The second installment of our First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series remembers the actions of Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew and Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall.
Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew, VC
On April 24, 1915, Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew, a 32-year-old officer with the 7th (1st British Columbia) Battalion, was fighting near Keerselaere, Belgium in the Ypres Salient to repel the German assaults on the Allied line following the first successful use of poison gas by the German army.
As those around him fell, either killed or wounded, and without hope of reinforcements, Lieutenant Bellew manned one of the battalion’s two machine guns. He and Sargent Hugh Pearless stayed with their machine guns, positioned on high ground overlooking the advancing German troops, despite being nearly surrounded by the enemy.
Bellew’s Victoria Cross citation in the London Gazette describes that even as Sargent Pearless was killed and Lieutenant Bellew wounded, Bellew “maintained his fire till ammunition failed and the enemy rushed the position. Lieutenant Bellew then seized a rifle, smashed his machine gun, and fighting to the last, was taken prisoner” (London Gazette, no. 31340, May 15, 1919). For his actions, Sargent Pearless posthumously received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Lieutenant Bellew remained a prisoner of war in Germany until December 1917, when, due to the ongoing effects of being gassed at Ypres, he was transferred to Switzerland. Shortly after the end of the War, in December 1918, he was repatriated to England, where he spent another two months in hospital before returning to Canada. He returned to British Columbia, where he worked as a civil engineer. He died in Kamloops on February 1, 1961.
Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, VC
On the night of April 23, in the midst of fierce fighting in the Ypres Salient, Company Sergeant-Major Hall of the 8th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, realized that several of the men of his company were missing. Twice during the night, alerted by the moans of the wounded, he ventured out into no man’s land to retrieve the injured. Early in the morning of the 24th, as a wounded soldier called for help 15 yards from his trench, Hall and two others, Lance Corporal John Arthur Kenneth Payne and Private John Rogerson, crawled out to reach him. When both Payne and Rogerson were wounded, Company Sergeant-Major Hall persisted in his effort to save the wounded.
Company Sergeant-Major Hall’s citation in the London Gazette recounts that after his first attempt failed, “Company Sergeant-Major Hall then made a second most gallant attempt, and was in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head.” The soldier that Hall was attempting to rescue was also killed.
Frederick William Hall, and two other Victoria Cross recipients, Leo Clarke and Robert Shankland, lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, Manitoba before the war. Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in 1925 to honour the three men.
Library and Archives Canada holds the Canadian Expeditionary Force service file for Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew and Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall.