Nelson Russell

Born7 July 1897 Lisburn, Co Antrim
Died29 October 1971 Newcastle, Co Down
EducatedCampbell College, Belfast
OccupationArmy Officer
Debut10 August 1928 v MCC at Ormeau
Cap Number382
StyleRight-hand batsman.
TeamsLisburn, East Kent Ramblers
HistoryNelson Russell, the second Lisburn player to be selected for Ireland, was a sound opening batsman, who would probably have won more than his single Irish cap, had not his military career, which also restricted his club appearances, always taken precedence. At Campbell College, he was captain of the XI in his final season, before being commissioned into the Royal Irish Fusiliers, while still only 17. He was 18 when he took 33 men on what was the first daylight raid of the Battle of the Somme. Nelson's bravery and leadership skills won him the MC and the presentation of a silver Loving Cup from the people of Lisburn.

After the War, he remained in uniform and spent some time stationed in Kent, where he got good class club cricket with the East Kent Ramblers, who fielded several players with county experience. He also was seen in army cricket. He was then able to return home, where he played for Lisburn until being sent to India at the end of the 1924 season. He developed into a prolific opening batsman, captaining the side in 1923 and 1924. The former season was his personal best, his free scoring stroke play bringing him three centuries. He was also selected for the Ulster Interprovincial side to play Leinster in Dublin that summer while the post Treaty Irish Civil War was in progress. When the train carrying the Ulster cricketers home stopped at Dundalk, it was searched by "Irregulars", i.e. Anti Irish Free State government forces. They closely questioned the team before allowing the train to proceed. Nelson's identity was preserved but he was later ordered not to venture south again.

He continued to play cricket in India, finding the wickets to his liking, but did not appear in any of the matches now regarded as first class. Back in Northern Ireland in 1928, when his batting not only took Lisburn near to the League title, but won him a place in the Irish side to play MCC at Ormeau. An Irish team with no northern representatives, though still a strong one on paper, had been beaten by 7 wickets in College Park. Six Ulster cricketers were included for the Ormeau game, with first caps going to Willie Andrews and Bobby Barnes, as well as Nelson. In a match ruined by rain, when Ireland were in a strong position, MCC were routed by the medium pace swing of Tom Dixon, but Ireland faired only slightly better, being all out for 135. Batting out of position at 6, Nelson was bowled for 5 by the fast medium WGF Lowndes, an Oxford Blue of 1921 and future Hampshire captain. At least he avoided being dismissed by the left arm pace of Charles Hill Wood, who accounted for six of his team-mates. At the end of the season he returned to India, but was back with Lisburn again in 1931 to captain the side. He thus formed a family double act with his father, President from 1923 - 37.

Military duties thereafter made his appearances more spasmodic. This was also the case with hockey, a game at which he excelled, having captained the famous Lisnagarvey club to League and Cup success in 1922, besides playing for Ireland v Scotland. In the Second World War, where he had a number of narrow escapes with his life, his bravery and leadership skills were again much in evidence winning him the DSO in North Africa. Strain eventually told and he was invalided home, having broken his health, during the Italian campaign, much to his dismay and that of his officers and men.

He never saw active service again and, on retirement, having been made a CB in 1949, became Sergeant at Arms at Stormont, holding the position from 1951 - 58. Brigadier Nelson Russell is accorded a special chapter in Clarence Hiles "A History of Senior Cricket in Northern Ireland" to which this article is much indebted. Strangely his Who's Who entry, while making mention of Hockey and several other sports among the Brigadier's recreations, makes no mention of cricket.

Edward Liddle, April 2008

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