Walter Matthew Bell was known as ‘Ginger’ Bell, after the colour of his hair. He was born at Easington Colliery on the 4 March 1918 and was educated in the village school, after which he became a coal miner in the local pit.
On the 1 August 1939 he enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry, later serving with Searchlight and Bofors gun units of the Royal Artillery before transferring into the Army Catering Corps. After he qualified as a cook he was posted to the 21st Independent Parachute Company in early 1943 as one of six non-operational ACC cooks on permanent attachment to the Company.
Walter’s first action on joining the Company was to seek an interview with his new CO during which he stated that he had no wish to serve with a parachute unit unless permitted to qualify as a parachutist and to cook in an operational capacity. Major Lander was ‘tickled pink’ at this unorthodox and unexpected approach, which also endeared ‘Ginger’ to the rank and file of this very special unit. He was soon on his way to Hardwick Hall and then RAF Ringway, on parachute course 57, from whence he returned in March 1943 with parachute wings, to be welcomed back to the Company in his new role of cook/parachutist.
Pte Bell served with the Company in North Africa and Italy, May to December 1943. He then took part in Operation Market-Garden, when he parachuted onto D.Z. ‘X’, on Sunday, 17 September 1944. He was part of Company Headquarters and fought throughout the battle in and around the Oosterbeek cross-roads area, before withdrawing back across the Lower Rhine on the night of the 25/26 September 1944, with the remnants of the Company.
He also saw service with the Company in Norway, May – August 1945. Shortly before the Company left for Palestine in November 1945 his age and length of service having precluded him from further service overseas, he was posted to the 12th Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment. He finished his Army service in Aldershot with the Battalion’s Provost Staff.
As a civilian ‘Ginger’ returned to his pre-war occupation, retiring early at the age of 61 due to heart trouble and chronic asthma.
Walter Matthew ‘Ginger’ Bell died on the 14 January 1993.
OBITUARY from Pegasus, June 1993. Page 123. (By Fred Weatherley)
The 21st Indep Para Coy Club is deeply sorry to have to report the death of Walter Matthew Bell on 14 Jan 1993. Walter, known to us more familiarly as 'Ginger' after the colour of his hair, was born at Easington, Co. Durham on 4 Mar 1918 and was educated at Easington School. His pre-war occupation was that of coal miner, which calling he followed until 1 Aug 39 when he enlisted into the DLI. He later served with Searchlight and Bofors Gun units of the RA before transferring into the ACC.
After qualifying as a Cook, he was posted to the 21st Indep Para Coy in the early part of 1943 as one of six ACC cooks on permanent attachment as non-operational personnel. Walter's first action on joining the 21st was to demand an interview with his new OC during which he stated that he had no wish to serve with a parachute unit unless permitted to qualify himself as a parachutist and to cook in an operational capacity. Major Lander was 'tickled pink' at this unorthodox and unexpected approach, which also endeared him to the rank and file of this special unit. He was soon on his way to Hardwick and Ringway, from whence he returned in March 1943 with parachute wings, to be welcomed back to the Company in his new role of operational cook/parachutist.
Walter served with the Company in the UK, N. Africa, Italy, Arnhem and Norway. Shortly before the Company left Tisbury for Palestine in November 1945, his age and length of service having precluded him from further service abroad, he was posted from the Company to the Devonshire Regiment, then part of the A/L Bde, where he finished his Army career in Aldershot with the Battalion's Provost staff.
As a civilian, Walter returned to his pre-war occupation, retiring early at the age of 61 due to heart trouble and chronic asthma, which, eventually, were the cause of his death. He became a Member of the 21st Club soon after its formation and was a regular attender at Reunions until his illness prevented it. He would not give way to this illness, but continued as a Member of the Sunderland Branch of the PRA as long as possible, taking part in the annual Arnhem Pilgrimage on several occasions. On the evening of his death, he insisted upon walking the dog despite extremely severe wind and weather conditions, but collapsed shortly after returning home and, sadly, died almost immediately.
Walter was buried at the Church of the Ascension, Easington Colliery, on 19 Jan 1993, the Service being attended by Members of the Sunderland PRA, with Standard, including a number of those, like Walter, who were Arnhem veterans, who formed a Guard of Honour at the door of the Church. Members of the RBL were also present, with Standard, as were a number of his former colleagues from Easington Colliery. Walter's coffin was draped with the Union Flag and the RBL flag and bore his beret, with The Parachute Regiment cap badge, and his medals. The Club sent a wreath in Airborne colours and a sympathy card and there were individual messages of sympathy from Members.
Walter leaves a widow, Ellen, two children, Christine and Gordon, and three grandchildren, to whom we offer our sincere condolences at their sad loss. He will long be remembered as a friend and loyal comrade, with respect and affection.
Profile by Bob Hilton