Kiwi soldier faces firing squad

28 February 1945

David Russell (National Army Museum, 1998.954)

After more than a year on the run in northern Italy, New Zealand prisoner of war David Russell was recaptured and executed. His courage in the face of death earned him the first George Cross awarded to a member of New Zealand’s military.

Captured by German forces in July 1942 at Ruweisat Ridge in Egypt, Russell spent over a year in an Italian work camp before making his escape after Italy’s surrender in 1943. He joined a local partisan group and began moving around northern Italy.

Despite having chances to escape to safety, Russell chose to remain in Italy to find and assist other escaped Allied prisoners. After a series of narrow escapes, Fascist troops caught up with him in February 1945. Despite brutal interrogation, Russell refused to reveal the whereabouts of other escaped prisoners and partisans. He was executed at Ponte di Piave on 28 February.

For his heroism Russell received a posthumous George Cross in 1948. The following year Napier Hospital opened the David Russell Memorial Ward in his honour.