Captain Frederick Secker Bell (1897-1973) was born on 17 August 1897 in London, the youngest son of Col Frank Burnman Bell and his wife Minnie. He attended the naval colleges of Osborne and Dartmouth, and took command of H M.S. Exeter on 25 August 1939.
Under Captain Hans Langsdorff the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee attacked allied merchant shipping in the South Atlantic. Nine ships were sunk until she was caught by H.M.S. Ajax, H.M.S. Exeter and H.M.N.Z.S. Achilles.
Captain Bell opened the battle at 0620 on 13 December 1939. Langsdorff replied and hit Exeter’s ‘B’ turret, sending a shower of deadly metal splinters up against the bridge. Captain Bell was lucky to survive and with the bridge controls destroyed, steered the ship using a lifeboat compass passing orders along a chain of ratings down to the lower steering compartment where men struggled with a wheel directly connected to the rudder.
Bell planned to ram the Graf Spee, but was ordered to withdraw to the Falkland Islands for repairs. Captain Bell was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and many of the crew were also decorated.
Captain Bell retired and was made Naval ADC to King George VI in January 1948. Bell was known as 'Hookie' due to the shape of his nose. In 1935 Bell married Dulcie Barnet in Portsmouth. In December 1939 they lived at Marlings, Pembroke Road, Woking, later living in Puttenham. Bell died at the Star and Garter Home, Richmond, on 23 November 1973.
See Captain Bell's Local Hero display within Woking's Story.