Cayman Islands veterans to honor Governor Thomas Russell

Ceremony set for Sunday

The late Gov. Thomas Russell

The late Cayman Islands Governor Thomas Russell is well remembered for his seven years as one of the British Overseas Territory’s favorite leaders.

Not so many know the stories of his service during World War II in the British infantry, where he fought in Algeria, Sicily and mainland Italy until his capture during street fighting.

Some of those stories will be recounted on Sunday, when the Cayman Islands Veterans Association will hold a remembrance ceremony for the late governor at Elmslie Church in George Town. Mr. Russell died in his native Scotland at age 96 on July 4.

Fellow veteran and long-time friend Graham Walker provided the Cayman Compass with a copy of Governor Russell’s prisoner of war records from a German POW camp in Poland after the young Scotsman’s capture in Tarranto, Italy, during heavy street fighting.

A young Thomas Russell's German POW record was provided to the Cayman Compass this week.
A young Thomas Russell’s German POW record was provided to the Cayman Compass this week.

“He was hit in the upper left thigh by a German heavy machine gun bullet,” Mr. Walker said. “This bullet severed his thigh bone, and being unable to move, and in agony, he was captured.”

The POW records from Stalag IV in Poland listed Mr. Russell as Kriegsgefanger [prisoner of war] No. 40009. Mr. Russell’s records detailed all sorts of personal information war prisoners were not required to give, including his mother’s maiden name, his home address, his religion, his weight and so on.

Although Mr. Russell was surely under some duress after being captured, Mr. Walker suspects the young governor-to-be probably just gave over all this information voluntarily.

“He gave more information than he should have done,” Mr. Walker said. “He was just too bloody helpful.”

It seems Mr. Russell was treated fairly well, as prisoners of war go.

“German surgeons fitted a steel plate in his thigh joining the two halves of the thigh [bone] together,” Mr. Walker said. “Field hospitals being what they are worldwide, they could only place him on a stretcher in a field with a mass of other casualties. Two German soldiers, both injured themselves, walked down the line and offered him some booze and some cigarettes. He was grateful to accept this kindness from two SS soldiers.”

About 30 years later, Mr. Russell became the third appointed governor of the Cayman Islands and served a record seven years in that post until December 1981. In 1978, he founded the Cayman Islands Veterans Association, of which he remained a member until his death.

“The Cayman Islands was truly his second home and we all looked forward to his visits, especially at Christmas-time when he attended our Christmas parties,” Veterans Association President Dale Banks said. “Having been instrumental in its founding, he was very proud that CIVA remained self-supporting, even as our numbers decreased from the original membership in excess of 150 to today’s 54.”

Sunday’s ceremony at the Elmslie Cenotaph will be held at 10 a.m., followed by the 10:30 a.m. church service. The general public is welcome to attend.

Funeral services will be held Aug. 4 in Melrose, Scotland. Mr. Walker said he will be attending as a representative of the local veterans association.

Mr. Russell was awarded the Order of the British Empire (1963), Commander of the British Empire (1970) and the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (1980). In 2012, Prince Philip appointed Mr. Russell as “vice president for life” of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League.

Mr. Russell’s term as governor was extended three times, and eventually led to him serving seven years in office. He was Cayman’s longest-serving governor. In modern times, gubernatorial terms are typically three years, with a potential one-year extension.