‘Please return me to England’s shore’: Mrs Bell and the First World War

Government records are often seen as dry and bureaucratic, but can be a treasure-trove of deeply personal events and stories. One such discovery was made in the correspondence files of the Chief Secretary’s Department. Mrs Mary Bell, the wife of J E Bell from Jericho, writes to our Premier T J Ryan in September 1914. Her husband has enlisted with the Australian Expeditionary Force and Mary asks for help to get home to England.

Mrs Bell writes “I am the wife of J.E. Bell 9 Infantry, 3 Brigade, Aust. Exped. Force, … not withstanding his love for myself and his two children, 1 girl aged 12 and 1 boy 101/2 years, he has been so inspired by patriotism to volunteer for the Force”.

She suggests a free or reduced rate of fare back to England and says “I have no friends or relations here I could go to, all mine being in England, and until my husband returns I am very wretched and miserable here without him and if I can I want to be near as I can to him and if anything happens to him, God forbid, I would be with my own people”.

Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 27363
Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 27363
Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 27363
Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 27363












Inspired by this moving letter, we set out to see what else we could discover about Mary Bell or her husband. The Embarkation Roll from the Australian War Memorial lists James Edward Bell as joining 9 Infantry Battalion on 21 August 1914 and leaving Australia on the Omrah. He was wounded at Anzac Cove and his record on Discovering Anzacs says that he was invalided back to Australia in July 1918.

Digging a little deeper we found that Mary Anne Bell and her two children Edward and Helen came to Queensland from Buckinghamshire in February 1911 as nominated immigrants on the Orsova. James Edward Bell (husband) filed the nomination in the Dalby Court of Petty Sessions in 1910 as he was working at a railway camp at Macalister. This immigration information was found in two types of immigration records, held at Queensland State Archives, using the online indexes:

These records contain helpful information about immigration into Queensland. They are a great way to start your own research.


P.S. The Premier was unable to assist Mary with her 1914 request. Does anyone have any more information about the Bells?

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

2 Responses

  1. Brenda Koster

    This is from Ancestry.com.au – James Edward Bell, parents Edward Bell and Ellen Yule, wife Mary Anne Horwood. James and Mary Anne were living at Ardingly, Rochester Terrace, Kelvin Grove in the 1937 electoral roll, James was a porter. Wife Mary Anne died in 1941, James died in 1948. Cheers, Brenda

Leave a Reply