Real Life Saving Private Ryan: Soldier brought back home from WWI after all 4 of his brothers were killed

The award-winning 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan, tells the story of three brothers who are killed in WWII, upon which the fourth brother is sent home. This story, slightly altered, could easily have been the tale of James Bell. In WWI, James Bell and his four brothers all suited up and went to fight for their country. Only one was to return. Unlike the film, however, the young man was not sent home by immediate order, but following the request of his sister.

Annie Bell was heartbroken when she received word that four of her five brothers had died in battle. The brothers had been living apart for some time, James living in Australia with his little brother Laurie while the other three remained in England. They were re-united by the war effort, but it would not be for long. It only took a year and a half before the brothers dwindled to the one who was eventually sent home by family request.

Laurie died first, not even 23 when he fell in Gallipoli. Just over four weeks passed before the fall of the older John, who received a fatal head shot while fighting in Belgium. Brother Herbert died the most mysterious death of the four, with nobody entirely sure of when his death came to pass. Joseph, the oldest of the four dead, died in June of 1917 when he found himself part of the destruction of an enemy bomb, falling not far from where John died in Belgium, the Mail Online reports.

These deaths led James Bell to be sent home not long after the death of his oldest brother. He received the call in January of 1918, after his sister Annie wrote to the War Office about the four deaths. Annie’s letter was short, simply mentioning the deaths of the others as well as Bell’s wife and children who awaited him in Australia. Not wishing to rock the boat with the other enlisted men who were required to stay and suffer through battle, the family told no one who did not need to know about his return.

After being sent home, James Bell was able to live out the rest of his days with his family in Australia until he passed away quietly. Long after, his oldest brother’s great-granddaughter related his tale to the public. She considered both her great-grandfather’s sacrifice and her great-uncle’s survival to be key moments in family history, sharing equal pride in the relative who met his death and the one who was sent home.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE