Men of Worth - Saving Private Ryan Plot was real life for Keighley men

James, right, the eldest of the Bell brothers, who was the only one to survive the war, being sent home after his four siblings were all killed

James, right, the eldest of the Bell brothers, who was the only one to survive the war, being sent home after his four siblings were all killed

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Keighley’s own version of Saving Private Ryan has been unearthed by the Men of Worth Project.

The history group discovered how a local man was allowed home from the front following the war deaths of his four brothers.

A heartfelt request by James Bell’s sister Annie persuaded Australian Army chiefs to let the soldier sail to safety.

Saving Private Ryan is the Oscar-winning Steven Spielberg film set in the days following D-Day during the Second World War.

Three brothers are killed on the same day so a squad led by Tom Hanks is sent to rescue the one surviving brother from the frontline.

Keighley’s real-life version of the fictional story happened during the First World War.

James was the eldest of five brothers, and like Joseph, John, Herbert and Lawrence, he was born in Marrick, near Richmond.

By 1911 all the brothers were living in the Keighley area – mostly Haworth – and working either in the textile or engineering industries.

Over the previous three years all five had joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the West Riding Regiment.

In 1909 Herbert became the first brother to join the regular army, spending the pre-war years with the Royal Field Artillery in India.

James and Lawrence emigrated to Australia in 1913 but within weeks of the First World War breaking out they, like Joseph and John back in England, had joined the regulars.

The first brother to die was Lawrence, killed by a buried enemy shell in early December 1915 while Australian forces waged the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.

Just over two weeks later John was killed by a bullet through the head while fighting in France and Flanders.

Herbert had spent the first two years of the war in India and Mesopotamia, and died in June 1916 two months after becoming a prisoner of war.

Just one day before Herbert died, James had entered France as a sergeant with the West Riding Regiment.

Within 12 months he too was dead, killed by a Vane bomb after hostile aeroplanes flew over the Allied lines spotting for trench mortars.

The Bells’ sister Annie, who lived at Brow, Haworth, wrote to Australian Army chiefs asking for James to be brought back from France.

She wrote: “He has been in the firing line three years and has a wife and two children in England, receiving no separate allowance.”

In January 1918 a colonel in the Australian Corps finally signed off orders to return James to Australia for discharge.

If you would like the Men of Worth to look into the story of one of your relatives, e-mail andy@menofworth.org.uk, contact him on 07792 665336 or write to 21 Providence Crescent, Oakworth, BD22 7QU.

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