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Neil Ruffell Russell, 1888 - 1918

Neil Russell was killed in action on 26 March 1918 at the Somme in France. He was aged 29. He is buried in Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, Somme, France.

Neil was born in Foxton on 30 March 1888. His parents were Mary Ellen and John Ruffell Russell. His father was a journalist and the family later moved to Dannevirke where his father was editor of the Dannevirke Advocate. An uncle was Christchurch barrister TG Russell, while another uncle was the Hon GW Russell, Minister of Internal Affairs in the wartime Cabinet.

Neil attended Palmerston North's College Street School and then Palmerston High School. After the family moved to Dannevirke he went to Dannevirke High School, where he was Dux. He was a keen golfer, winning the Dannevirke Golf Club Championship in 1906 and playing in the Hawke's Bay Golf Championship at Napier not long after leaving school.

photo of Neil Russell 
Second Lieutenant Neil Russell.

After matriculating and passing his Solicitors' General Knowledge exam Russell attended Auckland University College to study law, boarding at St John's College. While at university he worked as a law clerk during the holidays in the office of long-serving Dannevirke solictor THG Lloyd. He obtained his LLB in April 1911 while he was employed by Findlay, Dalziell and Co (now Buddle Findlay) and was capped on 6 June 1912.

He was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court by the Chief Justice on 29 July 1911. In April 1912 he acted for the defendant in a Sunday trading case which received national attention, after the publican, Russell's client, offered to "shout" four men drinks as he could not serve them. "Mr NR Russell, counsel for defendant, said there was an idea prevalent amongst publicans that they could entertain their friends on Sunday. Counsel quoted the ruling of Supreme Court Judges in a somewhat similar case, where the decision had been given in favour of the licensee." (Manawatu Standard, 18 April 1912, page 5).

In 1913 Russell had gained enough experience to strike out on his own. A notice in the Star newspaper on 23 September 1913 stated: "Mr Neil Russell LLB intends to start the practice of his profession as a barrister and solicitor in Dannevirke." He took an active part in Dannevirke sporting affairs, as honorary secretary of the Dannevirke Tennis Club and being elected captain of the Dannevirke Golf Club in 1914. 

In a trout poaching case in the Dannevirke Magistrate's Court in November 1914 Russell tried a novel defence for his three clients: "Mr Neil Russell explained that the defendants were not fishing, but merely tickling fish, which was a most fascinating sport. He asked for a lenient view of the case. His Worship replied that it depended on the object of the tickle." (Manawatu Standard, 4 November 1914, page 4). He lost the case. 

Russell was also an accomplished singer. As the possessor of "a very pleasing tenor voice" he once sang at a concert given by the Orchestral Society at the Palmerston North Opera House. With his "light tenor voice of pure and pleasing quality" he sang three solos and two encores. He was married on 2 November 1915 at St John's Church in Dannevirke to a local woman, Marion Alice Cowper. The couple had one daughter, Elizabeth Nell, born on 18 July 1916.

In June 1916 Russell was balloted under the Military Service Act 1916. He proceeded to Trentham Camp for training and was promoted to Corporal soon after arrival. He passed the examination for appointment to a commission in January 1917 and was appointed Second Lieutenant from 28 May 1917. His medical examination on enlistment stated he had grey eyes and fair hair, was 5 foot 8 inches (1.73 metres) and weighed 150 pounds (68.4 kg).

Russell embarked from Wellington with the 26th Reinforcements, Auckland Infantry Regiment, A Company on 9 June 1917. He arrived at Devonport in England on 16 August 1917. After two months training at Sling Camp his unit left for France on 18 October 1917. A report says he was "evacuated sick" on 28 January 1918 and admitted to an officers' rest home on 6 February, being discharged to his unit on 21 February. A month later on 26 March 1918 he was killed in action at the Somme while leading his platoon to capture a machine gun emplacement. 

Second Lieutenant Russell is remembered on the Dannevirke War Memorial

Sources: Manawatu Standard, 8 December 1900, page 2; Manawatu Times, 31 August 1901, page 3; Manawatu Standard, 18 December 1903, page 4; Bush Advocate, 28 January 1904, page 3; Evening Post, 28 October 1905, page 9; Evening Post, 20 September 1906, page 2; Wanganui Herald, 22 September 1906, page 5; Manawatu Standard, 1 November 1906, page 4; Bush Advocate, 15 December 1906, page 4; Bush Advocate, 7 November 1908, page 4; Bush Advocate, 27 February 1909, page 4; Dominion, 15 April 1911, page 4; Manawatu Standard, 29 July 1911, page 5; Manawatu Standard, 18 April 1912, page 5; Auckland Star, 6 June 1912, page 2; Manawatu Standard, 31 May 1913, page 6; Manawatu Standard, 6 June 1913, page 6; Star, 23 September 1913, page 5; Manawatu Standard, 1 May 1914, page 5; Manawatu Standard, 4 November 1914, page 4; Wairarapa Daily Times, 6 November 1915, page 5; Waipu Church Gazette, 1 December 1915, page 83; Colonist, 6 June 1916, page 4; Evening Post, 31 August 1916, page 7; North Otago Times, 27 January 1917, page 8; Evening Post, 13 March 1917, page 8; Wanganui Chronicle, 9 April 1918, page 4; The Spike, War Memorial Number 1920, page 36.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who died while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour. 

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz.

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Last updated on the 17th December 2015