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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: S. J. Russell
Born: 11 August 1897
Date of Death: 2 August 1917
Age at death: 19
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Royal Field Artillery
Unit, Ship, etc: 400th Battery (part of 14th Brigade)
Enlisted: London
Rank: Gunner (Service no. 945901)
Decorations: Campaign medals – British War Medal and Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of George T and Amelia A Russell, 17 Park Grove, Bromley, Kent
Residence:
Home Department: Board of Trade – Seamen’s Registry
Civilian Rank: Boy Clerk
Cemetery or Memorial: Coxyde Military Cemetery, Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen (II.C.17); Beckenham County Boys School (now Langley Park School for Boys) War Memorial, Beckenham, Kent; St John the Evangelist Church, Penge, London; Bromley War Memorial; Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)

Biography:

We were very moved recently to hear from a relative of Sidney James Russell who contacted the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group to provide us with more detail about Sidney’s lifestory. Thanks to this connection, we are now able to convey a greater sense of who Sidney was, beyond the bald facts presented on a page about him and we can put a face to his name.

SidneyJamesRussell

Sidney James Russell (copyright: Trevor Mathews)

Sidney was born in Peckham on 11 August 1897 and baptised in the former Church of St Mark’s  in Peckham (in the Diocese of Southwark) which was founded in 1885 but subsequently bombed during WW2 and no longer exists. Sidney was the third child of George Thomas Russell (1867 – 1942), a Police Constable and his wife Amelia Ada Morgan (1867 – 1940). He had an older brother called Leslie George Russell (1891 – 1961) and two sisters Dora Agnes Millie Russell (1894 – 149) and Edith Nellie Russell (1903 – 1985).

In 1901, the family (including Sidney aged 4) were living at 19 Lanvanor Road in Camberwell. The family then moved further out into the countryside to 39 Bromley Gardens in Bromley, Kent, presumably for a better quality of life where they are listed in the 1911 census. The family were successful with Leslie, the eldest son working as  a shipping clerk and Dora, working as a Post Office Clerk whilst young Sidney (aged 13) and his youngest sister Edith were still at school.

From a short obituary in the local paper, we know that Sidney attended the Raglan Road School (now called Raglan Primary School) and then won a scholarship to the Technical Institute in Beckenham (now called Langley Park School for Boys).

Following the end of his schooling, Sidney managed to secure a job as a boy clerk in the Civil Service working in the Seaman’s Registry in the Board of Trade office based at 1 Tower Hill.

We know that Sidney enlisted in London on 14 May 1914 (aged only 17 years of age). We also know that he was 6 feet tall and was healthy and fit. According to his military attestation papers (British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-20) which is one of only about a third of the entire WW1 service records to have survived, we know that he enlisted in the Territorial Forces in the 7th Battery, 3rd London Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

SJRussell-militaryattestation

Sidney James Russell’s military attestation papers

His service record details that between 14 May 1914 and 20 January 1917 he served at home in England.

He ultimately embarked for France after he turned 19 years old. He first set off from Southampton on 5 February 1917 arriving in Le Havre, France on 6 February 1917. On arrival in France he served in several different units – firstly on 19 February 1917 he was posted to the 293 Brigade Ammunition Column (BAC) of the Royal Field Artillery.  He was then posted on 2 May 1917 to the 14 AKA Brigade and then from 19 May 1917 he was posted to the 400th Battery (Royal Field Artillery) which formed part of the 14th Brigade of the Royal Horse Artillery. The 14th brigade in essence became an ordinary field artillery unit rater then part of a division. These changes of unit were not unusual with lots changes with batteries moved from one brigade to another throughout the war.

During WW1, the Royal Artillery comprised three parts  – the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). The RFA’s role was to provide firepower and medium artillery cover (such as by howitzers and other powerful guns) to the infantry soldiers on the front line or in the trenches.

As an artillery solider or “Gunner”, Sidney’s job was to fire explosive shells from the big guns which typically weighed several tons and were difficult to manoeuvre but which were also able to fire thousands of shells in a barrage against the opposing army. As family historian Dennis Corbett makes clear, artillery technology developed throughout the war initially starting with 15 pounder field guns followed by larger 18 pounder guns (by 1916). By this time, as well an artillery brigade comprised four batteries of six guns. The first three – A, B and C were field guns and the fourth D battery would have a 4.5 howitzer.

We know that Sidney died on 2 August 1917. He had been serving in France only 6 months and his date of death was only a little more than a week before his 20th birthday on 11 August.

Sidney is buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery, where over 1600 men are buried. He is also named on the Bromley War Memorial, the Beckenham County Boys School (now Langley Park School for Boys), the St John the Evangelist Church in Penge and also the Board of Trade War Memorial.

Below is a beautiful and moving poem that Sidney’s elder brother, Leslie wrote in memory of his younger brother’s death.

LeslieRussell-Poem-1917

Poem “Ready, Aye Ready” by Leslie George Russell (kindly shared by Trevor Mathews)

His gravestone in Coxyde Military Cemetery bears a personal inscription chosen by his family, which simply states “PEACE PERFECT PEACE”. We hope and pray that Sidney James Russell is truly at peace and thank his relative, Trevor Mathews for sharing extra information about him so that we can continue to remember Sidney’s sacrifice.

SJRussell-gravestone-CoxydeMilitaryCemetery

Sidney James Russell’s gravestone in Coxyde Military Cemetery (copyright: Trevor Mathews)

 

 

 

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