William Gell (RAF officer)

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William Gell
Sandys announces end of London bombing Sept 1944 IWM CH 13827.jpg
Air Vice Marshal Gell, far left, listens while Duncan Sandys announces the end of the German V-1 flying bomb campaign against London, September 1944
Born (1888-07-10)10 July 1888
Birmingham, England
Died 16 May 1969(1969-05-16) (aged 80)
Knowle, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army (1911–39)
Royal Air Force (1939–45)
Years of service 1911–45
Rank Air Vice Marshal
Commands held Balloon Command (1944–45)
No. 30 (Balloon) Group (1941–44)
No. 6 Balloon Centre (1939–41)
5th/6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (1917–19)
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross
Territorial Decoration
Silver Medal of Military Valor (Italy)

Air Vice Marshal William Charles Coleman Gell, CB, DSO & Bar, MC, TD, DL (10 July 1888 – 16 May 1969) was a Royal Air Force officer who served as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief at RAF Balloon Command from 1944 to 1945.

Early life

Gell was born in Birmingham the son of William and Catherine Gell, he grew up at 111 Gough Road, Edgbaston, his father managed an umbrella factory,[1] he was educated at Malvern College and Caius College, Cambridge where he achieved a law degree.[2]

Pre-war Army service

Educated at the University of Cambridge,[3] where he gained an MA degree in Law Gell was commissioned into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1911.[4] Gell was commissioned into 7th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 12 May 1911, the London Gazette stated "William Charles Coleman Gell (late Cadet Serjeant, Cambridge University Contingent, Senior Division, Officers Training Corps) to be Second Lieutenant.[5] From 21 January 1912 he transferred to 5th and 6th Battalions The Royal Warwickshire Regiment still a Second Lieutenant.[6] This was a unit of the Territorial Army, almost all officers and the enlisted men continued in their civil occupations serving in the unit during their free time. Gell's profession was a junior solicitor.[7]

First World War

Gell served in the First World War and commanded the 5th/6th Battalion in France, earning the Military Cross as a lieutenant serving as temporary captain.[8][4] Gell landed at LeHavre in France on 23 March 1915 with 1st/5th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment,[9] he was wounded on the Somme in 1916 and from 3 October 1916 until 28 June 1917 was an acting major, Gell held command of 1st/5th Battalion Royal Warwicks from 23 August 1917, serving in France and Flanders until late 1918 and completing his service in Italy. On 1 January 1917 his bravery still as a lieutenant and acting captain during his service in France was rewarded with a rare appointment as a junior officer, to the Distinguished Service Order.[10] Further brave conduct and successful leadership resulted in the award of a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order in June 1919 for his service as Acting lieutenant colonel commanding 1st/5th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in France and Flanders and finally Italy.[11] The Italian government awarded him the Silver Medal of Military Valor.[12]

Between the wars

After service in the First World War, Gell returned to legal practice as a solicitor, being noted as "Mr. William Charles Coleman Gell, Solicitor, of 36, Waterloo Street, Birmingham,(a member of the firm of Johnson and Co., of the same place, Solicitors)" in the London Gazette in 1922.[13] He continued to serve in the Territorial Army.

Gell married Edith Maud Gosling on 30 January 1923 in Maidstone.[14]

While serving as a lieutenant colonel in command of 5th Battalion Royal Warwicks, Gell was awarded the Territorial Decoration for his long and distinguished service in the Territorial Army.[15] On 26 August 1931 Gell, who was then living at the Croft, Blossomfield, Solihull was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Warwick.[16] He joined the Anti Aircraft Service of the Territorial Army in 1935. In 1937 he was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 5th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, of which he had been commanding officer in 1924–29.[17] The RAF List of July 1938 lists him amongst the military members of the "Territorial Army and Air Force Associations" of Warwickshire, recording Gell as honorary colonel of the 45th (Royal Warwicks) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers.[18] On 18 Jan 1939 Gell was appointed to a commission in the Auxiliary Air Force in the rank of wing commander Officer Commanding, No 6 Balloon Centre, Auxiliary Air Force. The RAF List of August 1939 lists him as a wing commander in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Balloon Section after barrage balloon operation was transferred from the Royal Engineers to the Royal Air Force.[19]

Second World War

During the Second World War, Gell served as Officer Commanding No. 5 and then No. 6 Balloon Centre protecting against German air attacks.[4] Gell was promoted to group captain in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force on 1 September 1940.[20]

In January 1941 the RAF List shows him as the senior group captain in the RAF Balloon Section date 1 September 1940.[21] He was appointed Air Officer Commanding No. 30 Balloon Group in 1941, promoted air commodore on 1 December 1943,[22] and appointed Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief at RAF Balloon Command in 1944 before retiring in 1945.[4]

Gell's success in command of Balloon Command protecting British cities and military and naval installations was rewarded in the Birthday Honours list of June 1944 with appointment as a Companion of the Order of the Bath.[23]

Later years

Following wartime service Gell again returned to legal practice with Johnson and Co. in Birmingham a company he was still associated with in 1965.[24]


  1. ^ 1911 Census, Birmingham, Edgbaston
  2. ^ "Cambridge University Calendar 1913–14". Cambridge University. p. 1023. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  3. ^ Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  4. ^ a b c d Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Vice-Marshal W C C Gell
  5. ^ "No. 28511". The London Gazette. 7 July 1911. pp. 5062–5063. 
  6. ^ "No. 28589". The London Gazette. 12 March 1912. pp. 1832–1833. 
  7. ^ "Officers of the Society" (PDF). Birmingham Law Society. 2009. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "No. 29886". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1916. pp. 34–35. 
  9. ^ National Archives, London, British Army MIC – William CC Gell
  10. ^ "No. 29886". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1916. pp. 34–35. 
  11. ^ "No. 31372". The London Gazette. 30 May 1919. p. 6940. 
  12. ^ "Quarterly Army List for the Quarter Ending 31 December, 1919". HMSO. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  13. ^ "No. 32733". The London Gazette. 28 July 1922. pp. 5664–5665. 
  14. ^ England & Wales Marriage Index, 1916–65
  15. ^ "No. 33130". The London Gazette. 5 February 1926. pp. 889–890. 
  16. ^ "No. 33750". The London Gazette. 4 September 1931. pp. 5766–5767. 
  17. ^ Army List
  18. ^ RAF List, July 1938, Column 1322
  19. ^ RAF List, August 1939. Column 830
  20. ^ "No. 34949". The London Gazette. 20 September 1940. pp. 5591–5592. 
  21. ^ RAF List, January 1941. Column 576
  22. ^ "No. 36340". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 January 1944. pp. 419–420. 
  23. ^ "No. 36544". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1944. pp. 2568–2569. 
  24. ^ "No. 43664". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 1965. pp. 5347–5348. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Leslie Gossage
Commander-in-Chief Balloon Command
Succeeded by
Philip Lincoln
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