2nd Lieutenant, York and Lancaster Regiment attached 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
Killed in action on Sunday 25th October 1914 at Neuve Chapelle, age 19.
Buried at Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue, France, grave X.G.3
Former student of Applied Chemistry and research scholar at The Tech.
Russell Willis was born on 9th November 1894 at Denton to William Willis, Headmaster of Russell Scott Memorial School, and Annie M. Willis of 47 Dawlish Road, Wallasey, Cheshire. He was educated at Denton Russell Scott Memorial School, Denton (Lancashire County Council Junior Exhibition, 1907) and Manchester Municipal Secondary School. He entered Manchester University in 1911 aged 16 and in July 1914 was awarded the degree of BSc. (Tech.) 1st Class Honours (Applied Chemistry.). He stayed on at the Tech as a Research Scholar. He became a member of the Manchester University Officer Training Corps (MUOTC) in October 1911. He was gazetted in March 1914 to the Special Reserve of Officers York and Lancashire Regiment after passing the qualifying exams and was presented with the Sword of Honour by the University.
He served at Limerick and Fermoy and later at Sunderland. On 20th September 1914 he proceeded to the Western Front via Southampton attached to lst Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. He was killed on 25th October, approximately three and a half miles north east of Neuve Chapelle, while leading his platoon in the recapture of a trench and two 18lb. guns. A corporal from the platoon described what happened: “We had some very dangerous ground to cover before we could get in a position to retake the trenches or guns, and a house occupied by some thirty snipers had to be taken first, which was soon dealt with; then a small wood was the next place of attack, and we were not long in driving the Germans out of this… After a few minutes we were led by Lieutenant Willis, in the charge for the trench and guns, which we managed to take, and also hold, but I am sorry to say that Lieutenant Willis, on the very edge of the trench, was hit when half turning to encourage the men on, and he fell into the trench. I soon saw he was badly hit, and sat him in a corner, but there was nothing I could do for him. His last words were, ‘Have we retaken the guns, Corporal?’ I then left him for a few moments… and when I returned Lieutenant Willis had passed away quite peacefully… he was buried by the Royal Irish Rifles.”
Major Sir Thomas Holland, Commanding Officer of the MUOTC, addressed the Contingent stating: “that in him the University had lost a good student, a gallant soldier, and a clean gentleman, who had given his life for his Country.” The assembled men presented arms in honour of their heroic comrade.
Russell’s brother Fred was a Tech student from 1914 attaining a MSc. Technolgy in Metallurgy in 1918.