Stephen Bell, born on 16 February 1880 in Bermondsey, London, was one of a select group of experienced RN men lent to the newly established RAN in 1913. Bell’s diary, now in the RN Submarine Museum at Gosport, Hampshire in the UK, gives a unique insight into the last moments of the AE2:
The Captain told someone to get ready with something white. A. B. Cheater, the officer’s servant, was the man who opened the conning tower. Two gunboats were still firing at us. The torpedo boat was much nearer and stopped firing then hoisted a signal to the others and launched a boat, taking off all they could [three non-swimmers] … When they were all gone we went on deck, stopped the blow and opened the vent. There being then the three officers and two CERAs, and the Captain said, ‘Come on then, it is no use stopping here’. I then dived and when in the water I looked around but the boat had gone.
As a prisoner of war Bell suffered badly from recurrent but unknown health problems, and on 24 June 1916 Corporal Kerr described his involvement in a serious accident: ‘Steve Bell has run into an engine coming from Belemedik. The motor was badly smashed and he sustained several injuries to the hands, body and head.’ A further entry in Kerr’s diary noted: ‘Steve’s injuries did not turn out to be so bad after all. He had the skin knocked off his scalp, his thumb crushed, and several bruises on the right side … After three days in hospital he is now convalescing with the CPOs.’
Bell survived both injuries and prison, although he contracted malaria which plagued his health for the rest of his life. He returned home to London via Malta at the end of 1918, where he re-enlisted in the RN. Bell must have been a good engineer, because the navy sent him back to sea several times in spite of increasingly poor health.
Bell was mentioned in despatches on 17 October 1919 ‘for valuable services in the prosecution of the war whilst serving on HM Australian submarine, AE2’.