George Joseph Bell was born on 9th October 1890 in South Shields, County Durham. He was one of four children – all boys – to George and Eleanor Bell. George Sr was from Chatham in Kent and worked as a boilermaker for a shipbuilder.
Both of George Jr’s parents died when he and his siblings were in their teens. Times were definitely harsh for them: George’s older brother Robert was a coal teemer – unloading the carts at the Tyneside docks. His younger brother, Matthew, was a pit pony driver for the Bolden Colliery. George himself was a pressed glass manufacturer.
The 1911 census recorded Robert, George and Matthew boarding with the Easter family; renting a room in a three-bedroomed house on Commercial Road, South Shields, within spitting distance of the docks and river.
George was, by this point, courting a young lady a few doors down from him. Harriet Shield was the daughter of one of the dock labourers; the couple married at St Hilda’s Parish Church on 30th November 1912.
War was coming to Europe, and on 18th December 1914, George enlisted to play his part. His service records show that he stood 5ft 5ins (1.65m) tall, had blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He was also noted as having tattoos of a heart and his initials on his left forearm.
George joined the Royal Naval Reserve – this suggests that he had previously had some sea-going experience, although there is no specific evidence of this. He was given the role of Stoker, and was sent to HMS Pembroke – the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – for training.
Stoker Bell’s first posting – and where he spent to most of 1915 – was on board the seaplane tender HMS Engadine. He returned to Chatham that November, before being assigned to the minesweeper HMS Gentian two months later.
After five months patrolling the North Sea, Stoker Bell returned to HMS Pembroke in June 1917. The Dockyard was a busy place that summer, and temporary accommodation was needed quickly. Chatham Drill Hall was brought into service, and George found himself billeted there.
On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night air raid: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit; Stoker Bell was among those killed instantly. He was just 27 years of age.
George Joseph Bell was laid to rest alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.