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The Fallen of Kirkby

John Russell

John Russell. (Photo courtesy of Ann Thompson).
(Photo courtesy of Ann Thompson).
  • Son of John and Isabella A. Russell of Soutergate
  • Private 20535, 8th Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
  • Killed in Action 21st August 1918 at Courcelles, France, aged 21.
  • Commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, Panel 3.,

The 8th (Service) Bn KORLR was one of four battalions raised by the local regiment in Lancaster in response to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for a hundred thousand men. John Russell did not join up until 17th August 1915, in Kendal, signing on with a ‘canvasser’ or recruiting agent. (See ‘The Derby Scheme’ below.)

Russell gave his occupation as Farm Hand, and his address as living with his parents in Soutergate, which is where the census shows them living in 1901, although ten years later they were at Gargreave; but perhaps they returned to the village, as people moved around a lot more in those days.

John Russell senior was an iron ore miner, and he and his wife had four children: John, the eldest, born in March 1897, Elizabeth Margaret, two years younger than John, then Ivor and Horace, respectively six years and ten years John’s junior.

The Derby Scheme

Introduced in the autumn of 1915, Lord Derby’s scheme followed up on Lord Kitchener’s appeal in 1914 for 100,000 volunteers. Local Parliamentary Committees appointed agents called canvassers who approached men aged 18 to 41 who were not in reserved occupations and handed them Lord Derby’s letter; they were then asked to say whether or not they would join the forces. Those who answered in the affirmative (and they were under pressure to do so) promised to report within 48 hours, when they would be paid two shillings and nine pence.

John Russell was recruited by a canvasser in Kendal, and reported to the regiment’s headquarters in Lancaster, where he added a few months to his true age, declaring himself to be 19 and 2 months, when he was only 18. Perhaps he had seen this recruiting poster, which asks for men aged 19 to 40.

John Russell’s war

John Russell had a long (3 years 5 days) and eventful war. After signing on he was given a few days home leave, and then, following a period of training, he was posted to France on 3rd June 1916 with the 11th Battalion, KORLR. On 6th March 1917 he was wounded, receiving a bullet in the right arm:

WOUNDED.- News has been received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Russell, Soutergate, that their son, Pte. John Russell, has been wounded in the arm in France, and is at present at a base hospital in that country. Pte. Russell is attached to the King’s Own, and has been out in France for a considerable time.
-: Barrow Guardian, Saturday, March 17, 1917; page 5.

It tells you something about the suffering of the men at the front that Russell’s wound was not treated until 14th March, six days after the injury was sustained. He spent 38 days in Rouen Hospital, after which his wound was declared to be healed and his arm able to be moved, although it was “still weak”. He was discharged on 20th April and given a period of home leave. Unfortunately the wound was not judged serious enough to see him out of the war with a ‘blighty’, and John Russell had to return to the front in June. (It was probably at this time that he was transferred from 11th Battalion to the 8th.)

Following his recovery he returned to the front and the next year he was not so lucky.

The War Diary

The 8th Bn, KORLR war diary for 21st August 1918, the day John Russell died, tells the story:

Battalion under orders of General Officer Commanding (the) 8th Brigade for attack on railway embankment (at) COURCELLES.
Assembly position in Purple Reserve (trench) near ADINFER WOOD. 5am moved from assembly position to AYETTE.
Thence advanced in support of Royal Scots Fusiliers, 8th Brigade.
Passed through 8th Brigade and gained objective (at) 8.30am (railway embankment) and consolidated order of Companies: left to right, D A C B. Patrols pushed out east of railway.
Casualties: 12 Other Ranks killed and 88 wounded.
Captured 30 prisoners (and) 30 machine guns.
9.30pm Battalion withdrew and reorganised in Moublain Trench, west of COURCELLES.
Morning: thick mist which cleared at noon.

John Russell was one of the ‘Other Ranks’ killed, but his remains were never found. His name therefore appears on the Vis-en-Artois memorial to the missing.

C Company, the 8th Battalion, KORLR in 1915. (Photo courtesy King’s Own Museum).
C Company, the 8th Battalion, KORLR in 1915. (Photo courtesy King’s Own Museum).

The Vis-en-Artois Memorial to the Missing

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s 1st World War cemetery between Harcourt and Vis-en-Artois in the Pas de Calais department of France contains the bodies of 2,344 British and South African casualties.

In addition the memorial is inscribed with nearly 10,000 names of men who died between 8th August 1918 and the end of the war in November of that year, but who have no known grave. John Russell’s name can be found with his regiment on Panel 3.

The Vis-en-Artois Memorial. (Photo Julie Rushton).
The Vis-en-Artois Memorial. (Photo Julie Rushton).
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