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Maj. Henry Esmond (H.E.) Bell ( 1913-1964 )

Maj. Henry Esmond (H. E.) Bell was born on January 10, 1913. He attended Bradford Grammar School in West Yorkshire, England and later St. Johns College in Cambridge, England where he graduated with first-class honors in History. Beginning in 1935, he worked in the Public Records Office as a temporary assistant keeper. While there, he took on reorganizing and listing the records of the Court of Wards and Liveries, a court established during the reign of Henry VIII. In 1937, he married Edith Margaret McDowell and became a Lecturer in History in the Newcastle Division at the University of Durham, an occupation he maintained until he joined the army in 1940.

During World War II, Bell served with the Army Education Corps and was attached to the MFAA division in Italy, where he was assigned as an Archives Officer. He arrived in Bologna, Italy on April 21, 1945 and served under the guidance of fellow Monuments Man Sir Hilary Jenkinson, implementing Jenkinson’s archival protection plan for archival materials in the Emilia and Venezie regions. Prior to his assignment in Italy, Bell worked with Jenkinson on German archival lists. He worked alongside several MFAA Archives Officers including Capt. T. Humphrey Brookes and Capt. Ellis Rogers. Rogers was moved to another theater in November 1944 while Bell assumed his duties in moving forward with new recoveries.

Some of Bell’s most important efforts came near the end of the war and immediately after, when records were being carelessly rushed to their repositories by the Italian government and the involved Allied military units. Bell worked with the newly-reinstated Italian Archive Services and personally toured the country to archival repositories with Italian officials to secure safe transfers of documents. From September until November 1945 he oversaw the proper transportation of archival material to Rome. Bell co-authored Italian Archives during the War and at its Close (1947) with Jenkinson, outlining the many dangers imposed upon archives during war.

After the war, Bell continued his research of Ward Court and published his highly-praised An Introduction to the History and Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries in 1953. He was also elected to a Fellowship in Modern History at New College in Oxford, England where he remained for the rest of his career teaching medieval history. Eight years prior to his death, Bell moved to Stanton St. John, a civil parish that was a part of New College, where he became active in village affairs and leadership. In 1959, he was invited to the United States as a visiting professor at the University of South Carolina.

Maj. H. E. Bell passed away in 1964 at the age of 51. A memorial was held at the Church of St. John the Baptist, in his beloved village of Stanton.