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Story of the Fox-Russell Family from Holyhead on the Isle of
Anglesey (Ynys Môn)
in North Wales.
Captain John Fox-Russell of Holyhead, who was awarded the Victoria Cross and
the Military Cross. Served in both the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
and the Royal Army Medical Corps.
This is a story of heroes, a story of men that truly did put their lives on the
line for their comrades.
The Fox-Russell Family.
William Russell was born in 1865, the second son of John Russell of Limerick,
a Justice of the Peace, but although he was an Irishman, he would
live most of his life in the town of Holyhead, on the Island
of Anglesey in North Wales.
On the 19th of April 1892, William, a medical
doctor, married Ethel Maria Thornbury (elder daughter of W.H.
Thornbury and grandson of the late Colonel Thornbury of St Bees,
Cumbria) at St Jude’s Church, Grays Inn Road in Camden, London.
They family home was at 5, Victoria Terrace,
Holyhead, latterly the site of the Eagle and Child Public House,
and later the Bar 2000. Eight children would be born to the couple,
including seven boys (two of whom were twins) and one girl. The
children of William and Ethel Russell were given the additional
forename of Fox, which eventually resulted in the family becoming
Fox-Russells. A slate plaque now adorns the outside wall of
the family home in
Holyhead, a memorial to John Fox-Russell.
Home of the Fox-Russell Family at 5, Victoria Terrace, Holyhead.
In testimony to his own patriotism, at some time William had served as
an officer in the Anglesey Militia (later known as the Territorial Army).
William Fox-Russell Anglesey Militia Territorials c.1907.
Despite losing two sons during the war William still volunteered and was
elected as Vice Chairman of the War Memorial Committee.
William died in 1929 and is buried in St Seiriol’s Churchyard. His widow
Ethel Maria died in 1946 aged 85, and was buried with her husband.
Plaque commemorating Captain John Fox-Russell and Captain Henry Thornbury
Fox-Russell outside what was their home.
As well as the two brothers who lost their lives, two other sons also
served during WWI.
William Fox-Russell (born in 1894) served on the Western Front as a Lieutenant
in the Royal Army Service Corps. He fought for almost two years, receiving
during that time a serious wound to his arm. Although surviving the war, William
died by accidentally drowning in 1940.
Thomas Fox-Russell (born in 1898) served in the Royal Naval Reserve as
a Midshipman. During the Battle of Jutland his ship was sunk, but Thomas survived.
Later he was under a big gun that fired, the noise from which left him partly
deaf and temporarily blind. He tried to enlist in the second world war, but
he was rejected on medical grounds due to a heart condition. Thomas was however
eventually accepted to work at the Admiralty for the Royal Navy, and he achieved
the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Thomas died in 1957 and is buried in Bangor
New Cemetery, North Wales, along with his wife Gwladys Margaret, who died in
Captain John Fox-Russell V.C., M.C.
John Fox-Russell was born in Holyhead on the 27th of January 1893, the
eldest child of Doctor William and Ethel Maria Fox-Russell (nee Thornberry).
His parents had been married in London in 1892.
John was a scholarly man with - it seems to me - Christian beliefs, which
gave him a genuine desire to help his fellow man, later his comrades.
John’s education included Magdalen College in Oxford, and then St Bees
College in Cumbria, which he attended between 1908 and 1910. Having passed
an exam to join the choir at Magdalen School it is reasonable to assume that
John had a good singing voice.
Magdalen and St Bees both teach theology; therefore it may be reasonable
to assume that at an early age John had considered entering the clergy. Whilst
at college John joined the Officer Training Corps, which were set up at most
universities. These in fact were not to train scholars as officers, although
a minority of its’ members did join the army.
At the age of 16, John began medical training at London University Medical
School, his practical training taking place at the Middlesex Hospital, where
he joined the University of London Officers Training Corps. By the year 1913
John had been accepted for a commission with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and
the following year war was declared on Germany. He was however seconded by
the army to complete his medical training.
Following the successful acquisition of his medical degree, John joined
the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.) in 1916, seconded to the Royal Field
John served in France with the R.F.A., subsequently becoming attached
at his own request to his previous regiment and battalion – R.W.F. - 1st/6th
John had by then progressed to the rank of Captain, and he joined his old regiment
in Palestine. During the first Battle of Gaza, which took place on the 27th
and 28th of March 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.
The Citation for his Military Cross reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage
and skill in collecting wounded of all regiments, and in dressing them under
continuous shell and rifle fire.
A little over six months later he was awarded the Victoria Cross (posthumously)
for his bravery at Tel el Khuweilfeh, where he lost his life on the 6th of
November 1917 whilst helping his wounded comrades.
The Citation for his Victoria Cross reads:
For most conspicuous bravery displayed in action until he was killed. Capt
Russell repeatedly went out to attend the wounded under murderous fire from
snipers and machine guns, and in many cases where no other means were at
hand carried them in himself, although almost exhausted he showed the highest
possible degree of valour.
Captain John Fox-Russell V.C., M.C., Medal Ribbons on display at Thomas
Ellis School in Holyhead.
John – apart from being especially mentioned on the town’s War Memorial
- is remembered on the grave of his parents in St. Seiriol’s Churchyard in
Holyhead. He is also remembered on the grave of his brother Captain Henry Thornberry
Fox-Russell in the same Churchyard. His name is also proudly remembered in
at least two of Holyhead’s schools, and on chapel memorials in the town. John
is also remembered at his old school in St Bees, Cumbria, along with two other
former pupils awarded the Victoria Cross.
John’s widow Alma married again in 1919, and she donated his medals to
the R.A.M.C. Museum, which is now located in Keogh Barracks, Mytchett Place
Road, Mytchett in Surrey. There they are displayed, in the company of twenty
two other Victoria Crosses, including a photograph of John.
Copies of the medal group are also on display at the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Museum at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales.
Captain John Fox-Russell is buried at Beersheba War Cemetery, Israel (previously
John Fox-Russell Grave in Beersheba.
Captain John Fox-Russell , Pictorial Memorial at the Unemployed
John Fox Russell V.C., M.C., Captain R.A.M.C. died 1917
aged 24 CWGC Memorial.
John Fox-Russell, stone on his brothers grave in St Seiriols
John Fox-Russell plaque on his parents grave in Holyhead.
Captain Henry Thornbury Fox-Russell M.C.
Henry Thornbury Fox Russell in his Royal Welsh Fusiliers Uniform.
Henry Thornberry Fox-Russell was born in Holyhead on the 24th March 1897,
the third son (fourth child) of Doctor William and Ethel Maria Fox-Russell.
Henry later attended Churcher’s College in Petersfield, Hampshire, during
which time he became a member of the Officers Training Corps. He was commissioned
as a 2nd Lieutenant on the 20th August 1914, assigned to the 6th Battalion
of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Henry steadily rose up the ranks, and following
service in Gallipoli and Egypt with the 1st/6th Battalion, which he joined
in January of 1916, he served in Palestine, being promoted to Captain in June
Henry Thornbury Fox Russell leading the Royal Welsh Fusiliers through
Aberystwyth in 1914
In March of 1917 he was seconded to the 64th or 41st Squadron Royal Flying
Corps (R.F.C.), during his service with the R.F.C. he was awarded the Military
Cross (M.C.) for bravery in the air, and also for rescuing a downed pilot,
who was seriously wounded - Lieutenant James Alexander Vazeille Boddy - who
had been shot down by the Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen.
The Citation for his Military Cross reads: For conspicuous gallantry
and devotion to duty. He formed one of a patrol which silenced an enemy battery.
He dropped bombs on two of the guns, silenced others with his machine gun and
then engaged transport on the road. This operation was carried out under heavy
fire and very difficult weather conditions. On another occasion he dropped
bombs and fired 300 rounds on enemy trenches from a height of 100 feet. His
machine was then hit by a shell and crashed in front of our advanced position.
He reached the front line, and while there saw another of our machines brought
down. He went to the assistance of the pilot, who was badly wounded, extricated
him under heavy fire and brought him to safety. He showed splendid courage
In February 1918 Henry was promoted to Captain and Flight Commander, and
he was stationed at Hooton Park in Cheshire, as a flight instructor with 4
Squadron, and he actually survived the war.
Just days after the Armistice (11th November), on the 18th of November
1918, Henry climbed aboard a Sopwith Camel aircraft and took off for a solo
flight. Henry and his aircraft had climbed to approximately 900 feet when something
catastrophic must have happened as the aircraft went into a spin and crashed
to the ground. Henry was dead aged just 21.
Henry was brought home to Holyhead, where he was interred at St Seiriol’s
Churchyard. His parent’s were later buried in a grave just a few of feet from
Note: The previously rescued James Alexander Boddy survived the war and
married Marjorie D. Ewen in 1920. They had a daughter named Sheila in 1926.
In 1952 Sheila M.V. Boddy married Alan B. Harker, and they subsequently had
three children, two daughters and a son. It is reasonable to assume that without
the intervention of Henry Thornbury Fox-Russell none of those events might
have happened. James Boddy passed away in 1954 aged 59.
Captain Henry Thornbury Fox-Russell Military Gravestone
at Seiriols Churchyard Holyhead - includes a footnote remembering three
of his brothers, all ex servicemen.
Henry Thornbury Fox-Russell Captain, Royal Air Force CWGC
Henry Thornbury Fox Russell, at attention in Aberystwyth
with the men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
War Graves>>Holyhead War Memorials>>Anglesey War Memorials
I am indebted to the R.W.F. Photos website>for
the use of some of the above images.
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