W. D. M. Bell

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Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell
Born 1880
Clifton Hall near Edinburgh
Died June 1954
Pen name W.D.M. Bell (Karamojo Bell)
Occupation big game hunter, adventurer, soldier and aviator
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship United Kingdom
Genre autobiography, travel, adventure

Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell (1880–1954), known as Karamojo Bell, was a Scottish adventurer, big game hunter in East Africa,[1] soldier, decorated fighter pilot, sailor, writer, and painter.

Bell was an advocate of the importance of shooting accuracy and shot placement with smaller calibre rifles, over the use of heavy large-bore rifles for big African game. He improved his shooting skills by careful dissection and study of the anatomy of the skulls of the elephants he shot. He even perfected the clean shooting of elephants from the extremely difficult position of being diagonally behind the target; this shot became known as the Bell Shot.[2]

Although chiefly known for his exploits in Africa, Bell also travelled to North America and Tasmania, sailed windjammers, and saw service in East Africa, Greece and France during World War I.[3]

Early life[edit]

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.[4] 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 bear Broxburn, as well as owning the surrounding estate and other country properties.[5]

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.[6] At the age of 13 he went to sea,[7] and in 1896, at the age of 16, he hunted lions for the Uganda Railway using a single-shot rifle chambered in .303 British.[8]

Yukon gold and the Boer War[edit]

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.[7][9] Afterward,[when?] Bell traveled to North America, where he spent a short time panning for gold in the Yukon gold rush[10] and earned a living by shooting game to supply Dawson City with meat. His partner cheated him of his earnings, and he then joined the Canadian Mounted Rifles during the Boer War[11] in order to return to Africa. Bell was captured when his horse was shot from under him, but he escaped and managed to get back to British lines.[12]

Big game hunter[edit]

After the war ended in 1902, Bell remained in Africa and became a professional elephant hunter. Over sixteen years spent in Africa, he hunted elephant for their ivory in Kenya, Uganda, Abyssinia, Sudan, Lado Enclave, French Ivory Coast, Liberia, French Congo and Belgian Congo.[13]

He became known as "Karamojo" Bell (Sometimes spelt Karamoja) because of his safaris through this remote wilderness area in North Eastern Uganda.[14]

Bell shot 1,011[13] elephants during his career; all of them bulls apart from 28 cows. He was noted for using high speed, smaller calibre bullets[15][16] rather than the slow speed, larger calibre bullets that were popular with other big game hunters.[17] Around 800 of his kills were made with Rigby Mauser 98 rifles chambered in the .275 Rigby (also known as the 7×57mm Mauser) cartridge, which were considered by most other hunters to be too small for elephants and which today are illegal; Bell preferred small calibres because they recoiled less and therefore he could shoot them more accurately, they were lighter to carry, and the ammunition was cheaper.[18] He also used a Mannlicher–Schoenauer 6.5×54mm[9] carbine, a Lee–Enfield sporting rifle in .303 British and rifles chambered in .318 Westley Richards.[19] He insisted on using military full metal jacket bullets weighing from approx 173 to 250 grains, rather than the 400+ grain bullets popular at the time[10] Bell refused to use soft point bullets on big game under any circumstances.[20] Bell used the brain shot extensively in order to kill elephants quickly. He discovered that such quick kills did not alarm the rest of the herd and he could kill more bulls in this manner before the elephant herd began to get restless or flee.[21] 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 the "The Bell Shot" on elephant. After World War One he began to use the more powerful .318 Westley Richards calibre, observing that his 'inexplicable misses' then stopped.[22]

The most elephants he shot in one day was 19. The most bull elephant 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 he estimated that for every bull taken he had walked an average of 73 miles (117 km).[13]

WDM Bell has become famous for his superb marksmanship. He was once witnessed shooting fish jumping from the surface of a lake,[23] and he wrote of shooting flying birds out of the sky with his .318 Westley Richards double rifle, in order to use up a batch of faulty ammunition.[24]

In addition to elephant, 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 rhinoceros, and lions.[25] Bell preserved a good working relationship with the native African peoples where he hunted, rewarding them with cattle for information as to where he could find good numbers of bull elephant. 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 being necessary.[26]

One of Bell's closest African companions while hunting the Karamojo region was a Karamojoan named Payale, who was a member of a local tribe. They hunted together over several safaris in the region, and Bell accorded him great respect.[27] One of WDM Bell's English hunting companions was New Zealander Harry Rayne, who accompanied him on a safari to Sudan and the Karamojo in 1907, and who later become District Commissioner in British Somaliland and the official responsible for apprehending ivory poachers.[28] WDM Bell was also a lifelong friend of the American hunter Gerrit Forbes, (cousin of Franklin Roosevelt and later a friend of gunwriter Elmer Keith) who accompanied him on three safari's for elephant between 1907 and 1913.[29]

WDM Bell was one of the 'gentlemen adventurers' that hunted the lawless Lado Enclave after Belgium withdrew from the region after the death of Leopold the Second in 1909, and prior to the territory becoming part of Sudan.[30]

His preferred sidearm was the Mauser C96, equipped with a shoulder stock and chambered in the powerful 9mm Mauser Export calibre,[31] 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.[32]

World War I[edit]

At the outbreak of World War I, he was hunting in the French Congo and immediately headed back to England and began to learn to fly.[33] 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.[34]

Bell was the first in his squadron (47) to score an air victory when he shot down a German two seater aircraft over Salonika on 23 December 1916.[35] He shot an Albatross down with a single shot when 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 R. M. Wynne-Eyten, Captain Bell shot down a French Spad by mistake, although the French pilot survived unscathed.[34]

WDM Bell was Mentioned In Dispatches in 1916.[36] By the end of the war he had received this distinction five times.[37] He was decorated with the Military Cross by General Smuts, and received a bar to his MC for service in Greece and France. Bell was discharged in 1918 for medical reasons (stated on his discharge papers as 'nervous asthma')[38] and was permitted to keep his rank.[39] He finished the war with the rank of Captain.[40]

Later years[edit]

After a period of time recuperating from illnesses contracted during the war, he returned to elephant hunting, shooting in Liberia and the Ivory Coast and traveling by canoe, making a trip of 3000 miles in 1921.[41] On this expedition he was joined by his comrade from the Royal Flying Corps, R. M. Wynne-Eayten.[42] His last safari was an automobile expedition through the Sudan and Chad with Americans Gerrit and Malcolm Forbes, of which he remarked that 'little hunting was done'. Rather the aim was to travel as far and as fast as possible with the vehicles.[43] 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 World War Two.[44]

Bell retired to his 1,000 acre highland estate at Garve in Ross-shire, Scotland,[45] named "Corriemoillie", with his wife Katie (daughter of Sir Ernest and Lady Soares) to whom he had become engaged during World War I.[46] He wrote three books about his exploits in Africa, illustrated with his own sketches and paintings, and several articles about aspects of shooting and firearms, published in Country Life' magazine in Britain and 'American Rifleman' in the USA.[citation needed]

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 World War Two.[47] He also stalked red stags in the Scottish hills and became a proponent of the .220 Swift cartridge, writing of its superior effect on deer due to its high velocity.[48]

Bell died 30 June 1954.[49]


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


  1. ^ Wieland, Terry (2004). A View from a Tall Hill. Countrysport Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9. 
  2. ^ "Lot 809 / Sale 1319". Christie's. Retrieved 21 September 2010. 
  3. ^ 'Death in the Silent Places, author Peter Capstick,St Martins Ppess 1981,
  4. ^ 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 
  5. ^ Obit. Robert Bell, The Scotsman, Thursday 31 May 1894
  6. ^ Holman, Dennis (1969). Inside safari hunting with Eric Rundgren. Putnam. 
  7. ^ a b Bull, Bartle (2006). Safari: A Chronicle of Adventure. De Capo Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7867-1678-4. 
  8. ^ , Author WDM Bell, Edited Townsend Whelen, 'Bell of Africa'1960
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ a b Passmore, James. "W.D.M. Bell and His Elephants". ChuckHawks.com. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "Bell of Africa", 1960
  13. ^ a b c Barclay, Edgar N. "Chapter One - correspondence with WDM Bell and author". Big Game Shooting Records 1931. HF&G Witherby. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Wieland, Terry (2006). Dangerous-Game Rifles. Countrysport Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-89272-691-2. 
  16. ^ Boddington, Craig. "Centerfire .22s For Big Game". Rifle Shooter. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  17. ^ Wieland, Terry (2004). A View from a Tall Hill. Countrysport Press. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9. 
  18. ^ Author WDM Bell article 'American Rifleman' 1949, "Big Bores, Small Bores"
  19. ^ (Australasian) Sporting Shooter Magazine, July 2010, Nick Harvey P14.
  20. ^ Boddington, Craig (March 2007). "A Solid Argument". Guns&Ammo. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  21. ^ Bell, WDM. "Chapter One". Karamojo Safari. Safari Press. 
  22. ^ Bell, WDM. Karamojo Safari. Safari Press. 
  23. ^ African Bush Adventures, Author JA Hunter & Dan Mannix, 1954
  24. ^ Author WDM Bell, 'Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter'(1923)
  25. ^ Author WDM Bell, 'Karamojo Safari', Publisher: Spearman, 1949
  26. ^ 'Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter', Publisher: Country Life(1923)
  27. ^ Author WDM Bell, "Karamojo Safari", Spearman, 1949
  28. ^ Author WDM Bell, "Karamojo Safari", Spearman, 1949, and also Major Harry Rayne, "The Ivory Raiders" (1923)
  29. ^ "Guns" magazine, "Elmer Keith Says" page 8 (November, 1960) George E Van Rosen publisher,
  30. ^ Authors JA Hunter and Dan Mannix, 'African Bush Adventures'1954
  31. ^ Burns, R.D. "9x23 - Where Are We?". Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  32. ^ Authors Silvio Calabi, Steve Helsley & Roger Sanger, Published by Rigby 2012, "Rigby: A Grand Tradition"
  33. ^ Royal Flying Corps 'Flight' 13 July 1916
  34. ^ a b Peter Capstick, 1981 St Martins Press, 'Death in the Silent Places'
  35. ^ Flight Global, pg 8 April 1955
  36. ^ 6 July 1916, 'Flight' Royal Flying Corps
  37. ^ "Uganda Journal" page 107, Major B.G Kinloch, 1955
  38. ^ Military discharge certificate
  39. ^ RFC 'Flight', 1918
  40. ^ RFC 'Flight' magazine, 6 December 1917
  41. ^ 'The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter' (1923) WDM Bell Author
  42. ^ 'Bell of Africa' 1960
  43. ^ 'Bell of Africa' (1960)
  44. ^ 'Uganda Journal' page 108, by Major B.G Kinloch 1955
  45. ^ The Empire of Nature: Hunting, Conservation and British Imperialism, p154
  46. ^ "Flight" RFC magazine March 1917
  47. ^ Bell of Africa (1960)|author WDM Bell|Edited by Townsend Whelen
  48. ^ American Rifleman (1949). "The Neck Shot"|author WDM Bell
  49. ^ 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.
  • White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris. Brian Herne, 2001.