(1) This grave belongs to Lt Col FS Le Quesne, RAMC, VC. He gained his medal in Tartun, Upper Burma on 4th May 1889. He died in 1950. The grave was eventually restored by the RAMC in the spring of 1999 following a combined effort by myself and the Royal British Legion.
(2) A more detailed account of the action at Brakpan is given in the Western Australian Museum's pamphlet associated with the display of FW's medals. It goes:"In May and June 1901 the Fifth and Sixth WA Mounted Infantry Contingents were searching for Boer parties in open country east of Johannesburg. In a severe engagement on 15 May, five members of the Sixth Contingent were killed. The following day Boers ambushed the Contingent in long grass in marshy country. They let the leading scouts pass by, then opened fire at close range on the main body. Galloping for the safety of high ground, the West Australians were pursued by Boers firing from horseback. A retreating horse fell with its rider. Lieutenant Bell hoisted the man up behind, but their combined weight was too great for his horse. Bell sent the man on to safety on the horse while he gave rapid covering fire from behind an anthill, covering not only the man's retreat but that of Captain Campbell, a brother officer with another rescued rider mounted behind him. For his bravery that day, Bell was awarded the Victoria Cross". See also end of (5).(3) One of the documents sent was a copy of a sketch map of the actions at Brakpan. Of the five killed on 15th May one was Lt Anthony Forrest, son of the former Lord Mayor of Perth, and a nephew of the Premier, Sir John Forrest. The news of Anthony Forrest's death may well have contributed to his father's own death soon afterwards. The sketch map, from Sir John's papers, shows where Lt Forrest was killed, and where Lt Bell won his VC. The map now resides in the JS Battye Library of West Australia. The map-maker is not named but from the considerable detail included it must have been drawn by someone very familiar with the scene, probably present on both days.
However, John Bissett told me in June 2000 that the correct story is as follows:
The actual map forms the backdrop to FW's medal display in the WA museum. The JS Battye Library has a copy. The map itself was commissioned by Sir John some months after the events - he ordered all the personal diaries of the troops to be examined. On the evidence of these unofficial, and probably illegally kept diaries, the map was drawn up.
(4) Another document sent was a photocopy of an article published in The West Australian Mercury of 21st October 1901. In essence this was a transcript of a letter FW had sent to his parents, dated 10th August and says that since his last letter:"The contingent have had a tough time, but are recompensed by the results of same, taking in all 50 prisoners, innumerable waggons, cattle, horses and sheep; also mealie and foodstuff. This morning we left Ermelo after spending yesterday there in collecting the inhabitants who were the Boers' best friends. We fought a pretty severe rear-guard action coming away; as we evacuated, the enemy again going in and following us to this camp, the strength of the commando being 800. Many handsome buildings we were compelled to burn, and last night was unique in my experience. Imagine a dozen houses at least in blaze at one time; and again our column camped on the outskirts, having huge bonfire concerts, with instruments looted from the adjacent houses, including at least five pianos among the different regiments, everybody enjoying the scene and life, and merriment prevailing on all sides. Such a sight is not easily forgotten and, no doubt, the night of 10-8-1901 will live a long time in our memories. A few nights since we had the good fortune to bag 25 prisoners. Marching all night we surrounded a farm just as dawn was breaking. We fixed bayonets and charged with a yell, with the result of capturing without a shot. Some trouble was experienced in getting them out of the houses, but a few men with cold steel worked wonders. They were, indeed, a motley lot and, strange to say, amongst them were some old enemies of ours whom we had previously met at Brakpan. We identified them by saddlery, wearing apparel etc., etc., taken from the killed at that place. One man was also wearing a ring our men recognised as belonging to a dead comrade. Our prisoner tried very hard to hide himself in the roof; it was funny to see him poked out of hiding with a bayonet. In this capture, as Tommy would say, we "got our own back".We are now on route to Carolina and, on arrival there expect a good mail. In regard to letters lately captured at Reits, I can place very little reliance on them. The prisoners taken assure us that Botha has not the least intention of giving up. This trek we have been in a lot of the same country as when with Kitchener. The third night out we secured 18 prisoners in the same manner as before mentioned. This portion of the Transvaal is now one burnt out and blackened mass. The want of grass is beginning to tell on the Boers' cattle and horses; those captured by us are, many of them, in poor condition. Only this morning we shot over 50 wild ones driven in by us and found to be useless. A few words in reference to the contingent. The men have now thoroughly settled down to the work and are beginning to understand the wily burgher and his many varied and own peculiar ways of fighting; they have not had, as predicted in the first, a huge picnic. Hard work and plenty of fighting have been the general thing, intermingling with severe night marches in the biting cold. There are few things more fatiguing or trying than the latter. How entirely different everything now is when compared with the general advance of eighteen months ago, unless actually experienced, very few can form any idea of what a prolonged and severe campaign like this really means. Country, one devastated burnt and blackened mass; home and belongings consigned to the flames, as each column winds along; cattle, sheep and livestock either destroyed or driven in; families given short notice to leave their all and come along after watching the destruction of homes they have known since childhood. I am not, in the least, an admirer of the Boer or his ways, but, taking all these things into consideration, I cannot censure him for killing as many of us as possible. What would Englishmen, or Australians, do under the same conditions as our enemies but fight to the last? Blood is thicker than water. Even so, we cannot but admire the Dutch women for their loyalty, self-sacrifice and devotion they have shown to the men fighting against us; now alas, for them, a forlorn cause. Small skirmishes are now the order of the day. The Boers are now broken up into small parties. Nevertheless, hey cause us plenty of hard work, with minimum risk to themselves; knowing every nook and corner as they do, it is a simple matter for them to evade us. Night work appears the only way of surprising them as, owing to the intensely cold weather, they are compelled to take shelter in some of the farms. Snipe, snipe, snipe from ridge to ridge, and so the rear-guard usually gets it. Guerilla war-fare is now the correct term. From information gleaned from recent prisoners bagged, this struggle seems no nearer termination than it was twelve months ago. The man who changeth not is the Australian soldier. He goes his way happy in the possession of loot and a good horse, and although, perhaps, the weight of a little pig or, perchance a duck on the saddle tells on his mount, he fights none the worse for it. The latest scheme has been collecting kaffirs; the spectacle of a regiment of niggers of all ages and descriptions, from the picaninny to the aged gin with not enough clothing amongst them to make a decent dishcloth, is indeed funny. So they do their daily march in rear of the convoy, carrying their worldly belongings with them. One of the most striking features of the campaign is the necessary destruction of yoke oxen, horses, mules etc. These poor dumb brutes are forced along until they drop from sheer exhaustion, being then shot and left to rot. When I tell you I have seen as many as twenty oxen drop on one march, you will form some idea of the number required; horses even in greater proportion are destroyed. Good old John Bull is ever ready with a fresh one; his purse strings are being pulled severely, however.Something out of the ordinary I witnessed the other evening. We had collected a number of Dutch women and children. It being Sunday night in camp, they asked permission to sing hymns. On being granted them, and after going through well known "Sankey's", assisted by our own Tommies, they sang "Where is my wandering boy tonight?", first in their own tongue and then in ours. This last would have been quite as successful as the former, only our fellows would be original and substitute the word "girl" in lieu of "boy", which caused the ladies, after singing the Dutch National Anthem, to retire, and so the proceedings ended with "God Save the King" from the lusty throats of three or four hundred Britishers. probably you are wondering where the Boers' supplies are coming from and how he exists. 'Tis a simple matter, for every farm there are at least two kaffir kraals; until quite recently these have been left intact by us, notwithstanding they all contained large supplies of mealies, millet etc. As the Boer believes in Might before Right, the consequence is that the kaffir has to part with his stock. We are the sufferers. In addition to this, his cattle are unmolested, with the result of the Boer coming behind and helping himself. There are supplies hidden in the country to keep them for many months to come. We are continually bringing to light such things. A favourite place for hiding different articles is their graveyards, shaping the earth so as to resemble a newly made grave. We make some very fair finds in these places; also in the rocks and on the banks of steams we dig up loot of all descriptions.(5) On Sunday 16th March 1997 I received a phone call from a Mrs Jackie Sargisson from Bodmin, in Cornwall. Through brief summaries published in the Westbury-on-Trym "Courier" she had been told of my efforts to research FW. She rang to say that when she lived in Bristol she used to visit Mrs Bell in Stoke Lane. Mrs Bell lived with her unmarried daughter Mary (not her Sister-in-Law, as I thought) and they had moved to Droitwich, near Birmingham, in 1980 in order to be near Mrs Bell's other (married) daughter, Cynthia. Mrs Bell had subsequently died, but both her daughters were still alive, Mary about 80 years old and living in a Residential Home in Droitwich. I was given Mary's address and I wrote almost immediately. Mrs Sargisson didn't know Cynthia's address but, on 22nd March, Cynthia, now Mrs Xxxxx, rang and confirmed many of the features of the story of FW. She also said that her mother had died in 1982, aged 92, and is buried in Hampton Lovatt church, near where her daughters live. She also said that FW and his first wife came to Symmonds Yat in 1925 and approached her father for advice about a house to rent (she didn't know why the Bells chose Symmonds Yat in the first place). Later Mrs Bell purchased "Pengwyn". When she died she left the house to FW, and the rest of her estate to charity - Dr Barnado's Homes; she had no children of her own. Incidentally, "Pengwyn" lay on one side of the Wye valley in Herefordshire and "Darklands" on the other side in Gloucestershire, all part of the general area known as "Symmonds Yat". Mrs Xxxxx also said that she thought that the man rescued by FW was his batman. Prior to the Boer War FW had worked for many weeks as a cattle driver in Queensland and just before WW1 he had spent time in Monte Carlo; he was very broke but gambled all he had left and came away quite rich!
A rather amusing incident occurred prior to leaving Ermalo. I was behind with a small post. It appears that two privates remained in town after the column had moved out, with the result of the Boers coming in on top of them. As they only had one horse, they tossed a coin as to who would remain behind, whilst the other took his chance of running the gauntlet. The man who decided to ride for it had a bad time, for as he approached me I gave my men the order for volleys, never dreaming he was one of our own men, as I knew the enemy to be in the town. By his waving and shouting I saw something was amiss, and let him approach. Fortunately he was not hit, only scared. The man who was compelled to remain was wounded and taken prisoner, being subsequently released, and arriving at camp the same evening. Both belonged to the Scottish Horse."
(6) In April 1998 Richard Xxxxx, Cynthia's son, told me that FW's medals had been given to FW's stepson (Cynthia's brother) by FW's wife during her life time. He lived in Canada and sold the medals soon after. It is thought that he used the proceeds to help his own children. He is now dead. I later heard that they were sold for $C32,000: other details unclear.
(7) On 21st March 1997 I sent Edward Keenan a video of FW's house plus grave in 1996 and 1997. He later sent me a detailed account of the Bell family history and where he fitted in. See "Appendix"
NB: Family names deleted at their request