One of Lisburn’s most honoured war heroes was Brigadier Nelson Russell, who was awarded the Military Cross for his service during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Brigadier Russell, who grew up in Clonevin Park, was born in 1897 and was a student at Campbell College in Belfast before enlisting in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers at aged 17 as a 2nd Lieutenant.
By his 18th birthday he was serving with the First Battalion in France.
Not long after, the then Lieutenant Russell won an immediate award of the Military Cross for leading the first daylight raid of the war at the Somme, with considerable skill and gallantry.
To mark this momentous occasion, Lisburn paid tribute to the hero by presenting him with a silver Loving Cup at a special ceremony held in the Town Hall.
Reporting on the “interesting ceremony”, the local newspaper at the time stated: “Lieutenant Nelson Russell was made the recipient of a handsomely designed silver loving cup, presented by the inhabitants of Lisburn in recognition of his having been awarded the Military Cross for distinguished gallantry in the field in the present war.”
The official account of the action in which the Lisburn man distinguished himself recorded that the gallant officer with his platoon stormed and took possession of a front line trench from the Germans, at the same time capturing a German.
The report continued: “Lieutenant Russell shot an officer and finally skilfully withdrew his men after doing all the damage possible.”
Between the wars Brigadier Russell served in England, Northern Ireland, Egypt, India, Sudan and Palestine and in 1926 he married Edith Allen, who was also from Lisburn. As well as being a war hero, Brigadier Russell was widely respected for his skills as a sportsman.
Having played cricket for Lisburn, he also represented Ireland in 1928 and continued to play for Lisburn when he was home on leave from India.
During the Second World War, Brigadier Russell commanded the 38th (Irish) Brigade in North Africa, from their landing in Algeria in 1942 to final victory in Tunisia in 1943. While serving in North Africa he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Speaking after the war, Brigadier Russell vividly recalled his time in North Africa.
He said at the time: “I remember those few days very vividly. The recognisance, the planning, the conferences, the pouring over maps, the markers which you hoped represented the enemy positions, the moves of infantry, the detailed order for the attack... The stage was set for a dawn attack on January 19.”
But despite the best laid plans, the enemy attacked on January 18. He led his Brigade in Sicily and Italy, being mentioned in despatches for both campaigns. When he was invalided home in 1944, he commanded the Belfast Sub-district and later the Belfast Garrison during 1945 and 1946. In 1949 he received yet another award, the Companion of the Order of the Bath, and became Sergeant-at-Arms in the Northern Ireland Parliament from 1951 to 1968.
Brigadier Nelson Russell died in 1971 but will always be remembered as one of Lisburn’s greatest war heroes.