TRIBUTES have been paid to a 'true gentleman' following his passing at the age of 98. 

The Second World War veteran, renowned local businessman, parish councillor and proud family man, John Suitor Bell, passed away peacefully at home on September 8. 

Mr Bell was known for the enterprising nature of his successful family-run bakery business Bells of Lazonby, which opened in 1946 after the war - and has now grown in size to feature at major UK retailers and some of the nation’s leading coffee shop chains – all from its site in Lazonby. 

Prior to the renowned bakery business, John served as a flight engineer in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war and after 22 operational missions his plane was shot down over Germany on November 4 1944.

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Following interrogation, he was held as a prisoner of war at Camp Luft 7 near the Polish border along with 1,500 fellow prisoners.

As the Russians advanced, the Germans marched the prisoners in freezing conditions for 3 weeks until they reached Luckenwalde where eventually they were liberated by the Russian Army in late 1945.

On returning from the war, as the bakery business grew, the site in the centre of the village was too small to support the development of the business.

So when Beeching made cuts to the branch railway network in the late 1960s, he took himself south again and agreed to buy the railway site at Lazonby which was becoming redundant - allowing for a legacy to begin to be created which still exists to this day. 

In 1956, John married Eva Bunty and they lived together in Lazonby for 66 years in love and companionship at all time - where they had two children Michael and Jane. 

His love of Lazonby and devotion to local causes is the final piece of the jigsaw of John Bell. He supported the development of the local village hall, he was Parish Councillor for many years and in 1973 he was elected to the County Council. There he chaired the Public Protection Committee responsible for Fire, Emergency Planning and Trading Standards. 

In the mid 1990s he handed over the reins of the business to his son Michael and daughter Jane.

His son Michael said heartfelt messages have flooded their home since John's passing.

"He lived a fantastic life; Her Majesty and him passing so close together for someone who served King and country it's quite fitting," he said. 

"A true gentleman, a real entrepreneur, a man with family and business uppermost in his heart and mind.

"He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him."

John was proud to receive the Queens Award for Enterprise alongside his son Michael in 2006. The business is expected to turnover nearly £30m this year and now employs over 300 people.

READ MORE: Bells of Lazonby's ingredients of success