Harold Thomas Bell grew up on a farm in Walpeup near Ouyen in Victoria. His eldest brother, Samuel, was serving on the Western Front. Harry aspired to join the action but was only 16, and the minimum age was 18. He decided to use his mother’s maiden name and say his father was his uncle and his next of kin. In March 1917 he made his way to Mildura and enlisted for the army as Harold Thomas Wickham. Harry was healthy, could handle a horse well and shoot straight. He spun a yarn, and with a wink and a nod, he was accepted. His age was recorded as 21! He must also have told a good story to his family to explain his disappearance.
He joined the 4th Light Horse regiment, as a reinforcement, when it was preparing for the long 3-night march to Beersheba in October 1917. Their task was to capture the city and its ancient wells in one day or possibly die of thirst in the desert.
On October 31, the 4th Light Horse brigade watched while the battle raged all day. By mid-afternoon, with the precious wells still in Turkish hands, General Chauvel ordered the 4th and the 12th Light Horse regiments to charge the city before sundown. Harry set off with the 800 horsemen, galloping at a frightening pace into the face of machine gun and artillery fire and bombs thrown from above.
Suddenly the gun fire smashed into his leg and he crashed to the ground in agony as he tried to roll to safety away from the thundering hooves. The horses charged on, jumped the trenches and galloped on into town to secure the wells before they were blown up. The city had fallen but so had Harry. He was loaded on a stretcher and taken to hospital with multiple fractures and severe blood loss. As life drained from his body he wanted to make sure his name was right on the tombstone. It is, but his short career ended on November 1st, 1917. He is the youngest person buried in the Be’er Sheva War Cemetery and possibly the youngest member of the Light Horse troops to die in the Middle East.
In the charge the ANZACs lost 31 men, 36 wounded and 70 of their horses.
Thomas Bell and Margaret (nee Wickham) had 10 children – Samuel, Ethel, Annie, Lilian, Harold, Rose, Daisy, Albert, Mavis, Reginald
Special thanks to Jill Curry for providing the story.