Second World War tragedy for a Great War veteran

Second World War tragedy for a Great War veteran

Angus Norman Russell, a plumber by trade, and his wife, Sadie, were one of the first occupants of the houses built at Brandon Parade in 1930 by the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust for Great War veterans. He lived at Cottage Number 7 which was later re-numbered as 60 Brandon Parade. Angus Russell was born on 10th August 1895 at Malone Place to Thomas Russell, a Stationer and Commercial Traveller, and Annie Cotter. The family lived at Edinburgh Street in 1901 before moving to Agra Street. He enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles on 8th September 1914 and was deployed to France with 8th Battalion in October 1915. He was discharged due to wounds on 14th December 1918 with Silver War Badge Number B73051 and is commemorated on the Roll of Honour for Cooke Centenary Presbyterian Church. He was living at Agra Street when he was awarded a 30% Disablement Pension in respect of gunshot wounds to the chest at the rate of twelve shillings per week. Angus Norman Russell died at 60 Brandon Parade 11th October 1966 at the age of 71.

It was in in April 1945 that tragedy had struck the Russell family.

Shortly after 4pm on 10th April, Norman Russell along with four of his friends from Brandon Parade went to fish for minnows, colloquially known as spricks, at the Silver Stream near the old Sydenham Station on the Belfast and County Down Railway line. The other lads were Brian Johnston, Raymond Galloway, Leonard Waterworth, and Ronald Maitland. Raymond and Leonard also lived in ex-servicemen’s houses.

On the same day, Sub-Lieutenant Edmund John Hoy, a South African attached to 892 Squadron Fleet Air Arm was scheduled to fly a newly arrived Grumman Hellcat aircraft from the Royal Naval Air Station at Sydenham to the squadron base at Eglinton, near Londonderry. Shortly after the aircraft took off from the airfield, the engine stalled and the plane crashed and caught fire near where the five boys were fishing. The National Fire Service and Naval personnel doused the aircraft with foam to extinguish the flames. In the meantime, one of Norman’s friends went to raise the alarm with the family but Norman’s parents were at the cinema (where a notice about the incident was flashed on the screen). Noel Russell and Herbert Lemon rushed to the scene, but it was initially thought that Norman had been in another part of the field and had escaped the crash. However, Ronald Maitland maintained that that Norman had been hit and pointed out to a policeman where Norman had been standing. The National Fire Service was recalled to the scene and an hour later Norman’s body was found in the stream, under the wreckage.

The pilot of the aircraft was injured and died later the same day at the 24th (London) General Hospital, which was based at nearby Campbell College.

At the Coroner’s Enquiry, Raymond Galloway (12), who was struck by flying debris and knocked into the stream, said that the one of the plane’s wings had struck the ground causing it to somersault, with Norman Russell being hit by the tail of the aircraft.

Norman Russell was twelve-years-old and was buried in Dundonald Cemetery on 13th April 1945, the funeral being conducted by the Reverend Chestnutt of Strand Presbyterian Church. The funeral was also attended by representatives of the Royal Navy and the Fleet Air Arm, 86th Company of the Boys’ Brigade, and Strand Public Elementary School. Sub-Lieutenant Edmund John Hoy was 26 years old and was buried in the Glenalina Extension at Belfast City Cemetery the following day.

Norman Russell features in a book about Dundonald Cemetery published in 2019 by Peter McCabe, who lives not far from Brandon Parade. Peter said, “Norman Russell and his father lie in a grave that is only marked by a broken urn with the family name. There is no headstone and no other details until one examines Belfast City Council’s online burial records. I included Norman’s death and burial in my book because I wanted to highlight the personal and tragic story behind an, essentially, unmarked grave.”

Nigel Henderson, Researcher with History Hub Ulster, has been documenting the burial locations of civilians who died in the Second World War. He said, “Although a Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour was published after the Second World War, Norman’s name is not recorded. Whilst the majority of the civilians recorded on the Roll of Honour died due to direct enemy action in air raids and coastal bombardments, others died in accidents. For example, Josephine McGroarty died on 18th October 1943 when a Royal Air Force Avro Anson aircraft crashed onto a house at Drumavoley near Ballycastle. The inclusion of Josephine on the Civilian War Dead list and the absence of Norman’s name, highlights the anomalies that can occur in “official” records. In researching this tragedy for one of Peter’s graveyard tours, I was reminded of the wealth of information that can be gleaned from local newspapers. For example, the image of Norman Russell came from an 11th April 1945 edition of now defunct Northern Whig newspaper.”

Peter McCabe has also published books about Belfast City Cemetery and Roselawn Cemetery and his books are on sale at the Eastside Visitor Centre in Belfast.