30169, Lance Corporal, 22nd Infantry Battalion, 2nd New Zealand Division, 2nd NZEF
Gazetted 24 December 1948, p6669
In recognition of gallant and distinguished services whilst a prisoner of war in German hands (prior to September, 1945)
Like so many other escaped prisoners-of-war, Lance-Corporal Russell had obtained civilian clothes and was living with an Italian peasant, Giuseppe Vettorello. He was well-known and liked by the people of the locality. According to Giuseppe Vettorello, Lance-Corporal Russell maintained contact with a number of other ex-prisoners-of-war, visiting them regularly by bicycle. On about 22nd February, 1945, Lance-Corporal Russell was arrested by a patrol of Italian Fascist troops near the house of Giuseppe Vettorello. Giuseppe Vettorello himself was arrested on suspicion of having harboured Lance-Corporal Russell. Their captors were members of a mixed German-Italian police regiment. The prisoners were taken to the Compay Headquarters of Oberleutnant Haupt at Ponte di Piave. Here an attempt was made to force Lance-Corporal Russell to betray Giuseppe Vettorello, but he refused to do so, denying that he had ever seen him before. According to an Italian soldier who was present, Lance-Corporal Russell was beaten up by Haupt, but maintained his silence. Thanks to Lance-Corporal Russell's loyalty, Giuseppe Vettorello was released. The Germans were evidently convinced that Lance-Corporal Russell had been in contact with other ex-prisoners-of-war and Partisans, and were determined that he should disclose their whereabouts. He was chained to a wall in a stable, and told that, unless he gave the required information within three days, he would be shot. Again, on the testimony of two Italians who were present, Lance-Corporal Russell was beaten up, but he resolutely refused to speak. A civilian who took him food tried to persuade him to save his life, but he replied, 'Let them shoot me'. Haupt's interpreter, an Italian says: 'The behaviour of the Englishman was splendid, and it won the admiration of Haupt himself'. On the third day Lance-Corporal Russell was shot. The German warrant officer who witnessed the execution, says: 'The prisoner died very bravely'. There can be be no doubt whatsoever that Lance-Corporal Russell in the midst of his enemies and in the face of death, bore himself with courage and dignity of a very high order."
War Service Medal 1939-45
NZ War Medal
Born 30 March 1911 Ayr, Scotland
Died 28 February 1945 Italy. [executed]
Buried Udine War Cemetery, Italy. [Plot IV. D. 2]
Born in Scotland in 1911, David RUSSELL came to New Zealand from Australia in 1938. He worked as an orderly at Napier Hospital for two years before volunteering for the 2nd NZEF at the outbreak of WW II.
RUSSELL first saw service in Greece and Crete. Then in 1942, at Ruweisat Ridge in North Africa, he was captured, with most of 22nd Battalion, and was taken to Italy as a Prisoner of War. In 1943 following Italy’s capitulation, Russell escaped and was befriended by a sympathetic peasant family. He was recruited into an escape scheme to assist other escaped Allied prisoners back to safety. RUSSELL assisted in the movement of escaped prisoners until he was recaptured and his Italian friend, Guiseppe, was arrested in February 1945. Guiseppe was later released after RUSSELL denied knowing him. RUSSELL was then told that if he did not give information about the underground movement he would be executed in three days. RUSSELL’s response was; “let them shoot me!” A German Warrant Officer at the resulting execution stated; ‘the prisoner died very bravely.’ A week after Russell’s execution, 47 New Zealanders, Americans, South Africans and Australians made it to safety through the network he had been operating. Russell had details of all these soldiers’ locations when he was captured. After the war, during the War Crimes trial of a German officer, RUSSELL’s story came to light. After an investigation, in 1948, he was awarded a posthumous George Cross for gallantry. The George Cross is usually awarded to soldiers for actions ‘not in the face of the enemy’. You can’t get much closer to the face of the enemy than to be shot by a German firing squad, so the choice of this award instead of the equivalent Victoria Cross is quite interesting.David RUSSELL was first buried in Italy a Ponte de Piave, with a large headstone erected by the local people. He is buried between two Italian Patriot leaders and is remembered as a hero by the town. After the War the Commonwealth War Graves Commission exhumed his body and re-interred it at Udine. Today, the site of his original grave is marked by a memorial stone.