Author Archives: Elizabeth Bruton

JRR Tolkien, World War One Signals Officer

By Elizabeth Bruton

Tolkien's Webley Mk VI service revolver, now on display at the Imperial War Museum, North. Photograph: Imperial War Museum

Tolkien’s Webley Mk VI service revolver, now on display at the Imperial War Museum, North. Photograph: Imperial War Museum

JRR Tolkien’s First World War revolver used during his time as a Signal Officer on the Western Front is now on public display at IWM North, part of Imperial War Museum, in Manchester. The revolver has been put on display ahead of the opening of IWM North’s major exhibition ‘From Street To Trench: A War That Shaped a Region’ in April 2014 to mark the First World War Centenary.

Tolkien is probably known for his authorship of the fantasy novels The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) and The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937). This novel and series of novels have been (or are in the process of) being converted into successful cinematic adaptations with the most recent example being the first in a trilogy of films based on The Hobbit which was released in UK cinemas in December 2013. Many commenters have drawn parallels between Tolkien’s experiences in World War Two and his novels, in particular the popular The Lord of the Rings published just under a decade after the war had ended.

However, Tolkien himself suggested that a more ready parallel lay with World War One:

One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.
Foreword to the Second Edition, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform, photograph taken in 1916.

J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform, photograph taken in 1916.
Image available in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

So what were Tolkein’s wartime experiences and how did they shape his later fictional works?

Tolkien choose not to join up when war broke out in August 1914. but instead joined the Officer Training Corps at Oxford and thus deferred his enlistment until he completed his degree in July 1915.  Upon graduating from Oxford with a first-class degree in English Language and Literature in July 1915, Tolkien was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers as part of Kitchener’s “New Army”, the volunteer army which had succeeded Britain’s small professional army. The small professional army which had been part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in August 1914 and beyond had suffered an extremely high casualty rate early in the war and was gradually replaced by the “New Army” of which Tolkien was a member. Tolkien then trained in Staffordshire for eleven months before begin transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

In March 1916, Tolkien was granted leave and on 22 March 1916 he married his childhood sweetheart Edith Bratt. When Tolkien was sent abroad, Edith was deeply concerned about her husband’s whereabouts and safety. In order to circumvent the British Army’s postal censorship, Tolkien and his wife developed a secret code which Tolkien used in his letters home to indicate his movements on the Western Front.

In early June 1916, Tolkien’s battalion was sent abroad to France. Tolkien receiver three weeks’ training as a signals officer at the British Army camp at Étaples. Tolkien was appointed Battalion Signal Officer and was responsible for maintaining communication between officers on the frontline and more senior Army officers directing the battle from Battalion Headquarters behind the frontlines. Tolkien learned how to use field telephones, flares, signal lamps, Morse code buzzers, carrier pigeons, and runners to keep the lines of communication open. In July 1916, the 11th Battalion was sent to the Somme to join the joint British-French attack to break through the German lines, later known as the Battle of the Somme.

Fortunately for Tolkien, his battalion was assigned to the reserves at the beginning of the battle and did not take part in the initial attack. Instead Tolkien and his battalion were sent to the trenches a week later and took part in the protracted and unsuccessful attacks that continued the Battle of the Somme into the autumn of 1916. Tolkien and his battalion occupied front-line trenches at Beaumont-Hamel, Serre and the Leipzig Salient. Tolkien’s revolver now on display at the Imperial War Museum, a Webley Mk VI, was the standard issue gun for British servicemen at the outbreak of the war and dated from Tolkien’s time in the trenches.

Frontline conditions made signalling and Tolkien’s role especially challenging: chaotic conditions with damaged apparatus, broken telephone lines and mud everywhere made communication unreliable and impractical. Furthermore, the Germans were successfully intercepting British and French frontline communications during this period meaning telephone and Morse code buzzers were insecure. Thus with the practical introduction of the Fullerphone being a few months’ away, signallers were forced to rely on more traditional modes of communication including runners, visual signalling, and carrier pigeons.

In October 1916, Tolkien contracted “trench fever” which was a disease common in the basic frontline conditions and was carried by lice. In early November 1916, Tolkien was sent back to Birmingham to recover. Shortly after Tolkien’s arrival back in Britain, his battalion was almost completely wiped out. Tolkien never saw frontline service again and a physically weakened Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties. Tolkien remained in hospital recovering from trench fever until early 1917 when he was deemed medically unfit for general service and was posted to garrison duties in camps in England until the end of the war.

After the war, Tolkien worked at the Oxford English Dictionary and the University of Leeds, amongst others, while he also began writing. In 1925, he was appointed a Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford where he began to write the Hobbit as well as the first two volumes of the Fellowship of the Rings.

Further information

John Garth. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (2003).

JRR Tolkien and World War I – Nancy Marie Ott

First World War Centenary News: JRR Tolkien’s First World War revolver to go on display at IWM North

The Guardian: JRR Tolkien’s wartime gun goes on display in Manchester

About the author: Dr Elizabeth Bruton is postdoctoral researcher for “Innovating in Combat”.  See her profile for further details.

Guest post by David Underdown: Lt J W Russell MC DCM MM RE, Dorking

This is a guest post by David Underdown and is a revised and updated version of an article which first appeared in The Ringing World on 19 October 2012, pp1102–1104, 1106–1107.

Surrey Association of Church Bell Ringers First World War Roll of Honour – Lt J W Russell MC DCM MM RE, Dorking

Peal band at Farnham, 25 May 1910, muffled peal of Bob Major to mark the funeral of King Edward VII that day.  Russell is in the doorway at the back of the group.

Peal band at Farnham, 25 May 1910, muffled peal of Bob Major to mark the funeral of King Edward VII that day. Russell is in the doorway at the back of the group.

A couple of years ago I begin to research the 152 men named on the Surrey Association’s roll of honour for the First World War.  Of these, 24 died during the course of the war, the rest survived.  The roll contains the names of a number of high profile ringers, but also many lesser known.  A few names continue to defy all attempts to identify them in censuses, army records etc, but I’ve uncovered a number of interesting stories.  In terms of his war service, perhaps the most interesting of them is the man who appears on the roll as J Russel of Dorking, but various clues soon led me to realise that he was in fact John William Russell.  A simple gardener before the war: he would end it a lieutenant and holding one of the nation’s second highest awards for gallantry, the Distinguished Conduct Medal; two of the third highest decorations, both the Military Cross and the Military Medal; and was also Mentioned in Despatches.  He served throughout with the Signal Service of the Royal Engineers.

John William Russell was born at Mickleham, Surrey, on 10 August 1887.  The family must have moved to Ewhurst quite soon after, by 1891 they were living there, at Coneyhurst Lodge, and the census lists his 2-year-old sister, Catherine Annie as having been born in Ewhurst.  His parents were John (28 – a gardener, born Tydd St Mary, Lincs) and Catherine (29, born Elgin, Scotland), John William often appears in ringing records as W Russell, suggesting he may have been known as William, so Catherine Annie may likewise have been known as Annie.  He was educated at Ewhurst National School, but by the time of the 1901 census, he was 13 and working as a garden boy.  By then the family had grown further, to include Ruth (9), Caroline Jane (7), Charlie (6) and Jessie (5).

It’s not clear exactly when Russell learned to ring, but he seems to have been elected to the Winchester Diocesan Guild in 1905, first appearing in the 1906 Annual Report as W Russell, Ewhurst, Guildford District.  He is listed again as a Ewhurst ringer in 1907.  He’s first mentioned in the ringing press in connection with ringing for the visit of the Bishop of Dorking to Ewhurst on 15 December 1907.

The next item to appear in Bell News didn’t mention Russell directly, but had considerable influence on his life and ringing.  On 18 January 1908 the paper carried an advert by Charles Edwards for two men to work in his plant nursery at Frensham Hill, Surrey.  Edwards was a Herefordshire man, but had moved to Surrey in 1905, and seems to have quickly started shaking up ringing in Farnham and the surrounding area.  He was also particularly associated with Frensham: the bells there had been augmented to six for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was only when ropeguides were fitted around 1907, and he began teaching some of the locals, that it became a strong band.

The advert which appeared in Bell News, 18 January 1908, p 519

The advert which appeared in Bell News, 18 January 1908, p 519

It appears that the first journeyman position was taken by Frederick Walter Elliott (standing to Russell’s left in the photo at the head of the article).  He rang a farewell peal at Little Munden, Hertfordshire, on 30 January, with a footnote saying he was moving to Frensham.  His later Central Council biography matches this, and gives his occupation as gardener (also confirmed by the 1911 census).  Edwards wrote to Bell News to thank those who had applied, and subsequently only the second part of the ad appeared.  Russell rang at Frensham at the start of February 1908, and possibly this was also in the nature of a job interview.  The ad reveals something of a large hurdle in his obtaining the job though – Edwards was looking for a man of 25-30 and Russell was just 20.  However, I initially had trouble finding Russell in the 1911 census as he was listed as being two years older than his actual age, this gives a possible reason for that discrepancy, and it’s also instructive to compare his appearance in the 1910 photo with that of George Upshall, the only one of the men without a moustache, and actually two years Russell’s senior!

Russell is first mentioned ringing at Farnham at the beginning of March – though the 1908 WDG Annual Report still lists him as a Ewhurst ringer.  He rang his first peal, of Bob Minor, at Frensham on 21 March, the first peal on the bells.  The pages of Bell News show a large amount of activity for the rest of 1908: at Farnham and Frensham, and trips to other local towers.

1909 began with another peal at Frensham.  This and the previous year’s peal are recorded on a fine peal board at in the tower there.

Frensham peal board

Frensham peal board

The rest of the year also followed a fairly similar course to 1908: various ringing at Farnham and Frensham, and trips elsewhere in the local district.  His recorded ringing in 1909 concludes in October, when it appears he made a visit home, attending practice at Ewhurst on 15 October.

1910 saw a distinct drop in Russell’s recorded activity.  In the first half of the year he rang in two half-muffled peals at Farnham, the first, of Grandsire Triples on 19 February, in memory of the well-known ringing cleric theRevd F E Robinson.  The second, that of Bob Major on 25 May for the late King, following which the peal band was photographed for posterity.  This was noted as being the first peal of major by an entirely local band since 1806, and was accorded a fine entry in the tower peal book.  This is his last recorded ringing at Farnham.

Farnham Peal Book entry

Farnham Peal Book entry

The Winchester DG Annual Reports for 1910-12 note Russell as a compounding (i.e. non-resident) member, living at Standen, Sussex. On 6 November 1910 he rang a peal for the Sussex County Association at Crawley, having been elected to the association before the start of the peal.  The 1911 census (taken at the start of April) shows him as the head of the household, living at Stone Farm Lodge, Standen, with two other gardeners.  As mentioned earlier, his age is shown as two years older than his actual age, and since he was the head of the household we can be reasonably sure he completed the form himself – the writing also appears similar to later army forms.  Stone Farm was one of three farms purchased by James Samuel Beale in 1890 to form a country estate he named Standen, now a National Trust property.  Beale’s wife, Margaret, was a keen gardener.

It appears that Russell moved back to Surrey sometime in 1912, probably to work in Abinger.  One of the referees on his application for a wartime commission was Lady Mirrielees, who lived at Pasture Wood, Abinger.  The membership records of the Ancient Society of College Youths record that John William Russell of Abinger was elected a member in 1912 (  He visited old haunts at the end of August, finally scoring a peal at Bentley.  On 6 November he rang in a College Youths’ peal of Stedman Triples at Ashtead, Surrey (his first of Stedman); on 19 December he rang a peal of Grandsire Triples at Dorking, this commemorated the laying of the foundation stone for a new chapel.  This chapel seems to have proceeded rapidly; on 14 March 1913 there was another peal of Grandsire Triples to celebrate its dedication.  This is the last record I have found of Russell as an active ringer, though a letter of his published in The Ringing World during the war suggests he had continued involvement in ringing until going overseas.

Russell joined the Royal Engineers at Aldershot on 11 September 1914, just over a month after the outbreak of war.  He had been medically examined two days previously, reverting to his correct age, given as 27 years and 1 month.  The medical officer described him as being 5’8¼” – relatively tall for the time, having a 36” chest (with 2” expansion) and weighing 156 lbs, with dark hair, a fresh complexion and blue eyes.  When signing up, he described himself as a fitter, rather than a gardener, but this seems to have been another attempt to improve his chances, there is no sign in his papers that he was given a trade test, and he was given the rank of pioneer initially, indicating that the army did not view him as a skilled tradesman (who were ranked as sapper).  In his subsequent application for a commission, he once more describes himself as a gardener.

Official records do not give much information as to Russell’s initial training, however, The Ringing World published regular updates on ringers serving with the forces, and the issue of 9 October 1914, p199, listed “J. W. Russell of Ewhurst, Surrey, Royal Engineers, now at Chatham” – Chatham has been the home of the Royal Engineers for centuries.  After his training, he was transferred to 24th Divisional Signal Company (signals had not yet been established as a separate corps, and were an RE responsibility) on 22 October 1914.  24th Division was one of the divisions of Lord Kitchener’s New Army – virtually all the men and officers had to be trained from scratch.  The bulk of the infantry battalions making up the division were recruited from the South East and East Anglia, men Russell would have felt at home with.  The signal company was divided into four sections, one with divisional HQ, and one each which of the three brigades it comprised.  Russell was in the section attached to 72 Infantry Brigade (72IB), the other two brigades were 71 IB and 73 IB.  Russell himself seems to have taken full advantage of the opportunities this situation gave to hard-working men: he was appointed lance corporal on 21 November 1914, then promoted second corporal on 10 December, corporal on 6 January 1915 and serjeant on 2 March.  Page 143 of the 15 March 1915 issue of Ringing World tells us “J. W. Russell, of Abinger, Surrey, and formerly of Farnham, has had rapid promotion, and has now gained the rank of sergeant.”  The division had initially been based along the south coast, principally at Worthing and Shoreham, but in June 1915 they moved to the Aldershot area – familiar territory for Russell.

His personal life was also about to undergo a big change, sometime during this period (presumably) he met Rosetta Pickard, and they married in her home church of St Michael, Tilehurst, near Reading on 19 August 1915.  The same day, most of the division was being inspected by Lord Kitchener at Chobham, and formal orders for France were received from the War Office.  King George V carried out another inspection the following day.  On 30 August, the signal section boarded a train at Farnborough for Southampton, and thence Le Havre, and he was in France on the following day.  By this time, planning for a major British offensive around the northern French mining town of Loos was well under way: despite the fact the British high command were aware that they were short of men, heavy artillery and shells; the politics of the alliance with France made it imperative that a “Big Push” was launched.  24th Division was in reserve for the opening of the offensive on 25 September, having spent several days marching up from positions behind the lines.  From the early hours of 26 September, they made their way up to the front lines, and were committed to action around 8am.  By now German forces were already preparing major counter-attacks.  The fighting dragged on until 18 October, but in reality – after some missed chances on the opening day – the British were never going to reach their objectives.  The four infantry battalions in 72nd Brigade:  8th Royal West Kents, 8th Buffs (East Kents), 9th East Surreys, and 8th Queen’s (Royal West Surreys) had casualties (killed, wounded and missing) of respectively: 556 other ranks, 24 officers; 534 other ranks and 24 officers; 455 other ranks, and 22 officers; and 427 other ranks and 12 officers; each having committed around 670 men and just under 30 officers.  In all, 50 battalions lost over 300 men, and 23 more between 200 and 300.  In the midst of this baptism of fire, Russell had a vital role to play in attempting to keep communications flowing from 72nd Brigade up to the Divisional HQ (and vice-versa).  He described a little of his own experiences in the battle in a letter which formed part of an article in The Ringing World of 15 November 1915, p 219:


Writing from “somewhere in Belgium,” Sergt. J. W. Russell, Signal Section 721 B [sic – should be 72 IB], formerly of Dorking, and a member of the Winchester Guild, says, in a letter to Mr. F. E. Dawe [presumably Francis Edward Dawe of Woking, a Past Master of the College Youths, and first Hon Sec of the Central Council, and conductor of Russell’s College youths’ peal in 1912], that since he left England on August 31st he has spent a lot of his time in travelling up and down the western front. “My first action,” he continues, “was what is known in the papers as the ‘great advance,’ and since that we have been in a different part of the front altogether. Of course you must understand that we do not spend the whole of our time in the trenches. Personally, I have only spent two whole nights in them during the whole time, although some of my men are in the trenches throughout the period we are ‘up,’ as it is called. I spend more of my time, nights especially, at headquarters, although even there we are often in the danger zone, especially if the enemy gets ‘jumpy ‘ enough to let loose his heavy artillery- then the safest place is a dug-out.

“It is difficult to describe the amount of damage done to t he country by heavy gun fire. In some places whole villages are practically levelled to the ground, just a base wall standing here or there, but no semblance of a house, and of course the ground around it is nothing but a series of holes that may be anything from 2ft. to 30ft. in diameter and up to 10ft. in depth. Undoubtedly the enemy’s guns are capable of doing an enormous amount of damage, although I think that now we have just about got their measure in that respect, and can hold our own easily.

“How is ringing progressing? I suppose it is as quiet, as ever. One thing I am pretty certain of and that is that a good many of the good bands will never meet again. I am afraid I am getting quite, an outsider now, for I haven’t seen a. ‘Ringing World ‘ since coming out.

“We had his Majesty the King to visit us one day recently. I was lucky enough to be in the guard of honour. I thought he was looking very well indeed, considering the weight he has to carry just now. The Prince of Wales is making good out here.”

He had evidently done his job well, as it was in Field Marshal French’s despatch covering this action that he received his first gallantry award, a Mention in Despatches, which appeared in the London Gazette on 1 January 1916.  This may have been the reason he was chosen to form part of the King’s guard of honour.  The ceremonial inspection took place at Reningelst, Belgium (approximately 5km SSE of Poperinge and 10km WSW of Ieper/Ypres) at 11:30am on 27 October.  They had been pulled out of the Loos area on 27 September and sent north to Belgium to refit.  71 Infantry Brigade was replaced by the regular army 17 Infantry Brigade (though of course by this time few of the pre-war regulars remained), and one battalion each of 72 and 73 Infantry Brigades was then exchanged for a regular battalion from 17 IB.

He continued in the same vein, receiving the DCM in the King’s Birthday Honours gazetted on 3 June 1916, though the citation was not published until 21 June: “For conspicuous and consistent good work on his system of telephone lines.  He has shown tireless energy and resource, besides great gallantry, under fire.”  In addition, though he received no further promotions, signallers could obtain increased pay by improving their skill in their designated trade, Russell’s record shows he was rated “proficient” on 20 September 1915, “skilled” on 20 March 1916 (and would ultimately be rated “superior” on 20 September 1916).  The division had spent this entire period in Belgium, much of it around the Ypres Salient.  Though there were no major battles, there was constant shellfire, and some fairly serious poison gas attacks by the Germans.  Telephone and other communication cables were frequently broken and had to be repaired quickly, even if the shelling hadn’t stopped.

In mid-July the division returned to France, ordered to the Somme to relieve the units which had begun the battle there on 1 July.  They fought in the Battle of Delville Wood, and the last German forces there fell back on 3 September after a long fight, and 72 IB was involved to the very end.  The Division then took part in the subsequent Battle of Guillemont which helped to stabilise the British hold on the area.

Russell was hospitalised from 23 February-6 March 1917, no reason is given in his records – the company war diary shows 13 men were admitted to hospital in February 1917, and four were still there at the end of the month; most of the month was spent in training, so it is unlikely it had anything to do with enemy action.  After returning to his unit, Russell was granted home leave from 16-26 March – this was presumably the first time he had seen his wife in 18 months.  By now, planning was well under way for another major offensive in the Arras area.  The task of taking the strategically important Vimy Ridge had been allocated to the Canadian Corps who had been training for months, and under the ground was a maze of tunnels.  The attack was due to be launched on Easter Day, 8 April 1917, but in the event was delayed by a day at the request of the French, who were to launch another attack further south, one purpose of the British attack being to draw in German reinforcements and thus weaken the defences in the area the French were to attack.  On 9 April, 24 Division was holding the trenches from which the Canadians launched their attack, and so suffered badly in the German counter-bombardment.  The initial few days of the offensive were a great success, but momentum gradually slowed.  By 13 April the division was slightly further north, almost on the same ground as they had fought over at Loos on their first arrival in France.  At 2.55pm on 13 April, Divisional HQ signalled to 72 Infantry Brigade that the Germans seemed to be making a full-scale withdrawal.  Over the next few days, the division moved forward to take over the old German trenches.

It was probably for actions at Arras that Russell recommended for the Military Medal, which was gazetted on 21 July.  No citations were published for these awards, and unfortunately the company war diary never mentions any of Russell’s awards while he was a serjeant, though some awards to other men are mentioned, so it’s impossible to be sure, but the rule of thumb among WWI researchers is that medals followed around three months after the action concerned. By then the division was back in Belgium and had fought in the Battle of Messines from 7-14 June, preparations for this action had begun over a year earlier with major mining operations, the attack opened with one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, when explosives packed into the tunnels were set off immediately under the German frontlines. Early in July, Russell’s company commander recommended him for a commission.  Russell was interviewed by the Deputy Director of Signals, Second Army (a full colonel) on 10 July, who approved the application.  On 31 July the Third Battle of Ypres began (better known by the name of one of its sub-phases, Passchendaele).  The division was involved in the Battle of Pilkem from 31 July to 2 August, and then the Battle of Langemarck from 16 to 18 August.

Inevitably there was a fair amount of paperwork to sort out before the commission became official.  Applicants were also expected to give two character references, in this case Lady M Mirrielees of Pasture Wood, Dorking (the family also owned Goddard’s at Abinger Common) and the Revd A E Clark-Kennedy, the Vicar of Ewhurst.  Formalities complete, he was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant on 2 September 1917, continuing to serve with 24th Divisional Signal Company.  The division’s final major action of the year was at the end of November, defending against German counter-attacks in the Battle of Cambrai.

Officers are generally named more frequently in unit war diaries, but Russell still rarely appears.  However, we can be reasonably sure that the actions for which he won his final decoration, the Military Cross, took place during the German Spring Offensive, launched in March 1918.  The British Army went into full retreat, and nearly broke, leading to Haig’s “Backs to the wall” order, but in the end the line was stabilised – though significant territory was lost to the Germans.  The MC was not gazetted until 16 September 1918, the citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations lasting for several days, when he was continuously out laying telephone lines from divisional advance headquarters to brigade headquarters, frequently under heavy fire. On one occasion, when one of the brigades was nearly surrounded, he, although under heavy machine-gun and shell fire, succeeded in keeping through telephonic communication to the brigade, which greatly contributed to the ultimate success of the operation.

24 Division played a heroic part in the defence, particularly in and around the town of Le Verguier (about 20km west of Péronne) on the opening day of the German offensive, 21 March, here there is a street named after the division, Rue de la 24éme division Britannique.  Even more unusually, the division is named on the town’s own war memorial.

That was the German’s last attempt to win the war, begun in the knowledge that US forces were building up in earnest, and that they had to try and strike a decisive blow before the strategic advantage changed hands.  Soon the momentum was with the Allies who begin a steady advance during the “100 days” which finished the war with the coming into effect of the Armistice at 11:00am on 11 November 1918.  This did not bring Russell’s service to an immediate close, as 24th Division formed part of the Army of Occupation which was sent into Germany and remained there until the end of May 1919.  Even then, Russell continued to serve at home, perhaps he actually considered taking a permanent commission, but it seems that ultimately he either found peacetime soldiering dull, or there simply wasn’t the requirement for a ranker officer in the reduced army.  On 12 May 1922 he relinquished his commission.  His discharge documents show he gave his permanent address as Coneyhurst, and despite calling himself a “fitter” when he originally joined up, here he states his occupation as “Landscape Gardener”.  His final posting had been with a signals unit of Southern Command at Portsmouth, he remained a Royal Engineer, but was attached to the brand new Royal Corps of Signals on its formation.  Another possible reason for his deciding to leave the army was the birth of a daughter, Olive Betty, whose birth was registered in Portsmouth in the third quarter of 1921.

Russell’s contact with the War Office had not quite ended.  He was entitled to a war gratuity for the period he served in the ranks, but owing to his late demobilisation, and confusion with another J W Russell he had to fight to receive it, the Royal British Legion having to step in on his behalf.  The correspondence in his service file relating to this shows that by 1923 he was living in Ringwood, Hampshire.  It appears his wife died in late 1926, aged just 41, in the Bournemouth area.  I have not been able to much information about his life in Hampshire:  he does not re-appear in the membership lists of the Winchester DG prior to the Second World War, so he probably did not return to ringing at this time.  Local directories from 1930, 1934 and 1945 give his address as Grange Estate, St Leonard’s (the first of this actually states Mrs J W Russell, presumably a typo).  Local ringing records do show a J Russell ringing the tenor to a touch of Stedman Doubles on 19 March 1946.  It seems likely this is the same man, but there is no definite proof. Russell died, sadly, on Christmas Day 1946, aged 59.  The causes of death are given as (a) cerebral embolism and (b) mitral disease [of the heart].  Olive was present at the death, which took place at Grange Estate, St Leonard’s and St Ives Rural District (near Ringwood).  His occupation is recorded as “Contractors’ Foreman (Engineer)”.  He was buried at Ringwood Cemetery on 28 December 1946 in grave D/D 249.  The burial records describe him as “Clerk of Works, retired”.

Probate was granted in London on 4 June 1947, to his executor, Douglas George Oliver, a market gardener.  He left an estate of £990 6s 6d (equivalent to around £134,000 today, as a share of GDP).  His will, drawn up in 1938 makes prominent mention of Daisy Elizabeth Dymott, given her choice of ornaments and furniture, a joint share of the house with Olive (unless they decide to sell it, in which case Olive would get all the proceeds), and to act as Olive’s guardian had Olive still been under-age.  Daisy appears never to have married, also born in 1881, the 1911 census records her living with her parents in Southampton and employed as a geological examiner.  She probably simply helped to look after Olive after Rosetta’s early death.

Olive seems to have married Ernest C White (a civil servant) in 1953 and lived in Wimborne Minster until her own death in 1960 aged just 39, even younger than her mother.  A Rosemary A White, with a mother’s maiden name of Russell, was born in the Poole registration district (which then included Wimborne) in 1957.

The four gallantry awards he received make him comfortably the most decorated member of the Surrey Association to have served during the First World War.  He may well be the most decorated ringer of the war – one ringer, Serjeant William Johnson of Worksop Priory, is known to have been awarded the Victoria Cross, and a few others received the DCM or MM and Lt-Col Charles Frederick Jerram, Royal Marines Light Infantry was Mentioned in Despatches five times, awarded the DSO and appointed CMG (and awarded the French Croix de Guerre), largely for staff work, but I have not seen any other with so many gallantry decorations.  I was able to photograph Russell’s service record, the images can be seen at

I am grateful to the librarians of the Winchester DG and Sussex County Association, Bruce Purvis and Stella Bianco, for checking annual reports; Alan Baldock the Sussex peal secretary for details of Russell’s one peal in Sussex; Paul Whewell and David Munro of Farnham and Frensham respectively (and the other ringers there) for providing photos of peal records, and the photo of the man himself; and Christine Wright of Ringwood for information from local directories, tower records, and the burial records.  Apologies if I have omitted anyone who provided me with information.

“Making Telecommunications in the First World War”, Oxford, 24 January 2014

Online registration for our “Making Telecommunications in the First World War” conference on Friday 24 January 2014 is now closed.  The one-day conference will take place at the University Club, Oxford on Friday 24 January 2014 from 9.15 to 5.30pm.

A map and directions for the University Club are available at The University Club has plenty of bicycle parking but limited on-site car parking, this being reserved for the use of disabled visitors. Pay and display on-street car parking is available on Mansfield Road in front of the club and surrounding roads, although most of it is not suitable for long term stays. For full details of parking, see

The final programme for the conference including abstracts is available here.

The conference will be preceded by an evening lecture “Patriotism and Profit during World War One” given by Elizabeth Bruton and Graeme Gooday at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford on Thursday 23 January at 7pm.

The lecture is free to attend and doors open at 6.30pm.  The lecture will be followed by a reception at the museum from 8-9pm.  Directions to the Museum are available here.

If you have any further questions, please email Elizabeth Bruton at

October and November update

Upcoming “Innovating in Combat” conference: “Making Telecommunications in the Great War”, Oxford, 24 January 2014.

“Innovating in Combat” are pleased to announce that we will be holding a conference “Making Telecommunications in the Great War” in Oxford on 24 January 2014. The CFP is available at and the deadline for abstracts is 4 December 2013. All enquiries about the conference should be sent to Elizabeth Bruton at

Recent news

“Innovating in Combat” have a busy and exciting October and early November and delivered four public lectures delivered in the UK and the US.

First up was ““Sacrifice of a Genius”: Henry Moseley’s role as a Signals Officer in World War One”, a lunchtime lecture delivered by our postdoctoral researcher Dr Elizabeth Bruton at the Royal Society, London on Friday 11 October. A video of the lecture consisting of the PowerPoint slides and an audio recording of the lecture is available on the Royal Society’s website at

The following day, Elizabeth travelled to Horwood House near Milton Keynes to deliver a talk on radio amateurs in World War One at the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) Centenary Convention. The talk, which was delivered twice, was well attended and was followed by engaging questions from the audience. For further details of the convention and the programme for the weekend, see

Between 14 October and 28 October, Elizabeth travelled to New Jersey where she visisted the Edison papers at Rutgers University and AT&T archives in Warren, New Jersey – more on this at a later date. As part of this research visit and supported by the IEEE History Center, Elizabeth gave the inaugural public history lecture at Rutgers University. An audio recording of the lecture is available at, courtesy of Bill Zukowski, a member of the New Jersey Antique Radio Club, member of the AWA (Antique Wireless Association), and holder of radio amateur call N2YEG.

Last and more definitely not least on Saturday 2 November, Graeme Gooday and Elizabeth Bruton delivered a joint lecture at the Science Museum entitled “Patriotism and Profit during World War One”. We also wrote a short blog post on the subject in advance of the lecture and this was published on the Guardian‘s H-Word history of science blog at The lecture was well attended and an audio recording of the lecture will be available soon on our events page at

See our project website at for further details of our project and events listings.

Great Profits during the Great War?

Ahead of next year’s centenary, Elizabeth Bruton and Graeme Gooday ask what were the different motivations of scientists, the military and industry in terms of World War One innovation and research – patriotism, profit, or both?

Should innovators profit from warfare? Is it reasonable instead to ask scientists and engineers to act from pure patriotism alone? As Scientists for Global Responsibility has recently voiced alarm about UK science’s reliance on military funding, it is revealing to look back to a time before science entered a Faustian pact with armed conflict.

Prior to World War One, Britain did not have a military-industrial complex in which scientists routinely participated with industry to facilitate ever more warfare. Even in the first year of the war, rather than safely researching in a laboratory, a brilliant scientist such as Henry Moseley could die at Gallipoli, shot by a sniper while serving as a signals engineer. Reflecting on such tales, we think we know about the Great War: the patriotism and sacrifice of those in the armed forces and the terrible and pointless loss of life – especially on the Western Front – throughout the four long years of war.

But numerous historians have recently rethought these stereotypes. How was it that the war continued for four years, with 16 million dying while millions more of pounds and dollars were spent on armaments and the routine expense of war? Who was manufacturing such weaponry and ammunition, and who developed the infrastructure of scientific research that helped to win the ‘Great War’? More importantly, what were their motives: patriotic altruism, private profit – or an uneasy mixture of both?

In light of the impending centenary of this global catastrophe, we find that patriotism was not always the sole or indeed the main rationale for industrial activity in wartime. Indeed, afterwards the financial rewards for war-winning innovation were treated somewhat differently to equivalent creative acts during peacetime.

Portrait of Guglielmo Marconi from 1908

Portrait of Guglielmo Marconi from 1908. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When Britain entered the war on 4 August 1914 the Marconi Company, with evident patriotic fervour, offered its wireless operators and training to facilitate the armed services’ use of wireless communications. It did so without any initial upfront demand for payment. The Company also allowed government ‘censors’ to monitor all communications through their long-distance wireless stations. Suspicious communications were intercepted and passed onto code-breakers in the Admiralty’s secret ‘Room 40’. During the war, the Company apparently received no compensation or out-of-pocket expenses for this work: in summer 1915 Marconi’s General Manager complained that “not one penny-piece has yet been refunded to us.”

By now, it was clear that the German model of state investment in research could win wars more decisively than uncoordinated private industry, laissez-faire invention, and British heroism. Stung into action by German innovations in poison gas warfare and devastatingly effective interception of French and British telecommunications, in 1915 the UK government established its own national Department of Scientific Industrial Research (DSIR).

Supported initially by the ‘Million Fund’ – approximately £45 million today – the DSIR both hired scientists for laboratory research and encouraged private industrial firms to establish co-operative industrial research associations. Unlike the Marconi Company, however, many companies did not willingly offer their services to the state. This is evident from the 1915 extension to the Defence of the Realm Act (1914): now key British industries were compelled to prioritise government and military orders.

The production of armaments and industrial infrastructure was thereby raised to a level that, when combined with American input from 1917, could support a military force capable of winning the war. By then increased state support for science and industry was having a noticeable effect. For example, the aeroplane invented just over a decade previously was adapted dexterously to the purposes of aerial combat and the ‘tank’ changed the nature of battle when first introduced in France in 1916.

Soon after the so-called ‘Great War’ was concluded in November 1918, a Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors rewarded hundreds such wartime innovations. It eventually handed out £1.5 million (about £75 million today) in a Britain nearly bankrupted by the cost of conflict. The distribution indicates just how much the British establishment acknowledged national inventiveness, crediting tanks and aeroplanes as crucial to the recent victory. The Commission rejected claims about other inventions it deemed to lack genuine novelty or life-saving significance.

Telecommunications had been of great importance during wartime, especially when threatened by interception. The catastrophic interception of British and French forward communication by Germans early in the war resulted in the development and widespread deployment of an interception-proof alternative. This was the so-called Fullerphone, invented and patented by a serving military officer Captain Algernon Clement Fuller in 1916. When Fuller took his device to the Commission soon after the war ended, however he was offered much less than he requested: not only did his device rely heavily on the work of others, his patent rights would reap him further international rewards. Fuller perhaps took comfort from his post-war promotion eventually reaching the rank of Major-General.

A young Henry Moseley, taken in the Balliol-Trinity Laboratory, Oxford, c.1910.

A young Henry Moseley, taken in the Balliol-Trinity Laboratory, Oxford, c.1910. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In contrast, the Marconi Company’s wartime contribution was more richly rewarded than that of Fuller. This was due in part to the eventual recognition of the Company’s important role in supporting the British government and the Admiralty. Not only had Marconi intercepted hostile communications, but its “direction finders” had tracked German navy and airships in the open sea.

Despite this, the Marconi Company entered into an extraordinary post-war dispute with the British government, demanding large rewards for its wartime contributions. Marconi’s lawyers actually accused the government of infringing the Company’s wireless patents: exploiting its intellectual property without due payment. So difficult did the discussions become on the six-figure royalty claims that the matter was devolved to a private adjudication. Although the final amount paid was never publicized, the Marconi Company was soon able to buy up telegraph companies to fulfil its long-held ambition to become a telecommunications giant – later known as Cable and Wireless.

So how then shall we commemorate Fuller and Marconi and indeed their industrial production teams for their wartime innovations? Were they like Moseley nobly donating their all to the cause, seeking only recompense to endure the hardships of war? Or to rephrase Clausewitz’s old dictum, was warfare for them just profit by other means…?

This article was first published on Monday 28 October as a guest post on the Guardian’s H-Word blog and is in advance of a free public lecture on Patriotism and Profit during World War One we are giving at the Science Museum, London on Saturday 2 November.

Elizabeth Bruton is the postdoctoral researcher and Graeme Gooday the principal investigator for Innovating in Combat: Telecommunications and intellectual property in the First World War, an AHRC-funded project at the University of Leeds and Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

Podcast from Royal Society lecture: “Sacrifice of a Genius”: Henry Moseley’s role as a Signals Officer in World War One

The podcast from our recent lecture at the Royal Society, “Sacrifice of a Genius”: Henry Moseley’s role as a Signals Officer in World War One, delivered by Elizabeth Bruton on 11 October is now available on the Royal Society website at

The podcast also incorporates the PowerPoint slides from the lecture.

The Great War Archive and RunCoCo

In 2008, the University of Oxford and Bodleian Library, Oxford digitised World War One-related material from the general public and made it available online in the Great War archive at They have now made the platform for this, RunCoCo, available as a free open source platform at

This platform is also used to run Europeana 1914-1918 at which was mentioned at our workshop back in June. Europeana 1914-1918 is running a project to gather World War One material from across Europe with further details being available at

Public Lecture: Patriotism and Profit during World War One, Science Museum, London, 2 November

Patriotism and Profit during World War One

Fellows’ Room, Science Museum, London

Saturday 2 November 2013 at 11am

Supported by the AHRC-funded project:

Innovating in Combat: telecommunications and intellectual property in the First World War

University of Leeds and Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

Delivered by Graeme Gooday and Elizabeth Bruton, University of Leeds

This lecture explores the different motivations of individuals, the military, industry, and commerce in relation to World War One telecommunication innovations – were they motivated by patriotism, profit, or both?

Wartime developments in telecommunications were especially reliant on pre-war commercial development and innovation. But what motivated commercial companies such as the Marconi Company and others to assist with wartime military demands for telecommunication? Was it, as was often claimed during and after the war, patriotism or did the pursuit of profit and expectation of post-war reward also motivate their contributions to Britain’s wartime efforts?

Based on material from BT archives and IET archives, we will explore the roles of individuals, members’ institutions, state bodies, the military, and commercial bodies in the development of telecommunications during World War One. We will also draw out a strong degree of tension between military demands, civilian innovations, and commercial profit. We will uncover voices left out from the traditional narrative of wartime patriotism and explore how wartime activities influenced post-war developments, successes, and technologies.

Light refreshments will be provided before and after the lecture. The lecture will be followed by a discussion which will last about an hour in total.

Location: Fellows’ Room, Science Museum, London.

The Fellows’ Room can be accessed via the Director’s Entrance which is separate to the main Science Museum entrance and is located at the Imperial College end of the Science Museum building. The entrance will be clearly marked.

Directions to the Science Museum are available here

Cost: Free. Spaces are limited – early registration via is strongly recommended.

For any questions about the lecture, please email Elizabeth Bruton at

About the Project

Innovating in Combat is a one-year collaborative project between University of Leeds and the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Other partners include BT archives, IET archives, Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Science Museum, and University of Leeds HSTM Museum.

Further details about the project and partners can be found here on our project website at

Educational Resources updated

We’ve updated our educational resources with the first draft of our educational pack on cable telegraphy during World War One, based on archival holdings from Porthcurno Telegraph Museum.

See for full details.

All feedback on this educational resource should be sent to Elizabeth Bruton at If you have found this educational resource useful or would like to adapt it, please do get in touch with Elizabeth Bruton at the same email address.

Elizabeth Bruton on “Seven Ages of Science”

Our post-doctoral researcher, Elizabeth Bruton, appeared on Lisa Jardine’s series “Seven Ages of Science” on BBC Radio 4 on 10 September discussing the complex relationship between military demands and science in World War One and in the Inter-War years.

The episode, “Age of War”, began with a discussion of how military demands mobilised science not in World War II, but in World War I.  The episode continued with an exploration of the impact of the military on science and vice versa between World War One and the Cold War.

The full episode is available to download and listen at