The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (162) Flight Lieutenant John Napier Bell, No. 10 Squadron RAAF, Second World War

Place Europe: France, Brittany, Finistere, Ploudaniel
Accession Number PAFU2015/238.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 18 June 2015
Access Open
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Troy Clayton, the story for this day was on (162) Flight Lieutenant John Napier Bell, No. 10 Squadron RAAF, Second World War.

Speech transcript

162 Flight Lieutenant John Napier Bell, No. 10 Squadron RAAF
KIA 18 June 1940
Photograph: 044446

Story delivered 18 June 2015

Today we pay tribute to Flight Lieutenant John Napier Bell, who was killed on active service with the Royal Australian Air Force in 1940.

Johnny Bell was born in Adelaide on 25 April 1916, the first anniversary of the Anzac landing. He was the first of three sons of John Henry and Eva Annie Bell, store-keepers in the remote South Australia town of Farina.

Bell attended school in Adelaide, where he served with the St Peter’s College Cadet Corps. After leaving school, John Bell returned to the far north of the state, where he drove the mail van delivering goods and mail to outback stations. On 15 July 1935, aged 19, he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as an air cadet. He was a quiet and self-conscious student, but succeeded in graduating from Point Cook Flying School.

Commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1936, he served with No. 5 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, at Richmond, west of Sydney, for over two years – before being transferred to No. 9 Squadron, also at Richmond. He was serving with this squadron when the Second World War broke out in 1939, by which time he had gained extensive experience with
amphibious aircraft. In January 1940 he departed Australia for England and was transferred to No. 10 Squadron in April 1940.

In June 1940 Bell volunteered for a secret mission to take an amphibious aircraft, a Supermarine Walrus, to the north coast of France to collect some passengers and return with them to England. On board were another Australian, Sergeant Charles William Harris; a member of the British RAF, Corporal Bernard Nowell; and a British Intelligence officer, Captain Norman Hope. Their mission, kept secret until the 1970s, was to rescue the family of General Charles De Gaulle, who had arrived in London the previous day, and who would lead the Free French forces in England throughout the war.

The party hoped to find Madame de Gaulle and her children at Carantec, a village on the French north coast, where they were believed to be staying with an aunt. The family had actually made their way to Brest, 50 kilometres away, and managed to catch the last ferry to England. Unaware of this, the crew on board Supermarine Walrus L2312 took off from RAF Mount Batten in Devon around 3 am on 18 June 1940. Nothing more was heard of the aircraft.

On 19 June a boat was sent from England to try to find the missing aircraft. They found the village occupied by Germans. It was not until 16 months later that information was received that the aircraft had crashed in the fog at Ploudaniel, about 18 miles from Brest. All four members of the crew had been killed and were buried nearby at the Ploudaniel Cemetery.

Johnny Bell was 24 years old. His family would suffer further loss when his brother Alfred Napier Bell was killed while serving with the 2nd/10th Battalion in New Guinea on 20 January 1944.

The names of John Napier Bell and Charles Harris are listed on the Roll of Honour to my left, along with around 40,000 others from the Second World War. Bell’s photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Flight Lieutenant John Napier Bell, Sergeant Charles William Harris, their British crewmates and all of those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.

Di Rutherford, Curator, National Collection
Dr Meleah Hampton, Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (162) Flight Lieutenant John Napier Bell, No. 10 Squadron RAAF, Second World War (video)