Andrew Hamilton Russell, known as Guy to his family, was born on 23 February 1868 at Napier, New Zealand, the oldest son of a farmer and his wife. The Russell family had a long military history dating back to the Napoleonic Wars; Guy's great-grandfather served in the Black Watch Regiment and his grandfather, also named Andrew Hamilton Russell, fought in the New Zealand Wars of the 1840s with the 58th Regiment. After retiring from the British Army, Guy's grandfather took up farming in the Hawke's Bay region of the North Island of New Zealand. His sons followed in his footsteps, and Guy's father, another Andrew Hamilton Russell, also served in the 58th Regiment and ran an isolated sheep station with his brother in the Hawke's Bay.
After tiring of life in colonial New Zealand, Guy's father moved his family to England in 1874 and settled in Sedgley. After three years the family returned to New Zealand and lived in Flaxmere. The family were less isolated than at their previous home in the country and they had an active social life. However, finances became tight and Guy's father once more moved the family to England and then onto Switzerland, where they lived off income from their land in New Zealand. Guy remained in England to be schooled at Twyford School, near Winchester. In 1882, after graduating top of his year in Twyford, and encouraged by both his father and grandfather to pursue a career in science or law, he attended Harrow School. He did not perform well in his academic studies, preferring instead sporting endeavours and the school's Cadet Corps.
In 1885, Russell left Harrow and after spending several months in Germany learning the language, he sat the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Two days before taking the exam, he received the news of his mother's death. Despite this he scored high marks and duly entered Sandhurst in September 1886. Excelling in his military studies, he won the Sword of Honour as the best performing cadet of his intake and passed out in August 1887.
In January 1888, Russell was commissioned into the 1st Battalion the Border Regiment, which was stationed in British India. There was little action to enliven his time in India, and he found the duty tedious. Much of his time was spent riding and he earned a "great reputation as a polo player". A year later, the Border Regiment was transferred to garrison duties in Burma which, at the time was experiencing some unrest as bandits carried out guerrilla warfare against the British rulers. Apart from one minor skirmish, Russell saw little action and spent much of his time training mounted infantry. The regiment was stationed in Burma for six months before it moved to England to return to its home barracks in Dover. Desiring active service and disillusioned with how his military career was developing, he began to consider leaving the British Army. In June 1891, after applications to join units in Southern Africa were rejected, he transferred to the British Indian Army. Assigned to a substandard infantry regiment back in Burma he grew even more dissatisfied with his career and in August 1892, he resigned his commission.
Russell returned to New Zealand to pursue sheep farming albeit somewhat unenthusiastically. At one stage, he went to Australia to investigate farming prospects there but soon decided New Zealand offered better opportunities. He was taken on as a farming cadet on sheep stations in Tunanui and Flaxmere, jointly owned by his father and uncle, with a view to running his father's share of the property. In 1895, when the farming partnership between his father and uncle was amicably dissolved and the stations subdivided, Russell took on responsibility for his father's land. The same year, he began a courtship with Gertrude Williams whose family had extensive land holdings in the Hawke's Bay. The couple eventually married in August 1896, and would go on to have five children.
Farming was at times difficult; much of his father's land was bush country and needed to cleared before it could be converted to pasture. Russell also had to contend with low wool and meat prices as well as occasional floods and droughts. However, the farm was running at a profit by 1905 and he requested his father give him a lease on the land and this was granted the following year. A few years later he took over full ownership of the farm by buying out his siblings' interest in the property. In addition to his farming, Russell pursued business and political interests. In 1899, he played a role in the development of the Farmers' Union and later became chairman of its Hawke's Bay chapter. He took up directorships of several large businesses in the area. In 1905, he became heavily involved in the Political Reform League which worked to promote conservative views and candidates for public office.
Despite an active working and business life, Russell was prominent in the raising of a militia unit of the New Zealand Volunteer Force following the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. He commanded the unit, the Wellington (East Coast) Mounted Rifles Regiment, which by 1901 numbered about 900 men. Most of his volunteers were young farm workers who provided their own horses and saddles, while the Defence Department provided rifles and other equipment. Russell set about training his unit, an experience that he greatly enjoyed and which rekindled his interest in the military. However, his work and family commitments kept him from volunteering for active service in South Africa.
The New Zealand Volunteer Force declined in the years after the Boer War and Russell endeavoured to keep his regiment, comprising five squadrons of mounted infantry, well trained and prepared for any future hostilities. He was promoted to major in 1907, and lieutenant colonel in 1910. At this time, New Zealand's military was being reorganised under the overview of Major General Alexander Godley, an officer in the British Army and newly appointed as commander of the New Zealand Military Forces. Compulsory military training was introduced and the Volunteer Force was abolished and replaced with a Territorial Force. Godley was impressed with Russell's work with his regiment of mounted infantry and in 1911, he was appointed commander of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Brigade. Godley later offered Russell a position with the New Zealand Staff Corps although this was declined for family reasons. Instead, Russell went to England for six months on secondment to the British Army.
In October 1913, New Zealand's military provided assistance to the government in maintaining order during a strike in Wellington involving mining and waterfront unions. Infantry were drawn from territorial formations and appointed special constables in order to support the police in Wellington. Russell commanded the mounted contingent of special constables, which became known as "Massey's Cossacks" (after William Massey, the prime minister). His men broke up pickets and cleared the docks of striking workers, duties which would occupy them for nearly two months before order was fully restored. The following year, Russell's men would again be used to maintain order, this time at a training camp in the Hawke's Bay, following a riot by territorial infantry protesting at the imposition of compulsory military training and its effect on their ability to work and support their families.
On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the New Zealand government offered Great Britain a New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) for service in the war. The offer, the first to be made by a Dominion of Great Britain, was quickly accepted. Godley set about raising the NZEF, the main body of which was to consist of an infantry brigade, a mounted brigade and an artillery brigade and support units. Russell was offered command of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade which he duly accepted. Promoted to brigadier general, he departed New Zealand with the main body of the NZEF on 16 October 1914 as its highest ranking territorial officer.
The NZEF was originally destined for France for service on the Western Front. After the Turks entered the war and were perceived to be a threat to the Suez Canal, the NZEF and the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), traveling in convoy, were diverted to the Middle East. Based in Egypt, the NZEF carried out intensive preparations for active service. Russell oversaw the training of his brigade in shooting, tactics, map reading and navigation. After four months, Godley considered the NZEF ready for active duty. The War Office had developed a plan to open up a second front in the Dardenalles in the hopes of splitting Turkey away from her allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary. It would also relieve pressure on the Eastern Front by creating a supply route through to the Black Sea. After the failure of a naval offensive in March, the NZEF and AIF was to be landed at Gallipoli on 25 April. The area designated for the landings was not appropriate for horses and only the New Zealand Infantry Brigade embarked for Gallipoli. Much to his frustration, Russell's Mounted Rifles brigade remained in Egypt. However, casualties amongst the infantry eventually led to the transfer of Russell's command, sans its horses which remained in Egypt, to Gallipoli in early May.
On its arrival in the front lines on 12 May 1915, the Mounted Rifles was deployed on the northern (or left) sector of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) perimeter and relieved a brigade of Royal Marines Light Infantry. It would remain here for three months. The area was overlooked by the Sari Bair range and the Turks dominated with snipers and machine gun fire. Russell set his men to improving the defensive arrangements of their positions, digging trenches and saps and implementing measures. He made his headquarters on an elevated plateau which would become known as Russell's Top, only 40 metres from the front line and sharing the discomfort and dangers with his men. A week after arriving, the Mounted Rifles helped to fend off a Turkish night attack across the entire front line. The Turks lost 10,000 men killed and wounded, and the next morning, Godley, commanding the New Zealand and Australian Division to which the Mounted Rifles were subordinate, ordered a counterattack. Russell, aware of how exposed to Turkish machine gun fire an advance across the front lines would be, refused to order the attack. Despite insisting his orders be followed, Godley eventually conceded.
In August 1915, Russell's brigade participated in the Battle of Sari Bair, an attempt to break the stalemate that existed at Gallipoli. Commanding a contingent of Maori pioneers in addition to his own brigade, the Turkish positions at No. 3 Outpost, Table Top Hill and Bauchop's Hill, guarding the approach to the Sari Bair ridge, were captured in a well organised attack on the night of 6 August. Russell took care to ensure his men fully understood their roles and the tactics to be used. Originally, Russell's brigade was to have been the spearhead of the attack on Chunuk Bair itself but was shunted into the supporting role of securing the approach. The capture of the Turkish positions cleared the way for the New Zealand Infantry Brigade to make its way up the slopes of Chunuk Bair. Heavy losses were incurred amongst the infantry making an initial attack during daylight hours. A nighttime attack was planned using two squadrons of Russell's command together with the Wellington Infantry Battalion. This succeeded and the peak of Chunuk Bair was captured in the early hours of 8 August. The peak was exposed to gunfire from neighbouring Hill Q, which made it difficult to dig in. The battalion held Chunuk Bair for a day until relieved by the Otago Infantry Battalion and two more squadrons of Russell's mounteds. The peak was lost the following day after it was handed over to two British battalions and the Sair Bair ridge remained in Turkish hands. Later, Godley regretted the change to the original plan, considering that Russell, after taking the approaches to the Sari Bair ridge, could have proceeded on and secured Chunuk Bair and Hill Q with his brigade.
Two weeks later, Russell's brigade was involved in attacks on Hill 60, positioned between the ANZAC positions and the British 9th Corps at Suvla Bay. Russell's command, which also included 500 men from the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade and a battalion of Irish Rangers was part of a three brigade attack from the ANZAC front while elements of 9th Corp attacked from the other side. On 21 August, in broad daylight, Russell's forces succeeded in capturing a portion of the Turkish trenches, despite heavy casualties. The upper reaches of the hill remained in Turkish hands and an attack by reinforcements the following day failed. Russell favoured a nighttime attack but was overruled. It took eight days of further attacks before the crest of Hill 60 fell to the Allies. Instrumental to the success were the mounteds, who managed to hold onto their gains where other units failed. Russell made a good account of himself, with Godley noting he "...is really quite an exceptionally good man."
Russell took over command of the New Zealand and Australian Division in November 1915, from Godley, who became commander of ANZAC. Sir Ian Hamilton, commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, had come to view Russell as 'the outstanding New Zealander on the (Gallipoli) peninsula', and in November 1915 he was created Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George and promoted to major general. A month later, Russell had overall command for the final 48 hours of the highly successful evacuation of ANZAC from the Gallipoli peninsula.
The New Zealand Division was formed in March 1916, with Russell divisional commander, and was sent to France the next month. With scant preparation, the division became operational in May 1916 in the Armentières sector of the Western Front. Soon it was involved in supporting the Somme Offensive, exposing problems and straining the men as extensive raids and patrols were carried out. Russell pushed for improvement, his goal being to create the best division in France. He inspected units daily and regularly visited the front line. Russell was a strict disciplinarian, and cracked down on high levels of desertion by recommending the death penalty for those found guilty of it. However, only five deserters were eventually executed and all were given posthumous pardons in 2000. Russell's insistence on rigid discipline was balanced by intensive training and tempered by close attention to the welfare of the troops under his command. In a letter to James Allen, the New Zealand Minister of Defence, Russell wrote: "What we want is a platoon officer who will look after his men exactly as a mother does her boy of 10".
The early discipline issues were overcome and, under Russell's leadership, the New Zealand Division would gain a fine reputation with success in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme and in June 1917 the capture of Messines Ridge. On a visit to the front line at Messines, Russell was nearly killed when a "sniper's bullet passed through his steel helmet, creasing his scalp". Failure came however on 12 October that year at the First Battle of Passchendaele, when – in what is still the costliest day in New Zealand's military history – the New Zealanders' second assault was repulsed with 2,735 casualties. Russell took the blame, in what military historian Christopher Pugsley called "a rare example of a military commander's willingness to accept responsibility for failure", though Pugsley attributes the main fault to the staff of the corps commander, General Godley.
After further failure at Polderhoek in December and a hard winter in the Ypres salient, Russell worked to rebuild the division and its morale. Despite this, by now, as historian Les Carlyon notes: "There were no better troops on the western front than the New Zealanders". Throughout 1918, Russell emphasised training as new mobile warfare tactics evolved: this proved its worth during the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the war. In June Field Marshal Haig, who was a great admirer of Russell, offered him command of a British corps – the only Dominion commander to be so asked – but he diplomatically declined in order to stay with the New Zealanders.
Russell commanded the New Zealand Division for the remainder of the war and then returned to his farm in New Zealand, "loaded with foreign decorations". (According to Pugsley, these included: "the French Légion d'honneur (croix d'officier) and Croix de guerre (avec palme), the Belgian Ordre de Léopold (commander) and Croix de guerre, the Serbian Order of the White Eagle (first class) and the Montenegrin Order of Prince Danilo I".) He was given a hero's welcome at Wellington being "hailed, in Maori, as 'Ariki Toa', The Fight Chief Sent Forward To Lead".
Returning to civilian life, Russell spent nearly two years in a bed-ridden state due to poor health. On recovery, he contested the Hawke's Bay electorate in the 1922 election as an Independent aligned with the Reform Party, where he came second after Gilbert McKay of the Liberal Party. He occupied himself with veterans' affairs, serving as president of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association from 1921 to 1924, and again from 1927 to 1935. In 1932 his military career came to a formal end when he moved to the retired list, although he continued to serve in a ceremonial capacity as the honorary colonel of the Wellington Regiment in 1934 and the Wellington (East Coast) Rifles in 1937. With the outbreak of the Second World War Russell returned to the colours, as the Inspector General of New Zealand Military Forces, before retiring again in July 1941, aged 73.
Andrew Russell died on 29 November 1960, aged 92, at the family homestead near Hastings and was buried with full military honours. He was survived by his wife and four children. One of his two sons, John Russell, served with the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry during the Second World War and was killed in action during the Western Desert Campaign. Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
British War Medal 1914–19
Victory Medal with Mention in Despatches (9 times)
King George V Silver Jubilee Medal
King George VI Coronation Medal
Knight Commander of the Order of Danilo (Montenegro)
Commandeur de la Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Officier de la Légion d'Honneur (France)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle (with Swords) (Serbia)
Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
Croix de Guerre (France)