Harold John Russell was born in 1898 in Rugby, the only son of Walter and Florence (nee Franklin). On their marriage, at Brownsover Church on 7th August 1894, Walter is described as a caretaker, but by 1901 he had taken up his father’s occupation of fishseller and fruiterer. Harold was three years old and his sister Ethel F was four. The family were living at 26 Bridget Street.
By 1911 both Walter and little Ethel had died, but another daughter had arrived. Ivy May was nine and Harold, thirteen, was working as an office boy. The family were now at 61 Abbey Street and widowed Florence was an electric lamp solderer at B.T.H.
Walter Russell had died in late 1901. He was aged 37 and the death registered in Wellingborough RD. Florence re-married in mid 1918 to John Burbidge. By this time Harold John would have already joined the army.
It is not known when he joined up, but it was probably the same time as Lander John Mann. Their service numbers are close and their short military career followed the same course.
Harold enlisted at Rugby into the Royal Warwick Regiment as a private, no: 41740. He served abroad with the Royal Warwicks from 4th to 12th August 1918, then the 2/4th London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers, service number 85166 until 11th September, before moving to the 2/2nd battalion.
By early September 1918 the British advance had reached The Hindenburg Line. After the losses of the previous few months, 180,000 in the last six weeks, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig was reluctant to order any offensives, but allow the men to rest. When he received news of the British Third Army’s success at the Battle of Havrincourt on 12th Sept, he changed his mind and approved the plan to clear German outpost positions on the high ground before the Hindenburg Line.
In order not to give warning of the attack, there was no preliminary bombardment and the guns would fire concentration shots at zero hour and then provide a creeping barrage to support the infantry. The attack started at 5.20 am on 18th September and comprised all three corps of the fourth army, with V Corps of the Third flank and the French First Army on the right.
The promised French assistance did not arrive, resulting in limited success for IX Corps on that flank. On the left flank, III Corps also found difficulty when attacking the fortifications erected at “the Knoll”, Quennemont and Guillemont farms, which were held determinedly by German troops, the village was however captured by the British 12th Eastern Division [7th Norfolk, 9th Essex and 1st Cambridge]. In the centre, General John Monash’s two Australian divisions achieved complete and dramatic success. The 1st Australian Division and the 4th Australian Division, had a strength of some 6,800 men and in the course of the day captured 4,243 prisoners, 76 guns, 300 machine-guns and thirty trench mortars. They took all their objectives and advanced to a distance of about 3 miles (4.8 km) on a 4 mile (6.4 km) front. The Australian casualties were 1,260 officers and men (265 killed, 1,057 wounded, 2 captured.)
The Battle of Epehy closed as an Allied victory, with 11,750 prisoners and 100 guns captured. Although not a total success, it signalled an unmistakable message that the Germans were weakening and it encouraged the Allies to take further action with haste (with the offensive continuing in the Battle of St. Quentin Canal), before the Germans could consolidate their positions.
It is not clear what part the 2nd battalion of the Royal Fusiliers took in the Battle of Epehy, but Harold John Russell died the following day, the 19th September and was buried in Epehy Wood Farm Cemetery at 1.F.17, a row from Lander John Mann at 1.G.19.
He was awarded The Victory and British War Medals, although there is a note on his medal roll card:
O i/c Recs (Officer in charge of Records) requests auth. to dispose of medals 10/2/22.
Did his mother not want to be reminded of her only son, or did her new husband object? They don’t appear to have had their own children. Someone must have put forward his name to be included on the Rugby Memorial Gates.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM