Bell was one of 15 siblings, including William R. Bell. Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War, Bell enlisted in Victorian Mounted Infantry as a private. Although travelling back to Australia after the disbandment of the Infantry, he returned to the war, joining the Victorian Mounted Rifles Contingent.
He was commissioned as a lieutenant, but became severely injured in a battle in early 1902.
He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his services in the war. After the war, Bell returned to Australia, settling in the state of Tasmania.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Bell enlisted for the Australian Imperial Forces, and was dispatched for training in Egypt. He served at Gallipoli and Sinai, and was promoted from the rank of lieutenant to captain, to major and finally, to lieutenant colonel.
Given command of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, Bell"s most successful conquest was the capture of Es Salt, and the later successful evacuation of British troops from the stronghold.
After his return to Australia, Bell married Ellen Rothwell on 5 November 1919. He became the Nationalist Party candidate for the Division of Darwin (Tasmania), and was elected to the Australian House of Representatives in the federal election of 1919. He remained in the post for 21 years (1919 – 1922 and 1925 – 1943), representing the Nationalist Party and its successor party, the United Australia Party.
Bell was appointed the aide-de-camp to the Governor-General of Australia.
Elected as chairman of committees to the House of Representatives, he became Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives in 1934. Bell died from cardiovascular disease in Tasmania, and was buried in the Burnie Anglican cemetery, following a state funeral.