law Society of Upper Canada students Lieutenant Maurice Fisken Wilkes, Corporal Stanley Smith and Captain Maurice Cameron Roberts, MC also served with the 19th Battalion.
Bell’s brothers, Captain Arthur Robert Bell, Captain George Edward Bell and Walter Andrew Bell, also enlisted. They survived the War.
Shea, E. Patrick; Gowling, Lafleur, Henderson (Firm); and Highlanders Foundation, “The Great War Law Student Memorial Project” (2014). Digital Texts. 2.