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Leslie Frederick Russell

Rank: Corporal

Lifetime: 1896-1917

Reference: 412420


Corporal Leslie Frederick Russell (412420) of the 26th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (New Brunswick Regiment) died on 9 April 1917. He is buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mount St Eloi. He is not listed on the Hampton Wick War Memorial but his Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry refers to him as the son of Annie Russell of 1 Lindum Road, then within the postal district of Hampton Wick, and a native of Wimbledon (which means he was born there).

Corporal Russell must have emigrated to Canada before the outbreak of the Great War. Immigration to Canada reached a peak in 1912 and 1913 just before the outbreak of hostilities. From 1902 until the outbreak of the Great War 2.85 million immigrants arrived in Canada. Of these immigrants almost half (1.18 million) were of British origin. The Canadian Government was actively encouraging immigrants from Britain to come to Canada to exploit the opportunities which had opened up following the late 1890s Gold rush and the construction of the first Continental railway in 1885. In 1903 the Canadian Government even established an emigration office in Trafalgar House, Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London’s West End to encourage emigration to Canada.

The Canadian Parliament didn’t vote to enter the war in August 1914. The country’s foreign policy was controlled by Britain. When the British ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from Belgium expired on 4 August 1914 Canada was automatically drawn into the conflict. The Outbreak of War was greeted with patriotic fervour by most Canadians, particularly those of British descent. 33,000 recruits immediately volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the first contingent of recruits sailed to Europe on 3 October 1914.

By late spring 1915, when Corporal Russell enlisted, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was expanding to become an army 150,000 strong. The Canadian Government pledged on 1 January 1916 to increase this to half a million (at a time when the population of Canada was only 8 million). Canadian troops were supplied with defective Canadian made Ross rifles which jammed and poorly led by men perceived to be cronies of those in the Canadian Government. As news of casualties reached home, recruiting levels dropped off in spite of an aggressive campaign of persuasion by the Government. The Canadian Government were forced to introduce conscription in January 1918, a move extremely unpopular with French Canadians who were increasingly unsupportive of what they saw as a British imperial war. By the end of the war Canada had lost 66,000 men and suffered 172,000 wounded. Canada had won itself nation status with a seat at the Peace Treaty and membership in its own right at the League of Nations.

According to his Canadian Attestation Paper, Corporal Russell was born in Londonderry on 14 November 1896. However, it has proved impossible to find any reference to him in either United Kingdom or Canadian Censuses. His birthplace is not consistent with the statement in the CWGC records that he was a “native” of Wimbledon (which usually means that a soldier was born in a location). At some point prior to his enlistment at Cobourg, Ontario on 19 February 1915 Leslie Russell emigrated to Canada. However, it has proved impossible to find his name on any passenger list for the voyage to Canada to ascertain the date of his emigration.

His occupation on his Attestation Paper is given as a farmer. He was unmarried and gave his next of kin as his mother, Mrs Ann Russell of 84 Medway Road, Gillingham, England. At 5’9½” tall he had a 38½” chest; hazel eyes; black hair and a distinctive scar on the inside of his right hand. He was a Wesleyian Methodist. Prior to enlisting he had served in the militia, presumably in Canada. He originally served as a Private in the 89th Battalion of the Canadian infantry moving subsequently, upon his promotion to Corporal, to the 26th Battalion.

His entry in the Circumstances of Casualty Form for the Canada, War Graves Registers states that he died of his wounds at the No 4 Canadian Field Ambulance on 9 April 1917 and was buried 5½ miles west of Arras. The No 4 Canadian Field Ambulance was at Vimy Ridge.

The date and location of his death suggest that Corporal Russell fell in the first day of fighting of the Battle of Vimy Ridge which commenced on 9 April 1917. The Canadian troops were the main Allied combatants of this action. They had been given the objective of taking control of a German held high ground. The Canadians captured most of the ridge on the first day of the action. Their success was attributed to a mixture of technical and tactical innovation. This was the first action in which all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together and became a symbol of Canadian nationalistic symbol of achievement.

After the War one hundred hectares of the battleground was preserved as the Canadian National Vimy Memorial as a memorial for Canadian war dead. Every 9 April Canada commemorates Vimy Ridge Day in the same way as Australia and New Zealand commemorate the Battle of Gallipoli on Anzac Day. The date is regarded as the day when Canada established its right to national status.

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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