Interview with George Arthur Bell


Interview with George Arthur Bell
1005,1006-Bell, George Arthur


George Bell grew up in Lincolnshire. He was called up to the Army and was posted to India and Burma.




00:30:36 audio recording


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Interviewer 1: Hello. One two one two. Testing. Testing. Testing. One two. One two.
Interviewer 2: I’m just about to hit the button now.
GB: Right.
[recording paused]
GB: George Arthur Bell. Born in Boston, 18.4.25.
Interviewer: So, George we’re going to be talking about then. Now, part of your life —
GB: Yes.
Interviewer: Was around Boston as the war broke out.
GB: That’s right.
Interviewer: And I will begin there. What were your memories of that?
GB: Well, my mother died when I was seven and there were three children. I’d got a sister sort of four years older and a brother four years younger and life was a bit difficult. We lived in Sydney Street. I was born in 75 Sydney Street and next door was my in-laws, my grandparents. My mother’s mother and father they lived there and they were quite helpful in their way but mainly we seemed to go, they were Shepherds their name and we mainly used to go to my father’s side, the Bells at Frithville where he was born and his mother and father lived there. And we spent of course you did everything on your bicycle then. There were no, not many cars and early on it was, we can just, you just got on your bike and went. But of course, I went, I went to school at Carlton Road. The, what was, what they called Elementary Schools then. I did sit the exam for the Grammar School but I wasn’t actually keen to go to the Grammar School really because I got on well at Carlton Road, I was into sport and football and that sort of thing, and I didn’t, didn’t get in. And there was another thing you could apply for which was the free place but I didn’t say anything about that so I didn’t enter that. I kept silent [laughs] But later, as it turned out later on both my teachers at school thought that I was material perhaps to go to the Grammar School and they got on to my father a bit and he said, ‘Well, right. We’ll, I’ll pay for you to go.’ And we applied to the Grammar School to go but it was getting on a bit and we got a rather curt note which I’ve still got from the headmaster saying that the places were full and that was it. So quite funny really. It’s not what you know it’s who you know but who you know. But —
Interviewer: Very true. Very true.
GB: But there we are so I eventually left school at fourteen and started work with my father who was a jobbing brick layer. A builder in a small way. He’d been in the trade all his life. He was actually left school when he was thirteen. I’ve got all his books and what he left at school and the work he did in well maths and writing and everything. It, and these days with all the advances in so called education it’s pathetic really what what’s turned out and his stuff when he was, when he was thirteen. But anyway, he worked for several local builders and I’ve got an example of his work is in that. In the book I’ve written in Boston.
Interviewer: Yeah. The name of your book is what George?
GB: The name of the book is, “Living the Lincolnshire Life.” Of course, the picture of the book on the front pages is my grandfather on the engine and, and his man Harold Evison called, his nickname was Keck. Keck Evison. I don’t know why oh why. And that’s one of my uncles. Uncle Fred. He was, eventually went to London and got in to the fish and chip trade.
Interviewer: So what year was this then? Was this building up to the war was it?
GB: Yes. Building up to the war. Yes. Yeah. And well it would be 1939 it would be because I left school in 1939 and started work with my father. I got fifty pence a week which is not a lot really. Not these days [laughs] for a forty eight hour week. I had a weeks holiday. My father was a fairly hard taskmaster in a way which he’d been brought up that way. He’d actually served four years during the First World War. He joined up when he was eighteen and came out when he was twenty one or two and had been awarded a military medal.
Interviewer: Oh right.
GB: In 1917. Which I’ve still got. And so he’d sort of been there done that. Seen quite a bit.
Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah.
GB: Lucky to get.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: But —
Interviewer: There was some hard men coming out of that war.
GB: Aye. Yeah, but, and times, times were hard. I mean in those days well just after the war, well even when I first started you could fire a man in two hours. Just give him two hours notice and that was it like. No, no appealing or anything like that so [pause] but and we of course during the summer which was, we enjoyed it, it seemed a good summer as they did in those days really. And we used to go to Frithville up at where my grandparents lived and they were quite receptive and we used to do a fair bit of swimming with the neighbour’s sons. The Sergeants. They had a garage and they had two boys, Reg and John. Well, John eventually went on. He joined the Air Force and was awarded the DFM as it, as it so happens.
Interviewer: So, this summer then really was the halcyon summer before the big conflict.
GB: Before the, before the war.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: That’s in September. Then it started, didn’t it? Well, of course prior to that in 1938 there was a scare. The Munich scare that came on. Everybody was, they were busy you know sandbagging various places and whatnot and the playing field on Sleaford Road they dug a series of trenches which within about a month were full of water [laughs] so, useless really.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: But that was, that was how it went on. But —
Interviewer: I guess so we move on now then. Obviously, it’s just gone past the summer and we enter into —
GB: Into the —
Interviewer: September now so —
GB: Yes. Well, war broke out and we were quite busy really because father did a lot of the farm repair work which was, well needed and was sort of a Reserved Occupation and he got, got me, well not deferred but he got on as an apprentice. An indentured apprentice which was for five years which meant that you know subject to everything I should be eighteen and I should be nineteen before I should be conscripted. But which in some ways it, looking back it helped a bit. The war could have been won.
Interviewer: I wouldn’t say it was easier though.
GB: No. No. No, it wouldn’t. And we did a lot of work on local farms all around Boston and District and repairing things and you came across various things. I mean several aircraft crashed around about. I saw the one come down at Sibsey Northlands where the Memorial Service is held every year.
Interviewer: Right.
GB: I was working at a barn about, well about a couple of miles away. I didn’t actually see the plane come down but I heard it and saw the plume of smoke come up and —
Interviewer: Was this a bomber or a fighter?
GB: It was a bomber. It was a Lancaster.
Interviewer: Right.
GB: And of course they were still in there the blokes were. They never got them out or anything and they had this annual Memorial Service at Sibsey Northlands. You probably may have seen it.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: I did see that but of course you didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know then that it was a Lancaster that had crashed but you knew something had gone on but you, things were hushed up always really. You know, it didn’t [pause] Well, news was hard to come by really that, but that’s, that was one thing I saw. There was another on down Frith Bank towards Anton’s Gowt and a Manchester crashed down there on Cartwright’s farm.
Interviewer: Ok. That’s interesting.
GB: You could see that.
Interviewer: That must have obviously come from Waddington then.
GB: Well —
Interviewer: Because that’s where they were based wasn’t it?
GB: Aye. Maybe. I don’t know where it came from. You could see it, you know. As you went past the road you could see it you know about well a half a mile away in the [pause] And another episode was that –
Interviewer: What year was that? Can you remember what year that was? 1941? Something like that?
GB: I should think it, well it would, I should think it would have been 1941 ‘42. They phased Manchesters out, didn’t they?
Interviewer: They did. Yeah. Yeah.
GB: Because they were the two engines job and they went to four with the Lancs, didn’t they? And another, my uncle farmed at Lade Bank at Old Leake and there was a fighter crashed on his farm and it flipped over and killed the pilot. I think it was, I’m not sure whether it was a Hurricane or a Spitfire but two or three days later we walked to the farm, walked down and you could see where it had gauged the ground out and landed and of course it would have gone. Gone and picked up and away really. But that was another incident there.
Interviewer: So, working on the land then or you were working obviously —
GB: Yeah.
Interviewer: During this period.
GB: Yes. Yeah.
Interviewer: What changes did you notice really? Was there —
GB: Well, not a, not a lot really. But it, you know you worked from half past seven to five and [laughs] and then when you got home you went swimming or fishing or something to do with something like that.
Interviewer: Did you notice a lot of troops in the area? Was there —
GB: Not a lot. There were quite a few because they were I, eventually when I was fifteen joined the St James Men’s Club. That was, it’s now, oh gone. Where? Well, it was the St James Hall and the Church. The Church is all gone and the Hall’s gone and it was Wickes and now Wickes have moved and the whole caboosh has gone and this was a Men’s Club. In fact, I’ve got all the minutes of the whole set up from when it started to when it ended. They’re quite interesting. When you joined and who you were and all the rest of it and, and I was lucky to get in because the age you were supposed to get in was sixteen but with it being wartime and they, you know —
[recording paused]
Interviewer: Aye, are you ready?
GB: Yeah. Yeah. Well, there was quite a few Land Girls of course. Girls seemed to be sparse in those days somehow [laughs] Didn’t, there wasn’t a lot of social life and we used to go to Frithville and they organised, well most villages did and you know whist drive and dance sort of things. Social evenings. And they were always well attended and they were quite fun. And we worked around about. I remember at, well the farm I was working on when I saw the Lanc come down or that incident there were three girls there. Roberts, I mentioned a bit in the book I think and there were, there were three girls. Aileen, Ena and Hilda and they were well Aileen was about, well three or four years older than me and she went on to marry a pilot, a bomber pilot and I think she’s still alive.
Interviewer: Oh right.
GB: But she must be a good age now. But I tried to contact them but they don’t seem to want to know anything really. That’s how people are.
Interviewer: For some people it was a long time ago now.
GB: Aye, yeah. Yes, but, and of course Ena she was about my age and we were working at one, on their farm and she, when the thrashing machine came to thrash the stacks and whatnot she of course you had to have a waterboy. It wanted a lot of water the engine did and she was waterboy and of course you know with working there and I would see this girl come and [laughs] I thought she was a bit of alright like [laughs] I was sixteen then. I’ll let you –
Interviewer: [laughs] Didn’t get to see many around here.
GB: No. No. And my cousin. Then they had a sister, Hilda. She was a bit younger but they all went to the High School at Boston. They biked. Likewise, at Sibsey Westhouses. We worked there for, then at the Everards. They were brother, two brothers worked at farm at either side there. Sibsey Westhouses and right at the bottom end there was another farm Tommy Farr farmed. He had four daughters and they would come from their farm and you would see them sort of and they biked up to Boston, the High School, from there and, you know.
Interviewer: You know during this time you know obviously rationing occurred.
GB: Yeah. Yes.
Interviewer: Was in force.
GB: Yes. Yes.
Interviewer: How did that affect you?
GB: Well, you didn’t have a lot of butter or anything like that and you just made do really. It’s, and just accepted it. It was just there and you got on with it.
Interviewer: Did you live off the land though a bit better?
GB: Well yeah. I think you did. Yes. Well, your folks were farmers weren’t they?
Other: Yes. Eggs and —
GB: Eggs and butter and that and milk and that sort of thing was.
Other: Yes.
GB: You were better off really.
Other: Yes.
GB: Well, near Bury St Edmunds you farmed, didn’t you?
Other: Yeah.
Interviewer: I was thinking about the pheasants as well in the fields around.
GB: Ah, well that’s right. Yes. Yeah. Yeah, it was quite, but and then during that time, well when mother died my sister and I went to, during the funeral and afterwards we went to stay at, well my uncle, well this great uncle actually at Stickney where they farmed and I used to spend all my holidays there from then on. From sort of eight up to leaving school and I really, you know enjoyed it and got on proper well. It was quite interesting working on the farm.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: I mentioned a bit in the book about the duck shooting and rabbits and hens and that sort of thing and one, one chap well this was in Butterwick because it’s actually one incident where they were having a shoot and one of the farmers as you did on the last breed when they all broke. The pheasants and game broke out from the last breed and you would chase after the rabbits and whatnot and this farmer they were, he got carried away a bit with his gun and clubbed the rabbit and shot himself and killed him. Yeah. His name was Lyons. Bill Lyons.
Interviewer: Oh dear.
GB: And that but —
Interviewer: That brings us in now really coming up towards the summer of 1944 really.
GB: Aye. Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: And obviously something arrived through the letterbox, didn’t it?
GB: Well, that’s it, yes. Eventually it came through like, you know. It was inevitable which I expected and off I went to Lincoln then to join the Army. Which was, well a bit of a shock in a way really but you know you just got on with it.
Interviewer: What did you go in as?
GB: As a soldier. A private soldier.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: In the infantry. It was the barracks at Lincoln.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: The Lincolns were stationed there. The York and Lancs and the Sherwood Foresters.
Interviewer: And which regiment were you?
GB: It was Lincolns.
Interviewer: You were the Lincolns then.
GB: The Lincolns. Yeah. Yeah. But it was quite an interesting experience there. Discipline was pretty strict you know as it was but I mean on every Thursday you would have what they called a doubling day and you had to double. If it was doubling day north you doubled. And then on sort of once a month it was doubling all the way like. North, south, east and west like. You just, it was —
Interviewer: So, were you, were you leading up to D-Day then and —
GB: Well, not, not, yeah I suppose we would be really. We did sort of six weeks primary training, then twelve weeks infantry training. Then after that it was, you know just you didn’t quite know what you were going to do and where. And we, well I thought perhaps because I was, I was nineteen then and they sort of put us as if we were going abroad. Not in, not to France and Germany. And I went to a holding camp near Nottingham. Whatton they called it. It’s a prison now. And from there on, you know we used to go into Nottingham a bit. Nights out and whatnot and then eventually we, well got on a troop train from Gourock and went out to India. But you know it was about, well for about a week we were on a boat. Well, five weeks I should think.
Interviewer: Wow.
GB: And we went out. It was, well it was about a week before we set out from Gourock funnily enough and what not. I think there was about five thousand boats on there. And we then you had to go right out to almost to America and turn around because of the U-boats. Then once you got to Gib you were ok. The Mediterranean was clear then.
Interviewer: Right.
GB: Which was quite pleasant. But going to, well the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic it was pretty horrendous. It was rough and sort of about five thousand blokes were sick [laughs] And you know, what a mess.
Interviewer: I can imagine.
GB: And we were in the bottom, the bottom deck. H8 starboard. That was what —
Interviewer: What was the name of the ship? Can you remember?
GB: The Orion.
Interviewer: The Orion.
GB: Yeah.
Interviewer: Ok.
GB: Yeah. P&O.
Interviewer: Right.
GB: Yeah. The Orion. And we were right at the bottom and, you know if we’d been torpedoed well, I mean you’ve no chance like to get out of there. But we got to Gib and then we went to Aden and to you know through the Suez into Aden and, and then we stopped at Port Said for a, just a bit of a refresher and clean up and what not and it was quite interesting and it was, it was warm the weather.
Interviewer: Yeah. So what time of the year did you arrive then in India?
GB: In India? It was January 1945.
Interviewer: 1945.
GB: Yeah.
Interviewer: So you were still expecting to go into Burma.
GB: Well, that was it. That was what it was all about like, yes. You didn’t know where you were going to go in India or what. But, but I suppose somehow somebody did and you were allocated and you know got off the ship and went to a train and where it took you and we went to Jhansy to start with and then got on another train. Went off to Delhi where, and then joined the battalion. Second Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
Interviewer: Oh. Right.
GB: Who were stationed there then on what they called internal security because India then was a bit of a hotbed in a way prior to the segregation and you know the split as it were. But and of course a lot of people don’t know but the Indian, there was an Indian Army that fought for the Japanese.
Interviewer: Fought with the Japanese.
GB: For. Yes.
Interviewer: Oh right.
GB: With them. Yeah. Yeah. What they called [pause] I don’t know whether it was a Free Indian Army but there was definitely a sort of formation of I think about twenty or thirty thousand. A division anyway that fought with the Japanese.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. So did you actually get, get up by the time then obviously getting into 1945 was the most of the fighting done or —
GB: Yeah. Well, yes. We got into, we had been stationed in Delhi for quite a while and during that time it wasn’t, you didn’t see any tourist sights or anything like that. You know, if you went to [unclear] you didn’t see the Taj Mahal or anything like that sort of business [laughs] But it was quite interesting in a way. It was a bit of a peacetime station because you see the battalion had been stationed in Burma prewar because Burma was part of the British Empire then.
Interviewer: Right.
GB: Which not a lot of people knew or know and they were stationed at a place called [unclear] About forty miles north of Mandalay. It was sort of a hill station sort of thing. I’ve got books about it actually but and when the, when the war broke out they were pushed out and they had to scarper. Well, they were pushed back and had a bit of a trip, a rough trip to get back into India which, well they lost quite a few. But they’d not got, they had a new station in Delhi on what they called internal security which were sort of they had to keep peace in Delhi and well I mean four companies and a battalion and we always had one company stationed in the Red Fort at Delhi because that was the old city. And in case anything broke out they were there to quell it and —
Interviewer: Yeah. It was quite obvious at that time that the Indians were wanting partition as well.
GB: Yes.
Interviewer: And independence, wasn’t it?
GB: Yes. It was. Yes, it was quite obvious then because I remember doing guard duty on the Presidential Palace which, what it is now, it was Wavell he was the Viceroy then and he was in residence then. We used to have to do guard duties all spick and span and a fair bit of bull and that sort of thing like, you know. [laughs] But —
Interviewer: Yes.
GB: And I think Auchinleck was CnC but there’s not —
Interviewer: So it seems everybody that didn’t make it in the desert were sent to India then was it? Yeah.
GB: But during that time I got a bit, well I don’t know, I got a bit fed up really like that but you’re that age and I thought well the call came for, they wanted some volunteers for the Parachute Regiment. Paratroops. So I thought, well I’ll have a go at that. I can’t think why. Anyway, we had to go before the CO and you know say why you wanted to go or this, that and the other. I can’t exactly remember what I did say. Why I wanted to go or anything like that but in the end nothing came of it because the battalion were then ordered to move. To go down to Southern India for jungle warfare training. Sort of a completely different set up to what they’d had in in Delhi. I mean in Delhi it was in a way a bit like peacetime. I mean they’d got the regimental tailor and the [dersi?] wallah. I mean and you could get a shave in bed. A bloke, a shave wallah would come around and shave you in bed [laughs] The NAAFI was well stocked.
Interviewer: The empire was alive and well.
GB: Well, you believe what [laughs] anyway we got all I was in the advance party and up we shot down to near Ootacamund. It’s right in southern India which is a hill station. Well, we weren’t stationed there but it wasn’t far away. We were about forty fifty miles from it. A place called Gudalur at, I think it’s mentioned a bit in the book and one or two odd pictures and what not and we had this sort of six, six good weeks there doing jungle warfare training prior to moving on to Burma and what have you and which the, it was run by the Australians. They were sort of doing the [unclear] and what not. The training. They were a bunch of, well they were macho characters really. They’d been in New Guinea survivors really. They had seen service in New Guinea and they used to tell us you know sort of you join the Navy and you see the world and you join the Army you see the next — [laughs]
Interviewer: It's very true isn’t it? It’s very true. Yeah. We’ll be coming to the end. So you finished then in India what? About 1946 as a timeline.
GB: That’s right. Yes. Yeah.
Interviewer: Came back to Blighty that year.
GB: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: So when you came back then did you more or less just find yourself quickly demobbed.
GB: Yeah. That’s right. It was. I mean the war finished in August in Japan. August the 15th and it was another well fourteen months before I got demobbed and even then I was Class B because I was a builder and had got a trade. You could advance. Get out a bit quicker. So I came out under Class B but —
Interviewer: Did you return to Lincolnshire immediately then?
GB: Yeah, I came back to Boston and started off with the well I had two or three days with another builder in Boston [Van Pleusen?] and then I got back with my father.
Interviewer: Yeah.
GB: And we just resumed.
Interviewer: Right. Was there any war damage to repair around the local area?
GB: Well, quite a bit of bomb damage in the area of Boston. It’s documented in the diaries in the two years when. When and where. In fact, there was, well you wouldn’t know but on the corner of Rosegarth Street, you won’t know where that is I should think. In West Street. No. Not far from the Railway Station into Boston in West Street. I’ve got some pictures of it actually where they dropped a bomb on the Royal George, the pub. There was a pub there and a bakery, Loveleys Bakery and it, two girls were killed that I went to school with. There was a family of four or five and the girls were killed. I knew them both well but that was quite —
Interviewer: Did you ever, I mean the Americans were based just a few miles down the road at several bases. Did they ever come up to Boston or did you see them?
GB: Well, not a lot. We didn’t see a lot of Americans. Not really, no. Mainly we had the paratroops. The, I’ve forgotten what division they were now but and our English —
Interviewer: Were they English or American?
GB: English.
Interviewer: Ok.
GB: And they were all local about here and their headquarters were at, where did we go to when they [pause] the Garden Centre out towards Newark. We’ve been there. Got the odd plants.
Interviewer: Belton?
GB: No. Not Belton. But it’s a house there where, where the headquarters anyway but you know we used to play when I was at the club. We used to play various battalions. Well, you know they’d go up to the club and have a game of billiards and they would organise matches. Snooker and table tennis and that sort of thing which was quite interesting really.
Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s been fascinating talking to you George. I think we’ve covered a great deal really and thank you very much for giving your time. What we were looking for you’ve described beautifully.
GB: Well —
Interviewer: That’s your younger experiences prior to joining the Army in Boston.
GB: Aye. Right.
Interviewer: We’re very thankful for that. So that’s the end of the recording then with Mr George Bell.
GB: Yeah.
Interviewer: In Boston. And thank you very much.
GB: Aye, well that’s alright. Yes.


Dave Harrigan and This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with George Arthur Bell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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