Russell Benedict BRANCH

BRANCH, Russell Benedict

Service Number: 5972
Enlisted: 14 April 1916, Awarded Croix de Guerre (Belgium medal for Bravery)' Commonwealth Gazette' No. 185 Date: 27 November 1918
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 6th Infantry Battalion
Born: Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, 1890
Home Town: Eaglehawk, Greater Bendigo, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Bread Carter
Memorials: Bendigo Great War Roll of Honor
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World War 1 Service

14 Apr 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Corporal, 5972, 38th Infantry Battalion, Awarded Croix de Guerre (Belgium medal for Bravery)' Commonwealth Gazette' No. 185 Date: 27 November 1918
28 Jul 1916: Involvement Private, 5972, 6th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '8' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Themistocles embarkation_ship_number: A32 public_note: ''
28 Jul 1916: Embarked Private, 5972, 6th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Themistocles, Melbourne

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Biography contributed by Jack Coyne

Russell Branch’s wife Ruby was sent his Croix de Guerre (Belgium) medal in January 6 1919 just as Russell was about to board H.T Orsova from London two days later for a 6 week voyage home to Australia. His medical record was marked, invalid as result of being wounded twice at the front.

Base Records in St.Kilda Road would send him the accompanying Diploma that was associated with the medal three years later in June 1922.     

Russell Branch was born in Launceston, Tasmania in 1890. There is little detail of when he came to Eaglehawk, however he enlisted from there in April 1916.

Recruitment was at a peak as a Battalion from Bendigo (the 38th) had been promised and although Russell was married and in employment he was not going to miss out.

Russell went into camp at the Racecourse in Epsom however, in May the battalion would be moved to Broadmeadows following the outbreak of Meningitis. 

He would sail for war in late July 1916 on board HMAT A32 Themistocles. With the failed Gallipoli campaign now finished they sailed directly to England and went into camp on the Salisbury Plain in Southern England. He would be at the front by November 1916 and serve on the front line through 1917.

The first report on Russell would be reported in The Bendigo Advertiser in September 1917: - ‘Sergeant R.B Branch of California Gully who is now in hospital in France suffering from wounds, has written to his father stating that, he is progressing satisfactorily towards recovery. He expected to he back in the firing line before his letter reached his father. In his letter Sergeant Branch mentioned the interesting fact that, the 38th (Bendigo) Battalion had the record for remaining in action under gas, having resisted an enemy gas attack for 14 hours. Enclosed in his letter was a stripe given to him by a bed-mate —a sergeant in the Fusiliers who was wounded in the retreat from Mons, and who remarked —"Send this home to your dad as a memento."[1]

Following promotion to Corporal in March 1917, he was wounded on June 7-9 at the battle of Messines in Belgium. Details of his actual award of the Belgium medal are not recorded however; it appears he may have been recommended for the award by the Commanding Officer of the 38th battalion.

Messines heralded the start of what has become known as the Third Ypres Campaign.

Suffering a Gun Shot Wound to his right cheek Russell was sent behind the line to hospital in Northern France returning to his unit in August 1917. In November he is promoted to Sergeant and seconded back to England over the winter to act as training sergeant in Bombing and Drill Schools. In March 1918 whilst still in England he is presented with his medal and in July is heading back to join his unit on the Somme as they pursue the Germans back to the Hindenburg Line in Northern France. Russell is wounded a second time on July 22, 1918 most likely at Vaire Wood, this time a Gun Shot Wound to the chest. Russell is repatriated back to England for treatment and his fighting days were over as the war ends just 2 months later.  

Regimental number: 5972

Place of birth: Launceston, Tasmania


Occupation: Bread carter

Address: Mt Korong Road, Jobs Gully, Eaglehawk

Marital status: Married

Age at embarkation: 26

Next of kin:Wife, Mrs Ruby M Branch, Mt Korong Road, Jobs Gully

Enlistment date: 14 April 1916

Date of enlistment: 1 May 1916

Rank on enlistment: Private

Unit name: 6th Battalion, 19th Reinforcement

Embarked: HMAT A32 Themistocles on 28 July 1916

Final Rank: Corporal

Unit: 38th Battalion

Fate: Returned to Australia 22/02/1919

Medals: Croix de Guerre (Belgium), British War Medal, Victory Medal

Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 185

Date: 27 November 1918

Medals: Croix de Guerre (Belgium)

The medal consists of a Maltese Cross with crossed swords intersected under a shield. Mounted on a crown suspended on a red ribbon with 5 narrow green stripes made of bronze. Lion on the shield on reverse side. The medal was first introduced in 25th October 1915. It translates literally as "war cross". It is a military decoration of the kingdom of Belgium, established by royal decree. Primary awarded for bravery or other military virtue on the battlefield.[1]

The battle of Messines June 7-9, 1917.

Heralded the start of what has become known as the Third Ypres Campaign. Advancing behind coordinated artillery fire of 1500 field and 700 heavy guns, British, Australian and New Zealand troops captured their objectives within hours.  German counterattacks the following day were repelled and although the battle continued over seven days the result was never in doubt. Messines was the first battle to which General Monash's Third Australian Division was committed. Messines was a key preliminary operation for the subsequent 'Third Battle of Ypres' campaign which was conducted over the last four months of 1917, and ended in the mud and misery of Passchendaele.[2]

[1] Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 155 - 1918)  Fri 7 Sep 1917  Page 7  SERGEANT R. B. BRANC8H.

[2] Medal - Belgium Croix De Guerre Medal of WW1

Victorian Collections website -
[3] Virtual War Memorial Australia website