Biographical Notes written in 1989 by Arthur Bernard Russ [1912 - 1992] Author of "Lady Day Prodigal"


Additions and corrections between […] by Michael Harte - webmaster for

"This is the first of a series. which I hope to write, concerning persons who have been notable in my experience and influential in my growing years. I am approaching my 78th year and it was at that age that my father died, so I should certainly not postpone this labour of love and here goes.

My father [Charles Russ 1877 - 1955] practised medicine for many years in London. He qualified for his Bachelor of Medicine at St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington and subsequently as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and I have noticed that my step-mother carefully caused his Degrees to be inscribed on the headstone of his grave - M.B., M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. My father was the senior son, a third child [actually 4th - Emily, Pauline and Edith being his older sisters] of my grandfather [Christian Carl Gottfried Russ 1842 - 1893] and grew to a height of 6 ft. 4½ins. ? by far the tallest of his family.

In practise, he specialized in bacteriology and in a way it seems a pity that a man so endowed by nature with a gigantic frame should have spent so many years peering into a microscope. On the other hand, he did attain some distinction in his field and I recall his telling me that when the late King George V was unwell, the Royal Physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, sent a specimen to my father for analysis and shortly after the specimen arrived, Lord Dawson was on the phone to my father, asking for a verdict. My father says that he answered that he had just received the specimen and that the question he was putting to my father lay on the very boundaries of scientific knowledge. Immediately Lord Dawson responded and said "Russ, that is where I live".

At first, my father worked as an employee of Dr. Easts with others in a team and had bound himself to a form of restrictive covenant, whereby he could not practise for a specified period beyond a specified area in Central London. Now, the nature of my father's work was quite restrictive in the sense that he would not receive instructions from other members of the profession from the country, but only from the area of Harley Street or Wimpole Street and those parts of London adjacent. So, when my father felt that the restriction was too severe, he withdrew from the practise of Dr. Easts and set up on his own, whereupon Dr. Easts sued him for breach of the covenant and he won his case in the lower Court. My father took his case to the Court of Appeal and was successful. The case appeared in the Law Reports and when I went to Law School in 1947, I was very pleased to find that it came into our course of study, showing that my father was vindicated from the suggestion that he had broken his word, the Court having found that the restrictions were far too strict and limiting for ordinary practical purposes in the nature of his work and the limited area within which he could operate.

In retrospect, it sees that perhaps my father should have chosen a different profession, because he was very interested in discovery and invention and had the makings, I think, of an engineer. His discovery of the eye ray, attracted some attention and he was called upon to read his paper before the Royal Society, a quite distinctive honour at the time. I remember him working in his study at weekends for a long time with various models of the instrument which eventually satisfied him. The item is perfectly useless as far as I can see, but is interesting and simply comprises a cylinder bound with copper wire and suspended above a vessel of water with lead shot at the bed of it. The person who gazes at the cylinder will find it turning and depending I suppose, on the strength of the eyesight of the beholder, the more the cylinder would revolve. It is quite uncanny to see it happen and eventually, my father overcame his bereavement after the death of my mother [Jessie Naylor Goddard 1887 - 1918] and kept up his hobby of invention with respect to medical items and others. One I remember in particular, because I demonstrated it at the Exhibition of Inventions, shortly before I went to Australia. It comprised the combination of a plug at the base of a car radiator and an electric heater. In Britain, it is not customary to use anti-freeze and this device when plugged into a socket in a garage, would preserve the car from the harmful effects of extreme cold. I believe he sold the device to Morris Motor Company and I believe they put it on the shelf, because I know he was rather rueful about the fact that it did not turn out to be a great financial success as far as he was concerned.

Much earlier in his life he had Morris as a patient, when Morris had a bicycle shop in Oxford. I do not think my father ever owned a Morris as a motor vehicle, not I think from resentment. He had numerous others including a three wheeled Morgan, which would tip over if he had a very light passenger sitting beside him! He also had a Wolseley, which was large enough to take the entire family, which was more like a charabanc or bus than a motor vehicle, for party purposes and ultimately, he and my step-mother had a Gwynne. One does not see them very often and they may not even be in production any more, for all I know.

Father delighted in tinkering and trying to devise improvements in machinery and passed this talent to my senior brother [Charles Godfrey Russ 1903 - ?] who became an electrical engineer, so they had a good deal in common and were very good friends.

In about 1923 [20 Dec 1922], my father married again to a lady [Zoe Center 1878 - 1964] whose first husband [William Center] had been a naval surgeon and was killed in the Mediterranean [on board HMS Russell in the Dardanelles 28 Apr 1916] and buried at Malta [CAPUCCINI Naval Cemetery Prot 43]. For their honeymoon, my father and stepmother went to see that the tomb was in good order and I believe my step-mother was very touched at my father's concern for his predecessor as her husband. She had no children from her first marriage but suffered a miscarriage I think at the time of the tragic loss of her first husband. I told her I thought she was very brave to come and mother a tribe of nine youngsters and she laughed and said "I had no idea what I was taking on and had I done so, I probably would not have gone ahead". However, she had such a great heart, I think she would have taken twice as many children under her wing and done a jolly good job of it, as she did with us.

Another hobby of my father concerned the theatre. He was a very keen theatre-goer and he was particularly interested in comedy and he tried his hand as a writer. One of his plays, called "Hidden Power", having to do with the use of hypnotism in medical practise, was actually produced in London. I did not see it because I was not in England at the time, but I know he was pleased to have had that much recognition. He wrote other plays and sketches, but none of them, as far as I know, produced any revenue for him.

As the first son of my grandfather's numerous family, my father undoubtedly was spoiled and the favourite, perhaps both parents were partial to him to an extraordinary degree. I well remember that when I first met my mother's brother, Cecil Goddard in Seattle, he recalled having paid a visit to the family home when courting my mother and that my father then showed him twenty-three cameras. That sort of extravagance astonished my uncle who was on a much more modest financial plane than my father and his family. The extravagant habits which undoubtedly my father developed from early manhood were hard to discard and showed even in his later days, after he had gone through bankruptcy proceedings and had had to discontinue private schooling for four of five of the children [more likely three: Sidney, Arthur and Patrick - Victor was 20 when his father was declared bankrupt]. He would still go to the theatre with my stepmother quite often and would dine out. I am not reproaching his memory in bringing these matters up, but simply taking it that the habits of a lifetime are not likely to be interrupted in a notable manner.

As I have mentioned before, he was always interested in mechanical and engineering matters and possibly would have made a more successful career for himself in that line, than in medicine, although I believe he was well regarded in his profession for his speciality, bacteriology. He loved to tell yarns about his days as a student going the rounds of the ward in some of the hospitals and for example, the case of the old cabdriver who was brought in obviously suffering from gout and my father enquiring about his habits learned that the cabbie would be at the pub when it opened - at a very early hour in those days - and have himself a pint of beer. He would do the same thing at mid-morning and again at noon and again in the afternoon and at quitting time and no doubt, in the evening. Heaven knows how many pints he got through in a day, but in those days, the vehicles were horse-drawn and horse sense probably prevented an accident which might have occurred had the vehicle been an automobile in the hands of a semi-drunk cabbie. The conclusion of the account of the cabbie's condition related that he had a "pennyworth of gin" in the morning session and my Dad asked why this was the habit and the reply was "It helps to keep the dead beer down".

Another instance was of a lady who was wheeled in to the presence of the students and declared that she was having great trouble with her "bronical toobs". Everybody knew what was meant but it became a byword amongst the student body that anybody with bronchitis had trouble with his or her "bronical tubes".

Going back to the matter of my father being inclined to be wasteful or prodigal, I recall being told by one of my brothers that on one of the occasions of the family moving to a different house, it was found that the back garden was full of vegetables and as my mother was a keen lover of flowers, my father pulled up all the vegetables and offered them across the fence to the neighbour who was only too glad to accept them. Later in life, when my father had retired, he was much more practical and indeed carried it to the point of having the garden in the country produce valuable items for the kitchen. He being so tall, found it difficult to stoop down to weed or plant and accordingly, caused the beds to be brought up to him. The result was that the kitchen garden or vegetable garden became what he called his "tombs" since the mounds looked rather like grass-covered graves.

Shortly after my return from Australia, a high wind had caused a neighbour's oak tree to lose a branch which fell into our garden and damaged the boundary fence. My father was concerned about this and felt it proper to make a neat job of the break and accordingly, I was mounting a ladder and addressing the break area with a saw and this made quite an impression on my parents, they not being aware that I had been able to do such jobs in the bush for some years. I cannot recall whether my father offered the neighbours the produce from the branch but I do recall his going down to put a patch on the broken area of fence. He was quite conscientious in that way, but would be wasteful of his own substance without any hesitation.

When my stepmother inherited a house in the village of Kempsey, four or five miles from Worcester city, it was found that the greenhouse included a pond with a fountain and this intrigued my father, because it was stagnant and unsightly, so he thought he would drain it and as he was rather keen to show that it could be done by means other than taking a bucket or two and emptying them outside the greenhouse, he took a hose and arranged for it to siphon the water out of the fountain area. One of my brothers was impatient of this because he had to go every now and then and take a fresh bucket and take the full bucket out, so he thought he would cut short the procedure by taking it out bucket by bucket and never mind the siphoning. This really annoyed my father and made an impression on me, showing his concern to demonstrate to those of us who are ignorant, the principle of siphoning liquid from one place to another and that is how I learned about that.

The house at Kempsey was large and had obviously been a handsome mansion at one time. There were stables, outhouses, and the usual appurtenances to a massive mansion. Also there were some very fine large trees. My youngest sister [Sylvia Joan Russ born 1917 - married Harold L Russell] has written lately saying that she drove by there and regretted to see that the trees had come down.

On one occasion, my stepmother was alarmed by the fact that my youngest brother [Richard Patrick Russ - Patrick O/Brian 1914 - 2000] was tied to one of these trees and senior members of the family took pot shots at him with arrows, although these were quite harmless, it was a test of the little fellow's pluck - he did not whimper or cry and felt he was quite a hero and a martyr, like St. Sebastian. It is strange to think that what I have just related happened more than sixty years ago and is buried in my recollection.

My father being very partial to my senior brother's [Charles Godfrey Russ] zeal for railway trains, enabled him to have the materials to set up trestles, all around the playroom of each house on which tracks could be laid and a railway system inaugurated. My second brother [Victor John Anthony Russ 1905 - 1985] was a great collector of lead soldiers and would set up a hospital for the army with a railway connection. The junior members of the family were allowed to stand on what was handy to give service at each halt or station, as the trains came along and even to operate the signals. At the door giving entrance to the playroom there had to be a lifting bridge and if anybody tried to come into the room simply by turning the handle, they would be confronted by possibly an express train rushing around a curve or some such interruption of pedestrians into the room. The proper procedure of course, was to knock and await until all rail traffic was at a standstill, whereupon my senior brother would lift the bridge, open the door, replace the bridge and resume normal routine! Not only did the system comprise clock-work engines, but one system was electrified and was of a larger gauge than the other. My father was delighted when my senior brother laid out the tracks in the living room and operated the larger model for the entertainment of visitors.

The railway department went even to the extent of having photographs taken with the locomotive or other vehicle mounted on a board with an artist's easel as a background and with the proud engineer, my senior brother, posing. I expect one of the twenty-three cameras came into use at that time.

I think I must record for the sake of accuracy, the decline of my father's medical practice from the date of my mother's death, I should think, until his eventual retirement. The handsome rooms he once occupied in Beaumont Street and Wimpole Street were far superior to those in which he eventually went in George Street, close to Baker Street. I suppose that with the dwindling of his practice, it did not warrant his having any spacious or gracious suite of rooms and he simply had one main room or office, which acted also as a waiting room and then his separate consulting room. In school vacations it was my job to keep the premises tidy and clean and particularly, to wash out glass vessels and other materials which he used in the course of his bacteriological work.

Occasionally, the premises would be a little crowded and this was the signal for me to vanish and I would go to the Wallace Collection about a block away and admire the works of art there, including apart from portraits such as the famous "Laughing Cavalier" of Frans Hals and others, interesting souvenirs of famous people, for example, the tobacco pouch of Sir Walter Raleigh with his name inscribed in the flap of the pouch, presumably with a hot rod or some such object. As a former heavy smoker of a pipe, I found this very interesting indeed, as also the shape of his pipe collection. They are slightly different from the ones we generally use now, but no doubt he derived comfort from them, particularly during the many years he spent as a prisoner in the Tower of London before his eventual execution. I remember reading that after he was condemned to death and sent to the Tower, his pupil was the future Charles I, who was to lose his head himself some years later, but James I, I thought was despicable in keeping Raleigh in the Tower for a considerable number of years and then letting him go with a fleet to get the gold in South America and upon his returning empty handed, having him brought to the block and beheaded on the basis of the earlier sentence - a pretty mean way to handle one of the heroes, I thought. My father himself was a keen smoker of a pipe and when he had to have his teeth removed and found that he could not smoke comfortably, because of the pressure on his gums, he took elastic bands and made two sets, so that one would be in front and the other behind his gum and he would thus be able to hold the pipe more comfortably. Also, I remember my stepmother telling me that when her father was on his death bed, he, likewise being a lover of his pipe, she would help him by putting a pillow on his chest and letting him draw on his pipe, without having to sustain the weight of it in his weakened state."