JOHN (JACK) RUSSELL
This biography was written by Victoria Doran.
Jack Russell was one of many who died in the Battle of the Somme. He had returned from Australia to enlist in the Liverpool Rifles but died as a member of a Trench Mortar Battery.
Jack Russell was the 3rd surviving son and the 5th surviving child of Frederick Russell (1848-1913) and Nellie (Ellen) Dymond (1858-1929). He was born in Liverpool in the autumn of 1889 and lived there with the family until about 1912 when he went to Australia. Nothing is known of his time in Australia. He returned to England in 1915, by which date his family had moved to Laurel Cottage, Darmonds Green, West Kirby. His father had died there in June 1913.
Laurel Cottage from a painting owned by the Hatton family. The cottage no longer exists.
Frederick Russell was a cook whose parents John (1810-???) and Jane (1811-???) both came from Sevenoaks in Kent. There is some confusion as to where Frederick was born as his birthplace is sometimes given as Sevenoaks and sometimes as Pimlico, London. There was similar confusion about the birthplaces of several of his siblings. John Russell was a painter and house decorator, and eventually established his family in Chelsea. It seems likely that Jane sometimes returned to Sevenoaks for the birth of her children.
Frederick, as a cook, could work in many places and after a spell at an inn in Colchester, Essex he moved to Exeter, Devon where he met Nellie Dymond. They were married there at the beginning of 1880. Her father, Charles Henry Dymond (1821-1892) was a printer compositor, with some mental health problems. The family were not well off and Nellie was working as a waistcoat maker by the time she was 13 years old. Both her parents came from Exeter.
By 1884 Frederick and Nellie had moved to 5 Wordworth Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool where they lived for nearly 10 years. This is where Jack was born on 31 October 1889. By the time their last surviving son, Raymond Russell (1892-1869) was belatedly baptized on 16 Jul 1894 they were all living at 187 Grove Place, Liverpool.
By 1901 they had moved again, this time to 50 Ashfield Road, Wavertree, Liverpool. They remained there until the move to West Kirby around 1912. In 1911 Jack was working as a ship’s cook. In this he was following in his older brother Henry Alfred (Harry) Russell (1886-1960)’s path. Harry worked all his life as a cook on various Cunard vessels, culminating in becoming the chef on the Queen Elizabeth by the late 1940s.
Jack’s oldest brother, Frederick Arthur Russell (1884-1953) also worked for Cunard most of his working life. He was first a waiter and later a saloon steward. He was a waiter on the Lusitania on 7 May 1915 when she was sunk by torpedoes. He was one of the survivors.
Although Jack was a ship’s cook in 1911, when he enlisted as Rifleman 3792 in the 6th (Liverpool Rifles) Battalion, Kings Liverpool Regiment he described himself as a steward. Probably he worked his passage back to England in that capacity.
Liverpool Rifles cap badge
The Liverpool Rifles had sustained serious losses during the 2nd Battle of Ypres in May 1915, and would have need new recruits very badly.
Jack landed at Le Havre, France on Christmas Eve 1915 and, after a period at the depot at Rouen, joined his battalion in the field on 26 January 1916. On 20 April 1916 he was sent behind the lines for training for a Trench Mortar Battery. By 18 May 1916 he was back on duty with 165/2 Trench Mortar Battery. He would have received a new cap badge, but no suitable image has been located. From its number, this was a Brigade ‘Stokes’ Light Trench Mortar Battery belonging to the 165th (Liverpool) Brigade using 3 inch mortars that had only been invented by Sir Wilfred Scott-Stokes in January 1915, but became very widely used for decades. The 165th Brigade also included the Liverpool Rifles, but Jack was now attached to the Trench Mortar Battery not his Battalion.
Stokes Trench Mortar
This was a lightweight weapon capable of very rapid fire, being able to have up to 9 missiles in the air at any one time. The mortar crews were very highly skilled.
The 165th Brigade took part in the Battle of the Somme from 1 July 1916. Jack was killed in action on 7 August 1916. His officer described him as ‘willing, plucky, cheerful and the life and soul of his group‘. He was aged 26.
Jack was buried nearby the same day with the other members of his Battery present, but his body was later reburied in Peronne Road Cemetery at Maricourt, Somme, France. The area where he was originally buried was fought over several times between 1916 and 1918.
Peronne Road Cemetery
His brothers Frederick and Harry both served in the Mercantile Marine throughout the war. His younger brother, Raymond Russell (1892-1969) enlisted in the Liverpool Rifles on 8 August 1914 as Rifleman 1921. He was badly injured and was discharged and awarded a Silver War Badge in October 1918 as Corporal 240430. His injuries must have been severe as he was still in Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool on 13 August 1919. Jack’s elder sister, Madeline Elizabeth Russell (known as Daisy) (1880-1966) worked as a nurse on the Home Front throughout the war, and later went on to become a hospital matron. A family that together gave a great deal to the war.
Birth: 31 Oct 1889 at Liverpool, Lancashire
Death: 7 Aug 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, France; killed in action
Addresses: 5 Wordsworth Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool (91); 50 Ashfield Road, Wavertree, Liverpool (01) (11); Laurel Cottage, Darmonds Green, West Kirby (15)
Occupation: ship’s steward
Units: 6th (Liverpool Rifles) Battalion, Kings Liverpool Regiment; 165/2 Trench Mortar Battery
Number and Rank: 3792 Rifleman
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Peronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt, Somme, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Bridget & St Andrew churches, West Kirby
Sources: CWGC, MC, SR, DA, Census: 91, 01, 11, PR, BR, ancestry family tree, passenger lists