Bell, Sapper Robert 62536, 123 Field Company Royal Engineers

From the file W071/640 held at TNA

The Charge Sheet

(A.A.Sec. 41.)

When on Active Service committing the offence of Murder.

(Signed) C G Blackader

Commanding 38th (Welsh) Division

Form for Assembly and proceedings of Field General Court Martial on Active Service.

 PROCEEDINGS

At* On Active Service this third day of May, 1918

Whereas it appears to me, the undersigned, an officer in Command of 38th (Welsh) Divn. on active service, that the persons named in the annexed Schedule, and being subject to Military Law, have committed the offences in the said schedule mentioned.

And I am of opinion that it is not practicable that such offences should be tried by an ordinary General Court Martial:

I hereby convene a Field General Court Martial to try the said persons and to consist of the Officers hereunder named.

President

Major R.D Williams Welsh Regiment

Members

Major F.R.H McLellan.  Royal Welsh Fusiliers

2nd Lieutenant E.H Evans.  Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Captain D.C.R Stuart.  Border Regiment

(Signed) CG Blackader Major General,

Commanding 38th (Welsh) Division.

The Trial of 62536 Sapper Robert Bell, 123 Field Company Royal Engineers

Major J.C.I Wood RE appears as Prosecutor

Lieut. Meeson 38th MGC appears as accused friend.

PROSECUTION

1st Witness No. 285582 Sapper Pears E.R duly sworn states:-

We were on parade on 17th April at about 4pm. An order had been given for an examination of our ammunition and gas masks. The Section fell in facing the trench. Lieutenant Lloyd of our section came on parade. An order was given to front arms and Lt. Lloyd examined the section. The accused was a member of my section. While on parade I stood about 3 yards from him. I was standing in the front rank. I think the accused was also stood in the front rank. After our equipment had been examined Lt Lloyd went to the right end of the parade. Immediately Lt. Lloyd came on parade he spoke to the accused and I heard the words ‘puttees’ spoken. I saw the accused walk off parade. The accused was not on parade during the inspection. After the emergency rations had been examined and when Lt. Lloyd had walked down to the right flank I heard a shot fired and saw Lt. Lloyd on the ground. The parade broke up. Lt. Lloyd was about 8 yards from me. The parade was immediately ordered to fall in again. Just after the examination of emergency rations I saw the muzzle of a rifle sticking out of the trench to my right front.

Cross Examined by accused friend.

I heard a conversation when in the ranks between Lt. Lloyd and the accused. The only word I distinctly caught was “Puttees”. If there had been any high speaking from there I would have heard it. From the time I saw the rifle sticking up from the trench and the firing of the shot may have been a minute. I did not have my eyes on the rifle at the time the shot was fired. I saw no man with the rifle, I saw only the rifle.

Not Cross Examined by the Prosecution.

Cross Examined by the court.

When we fell in the second time we fell in facing the same way. I saw blood on the ground. I saw the accused arrested.

2nd Witness No. 146629 L/Cpl Hordish 123 Field Coy. RE duly sworn states:

I produce a plan of the trench and parade ground at sheet 37D V15 B28. I have marked X [signed by President and attached to proceedings] The witness proceeds to explain his plan to the court. I made the plan myself. The measurements shown are accurate. From Shelter marked in red to “position of Lt. Lloyd” is 4 yards. The position of Lt. Lloyd was indicated to me and I made the measurements accordingly. The position of the section was carefully indicated to me and I made the measurement accordingly.

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3rd Witness No. 62629 Cpl R. Prior 123 Field Company RE duly sworn states-

At 3.40pm on 17th April I warned everyone to be fully dressed for parade. At 3.50pm  Lt Lloyd came on parade. I fell the section in. Lt Lloyd noticed that the accused had not got his puttees on. I fell accused out and brought him in front of Lt. Lloyd. The accused was asked why he had not got puttees on. He replied that the puttees hurt his legs. Lt Lloyd dismissed him and told him to go and put his puttees on. Lt. Lloyd then carried on into the inspection of rifle ammunition for the section. After the iron rations had been inspected, the NCO inspected the front rank and I inspected the rear rank. The section was paraded in two ranks for these inspections. The accused before he was sent off parade was in the front rank. Whilst inspecting the rear rank I heard a shot. I turned around and approached Lt Lloyd on the ground but found I could do nothing for him as he was dead as far as I could tell. I looked to the right and left in front of me but I could see no one except the accused  in the trench. The accused had no rifle in his hand. There was a rifle in the trench two feet away from him. It was leaning against the parapet. This rifle was not pointing in the direction of Lt. Lloyd. It was housed with the magazine attached. I did not examine it. I arrested the accused. After I had arrested the accused I looked Lt. Lloyd and I saw a bullet had entered his left temple. I placed a guard over the body and the accused. Someone handed me his rifle which was in his trench and I handed it over to the Sgt. Major. I am of the opinion that the shot came from the direction of his trench.

Cross Examined by Accused Friend.

I was with Lt. Lloyd when he spoke to the accused about his puttees. When the shot was fired my back was turned to the trench. I turned round immediately. When I turned I did not see a rifle sticking up nor did I see the accused immediately. When the accused was sent off parade to put his putties on the Rifles had not been examined. The accused came to me on at 12.30 on 17th April and asked me if he could go for a walk. I gave him permission. I am not aware accused went out shooting game. I do know that he shot a hare a week previously on coming back from work. 

Cross examined by the Court.

There was no one then in his area of the trench where the accused was. The accused had his rifle on parade when he fell in for rifle inspection. The accused took his rifle off when he went for his puttees. I gave orders personally that all rifles were to be cleaned before the parade. The accused I think was not present when I ordered rifles be cleaned as he had gone out.

4th Witness No. 4218 C.S.M Foster 123 Fld. Company R.E Duly sworn states:-

At 4.15pm on 17 April 1918 I was working on my equipment 65 paces from where No. 4 section which is the accused section had fallen in. I heard a rifle fired, I at once ordered Sgt. Lewis toward me and we went across to where No. 4 section was paraded. When I heard the shot fired I looked up and saw Lt. Lloyd falling down. He was about 4 yards from the trench. On reaching Lt. Lloyd I saw that he was dead. I saw the accused placed between 2 sentries with fixed bayonets. I searched him at once. I found on him some money, tools and in his right hand pocket I found his clips of ammunition. 5 rounds in each. I then fell No. 4 section in as he had sentries. I then went down to the officers tent and I was about one yard in front of the accused. The accused said to me “You knows me Sergeant Major” I replied of course I do. The accused then said “When I set out to accomplish a thing I do it, there it is”. That is all the accused said to me. I first saw his rifle when I searched the accused. It was leaning up against the side of his trench. I got into his trench and found his rifle and his ammunition. I found an empty cartridge case in the trench and a round in the magazine. The cut off was open. I produce the rifle to this court (rifle inspected by the court)

I saw the body of Lt. Lloyd. The bullet had apparently entered the back of his head slightly above and back of his left ear. It came out somewhere near his left eye.

Cross examined by accused friend.

The rifle has been in my charge since this affair occurred. I have not cleaned it at all. I did not ask the accused any questions. I have known accused for about 3 years. I don’t know if the accused has had any troubles with Lt. Lloyd. So far as I know the accused had not had any ill feeling towards Lt. Lloyd.

Not Cross Examined

Not Cross Examined by the Court.

5th Witness No. 82569 Sgt. W. R Lewis 123 Field Company  Royal Engineers duly sworn states:-

On 17th April about 4.10pm I was working with CSM Foster in a dugout. No. 4 section was parading about 60 yards away. I heard a shot fired. I saw a soldier falling. I went over to see what was about. When I got over I saw the accused with two sentries near him. I was asked by CSM to take the accused in hand while he searched the accused. When the search was finished I let accused’s hands go. The CSM then left with him. I stood behind Bell the accused when he said “I’ve done the section a good turn and you’ll think of Bob Bell in years to come”. The accused did not say this to me. I was standing behind him. He never said anything more in my presence.

Cross Examined by accused friend.

I asked no questions whatever of the accused. I did not see a shot fired. I only heard it.

Not Cross Examined

Not Cross Examined by the Court.

6th Witness Captain J.B Gold R.A.M.C duly sworn states:-

On 17th April I examined the body of an officer. He was dead. He had a wound to his forehead. I only had a cursory examination mainly to the fact he was dead. There was blood on the side of his head. His hair was matted and I did not examine his body minutely. Major Wood RE was present when I made the examination.

Not Cross Examined

Not Cross Examined by the Court.

DEFENCE

The accused elected to make a statement not on oath:

At 12.30pm on 17 April 1918 I was given permission from Corporal Prior to take a walk. I went taking my rifle with me in the intention of getting a hare or a partridge, I failed to get a shot at a hare and returned to camp in order to be in time for the inspection. I went on parade and was immediately called off by the officer to put my puttees on. I went to the trench with the intention of doing so. After an interval of 10 minutes I could not find my puttees anywhere so I attempted to get out of the trench and join my section. In jumping up I tripped, the rifle flying forward and exploding immediately. I had forgotten it had a round in that I had put in during the early part of the afternoon and that was the cause of the unfortunate result. It has always been my practice to go out hunting game. In the previous week I had shot a hare and had a partridge for the officers mess.

1st Witness 140368 Sapper W.E Shutt 123 Fld Company RE duly sworn states:-

The accused has to my knowledge gone out shooting game. On several occasions he had brought game home. I saw the accused come back on April 17 he had with him a small black rabbit. The rabbit had been shot.

Not Cross Examined

Not Cross Examined by the Court.

The accused friend states that:

No one actually saw the shot fired.

No one heard any words between the accused and the deceased officer.

No motive for his unit. Suggests it was an accident.

Accused statement as to gaming not questioned by prosecution or the witness for the defence.

Also the court must be convinced that this is a case of much negligence or intention to shoot the deceased before finding a verdict against accused.

I submit that at the most a verdict of manslaughter can be sentenced.

Evidence of Character:

The prosecution Major J.C.T Wood RE duly sworn states:-

I produce for the court a copy of AFB172 relating to the accused. The accused has always worked well in his section

The accused has no evidence of character to call and states in mitigation. I am 29 years old. I have been in France since December 1915. Not married.

CONDUCT SHEET

Active Service1/3/16 Rank: Sapper Absent without leave from parade (4.00pm to 1am 22/1/16)

Punishment: fined 7 days pay and last on roster for leave.

In the Field 16/4/16 Rank:  Sapper Drunk in Billet

Punishment: Admonished.

Certified True Copy

Wood (Major)123rd Field Company Royal Engineers 19.4.18

SCHEDULE

Name of Alleged offender (a):

62536 Sapper R Robert Bell, 123 Field Company Royal Engineers

Offence Charged:

When on Active Service committing the offence of Murder.

(A.A.Sec. 41.)

Plea: Not Guilty

Finding, and if Convicted, Sentence (b): GUILTY DEATH

If the name of the person charged is unknown, he may be described as unknown, with such addition as will identify him.

Recommendation to mercy to be inserted in this column.

(Signed) C G Blackader

Commanding 38th (Welsh) Division

Major R.D Williams Welsh Regiment

President

RECOMMENDATIONS AND PROMULGATION

To

Headquarters

V Corps A.

I forward, herewith the proceedings of F.G.C.M. held on 62536 Sapper R.BELL, 123rd Field Company, R.E

Confirmation has been reserved.

I cannot see any mitigating circumstances or conditions that the sentence should be put into review

(Signed) GC Blackader Major General

Commanding 38th. (Welsh) Division

7th May 1918.

CONFIDENTIAL

To

Headquarters

V Corps A

Certified that No. 62536 Sapper R. Bell. 123rd Field Company, R.E has been handed over to an A.P.M

(Signed) GC Blackader Major General

Commanding 38th. (Welsh) Division

7th May 1918.

CORPS

Forwarded

I concur in thinking that the sentence should be carried out.

C.D Shute

Lieut. General,

Commanding V Corps.

8/5/18

ARMY

Third Army. CM/12527

Adjutant General,

General Head Quarters

(Through D.J.A.G.)

The proceedings of a Field General Court Martial held for the trial of no. 62536 Sapper R. BELL, 123rd Field Company, R.E on a charge of Murder are forwarded herewith.

I recommend that the sentence be carried out.

(Signed)

Byng General, Commanding Third Army

Head Quarters

Third Army.

11/5/18

A.G For submission to the Commander in Chief

(Signed) Gilbert Mellor DJAG

12.5.18

COMMANDER IN CHIEF

Confirmed

Haig FM

16 May 18

GENERAL OFFICER COMMANDING

Third Army

In confirmation of my telegram No. A (b) 67 of to-day.

Please note that the C-in-C has confirmed the sentence in the case of

No. 62536 Sapper R. BELL, 123rd Field Company, Royal Engineers

The return of the proceedings direct to this office after promulgation is requested.

G.H.Q

16/5/1918

SENTENCE

CONFIDENTIAL

Vth Corps “A”

Reference your V.A.274/470 dated 18-5-18.

Proceedings of F.G.C.M in the case of No. 62536, Sapper R. BELL, 123rd Field Company, R.E are returned herewith.

The sentence was duly carried out at 4.12 a.m to-day, at T.15.c. , Sheet 57.D.

(Signed) H.E Pryce

Brigadier General,

Commanding 38th (Welsh) Division.

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