Edwin was the youngest of the family of William and Mary Ellen Bell and was born in Sunderland in the spring of 1892. He had a brother John, a sister Sarah was a schoolmistress, and another sister Hannah became a dressmaker. They were a mining family: both the children’s grandfathers were miners, and William Bell, who was born in Kelloe, was listed as a shaftsman in the 1901 census and had worked around County Durham. Sarah and John were born in Quebec to the west of Durham city, and Hannah and Edwin were born in Sunderland.
On the 1911 census Edwin at the age of 18 was already listed as a schoolmaster at a council school, like his brother John, and in 1913 he enrolled at Bede College in order to obtain a professional teaching qualification. In the college’s annual report of 1915 he is already reported to be serving in the military.
On 7 November 1913 Bell, with the rest of his cohort at the college, joined the ‘Bede Company’ of the 8th Territorial Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and was embodied as a private into the Army on 5 August 1914. However, he did not go with them to France where many of them were killed in battle almost immediately at Gravenstafel Ridge but was transferred in May 1915 into the 23rd Provisional Battalion of the Reserve, which later became the 26th Reserve Battalion of the D.L.I. Their job was to train drafts of recruits to be sent to fight.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal and in June 1918 to Corporal with the 3rd Reserve Battalion of the D.L.I. at South Shields. While at Westgate-on-Sea with the 26th Battalion in February 1917 he became unwell and was tested for tuberculosis but the sample was clear and he returned to duty. In June 1917, February and May 1918 he was again before Medical Boards and on 10 July was admitted to hospital in South Shields with influenza. After 65 days he was transferred to a War hospital in Sunderland and eight days later on 12 September 1918 discharged to his unit.
Bell was discharged to the Reserve on 31 January 1919 with VG [very good] for military character and A2 health classification. He died of tuberculosis on 23 June 1919 in Houghton-le-Spring district.
No record of him receiving medals has been found though he would have been eligible for the War and Victory medals. He is commemorated on the war memorial at St Mary’s Church in West Rainton where his widowed mother was living at the end of the war, and on the roll of service of St Gabriel’s Church in Sunderland, and Bede College’s 1914-1918 list of men that served in the Great War. He is buried at West Rainton without a headstone.