Brigadier Nelson Russell

Brigadier Nelson Russell MC, North Africa 1943

Brigadier Nelson Russell CB DSO MC

Nelson Russell was born in Lisburn on 7 July 1897 and educated at Campbell College, Belfast. He was gazetted into the Special Reserve of Officers of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers as a Second Lieutenant (on probation) with effect from 3 April 1915. He then joined the 1st Battalion in July 1915 for service in France and Belgium.

He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his gallantry in leading a daylight raid on an enemy trench on 17 April 1916. Following five minutes of artillery and mortar preparatory fire, the raiding party of three officers and thirty-three men, led by Lieutenant Nelson Russell, dashed from their sap and entered the German trenches. Bombing those enemy caught sheltering in their dugouts they then fought through the German position, killing at least 15 enemy, including a German officer shot by Russell, and detonating demolition charges as they withdrew. Later that year, on 15 September, the people of Lisburn presented him with a silver Loving Cup and an illuminated address in recognition of his achievement as the first citizen of Lisburn to win an MC in 'The Great War'.

Nelson RussellBetween the First and the Second World War his overseas service included Egypt, India, the Sudan and Palestine. He had always been a keen sportsman and had played both cricket and hockey for Lisburn Cricket Club and Lisnagarvey Hockey Club, having captained the latter in the 1923/24 season. He had represented Ireland at hockey in 1928 and even played for Lisburn when home on leave from India.

(Left, Captain Nelson Russell MC)

He was appointed to command 38 (Irish) Brigade in July 1942 and led the Irish Brigade through the Tunisian campaign of 1942–43 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 5 August 1943. His experience and leadership were major factors in the success of the Brigade. Having commanded the Brigade in Sicily and Italy in 1943 and early 1944, Russell was invalided home due to poor health. Any tribute to Brigadier Nelson Russell's war fighting capabilities as an infantry brigade commander would not be complete without listing the distinctions and honours gained by our forebears and emblazoned on The Queen's Colours:


Brigadier Russell commanded Belfast Garrison in 1945 and 1946 and became the first commander of 107 (Ulster) Independent Infantry Brigade Group (TA) when the Territorial Army was formed in Northern Ireland in 1947. He was appointed as a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in the King's Birthday Honours on 9 June 1949

In 1951 Nelson Russell was appointed Sergeant-at-Arms for the Northern Ireland Parliament. He retired in 1968 and died on 20 October 1971.