|Born in Normandy in 1908, James L'Argent Bell was the son of the headmaster of L'Ecole des Roches (the Eton of France). During WW1 his family were interned but later repatriated. He served in the Royal Signals and was posted to Kohat and then chosen from the ranks to go to Sandhurst in 1932. Six years after being commissioned into the 12th Frontier Force Regiment, he was the Adjutant. |
He served under Brigadier Slim in the battle for Keren in Ethiopia and awarded an MBE. He fought in the Western Desert in July 1942 and was on the staff as DAQMG of 10th Indian Division in Italy. He was awarded the Gold Cross of King George II of the Hellenes for his part in the negotiations with Marcos the partisan leader which saved Salonika from civil war.
The saddest period of his service life was during the Partition of India and Pakistan. He witnessed terrible atrocities at this time and wrote to a friend: "Nothing you have read about the Punjab is half as bad as what has really been happening. Thousands of towns and villages burnt and destroyed; thousands and thousands of men, women and children slaughtered in a most ferocious and brutal manner, Trains have been regularly stopped and everyone of the wrong community dragged out and hacked down, including women - if they're not stripped, raped and then left to roam naked. My own train, when I came up in August after a few days leave, was stopped just short of Ludhiana and every Moslim, except about 10 in our carriage, slaughtered."
In fact Bell had hidden the 10 in the washroom of his compartment, thus saving their lives. Bell's battalion, 3/12th FFR, consisted of Punjabi Musalmans, Sikhs, Hindu Dogras and Pathans, all of whom would have sacrificed their own lives for their comrades while serving in the Army. After partition they returned to their original loyalties, opposing each other bitterly. However, while still under Bell's command, the regiment guarded many trains and was responsible for the safe conduct of 350,000 refugees.
Bell stayed on in Pakistan until 1960 in various training jobs and worked for the Ministry of Defence in England until he retired in 1975. He was a keen sportsman and displayed 'enviable social stamina' until his death in September 1997.
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