Photograph [Flight Sergeant, W.H. Russell]; unknown photographer; 1939-1944; MT2...


Photograph [Flight Sergeant, W.H. Russell]

About this object

A scan of a black and white photograph of Flight Sergeant, William Henry (Billy) Russell .

Billy has a strong connection to Mataura. He was born in Manchester, England and came to New Zealand in 1925 as a 5 year old when his father, John immigrated to take up a job (as a paper colourer) at the Mataura Paper Mill. Billy went to school in Mataura and was Dux in 1932. He was also an accomplished cornet player in the Mataura Town Band. After attending Gore High School he worked as a clerk at the Mataura Paper Mill. Like so many of his generation, Billy fought in World War Two. He joined the RNZAF, gained his wings and flew Spitfires. The odds caught up with him on his 39th sortie when he was shot down over France on 10 August 1941, losing his left arm at a point above the elbow.

The amputation occurred in a German-run hospital at St. Omer, where the R.A.F ace, Sir Douglas Bader was also recuperating after a crash. Bader escaped from the hospital by tying together a number of sheets. Initially the 'rope' would not reach the ground so, with the help of another patient, he slid the sheet from under Billy who was still comatose following his amputation. Bader then moved Billy's bed to the window to act as an anchor.

Billy was a prisoner-of-war in Dulag Luft and Stalag VIII b until October 1943 when he was medically repatriated. Back in England, he was fitted with an artificial limb and re-trained as a non-combat pilot before dying, aged 25, in an aircraft crash over Wales on 28 February 1945. He is buried in Chester (Blacon) Cemetery, Cheshire, England. Billy’s parents were devastated by his death and returned to Britain after the war. Marilyn Worsley (Billy's niece) inherited his medals and generously donated them to us, so that we could share his remarkable story.


unknown photographer

Maker Role


Date Made




Object Type


Subject and Association Keywords

military/world war two

Medium and Materials

digital scan

Credit Line

From the collection of the Mataura and Districts Historical Society Incorporated.

Object number


Copyright Licence  

All rights reserved

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