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Yorkshire footballer won VC for attack on German trench

The Victoria Cross won by young Yorkshire army officer Donald Bell – the only professional footballer to win the top military honour – is expected to fetch £160,000 at auction.

He won the ultimate award for bravery during World War I, running across no man's land under heavy fire to destroy a German machine gun nest that was holding up a British advance.

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He threw a Mills bomb from 20 yards that knocked the gun out and shot the gunner dead. Then, throwing more bombs into the trench, killed 50 Germans. The demoralised enemy offered no further resistance and the trench was taken.

"I must confess it was the biggest fluke alive and I did nothing," he

wrote home to his mother on July 7. "I only chucked one bomb but it did the trick."

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Donald, educated at Harrogate Grammar School and Westminster College, was an outstanding sportsman.

He was athletics captain at college and was in the first team for cricket, rugby, football, hockey and swimming. His time for the 100 yards was 10.6 seconds.

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While in London he played for Crystal Palace and had an occasional game with Newcastle before becoming assistant master at Starbeck Council School in Harrogate. To supplement his teaching income, he signed professional forms with Bradford Park Avenue and was a key member of the squad that in 1913-14 won promotion to the first division.

During the war he served as a Second Lieutenant in the Green Howards. Just five weeks after his heroics in storming the machine gun next, 25-year-old Donald was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

His grieving widow received her husband's VC from King George V in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in December 1916. Donald was buried where he fell and his bullet-riddled helmet was picked up from the battlefield and is now in the Green Howard's museum in Ripon.

The place he died is now known as Bell's Redoubt and a permanent memorial was unveiled there by the Professional Footballer's Association in June 2000.

His coveted medal will be auctioned at Spink, London, on November 25.

 
 
 

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