17. Archibald Russell: A Kind Comic

Born in 1927, Archibald Russell was the youngest child of James Cameron Russell and Jane Bell Johnston. Remember I said my family just don’t move very far? Archie grew up in the Gorgie area of Edinburgh – less than a mile from where I live now – until he married Irene Weddell in 1953. The newlyweds moved to the Fountainbridge area – about 500 yards from where I live now. Archie and Irene had four children in all, including my mum. Archie died in 1988 after a period of ill health.

I was still a toddler when Archie died but I remember his smile. His comfy armchair sat in the corner of the living room and when my cousin and I visited he would pull it away from the wall slightly so we could run in circles around it. The pictures that were displayed around the house of Archie all showed him with his trademark smile and wild curls. I easily identified him in his childhood pictures by his unruly ginger curls, especially against his brother’s neatly flattened hair. Past those pictures, I felt I really didn’t know Archie at all so I recently began to ask people what he was like.

I learned that Archie was too young to serve in World War II but was among of the first to be called for service after the war had ended. Another military background that I knew nothing about. He served in many places abroad, including France and Egypt. Archie became very close friends with many of his fellow comrades and my granny was able to show me many, many photos of his time with them, both at home and while serving abroad. While serving in Ismailia, he adopted a stray dog that had found itself in their base. He took care of it and loved it so much that he planned to somehow bring it home with him at the end of his tour. His superior officer had other ideas and shot the poor thing while Archie was off base one day. He was heartbroken when he learned of his companion’s fate.

Archie's dog

I asked my aunt what she could tell me about her dad and she told me that he used to cause great embarrassment, mostly with his fashion choices. This made me laugh a lot, but then I wasn’t his daughter so I suppose it would. Apparently he wore his kilt all the time. Like, all the time. Around the house, to work on his daughter’s car, all the time. (The kilt, by the way, is still worn by my cousin on special occasions which I’m sure Archie would be pleased about.) When he wasn’t wearing the kilt, he wore gardening trousers. I imagine they were ill-fitting only because she also said he tied them at the waist with string. Said trousers would be worn to do the shopping, therefore causing his children further public embarrassment. She also mentioned a furry winter hat, like the kind you often see in Russia, which begs the question: what did he wear the hat with – the kilt or the gardening trousers?!

Archie liked going to the pub with the boys but at home he drank whisky. It must have been good whisky as he kept it in a crystal decanter. I quite like my whisky too but mine stays in the bottle! Anyway, this whisky was certainly not for sharing. When his own brother came to visit he would hide the good whisky and put cheap stuff in the decanter. Who knows if his brother enjoyed whisky enough to know the difference, but I kind of love the sentiment! It would be like hiding the really good biscuits when you had visitors round and serving plain digestives instead. Here, that’s not a bad idea…

I really wish I could have known Archie for longer. He sounds like a cheeky chap with a wicked sense of humour, and I would have loved to have enjoyed a whisky with him. The good whisky, mind you.

 

100 Years On: Their Name Liveth

Exactly 100 years ago, Britain declared its involvement in World War I. Today across Britain and many other parts of the world, people’s attention is being drawn to the anniversary. Not to celebrate, far from it. We are reminded that our ancestors fought on our behalf 100 years ago, millions of them losing their lives in the process, to protect their country.

I lived the first 27 years of my life thinking that nobody in my family had any military involvement, whether it was part of one of the World Wars or otherwise. The more ancestors I meet, the more soldiers come out of the woodwork. On my maternal side of the tree, there is a whole line of military men that nobody knew about. Breaking from my normal format, today I want to remember those who served, fought and died in The Great War. I decided after I discovered my first family soldier that any soldier I found in the future should be researched and remembered properly, whether they were a direct ancestor or not. I feel an odd connection to them. I did not know these men personally, yet I feel a duty to ensure their bravery is not forgotten.

 

Pte Alexander Lennie Russell

Died 10th October 1915. I have not managed to find records for his service as yet, suggesting that they were possibly among those lost in a fire in WWII. What I do know is that Alexander was James’ (below) elder brother. Alexander was killed in action in France.

James Cameron Russell

James lived with his wife in Edinburgh when war broke out. I am lucky that his records have survived so I was able to find some personal information on him, including his profession, his address and notes of a tattoo he had on his arm. James signed up for the Royal Army Medical Corps. Not long after enlisting, his infant son died. Six months later, James’ brother Alexander was killed in action. I cannot imagine going through such a huge period of personal loss and then still going out to fight. Wherever he served, he survived and thank goodness he did. As his direct ancestor, I simply wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t come home safely.

Pte John Brown

John was married with children when the war began. He had to leave his family behind as he fought in France, where he ultimately lost his life. There is some confusion as to where he is buried, however I do know that his name is listed on a  memorial plaque in a war cemetery in France.

Pte William McCoskry Rae

Died 14th December 1918 of war wounds. I’ve written about William before as I hold a special place for him. I don’t know when he was injured, therefore how long he suffered before succumbing to his injuries. I don’t even know if he fought abroad or fought at home. I do know that William died in a Military Hospital in England where he was presumable being cared for.

Robert John Rae

The more I learn about Robert, the more pride I feel for him. We already know that Robert survived the war as he went on to marry, have several children (including my grandfather) and become a well-loved member of the community. What I didn’t realise until his daughter recently told me was that he had also fought in the war. Being a ploughman, Robert’s job was deemed important enough for him to be allowed to stay to continue work, should he wish to apply for exemption. Robert did not want to work it would seem as he did not apply for exemption, opting to enlist instead. Here was a man with the opportunity to work the land so he could provide food for his nation and he chose to protect his nation instead. In his country’s moment of real need, he stood forward to be counted. Robert returned home and lived a long and happy life with his family, which is nothing less than any soldier deserves.

 

The quote that is being repeated over and over today is by Sir Edward Grey, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time. When Britain confirmed their involvement in the War, he said “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” For three of my five soldiers that was sadly true. I read this article today and felt more determined than ever that my soldiers would not be forgotten. So I join in with many others in remembrance. My home is dark, no lamp is lit. The only light is  a single candle flame that burns for all those who fought, all who died, all who endured, all who saw sights and felt fear like no person ever should in order to protect their country, and especially for my brave soldiers. One hundred years on and their names indeed liveth.

12. James Cameron Russell: A Very Local Ancestor

I very quickly realised in my family research that my ancestors did not move very far. I’d like to illustrate my point and introduce my great-great grandfather James Cameron Russell.

James was born to Archibald and Helen Russell in 1861 and grew up around the Gorgie area of Edinburgh. He married Margaret Lennie and had 7 children, including a son named after himself who is my great-grandfather. As it stood on Sunday, that was just about all I knew about James.

For a while I have been attending (albeit quite intermittently) a local church around half a mile from where I live. It should probably be noted that my brain is not good at piecing information together, as you are about to discover. On Sunday just past, I visited said church’s evening service which they hold in their local café. They happened to be serving communion that evening so had out the traditional goblets and plates. It took me a good while to realise what the engraving on the goblet in front of me said. “Tynecastle Parish 1901”. (Tynecastle is in the Gorgie area). In 1901, I was almost certain that my Russell ancestors lived in the area so almost certainly would have been part of Tynecastle’s congregation. I asked somebody how the current church was related to Tynecastle Parish, which I knew did not exist anymore. In the late 1970’s, Tynecastle Parish merged with Cairns Memorial Church along the road, was renamed and continued to meet in the old Cairns Church building. Without even knowing it, this was the very church I had been visiting all this time. The lady I spoke with mentioned there was a book with details about Tynecastle church and that the new church housed the original war memorials from Tynecastle Parish. A quick Google search confirmed that James son is one of the fallen soldiers named in the memorial. The book apparently mentions an elder called James Russell. I’m yet to confirm if it is my James Russell but boy, wouldn’t that be simply amazing if it was! Either way, I was absolutely astounded that I had been in the right place at the right time to be literally faced with goblets my ancestors would have used over 100 years ago.

So you know how I said my ancestors didn’t ever move very far? Just over 100 years later, I live less than one mile away from where my ancestor lived, died and potentially held a prominent place in his church. If ever there was a situation that warranted the phrase ‘mind blown’, this might well be it.

 

Update: I saw the book that the church’s Elders sign when they are sworn in. There was indeed a James Russell on the very first page but the details didn’t add up so we have ruled him out as my ancestor for the moment. However, James’ grandson also called James Cameron Russell was in the book! That James is my great-uncle, my grandfather’s brother, and he was an Elder at the church for around seven years before he moved away from Edinburgh with his family. What’s that saying, ‘where one door closes another opens’? That is absolutely true, just a few pages on in fact!