b. 27/01/1893 Holyhead, Wales. d. 06/11/1917 Tel-el-Khuwwilfeh, Palestine.
John Fox Russell (1893-1917), eldest of seven sons of Dr William and Mrs Ethel Maria Fox Russell (nee Thornbury), was born at Plas Tanalltran, Holyhead, Anglesey, on 27th January 1893. There was also a daughter and the children were brought up by a governess. His father was a GP. For a short time John attended the local National and County Schools, and after taking a chorister examination he attended Magdalen College School, Oxford (1904-1907). When his voice broke, he left for St Bees’ School, Cumberland (1908-09), where he sat the entrance examination to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He also served in the school’s Officer Training Corps. However, instead of studying in Dublin, he began his medical studies at the London School of Medicine from October 1909. At the same time, he joined the London University Officer Training Corps.
John became associated with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (TF) when he was commissioned on 5th December 1913. In August the following year, he attended a camp at Aberystwyth, during which his battalion was mobilised and he was put in command of H Company of the 6th Battalion. Henry, one of his younger brothers, was a Lieutenant in the Company and also his deputy. John was soon promoted to Lieutenant and then Temporary Captain by January 1915.
Although he volunteered for overseas service, his battalion was not sent aboard and he requested that the War Office relieve him so he could continue his medical studies at Middlesex Hospital in early 1915, as his studies still had 18 months to run. In March 1916 he was awarded his diploma and transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps on 22nd May 1916 with the rank of Captain. He was then attached to a battery of the Royal Field Artillery in France on 10th October 1916. Wishing to return to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers he arranged for a transfer to the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then in Egypt, and having arrived in December 1915, became their Medical Officer.
John married Alma Taylor at St Mark’s Church, Tunbridge Wells on 23rd September 1916, and they set up home in Tunbridge Wells. Soon after the marriage, he had embarked for the Middle East. He saw service in Palestine and took part in the First Battle of Gaza. Captain Russell tended to the wounded under heavy fire and was later awarded the Military Cross (16th August 1917). The inconclusive Second Battle of Gaza took place on 17th April when the Division fought at Samsons Ridge, to the south-west of the town, although it was mostly a 54th (East Anglican) Division affair with the 53rd playing a secondary role.
On 6th November 1917, at Tel-el-Khuweilfeh, north-west of Beersheba, Captain Russell showed conspicuous bravery displayed in action until he was killed. Captain Russell repeatedly went out to attend the wounded under murderous fire from snipers and machine-guns, and in many cases, when no other means were at hand, carried them in himself, although almost exhausted. He showed the greatest possible degree of valour.
He was buried in Beersheba War Cemetery, Palestine, near to the graves of two other VCs, Alexander Lafone and Leslie Maygar. His wife was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 2nd March 1918. His wife would remarry in 1919, and eventually emigrate to New Zealand with her third husband. In 1956, she returned to London for the VC Centenary Celebrations representing John. As well as the VC and MC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, and Territorial Force War Medal 1914-19. They were donated to the Royal Army Medical Corps Museum (now Museum of Military Medicine) by his wife Alma, who died in 1990.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MUSEUM OF MILITARY MEDICINE, KEOGH BARRACKS, ALDERSHOT.
BURIAL PLACE: BEERSHEBA WAR CEMETERY, BEERSHEBA, ISRAEL.
ROW F, GRAVE 31
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Russell VC Medal Group at the RAMC Museum, Keogh Barracks.
Paul Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – North Wales Heroes Memorial, Bangor.