LANCE CORPORAL EDGAR ALLAN BELL
SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT
3RD JANUARY 1918 AGE 21
BURIED: BROOKWOOD MILITARY CEMETERY, UK
Edgar Bell died in Queen Alexandra's Hospital, Millbank, London on 3 January 1918 of wounds he'd received in France in May 1917. The only indication as to the nature of his wounds comes from the letter his officer wrote to his parents: "You will be pleased to hear that he behaved splendidly, and did not so much as make a sign that he had been wounded until I turned and saw him".
The son of Alexander Brown Bell and his wife Agnes, Edgar Bell was born in Sheffield on 13 January 1894. His father was a journalist, at the time of his son's death on the Yorkshire Evening Post. On leaving school, Edgar began to train as an architect and in 1913 joined the Yorkshire Hussars as a territorial soldier. He volunteered for foreign service and went with the regiment to France in February 1915. In March the following year, he transferred to the 6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment and was serving with them when he was wounded.
Alexander Bell signed for his son's inscription. At one time it was firmly believed to be the greeting gladiators gave to the emperor on entering the arena before a fight - Ave Impuratur , morituri te salutant, Hail Emperor, we who are about to die salute you. George Bernard Shaw, in his 1913 play Androcles and the Lion, gave the line to the Christians who were about to be fed to the lions: 'Hail, Caesar! Those about to die salute you'. However, it is now thought to have been at a one-off event when a crowd of condemned criminals, who were about to be forced to kill each other in a mock sea battle, hailed the Emperor Claudius with these words in the hope that he might pardon them. He didn't.
Why did Alexander Brown choose this inscription, what did he mean? It's possible that he had in mind the same sentiment as that implied by Simonides' famous inscription to the Spartan dead killed at the Battle of Thermopylae: "Go tell the Spartans, passer by, that obedient to their orders here we lie". Edgar Bell had done his duty by his country and had known the risks he was taking in so doing. Interestingly, it is the only instance of this inscription that I've come across. I could have imagined it being much more popular among a generation where the classics played such a large part in their education.