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The Story of the Fox-Russell Family from Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in North Wales.

Holyhead, Captain John Fox-Russell who was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Military Cross

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 known as
the 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

Home of the Fox-Russell Family at 5, Victoria Terrace, Holyhead.

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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 in Uniform William Fox-Russell Anglesey Militia Territorials c.1907

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 their home

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 2004.

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 Artillery (R.F.A.).

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 Battalion.
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

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 Palestine).

John Fox-Russell Grave in Beersheba

John Fox-Russell Grave in Beersheba.

Captain John Fox-Russell V.C., M.C., Pictorial Memorial at the Unemployed Workers Centre

Captain John Fox-Russell , Pictorial Memorial at the Unemployed Workers Centre.

John Fox Russell V.C., M.C., Captain R.A.M.C. died 1917 aged 24 CWGC Memorial

John Fox Russell V.C., M.C., Captain R.A.M.C. died 1917 aged 24 CWGC Memorial.

John Fox Russell V.C., M.C., Captain R.A.M.C. Stone on his brothers grave in St Seiriols Churchyard Holyhead

John Fox-Russell, stone on his brothers grave in St Seiriols Churchyard Holyhead.

John Fox-Russell V.C., M.C. plaque on his parents grave in Holyhead

John Fox-Russell plaque on his parents grave in Holyhead.

 

Captain Henry Thornbury Fox-Russell M.C.

Henry Thornbury Fox Russell

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 1916.

Henry Thornbury Fox Russell leading the Royal Welsh Fusiliers through Aberystwyth in 1914

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 and initiative.

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 their sons.

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.

Henry Thornbury Fox Russell M.C. R.A.F. Died 1918 aged 21 Military Gravestone at Seiriols Churchyard Holyhead

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 M.C. R.A.F. Died 1918 aged 21 CWGC Memorial

Henry Thornbury Fox-Russell Captain, Royal Air Force CWGC Memorial.

Henry Thornbury Fox Russell, at attention in Aberystwyth with the men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Henry Thornbury Fox Russell, at attention in Aberystwyth with the men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Holyhead 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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