Robert Bell

The Field General courts-martial of Sapper Robert Bell took place on 4 May 1918. Sapper Bell was charged with the murder of 2nd Lieutenant Wynell Hastings Lloyd (123 Field Company, Royal Engineers) on 17 April 1918.

PRESIDENTMajor R.D. Williams (Welsh Regiment)
MEMBERSMajor F.R.H. McLellan (Royal Welsh Fusiliers)
Captain D.C.R. Stuart (Border Regiment)
2/Lt. E.H. Evans (Royal Welsh Fusiliers)
DEFENCEMajor J.C.I. Wood (Royal Engineers)
PROSECUTIONMajor J.C.I. Wood (Royal Engineers)

285582 Sapper E.R. Pears (123rd Field Company) stated that on parade at about 4pm on 17 April 1918 the order was given for the inspection of arms, ammunition and gas masks. Immediately Lieutenant Lloyd came on parade he spoke to the accused mentioning the word “putties”. The accused then walked off parade. Sapper Pears then heard a shot and saw Lloyd on the ground. Just after the examination of the emergency rations Sapper Pears saw a muzzle of a rifle sticking out of the trench in front of him, and to his right.

These details concerning the positions of Lloyd, the parade and the spot where Lloyd fell were confirmed by the next witness 146629 L/Cpl Hordish (123rd Field Company).

62629 Corporal R. Prior (123rd Field Company) stated that when Lieutenant Lloyd came on parade he noticed that the accused was not wearing his putties. I brought the accused out in front of the parade, and Lloyd asked him why he was not wearing his putties. Bell said that they hurt his legs. Lloyd dismissed him and told him to go and put his putties on. While inspecting the rear of the two ranks, Lloyd was shot and fell to the ground. I could only see the accused in the trench. The rifle was rested two yards away from the accused.

4218 CSM Foster (123rd Field Company) confirmed the observations made by the previous witnesses. Foster said that Bell told him

When I set out to accomplish a thing, I do it, there it is. I have done the section a good turn. You’ll think of Bob Bell in years to come

He added that he was not aware of any ill feeling between Lieutenant Lloyd and the accused. These details were confirmed by the next witness: 82567 Sergeant W.R. Ferris (123rd Field Company).

Captain J.B. Gold RAMC examined the body of a dead officer. He had been shot in the forehead. As the officer was already dead, Captain Gold only gave a brief examination. Major Wood RE was present during the examination.

The accused made a statement not on oath (He could have decided to say nothing, make a statement or make a statement under oath). The accused stated that he slipped when getting out of the trench to rejoin the parade, after failing to find his putties. His rifle flew forward and exploded. He had forgotten to remove the round placed in the barrel earlier in the day, when he went hunting for hare or partridge.

140368 Sapper W.E. Shortt (123rd Field Company) stated that the accused was a good shot and had shot game before, especially rabbits.

Sapper Robert Bell was found guilty of the murder of Lieutenant Lloyd, contrary to the Army Act (section 41).

The accused had two previous convictions read to the court.

01/03/16Absent 4.30pm – 1am3 days pay and placed at the end of the leave rota.
16/04/16Drunk in billetAdmonished on 29 May 1916

In mitigation it was stated that the accused was 29 years’ old. He had enlisted on 9 January 1915, and been in France since December 1915.

Sapper Robert Bell was sentenced to death by shooting with no recommendation for mercy. He was shot at 4.12 am on 22 May 1918. Sapper Bell was the last Royal Engineer to be executed during World War One.

Medal Index Card for Robert Bell (The Western Front Association)
Medal Index Card for Robert Bell (The Western Front Association).

Sapper Robert Bell is buried in Toutencourt Communal Cemetery, Grave Reference 2.A.9.

Second Lieutenant Lloyd is buried in Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, Grave Reference II.F.4.