Sergeant Robert John Bell

Robert John Bell enlisted in 39th Battalion, Canadian Infantry on 21 January 1915.

Robert Bell was born in Aberdeen (Scotland) on 10 March 1893 to John and Margaret Bell (née Muir). He was the second of four children with James, born 1891; Margaret, born 1899; and Helen, born 1901. John Bell was a domestic servant in Aberdeen when James was born but by 1901 the family had moved to Edinburgh where he became a cable car driver. On 30 May 1908 the family sailed from Glasgow for Canada, landing at Montreal on 9 June and moving on to Northumberland County. Both parents, Robert and the two daughters were farming at Foxboro’ near Belleville (Ontario) at the time this diary was written.

Robert Bell was described as of dark complexion with light blue eyes and dark brown hair. At attestation he was 5ft 11½in tall with a 38in chest that expanded 4in, a large man for the time. He was described as a farmer.

According to his service records he had some link to the local militia regiment (15th Argyll Light Infantry) before enlisting in 39th Battalion, Canadian Infantry on 21 January 1915. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 19 May, just before the battalion sailed for the UK on SS Missanabe on 24 June. He was promoted to Corporal on 5 September, whilst at Shorncliffe, and to Lance Sergeant on 27 April 1916, whilst at Sandling, by which time the diary had begun.

He was one of a draft of a hundred and twelve all ranks transferred to 26th Battalion in France on 6 June.

This diary was acquired by Brian McConaghy of Vancouver and researched by John Taylor and Viv John of Cardiff and Sully (Wales).

James, the elder brother, was living and farming in Northumberland County when he enlisted on 5 July 1915 as 454872 Private Bell in the newly-formed 59th Battalion (Ontario), Canadian Infantry. His record is limited to the attestation document so he may have been discharged almost immediately. The battalion sailed for the UK on 1 April 1916 as a draft-finding battalion and was absorbed into 39th Battalion on 6 July, so the two brothers might have been in the same camp for a short while, but there is no record of a meeting in the diary, or of James being transferred to another unit or even going to France.

— Text by Vivian John, John Taylor, and Brian McConaghy