On 10 July 1916, Donald Simpson Bell, the first professional footballer to enlist in the British Army, was killed in action at the Somme.
A teacher, Bell had played as an amateur for Crystal Palace and Newcastle, then turned professional in 1912 with Division Two club Bradford Park Avenue. The team was promoted to the top flight for the 1914-15 season, by which time Britain had become embroiled in World War I. Bell quickly became the first professional footballer to enlist and, in November 1915, he arrived in France as a second lieutenant with the West Yorkshire Regiment.
The following July, he was at the Somme, where he earned the Victoria Cross for his actions on 5 July. According to the London Gazette: "During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine gun. 2nd Lt. Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench and then, followed by Corpl. Colwill and Pte. Batey, rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver, and destroying gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack." Unfortunately, he was killed in action five days later while performing a similar maneuver.
His Victoria Cross--the only one ever awarded to a professional footballer--was purchased by the Professional Footballers' Association at a 2010 auction for a reported £252,000 and is not on display at the National Football Museum.