b. 30/03/1911 Ayr, Scotland. d. 28/02/1945 Ponte di Piave, Italy.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 22-28/02/1945 Ponte di Piave, Italy.
David Russell (1911-1945) was born on 30th March 1911 in Ayr, Scotland, the son of James and Jessie Russell (nee Heron). They had married in December 1904, and James’ occupation was that of a byreman (worked with cows) at Deghorn near Ayr. He had a brother William and sister Jessie. Sadly their mother died in 1917, when David was just six, and their father re-married.
When David turned 16, he followed in his brother William’s footsteps and emigrated to Australia where the two men found work difficult to find on a regular basis, until they were told about the opportunities in New Zealand. David made the journey, but William chose to stay in Australia and became a sheep farmer.
David found a work as an Orderley at Napier Hospital, Hawke’s Bay. It was in Hawke’s Bay that he met Nance Oliver at a dance. When war broke out in 1939 he was in the first group to join up – in the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Soon the Force had sailed for Europe and first saw action in Crete, and he took part in the 22nd Bayonet Charge on the island during the Battle for Crete, before the Force moved on to Egypt.
On 14th July 1942, he was taken prisoner at Ruweisat Ridge in the Western Desert. It was during this battle that Keith Elliott would be awarded the Victoria Cross. Russell was imprisoned in Italy from which he escaped a number of times. He obtained civilian clothes and was befriended by an Italian, Guiseppe Vettorello. He kept contact with other POW's, helping them to escape. He was successful in helping 47 other men escape. He was arrested by Italian Fascist officers on 22nd February 1945. He would be treated as a spy due to his civilian clothes, but the Germans were not convinced. He was severely beaten and tortured for information but he didnt budge. He was shot by the Germans on 28th February 1945 in Ponte di Piave, Italy. He was initially buried near to where he died before he was moved to Udine War Cemetery in October 1945.
David’s recommendation for a posthumous GC was granted and the citation was published in London Gazette on Christmas Eve 1948. His GC, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 and NZ War Service Medal are held by the Army Museum, Wairouru. The medals were presented to the Museum in 1998 by his nephew Doug Russell. David’s gold watch and other memorabilia were handed over to the Museum by another nephew Andrew Collins in 2005.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, WAIOURU, NEW ZEALAND.
BURIAL PLACE: UDINE WAR CEMETERY, UDINE, ITALY.
The memorial at his original gravesite until he was moved to the Udine War Cemetery in October 1945.
Brass plaque on the wall at Napier Hospital where Russell worked as an orderly.
Russell is buried in Plot IV, D. 2