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W. D. M. Bell
Bell's photograph for his pilot's license, 1915
Bell's photograph for his pilot's license, 1915
BornWalter Dalrymple Maitland Bell
8 September 1880[1]
Clifton Hall near Edinburgh
Died30 June 1954
Corriemoillie, Garve, Ross-shire[2]
Pen nameKaramojo Bell
Occupationbig game hunter, adventurer, soldier, and aviator
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Genreautobiography, travel, adventure

Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell (8 September 1880 – 30 June 1954), known as Karamojo Bell after the Karamoja sub-region in Uganda, which he travelled extensively, was a Scottish adventurer, big game hunter in East Africa,[3] soldier, decorated fighter pilot, sailor, writer, and painter.

Famous as one of the most successful ivory hunters of his time, Bell was an advocate of accurate shot placement with smaller calibre rifles, over the heavy large-bore rifles his contemporaries used for big African game.

He improved his hunting skills by the dissection and study of the skulls of elephants he shot. He perfected a technique of shooting elephants from the extremely difficult position, diagonally behind the target; this became known as the 'Bell Shot'.[4]

Although chiefly known for his exploits in Africa, Bell also travelled to North America and New Zealand, sailed windjammers, saw service in South Africa during the Boer War, and flew in the Royal Flying Corps in East Africa, Greece, and France during the First World War.[5]

Early life

Bell was born into a wealthy family of Scottish and Manx ancestry, on the family's estate named Clifton Hall, (today a school) in Linlithgowshire, near Edinburgh in 1880.[6] Walter was the second-youngest of 8 children. His mother died when he was two years old and his father died when he was six. His father Robert Bell owned a successful business in coal and shale oil and the Bell family resided in their stately home near Broxburn, as well as owning the surrounding estate and other country properties.[7]

He was brought up by his elder brothers but ran away from several schools, and he once hit his school captain over the head with a cricket bat.[8] At the age of 13 he went to sea,[9] and in 1896, at the age of 16, hunted lions for the Uganda Railway using a single-shot rifle chambered in .303 British.[10]

Yukon gold and the Boer War

Bell convinced his family to back him for a trip to Africa, where he obtained a job shooting man-eating lions for the Uganda Railway at the age of 16.[9][11] In 1896 Bell travelled to North America, where he spent a short time panning for gold in the Yukon gold rush[12] and earned a living by shooting game to supply Dawson City with meat. After a winter of shooting moose and deer with a .350 Farquharson single-shot, his partner cheated him of his earnings, leaving him nearly penniless. He sold his rifle for enough money to get back to Dawson. In order to return to Africa he joined the Canadian Mounted Rifles, seeing service during the Boer War.[13] Bell was captured when his horse was shot from under him, but he escaped and managed to get back to British lines; upon doing that he was made a scout.[14]

Big game hunter

After the Boer war ended in 1902, Bell remained in Africa, becoming a professional elephant hunter. Over sixteen years spent in Africa, he hunted elephants for their ivory in Kenya, Uganda, Abyssinia, Sudan, the Lado Enclave, French Ivory Coast, Liberia, French Congo, and the Belgian Congo.[15]

He became known as "Karamojo" Bell (sometimes spelt Karamoja) because of his safaris through this remote wilderness area in North Eastern Uganda.[16]

Bell shot 1,011[15] elephants during his career; all of them bulls apart from 28 cows. He is noted for using smaller calibre bullets[17][18] rather than the heavy recoiling, larger calibre bullets that were popular with other big game hunters.[19] Around 800 of his kills were made with Mauser 98 rifles chambered for the 7×57mm Mauser/.275 Rigby (using the 1893 pattern standard military 11.2-gram (172.8 gr) grain round-nosed full metal jacket load), which today is considered to be too small for elephants, and are no longer legal for dangerous African game; Bell preferred smaller calibers because, besides being lighter rifles to carry, they recoiled less and therefore are quicker to the second shot. Bell found that German and English military ammunition was the most reliable, which also encouraged him to use the smaller calibers.[20] His favourite rifles were a bespoke Rigby-made 7×57mm Mauser with which he shot the majority of his elephants, a 'wand-like' Mannlicher–Schoenauer 6.5×54mm[11] carbine, which he abandoned due to failure of the available ammunition, a Lee–Enfield sporting rifle in .303 British and Mauser rifles chambered in .318 Westley Richards.[21] As 'the Bell Shot' involves shooting through the mass of the elephant's skull, he insisted on using military full metal jacket bullets weighing from approximately 173 to 250 grains, rather than the 400+ grain soft lead bullets popular today.[12] He particularly praised a Mannlicher M1893 rifle chambered in 6.5×53mmR from George Gibbs that he used for most of his meat hunting in the Karamojo.[22] On one occasion in West Africa in the midst of a famine he killed a herd of 23 African forest buffalo using a .22 Savage Hi-Power rifle with lung shots, using the American buffalo hunter's technique of identifying the leader, its pregnant one and then killing the rest as they milled in confusion. He disliked the double rifles considered archetypal for the African hunting of his time due to what he considered recoil so heavy as to be detrimental to accuracy.

Bell used the brain shot extensively, with his intention being to kill his quarry quickly before the herd became restless or took flight.[22] He mastered an oblique shot from the rear which was angled through the neck muscles and into the brain. This difficult shot has become known as "The Bell Shot" on elephants.

After the First World War, he began to use the .318 Westley Richards calibre, observing his 'inexplicable misses' then stopped.[23]

The most elephants he shot in one day was 19. The most bull elephants killed for their ivory in one month was 44. The largest amount of money made from ivory taken in a single day was 863 pounds sterling. He wore out 24 pairs of boots in a year and estimated that for every bull taken, he had walked an average of 73 miles (117 km).[15]

Bell has become famous for his superb marksmanship. He was once witnessed shooting fish jumping from the surface of a lake,[24] and he wrote of shooting flying birds out of the sky with his .318 Westley Richards rifle, in order to use up a batch of faulty ammunition.[25]

In addition to elephants, Bell had to supply his porters and native African followers with meat and also hides, for their own use and also to trade for other supplies. He shot over 800 cape buffalo with his small calibre rifles, as well as countless other plains game, including rhinoceroses and lions.[26] Bell preserved a good working relationship with the native African peoples where he hunted, trading cattle for information as to where he could find good numbers of bull elephants. He believed that this co-operation with the local tribes was the main reason for his great success as an elephant hunter. He hunted in the warlike Karamojo area for five years without the killing of a single African in self-defence becoming necessary.[27]

One of Bell's closest African companions while hunting the Karamojo region was a Karamojoan named Payale, a member of a local tribe. They hunted together over several safaris in the region, and Bell accorded him great respect.[28] Another of Bell's hunting companions was New Zealander Harry Rayne, who accompanied him on a safari to Sudan and the Karamojo in 1907, and who later became District Commissioner in British Somaliland.[29] Bell was also a lifelong friend of the American hunter Gerrit Forbes, a cousin of Franklin Roosevelt who accompanied him on three safaris for elephants between 1907 and 1913.[30] He was also a personal friend of American gunwriter Townsend Whelen.

Bell was one of the "gentlemen adventurers" that hunted the lawless Lado Enclave after Belgium withdrew from the region following the death of Leopold the Second in 1909, and prior to the territory becoming part of Sudan.[31]

Bell carried a Mauser C96, equipped with a shoulder stock and chambered in the powerful 9mm Mauser Export calibre,[32] which when used against human targets, "kept them dodging for 400 or 500 yards" according to Bell. Bell also purchased a Colt 1911 pistol in 1913.[33]

First World War

At the outbreak of the First World War, Bell was hunting in the French Congo and immediately headed back to England and began to learn to fly.[34] He enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a reconnaissance pilot in Tanganyika (present day Tanzania). It is reputed that in the early days he sometimes flew without an observer so that he could take pot-shots at the enemy with his hunting rifle.[citation needed] Later, he became a Flight Commander in Europe, flying Bristol Fighters.[35]

Bell was the first in his squadron (No. 47) to score an air victory when he shot down a German two-seater aircraft over Salonika on 23 December 1916.[36] He shot down a German Albatross fighter with a single shot, after which his machine gun jammed, and once shot an aircraft down with a machine gun that did not have its sights aligned with the bore. With his observer Lieutenant Robert Mainwaring Wynne-Eyton, Captain Bell shot down a French SPAD by mistake, although the French pilot survived unscathed.[35]

Bell was mentioned in dispatches for the first time in 1916.[37] By the end of the war he had received this distinction five times.[38] He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1916[39] which was presented by General Smuts, and received a bar to his MC[dubious ] for service in Greece and France. Bell was discharged in April 1918 for medical reasons (stated on his discharge papers as 'nervous asthma')[40] and was permitted to retain his rank of captain.[41][42]

Later years

After a period of time recuperating from illnesses contracted during the war, he returned to elephant hunting, shooting in Liberia, on the Ivory Coast, and travelling far inland by canoe, making a trip of 3,000 miles in 1921.[43] On this expedition he was joined by his comrade from the Royal Flying Corps, R. M. Wynne-Eyton.[44] His last safari was an automobile expedition through the Sudan and Chad with Americans Gerrit and Malcolm Forbes, of which he later remarked that 'little hunting was done'. Rather the aim was to travel as far and as fast as possible with the vehicles.[45] After this expedition Bell did not return to Africa. Although he intended to travel by air to Uganda for a last elephant hunt in 1939, his plans were interrupted by the start of the Second World War.[46]

Bell retired to his 1,000-acre highland estate at Garve in Ross-shire, Scotland,[47] named 'Corriemoillie', with his wife Katie (daughter of Sir Ernest and Lady Soares) to whom he had become engaged during the First World War.[48] He published two books about his exploits in Africa, illustrated with his own sketches and paintings. 'Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter', which was serialised in Britain's Country Life magazine, 'Karamojo Safari', and several articles about aspects of shooting and firearms in the NRA's American Rifleman in the USA.[citation needed] His third book, Bell of Africa, was published posthumously.

Bell and his wife Katie spent their later years sailing competitively. They commissioned the first steel-hulled racing yacht, Trenchmere (37 tons), in Scotland in 1934 and sailed her in transatlantic ocean racing until the outbreak of the Second World War.[49] He also stalked red stags in the Scottish hills with a Winchester Model 54 chambered in the .220 Swift cartridge, of which he wrote articles describing its superior effect on deer due to the high velocity of the bullet.[50]

After suffering from a heart attack in 1947 which limited his activities, Bell spent his last years on his estate. Only a few days after posting the manuscript for his last book, Bell of Africa, Bell died of heart failure on 30 June 1954.[51]


In 1917[52] he married Kate Rose Mary Soares (b. 1894), sole daughter and heiress of Sir Ernest Soares (1864-1926), of 36 Princes Gate, London, and of Upcott House in the parish of Pilton, North Devon, a solicitor and Liberal Party Member of Parliament.


  • The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter (1923)
  • Karamojo Safari (1949)
  • Bell of Africa (1960)

See also


  1. ^ Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950
  2. ^ "Deaths". The Times. 2 July 1954. p. 1.
  3. ^ Wieland, Terry (2004). A View from a Tall Hill. Countrysport Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9.
  4. ^ "Lot 809 / Sale 1319". Christie's. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  5. ^ 'Death in the Silent Places, author Peter Capstick, St Martins Press 1981
  6. ^ Walker, John Frederick (2009). Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-87113-995-5. Born in Edinburgh in 1880
  7. ^ Obit. Robert Bell, The Scotsman, Thursday 31 May 1894
  8. ^ Holman, Dennis (1969). Inside safari hunting with Eric Rundgren. Putnam.
  9. ^ a b Bull, Bartle (2006). Safari: A Chronicle of Adventure. De Capo Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7867-1678-4.
  10. ^ Author WDM Bell, Edited Townsend Whelen, 'Bell of Africa'1960
  11. ^ a b Van Zwoll, Wayne (2004). The Hunter's Guide to Accurate Shooting: How to Hit What You're Aiming at in Any Situation. The Lyons Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-1-59228-490-0. He'd hunted lions for the Uganda Railway and started a career as an ivory hunter.
  12. ^ a b Passmore, James. "W.D.M. Bell and His Elephants".
  13. ^ MacKenzie, John M. (1997). The empire of nature: hunting, conservation, and British imperialism. Studies in imperialism. Manchester University Press ND. ISBN 978-0-7190-5227-9.
  14. ^ "Bell of Africa", 1960
  15. ^ a b c Barclay, Edgar N. "Chapter One - correspondence with WDM Bell and author". Big Game Shooting Records 1931. HF&G Witherby.
  16. ^ Walker, John Frederick (2009). Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-87113-995-5.
  17. ^ Wieland, Terry (2006). Dangerous-Game Rifles. Countrysport Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-89272-691-2.
  18. ^ Boddington, Craig. "Centerfire .22s For Big Game". Rifle Shooter. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  19. ^ Wieland, Terry (2004). A View from a Tall Hill. Countrysport Press. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9.
  20. ^ Author WDM Bell article 'American Rifleman' 1949, "Big Bores, Small Bores"
  21. ^ (Australasian) Sporting Shooter Magazine, July 2010, Nick Harvey P14.
  22. ^ a b Bell, WDM. "Chapter One". Karamojo Safari. Safari Press.
  23. ^ Bell, WDM. Karamojo Safari. Safari Press.
  24. ^ African Bush Adventures, Author JA Hunter & Dan Mannix, 1954
  25. ^ Author WDM Bell, 'Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter'(1923)
  26. ^ Author WDM Bell, 'Karamojo Safari', Publisher: Spearman, 1949
  27. ^ 'Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter', Publisher: Country Life (1923)
  28. ^ Author WDM Bell, "Karamojo Safari", Spearman, 1949
  29. ^ Author WDM Bell, "Karamojo Safari", Spearman, 1949, and also Major Harry Rayne, "The Ivory Raiders" (1923)
  30. ^ "Guns" magazine, "Elmer Keith Says" page 8 (November, 1960) George E Van Rosen publisher,
  31. ^ Authors JA Hunter and Dan Mannix, 'African Bush Adventures'1954
  32. ^ Burns, R.D. "9x23 - Where Are We?". Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  33. ^ Authors Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsley & Roger Sanger, Published by Rigby 2012, "Rigby: A Grand Tradition"
  34. ^ Royal Flying Corps 'Flight' 13 July 1916
  35. ^ a b Peter Capstick, 1981 St Martins Press, 'Death in the Silent Places'
  36. ^ Flight Global, pg 8 April 1955
  37. ^ 6 July 1916, 'Flight' Royal Flying Corps
  38. ^ "Uganda Journal" page 107, Major B.G Kinloch, 1955
  39. ^ "No. 29639". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 June 1916. p. 6316.
  40. ^ Military discharge certificate
  41. ^ RFC 'Flight', 1918
  42. ^ RFC 'Flight' magazine, 6 December 1917
  43. ^ 'The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter' (1923) WDM Bell Author
  44. ^ 'Bell of Africa' 1960
  45. ^ 'Bell of Africa' (1960)
  46. ^ 'Uganda Journal' page 108, by Major B.G Kinloch 1955
  47. ^ The Empire of Nature: Hunting, Conservation and British Imperialism, p154
  48. ^ "Flight" RFC magazine March 1917
  49. ^ Bell of Africa (1960)|author WDM Bell|Edited by Townsend Whelen
  50. ^ American Rifleman (1949). "The Neck Shot"|author WDM Bell
  51. ^ Letter from his widow to Mr Louis F Weyreres : Dated 23 August 1954. Source Elephant Hunters, Men of Legend by Tony Sánchez-Ariño. ISBN 1-57157-193-0.
  52. ^ Engagement announcement in Western Times newspaper, Devon, 1 Mar 1917 [1]
  • White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris. Brian Herne, 2001.
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