Russ, as he was known to his friends, was born on the 17th April 1920 in Elsternwick, Victoria. He enlisted in the RAAF in Melbourne on the 3rd January 1941. After training in Australia and canada, he embarked for England and joined 457 Squadron.
During Russ’ time with the Squadron, it was based on the Isle of Man at Andreas. It escorted convoys patrolled over the seas to Britain’s west but much of its time was devoted to training. The Squadron effectively became an operational training unit, preparing Spitfire pilots for other squadrons, particularly 452 Squadron RAAF, that were more actively engaged at that time.
Russ ferried BL 491 (BP K) a Mk.VB Spitfire to the Isle of Man on the 8th January 1942 for 457 Squadron. These Mk VBs were recorded as “brand new”, but they were actually in a shocking state. To get them into operational condition, they required many hours of work in rather chilly weather. Doug Marsden recorded Wednesday the 4th March as a “poisonous day, blowing a gale and raining hard”. (Web Master: Squadron Leader Douglas Herbert Marsden was possibly the Squadron Adjutant at the time.)
Tragically, Russ was killed in a flying accident. The entry in the 457 Squadron RB for the 8th March 1942, the day of the accident was as follows:
At 15:45 hours, Australian No. 401135, Sergeant R. McDonell was doing a practice formation flight over the Island of Man, when he dived from about 16,000 feet to approximately 8,000 feet and it appears that his aircraft, for some unknown reason, (then) dived into the sea a few hundred yards from Ramsey Pier. He was picked up within seven-and-a-half minutes by the Sea Rescue Squad, and found to be dead. This NCO had only joined the Unit from 53 OUT Llandow, and was one of the most popular.”
Of interest is the photo of Russ’ Application for Air Crew form. As you can see, he had only been out of school for two weeks before he joined up. The other one was taken at his funeral on the 13th March 1942. The pall bearers are, from left to right: Harry Blake, Tom Clark, Marsh parbery, Norm Robinson and Unknown.
Russ was buried at the Saint Andrew Churchyard in Andreas Parish in the section reserved for the Imperial War Graves Commission. The section contains 26 Commonwealth war graves of the Second World War. Full Air Force Honours were accorded. Squadron Leader L. Rye was in charge of the parade and Padre Squadron Leader A. Gillespie conducted the ceremony. The Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Peter Brothers, Officers and Airmen of the Squadron were in the funeral procession. The day was cold and overcast, but not raining, and one could be but impressed.
Russ is also remembered on the Honour Roll in Elsternwick, Victoria. God bless and thank you, Russ.
Bruce Read and Geoff Litchfield
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association