Robert RussellRobert William Russell

Service Number VX26518
Born:              28 February 1920
Died:             1 July 1942
Rank:           Corporal, 2/22 AIF

Robert Russell was born in 1920, the youngest of three children in a close and loving family.  He was tall and athletic and loved cricket. Robert was a warm, effusive person, also very artistic.   He was educated at Essendon Grammar and became a photo-engraver.  This was a reserved occupation, so he could have avoided army service.  He was under age but wanted to join the 2/22 Battalion with his brother John, so with youthful enthusiasm, he coerced his father into giving him written permission to join. His father, William, was reluctant, and having two brothers in the same battalion was something that would change the family forever. Robert was engaged to Jean Stinton.

John and Robert trained at Balcome, Trawool, then Bonegilla before arriving at Rabaul.  The 2/22 received excellent training, but it doesn’t matter how well trained you are if the equipment is inadequate.  Robert wrote wonderful letters, often with cartoons on the envelopes.  During the heavy bombing at Praed Point the day before Rabaul fell, John Russell, Robert’s brother, was killed.  The family understood that Robert was in hospital with malaria when the invasion occurred.  He became a prisoner of war and eventually left Rabaul with the many others on the Montevideo Maru.  Years later, it was suggested that individual sightings of Robert had been made by those who had escaped, but there is conflicting information and we may never definitely know.  The family, along with so many others, waited until 1945 to hear definite news of their second son.

His last letter to his family is headed – CPL R W Russell, Japanese prisoner of war, Rabaul, Tuesday 10th March

My dear Mother,

At last we are allowed to write to our folks at home and to let them know where we are.  You will have already gathered that I am a Japanese prisoner of war held in Rabaul.  The Japanese (word cut out with knife by censor) are treating us very well and I’m feeling pretty fit.

There’s no doubt about it I’ll certainly have lots to say to you when I get back to good old Park Crescent.  I’m afraid my thoughts often get away from me as I’m dropping off to sleep at night.  It seems strange writing after so long, the old hand doesn’t seem to function just as it should.  Still I should be satisfied just being able to write to the people that mean most to me and let them know I’m quite fit.  Naturally this letter is for Jean as much as anybody, and you can let her know I’m thinking lots about her and our future.

Tell her not to worry about anything as apples will grow again.  Give my love to Wilma, Nana and a special handshake to Dad.  Oh I almost forgot my sister, my love to her.  Well Mum that just about cuts out my space and time so I’ll close for the present.  Hoping to write again at a later date.  My regards to everyone at home and once again don’t worry.

Lots of love and kisses to you all.
Robert William Russell.

A Memorial Window was erected at the Aberfeldie Methodist Church in 1948 and a cross in memory of the two brothers was donated to the Methodist Chapel in Rabaul in 1953.