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John Willie Russell (1891-1917)

Durham City mason's labourer joined 8th Battalion DLI in 1908

John Willie Russell was born in 1891 in Durham City. His parents were William Thomas Russell and Florence Mary Russel (nee Oliver). According to the 1911 census John Willie was one of 6 children, however by then only three children were living, They were Sarah Annie Russell born 1889, John Willie born 1891 and Florence Mary Russell born 1896

The 1901 census finds John Willie, his parents and sisters living at 2 Hallgarth Street, Durham City. His father’s occupation being a brickyard labourer. The family were still living at the same address in 1911, and John Willie had obtained employment as a masons labourer.

John Willie joined the territorial 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, as a private, service number 8/113, in 1908 for a period of four years, he extended this service by one year, in March 1912, 1913, and 1914. However, when war broke out in August 1914, John Willie was embodied to full service. He went out to France in April 1915, and served until 17 April 1916, when he was discharged as time served. The discharge papers describe his character as exemplary.

On 26 July 1916 John Willie re-enlisted with 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, returning to the Western Front in November 1916 as a private, with a new service number, 325682. The medical section of this enlistment papers say that John Willie had a tattoo ‘DLI’ on his left wrist.

On 28th September 1917 reports for the 1st/9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry would show that 325228 Private Samuel Hall “died”, 325942 Private Thomas Tavener “died of wounds” and 325682 Private John William Russell was wounded.

The casualty report form noted that he suffered gunshot wounds to the thigh and head.
Copies of Post Office Telegraphs received in the Territorial’s Record Office in York on 29th September and again on 3rd October 1917 might have given hope that John would pull through as he condition is noted as “Satisfactory”. However, this would sadly prove to be a false hope as, on the 7th October 1917, John died of his wounds.

Officially he was 26 years of age but if the Census records are to be believed then he would have actually been only 24 when he met his untimely end.

Eight months later the pain of the family’s loss would still have been very real but it would be rudely awakened when a package and letter dated 12th June 1918 would arrive at the Hallgarth Street residence.

In it were the personal effects of John Russell and a request that a receipt should be returned to the York Records Office.

The list of items appears both poignant and sad when reflecting the loss of a human life but may have brought some comfort to his mother and sisters. Two identity discs, letters, photos, cards, small note book, religious book, Army forms, metal watch and strap, match box case, purse, pocket case and strangely enough, one German coin.

Almost two years later in June 1920 the Army office would write yet again, this time to ask his mother to confirm her relationship to John along with that of his sisters.

By now his oldest sister, Sarah, was married and lived at 13, Claypath, Durham City as Mrs Hallis. His younger sister, Florence, was living with their mother, and Mrs Russell duly confirmed the details and signed and returned the form on 2 July 1920.

Subsequently the family would have received the medals to which John had been entitled and the memorial plaque and scroll to record a grateful nations thanks for yet another life sacrificed for freedom.

John’s grave lies in Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux, Pas de Calais, France, Plot II. G . 2.

William Thomas Russell (1867-1914)
Mother – Florence Mary Russell – 50 New Elvet, Durham City (1920)
Sister – Mrs Hallas – 13 Claypath, Durham City (1920)
Sister – Florence Mary Russell – 50 New Elvet, Durham City (1920)

Durham Town Hall (North East War Memorial Project number D 47. 54).
St Oswald’s Churchyard (North East War Memorial Project number D 47. 50).

1915 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal

Military service
8/113 Private, 8th Battalion (Territorial Force), Durham Light Infantry, 1908-1916
325682 Private, 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 1916-1917

Civil Parish: Durham

Contributed by Graeme E, Iveston

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