Russell, Percy Edgar. Died 3rd Oct 1915

Russell, Percy Edgar   – d. 3 October 1915

Percy Edgar Russell was born in later 1893 in Rugby. His parents were Thomas and Annie (née Whiteman) Russell. His father was born in Newnham, Northants, and his mother in Kilsby. They married in Rugby in early 1883.

Percy’s father worked on the railway, latterly at least for the London and North Western Railway. He was a farm servant by the time he was 15, but moved to Rugby before 1881, when he was a lodger at 21 Railway Terrace and a ‘Railway Labourer’, but he obviously had ability and ambition, as by 1891, he was a ‘Fireman on Railway’, married, and living at 17 Spring Street. He was promoted to be a ‘Railway Engine Driver’ before 1901 and by then had moved again to 80 Bath Street, Rugby. By 1911, they had had eleven children, although two had died, probably young, but nine were still living and the family had moved again to 106 Grosvenor Road, Rugby.

Percy Edgar was the fifth surviving child of the family, and had three older sisters and a brother: Elizabeth M, b.c.1884; Ada J, b.c.1886; Rufus Oscar b.c.1890 and Violet Mary b.c.1892; and then three younger sisters and a brother: Mabel May b.c.1895; Elsie Nora b.c.1897 and Ernest Edward b.c.1900; and Lilly ‘Doro’, b.c.1902.   All the children were born in Rugby.

Percy went to the Murray Road School, and later, in 1911, now 17, had become a ‘motor mechanic’.   It seems he then changed employment and before the war was ‘… employed as a turner at Messrs. Willans and Robinson’s.   He enlisted at the beginning of the war …’.[1]

Russell, Percy Edgar

Percy joined up into the RFA (Royal Field Artillery) as a Gunner, No.11026. The RFA was ‘… the most numerous arm of the artillery, the horse-drawn RFA was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line and was reasonably mobile. It was organised into brigades’.[2]  Percy was in ‘D’ Battery of the 71st Brigade.

The 71st Brigade was formed as part of the Second New Army, K2, and originally comprised  Nos. 223, 224 and 225 Batteries RFA and the Brigade Ammunition Column. It was placed under command of the 15th (Scottish) Division and moved to France with it from 7 to 13 July 1915.[3] This agrees with Percy’s Medal Card which states that he went to France on 8 July 1915.

The brigade remained with 15th (Scottish) Division throughout the war. In February 1915 the three six-gun batteries were reorganised to become four four-gun batteries and were titled as A, B, C and D, the latter being Percy’s battery.

Their first significant engagement was at the Battle of Loos, by which date Percy had indeed ‘… been at the front several months …’.[4] His death was reported as being on four different dates: 3 August; 26 September; what may be considered to be the ‘official date, in the final CWGC records, 3 October 1915; however, his Medal Card gives the fourth alternative, 4 October 1915.

The newspaper report on 16 October,[5] which gave the earliest date, was probably in error, but the cause is probably correct in that he ‘… was killed by a shrapnel bullet from a German shell on Sunday August 3rd.’ 3 August 1915 was actually a Tuesday![6] The 26 September was a Sunday – as was 3 October 1915.

The next week, the paper published a photograph of Gunner Russell,[7] although his Medal Card also confirmed that he had been promoted to Bombardier.

It is assumed that he was killed during the artillery actions in support of the Battle of Loos – the battle being named after the small village of Loos-en-Gohelle near where he died (for further information see Rugby Remembers). The Commonwealth War Graves reported that he ‘… died of wounds, aged 22, on 3 October 1915’, and this later date seems quite likely, as he was buried behind the earlier German lines, to the east of Loos, which was not in British hands until after 25 September when the battle started.

Quite why he was so far forward, and almost in the front line, is uncertain. The artillery, which was in any case short of ammunition, was normally further to the rear, and indeed, the roads were choked and any advance would have been difficult. He may therefore have been active in a more dangerous role, assisting an Observation Officer in reporting the fall of shells, reporting back to the guns and sending them further instructions.

He was originally buried at Trench Map Ref: G.36.a.6.7., in or near Tosh Cemetery, which was probably near where he was killed. In 1915 this was behind the lines until after the initial stages of the battle. The 1918 trench map (see map) shows the area surrounded by trenches. Tosh Cemetery was on the north-east side of the village of Loos-en-Gohelle, close to a communication trench called Tosh Alley. By the end of the war it contained the graves of 171 soldiers from the United Kingdom (118 of whom were Irish) and five from Canada. It was used from October 1915 to September 1917 (Located at the red square on the trench map).

Percy was one of a group of 20 men (including three Royal Engineers and eleven men from the 8th Seaforth Highlanders[8] and five other unknown soldiers, one a Highlander) reported in the CWGC ‘Concentration Report’ as having been killed on 25 September, and, in Percy’s case, 26 September 1915, and who were buried by a ‘Flying Squadron’.

His grave was originally marked with a (presumably named) cross and his body was exhumed and moved to a larger ‘concentration’ cemetery after the war. The concentration document was dated 16 August 1919.

The larger ‘concentration’ cemetery was the Dud Corner Cemetery, near Loos-en-Gohelle, (Trench Map Ref: G.34.a.6.6.) (see the dark green square on map) where he was reburied in Grave Reference:V. K. 16..

Russell - graves and trench map

Loos-en-Gohelle is a village 5 kilometres north-west of Lens. Dud Corner Cemetery is located about 1 kilometre west of the village, to the north-east of the D943 the main Lens to Bethune road.

The name ‘Dud Corner’ is believed to be due to the large number of unexploded enemy shells found in the neighbourhood after the Armistice. The only burials here during hostilities were those of four Officers of the 9th Black Watch and one Private of the 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, close to Plot III, Row B; the remainder of the graves were brought in later from isolated positions near Loos and to the North, and from certain small cemeteries.[9]

Percy was awarded the British and Victory medals and the 1915 Star, and these would have been later sent to his mother who in 1915, was reported, quite possibly incorrectly, at 108 Grosvenor Road, Rugby.

As well as being remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates, he is also remembered on his family’s grave, ref: H183, in the Clifton Road Cemetery.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

 

= = = =

 

This summary was prepared for the Rugby Family History Group by John P H Frearson in September 2015.   Thanks are due to other members of the Group for copying data in the local newspaper and to Christine Hancock for managing the project and producing the ‘Rugby Remembers’ blog.

[1]       Rugby Advertiser, 16 October 1915.

[2]       The Long Long Trail, The British artillery of 1914-1918; see: http://www.1914-1918.net/cra.htm.

[3]       http://www.1914-1918.net/rfa_units_71.html

[4]       Rugby Advertiser, 16 October 1915.

[5]       Rugby Advertiser, 16 October 1915.

[6]       http://www.calculatorcat.com/free_calculators/day_of_week.phtml

[7]       Rugby Advertiser, 23 October 1915.

[8]       The 8th Seaforth Highlanders were in the first wave of 44th Brigade, at Loos; they suffered 502 casualties, of which 23 were officers.

[9]       Information from CWGC website at http://www.cwgc.org/.

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