Harold Bell was born in 1894 at Byker in Newcastle upon Tyne. By 1901 the family was living at 3 Farnham Road, Tyne Dock, in South Shields. He was the elder son of William John Bell and Martha Cummins Bell (née Knox). William John Bell was a shipbuilder’s clerk and tobacconist, who died in 1900 when Harold was only 5 years old and his brother, Eric, was 4 years old. Martha Cummins Bell was an Elementary School Teacher. Her sister, Jane Knox, lived with the family. After attending Westoe Secondary School, by the age of 16, Harold had been awarded a bursary to St Chad’s Hostel, Hooton Pagnell.
In 1902 Rev. F.S. Willoughby, the vicar of Hooton Pagnell Parish, near Doncaster, had opened a small hostel in which he prepared men of limited means to enter one of the established theological colleges. St Chad's Hostel students were admitted to read for the full range of Durham degrees. In the early years, most students, though not all, pursued ordination training after their degree. The St Chad's Hostel at Hooton Pagnell was retained by the College until 1916 as a preliminary place of study to prepare students to qualify for university matriculation at Durham.
After his time spent at the Hostel, Bell joined St Chad’s Hall at Durham for the Epiphany term in 1915. In his brief time at Durham, he was elected Secretary of the Debating Society, Central Finance Representative and, in Michaelmas 1915, Editor of the Durham University Journal. His University career was cut short after his first year studying for an honours degree in Classics. As a member of the Officers’ Training Corps he was selected to be commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment.
Posted to this regiment’s 13th Battalion in 1916, Bell was killed on 13 November 1916 at Sailly – Courcelles. The Battalion was poised to attack the enemy at 11:00 p.m. on the night of 12 November, and the battalion’s war diary details that the men went over the top at 05:45 a.m. the next morning. Harold Bell was with D Company when the attack was launched towards Serre in thick fog. Captain R.M. Wooley, commanding D Company, wrote an account of this action in which he himself was captured, and which report must have been interpolated into the war diary after his release; it includes a sketch map of his position during the action. The casualty list for D Company for that one day makes frightening reading. Captain Wooley and seven other men with him became isolated at his objective, the German third line, and were captured, five other officers were killed, four were wounded, and seven, besides Wooley, were reported missing, including Second Lieutenant Harold Bell. A total of 387 other ranks are listed by name in the war diary as casualties (wounded, missing or killed). Bell’s body was later found, and is buried at Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Somme, France.
Eric Bell survived the war and later applied for his brother’s medals. Harold Bell is remembered on the Westoe Secondary School 1914-1918 memorial plaque, a stained glass window and a memorial plaque at All Saints Church, West Harton, on which is carved the words, “For the cause of freedom and humanity”. He is also commemorated on the 1914-1918 reredos in St Chad’s College chapel.