George Bell was born on Hayling Island in 1883. Educated at Oxford University he was ordained in 1907 and served as chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson. Bell was also dean of Canterbury (1924-1929).
Bell became Bishop of Chichester in 1929. A strong opponent of Adolf Hitler and his his government in Nazi Germany . He gave his support to Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoffer and other leaders of the German Church who resisted Hitler. He also condemned the persecution of Jews in Europe and was active in the campaign to help German refugees.
In 1937 Niemöller was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to be "re-educated". Niemöller refused to change his views and was later transferred to Dachau. Bell took up Niemöller's case. He had a series of letters published in the British press about the arrest and imprisonment of Niemöller. Bell argued that Hitler's treatment of Niemöller illustrated the attitude of the German state to Christianity.
Bell's campaign helped to save Niemöller's life. It was later discovered that in 1938 Joseph Goebbels urged Adolf Hitler to have Niemöller executed. Alfred Rosenberg argued against the idea as he believed it would provide an opportunity of people like Bishop Bell to attack the German government. Hitler agreed and Niemöller was allowed to live.
During the Second World War Bell became unpopular when he took up the cause of interned enemy aliens. He also criticised Winston Churchill and Arthur Harris for the policy of of area bombing (also known as saturation or terror bombing). On 10th May 1941, Bell made a speech where he described the "night-bombing of non-combatants as a degradation of the spirit for all who take part in it".
Bishop Bell called for negotiations to take place between Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler to bring an end to the policy of bombing civilian areas. This idea was dismissed by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who claimed that such an offer would suggest to Hitler that the Blitz on Britain was being successful.
During the Second World War Bell also complained about the British economic blockade of Europe. He established the Famine Relief Committee and attempted to raise money in order to send dried milk and vitamins to mothers, children and invalids in countries such as Belgium and Greece. However, the government took measures that made sure very little relief was actually sent to the people of Europe.
In 1941 Cosmo Lang decided to retire as Archbishop of Canterbury. For many years Bell had been seen as the likely successor but as Bishop Henson pointed out, Bell's prospects had worsened "as his sympathies with Jews and Germans have been more openly declared". William Temple was appointed to the post and when he died in 1944 Bell again failed to get the post.
In May 1942 Bell went to Sweden where he made contact with Dietrich Bonhoffer who provided information on the plot by the resistance group led by General Ludwig Beck and Carl Goerdeler to overthrow Adolf Hitler. On his return home Bell passed this news to Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden but they were uninterested in working with this German-based group.
In July 1943 Bell attempted to persuade William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to oppose area bombing. Temple refused as he did not share Bell's views on this subject. In February 1944 Bell raised this issue in the House of Lords. In the debate Bell asked: "How can the War Cabinet fail to see that this progressive devastation of cities is threatening the roots of civilization."
Bell obtained no support from the Lords, but a couple of Labour Party MPs in the House of Commons agreed with him. This included Richard Stokes and Alfred Salter who in a debate argued passionately against the bombing of civilians: "All this is founded on the great and terrible fallacy that ends justify means. They never do. Is there no pity in the whole world? Are all our hearts hardened and coarsened by events?"
Bell wrote several books including Randall Davidson (1935), Christianity and World Order (1940), Christian Unity: The Anglican Position (1948) and The Kingship of Christ (1954).
George Bell died in 1958.