Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Hero, Gunner L A Bell – Passchendaele

We were on the first day of our tour of the Australian Battlefields of World War I in France and Belgium.

We had already visited the graves of some of our family heroes earlier in the afternoon, and now as we neared the city of Iepers, we were to visit another, Gunner Louis Augustus Bell, who had been killed in action on 26 October 1917, and was buried in the Perth (China Wall) Cemetery.

This cemetery was located about three kilometres east of Ieper on the road connecting Menin to Ieper. It was begun by French Troops in November 1914 and was later used by the 2nd Scottish Rifles in June 1917 and given the name ‘Perth’. ‘China Wall’ was from the nearby communications trench, known as the Great Wall of China. This cemetery was used for front line burials until October 1917 and contained about 150 graves.
After the war many men were transferred here from all the isolated graves and small cemeteries in the area around Ypres, and there are now over 2790 allied soldiers buried here.

It was late in the afternoon and the sky was dark and over-caste and atmosphere was particularly gloomy, as we got off the bus. The cemetery was enclosed and mature trees enveloped and sheltered the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ and many of the headstones of this large cemetery.


I had also brought a map of this cemetery, which I had downloaded from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at and marked the grave.
Once we had oriented ourselves by locating the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ and ‘Stone of Remembrance’ on the map, we soon found the headstone of Gunner Bell.

This headstone was in a little clearing and was open to the sky. A misty dampness was visible on the top section of the headstone, which showed a gentle shower must have fallen earlier in the day.
We were thankful we had found this headstone was not under the gloomy trees, as it allowed us to take some good photos.
On the foot of this headstone, flanked by a cheery yellow daisy, the family memorial read “ IN LOVING MEMORY, OF OUR JACK, ALSO TOM, WHO WAS BURIED AT SEA.

Louis Augustus Bell, known as ‘Jack’, was the second son of William James Allen and Louisa Mabel Bell (nee Day) of Gundagai in western New South Wales.
I was able to access his full military service from the Army Personnel records held at the Australian Archives. These are now on-line at .

He had enlisted on 18 August 1915, soon after his older brother, Tom, had died being medically evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsular.
Jack Bell embarked with the 1st Light Horse, on the HMT Mashobea on 4 October 1915 for Egypt and arrived in Cairo on 10 March 1916. He was soon afterwards transferred to the Artillery unit and trained there before embarking for England on HMT Corsican
at the end of May. He went into further training with the 119th Howitzer Battery until the end of the year. He spent some weeks in an English hospital before being declared fit for duty and being deployed on the Western Front with the Australian 2nd Division Artillery and later with the 4th Division and Field Artilleries.
A detailed history of these artillery units can be found at the Australian War Memorial website at

Here is a brief extract for the 4th Division Artillery in 1917 when Jack Bell joined them.
In March 1917 the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line and the 4th moved forward to Bullecourt. The brigade moved to Flanders in June and was in constant action to Novemeber, supporting allied attacks on Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, and then Passchendaele, as part of the Third Battle of Ypres. During this period, the brigade suffered its heaviest casualties of the war – 151 in October and 145 in November – including killed, wounded, and evacuated ill.”

Jack Bell’s 110th Battery (Howitzer) in the October offensive on the Passchendaele Ridge suffered severe casualties when five were killed,( including Jack Bell), and fifteen were wounded.
Gunner Bell was buried at ‘Tokio Farm’ near Zillebeke where he died in 1917, and was later removed to the nearby Perth (China Wall) Cemetery by the Imperial War Graves Commission.

A more detailed story can be found within the unit daily reports, also held at the Australian War Memorial.
Some weeks before we left home I had accessed these reports and had read widely on the situation on the Passchendaele Ridge in October 1917.
I was so struck with the Commanding Officer’s report of the 4th Australian Division Artillery Brigades of the 25 October 1917 I took a copy with me. I also downloaded a ‘Trench Map’ of the area from

As I stood beside his grave and looked across the very flat landscape to the north-east I could see in the distance on the skyline, behind a row of trees, a small elevated area, which I guessed would perhaps be the ‘Passchendale Ridge’. According to my Trench Map the area would have been no more than 60 feet above sea-level.
It was here I re-read the 4th Divisional Artillery Brigade commander’s report written on the 25th October 1917- “ the position of the guns was as follows, 30, 18 pounders and 8, Howitzers, with an ample supply of ammunition, were all in positions within 3000 to 2500 yards of our front line.
This was done under appalling conditions.
Every round had to be taken up by pack transport.
Horses and men were short in numbers; the drivers had often to make three or four trips a day.
The enemy’s shell-fire increased in volume.
The weather became worse, the shell-torn country became a morass through which men and horses had to struggle before reaching their Battery positions.
At the positions themselves there was no cover as material could not be got up.
The enemy was using large numbers of gas shell which seriously affected all ranks; men in consequence could hardly speak above a whisper. Gassed, wet through, under shell-fire night and day and rapidly diminishing in numbers these Batteries had carried out their task. Their guns were forward, well supplied with ammunition, but in doing so their strength had been absorbed… and they were relieved by the 4th and 5th Field Artillery.”

Our Tour Guide, Pete Smith, had explained to us as we travelled through the area how terrible the fighting had been in September and October 1917 in the Third Battle of Ypres, and after reading this description by someone who was there at the time, it gave me a further appreciation of what Jack Bell faced on the 26 October 1917- truly a family hero.


More Family Heroes in World War I – Sherwood and Bell

It is Anzac Day again and my thoughts return to our family war heroes.

Last year I wrote about my husband’s family, the “ Stapleton bothers’ and their enlistment in World War I and II. This year I am writing about some of my family who answered the called to arms in the defence of the British Empire..

This year we decided we would make the pilgrimage to the World War I Australian Battle Fields to honour the many family members who enlisted in the AIF, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.

In this blog I’m concentrating on my maternal grandmother’s family lines of SHERWOOD and  BELL The following men were all cousins of my grandmother.

Robert Edward Sherwood, was born in 1885 near Wilcannia in western New South Wales, the son of William Edward and Margaret Lillian Sherwood (nee Ross), who had married earlier in the year at Bourke. William Edward Sherwood (known as ‘Will’ had a team and was a carrier between Bourke and Wilcannia

In 1898, the summer had been hot and dry, but significant rains had fallen in early February.The annual flooding of the Darling River from above Bourke and and heavy rainfall in western New South Wales caused the river to rise quickly to record heights. William Edward Sherwood had his loaded waggon on the river bank at Tilpa where the river had risen to over 24 feet by the 25 February, and was still rising. It is not known how ‘Will’ was caught in the flood waters but his body was retrieved by the police on 28th and at the inquest a verdict of accidental drowning was given.

I have not yet established where his wife ‘Lillie’, and thirteen year old son, Robert were living it this time, but by 1900 they had moved to Broken Hill. Lillie married William Oliver there in that year.

Robert Edward Sherwood married Mary Ellen Butler at Broken Hill in 1912 and had a daughter Doris Mary, who married Hugh Gannon.

Robert Edward Sherwood enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces on 22 June 1916 at Broken Hill. His full service records can be found at . He was killed in action on 2 September 1918 a few weeks before the end of the war. By the Commonwealth Graves Commission website at I know he is buried at the Peronne War Cemetery in the same section as James Joseph Stapleton, one of my husband’s family heroes, whom I wrote about last Anzac Day.

As we are visiting these graves later in the year I wanted to find out as much as I could about what happened in early September 1918.

The Australian War Memorial at can help fill in the story. On their website they now have the WWI War Diaries. These are the official records of the daily diaries of each Battalion, and gives a incredible insight of what was happening at the battle front.

From his service records I knew that Robert Edward Sherwood served in the AIF 27th Battalion.

On the Australian War Memorial website I looked for Australian Imperial Force Unit War Diaries- Infantry- 27th Battalion- September 1918. There are some 93 pages in this file with all kinds of information. Here follows some extracts-

The 7th AIF Brigade will carry out an attack on the morning of Sept 2nd. 1918.”.. with the objective ….”Capture of Allaynes and Haut Allaines”…

Battle plan for early September -” The attack will be made by three battalions 26th, on the right, 25th in the centre and 27th on the left……

28th Battalion will follow 1000 yards behind the rear of the attacking battalions.”…..

After very heavy fighting the attack was successful and the commanding officer later reported “In the opinion of the G.O.C this fight is one of the most brilliant achievements of the Brigade”.

A report of this action stated there were 1 officer and 36 of other ranks killed; 8 officers and 138 other ranks wounded; with 1 officer and 3 other ranks dying of wounds and 2 of other ranks missing.

A few days later a report was entered that crosses were to be erected for the fallen.

Crosses for the following men of this battalion have been completed and will be taken forward tomorrow morning 14th instant at 9 am.

Then were listed 12 names including that of “ 6327 Pte Sherwood, R E of B Company.

Permission will be given to any NCO or man who desires to accompany this party to HAUT ALLAINES.”

Originally Robert E Sherwood had been, “buried in an isolated Grave in a Field in a Shell Hole just south of Allaines and one and three quarter miles north of Peronne, France. He was later transferred to Peronne Cemetery.”

These diaries and papers are well worth wading through as you can find so much information about what your soldier was experiencing. There are a few surprises too, such as inter Brigade Sports Days where not only the schedule is given but who won each contest. No doubt a welcome break and distraction in the midst of war.

On my maternal family line of the Bell family there were several members who enlisted, but I have only listed a few from one section of the family here.

. William James Allen and Louisa Mabel Bell (nee Day), who resided near Gundagai in western New South Wales, had three sons who went to war.

James Joseph Thomas, known as “Tom” joined up on 1 September 1914. He was at Gallipoli and was severely wounded on 26 June 1915,. and died on board ship on transfer to Alexandrina. He was buried at sea and is memorialized at the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallopoli.

Their second son Louis Alexander, born 1893, was known as ‘Jack’. He enlisted at Gundagai on 18 Aug 1915 a couple of months after the death of his brother ‘Tom’.He was killed in action on 26 October 1917 and is buried Perth Cemetery (China Wall) at West Vlaanderen, Belguim.

Their third son James Allen Bell born 1897, and known as ‘Jim’ enlisted on 2 June 1915 and fought on the Western Front where he was wounded and gassed several times. He survived the trauma of war and finally returned to Australia in 1919.

Alfred and Elizabeth Jane Vincent (nee Bell) also had three of their five sons enlist.. They were also first cousins to the above mentioned Bell brothers. The father Alfred Vincent had died in 1910.

Alfred James, born 1880 the third child, and eldest son, enlisted on 1 January 1916. He was severely wounded and was invalided to Australia and arrived home soon after 28 July 1917.

Philip John Vincent, born 1895, the youngest son was known as ‘Jack’. He enlisted on 14 March 1916 and was killed in action about 5 May 1917. He is commemorated on the Villers- Bretonneux Memorial in France.

I have not identified the third son of this family who went to war, but know he survived and returned to Australia.

I was able to follow the stories of these soldiers, as well as other family members who went to war, through their personal papers at the Australian Archives, their place of burial through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and their unit history through the Australian War Memorial.

I also found several items through several newspapers in the Historical Newspapers on Trove at the National Library of Australia. These were particularly of interest as many of the letters written home to their parents were published in the local newspapers and are in fact the words of the soldiers themselves recording their thoughts and experiences.

All these can be accessed free online at the above mentioned websites and have been invaluable in our preparation for our forth coming trip to the Western Front.

The centenary of World War I is upon us and I encourage all family historian not to just add birth and death dates to your family tree, but to research these men and women lives. They are all heroes.