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Gyrth Russell

Birthplace: dartmouth, Canada
Death: December 08, 1970 (78)
penarth, wales, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Benjamin Russell and Louise E Russell
Husband of Gladys Harman Russell and Ronagh Russell
Ex-partner of Anna Louise Russell
Father of Private; Private; John Russell; Cedric Russell; Guinevere Russell and 1 other
Brother of Frank Weldon Russell; Harold Allison Russell; Anna Louise Russell; Grace Marguerite Russell; Benjamin Russell, Jr. and 2 others

Occupation: artist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Gyrth Russell



4 September 2002. Copyright.


Gyrth Russell owed his life to a murderer. He did not meet the man, who was hung for his crime on October 18th 1798, almost a century before Gyrth's birth.

It was like this: - a chairmaker named Nathaniel Russell, (1746 -1831) of a good Boston, Massachusetts family fled the country in March 1776 at the time of the American Revolution, as a Loyalist, i.e. loyal to King Charles III of England, leaving behind rebellious siblings. He had been married in 1768 to Mary Hibberd by Reverend Robert Sandeman (1718-1771).

In a party of three persons he sailed with a large group to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Presumably the others in the party were his wife Mary and their firstborn child, a daughter. In 1783 he acquired lakeside land near Dartmouth NS and by 1798 was settled with two unmarried daughters, Mary (also known as Polly) and Rebecca. Mary became friendly with a neighbouring young man, Thomas Bambridge, who became very possessive of her to the extent that Mary later wished to break off the friendship.

On the evening of Thursday September 27th the two girls went down to the Harbour for the excitement of seeing some storm damage. Bambridge got the idea that Mary had been out with some other fellow and went to the house later asking to see Mary. She was upstairs in her bedroom and he spoke to Nathaniel and Mary, her parents. He insisted that he just wanted some words with the girl and they were persuaded to induce her downstairs. As the boy approached Mary he pulled out a knife from under his jacket and plunged it into her chest, killing her.

He was soon brought to justice and hung on the Common behind the town but the family was bereft and distraught with grief. Within a year both Mother and sister were dead, leaving father as a widower.

After some time Nathaniel re-married - appropriately to a widow, Mrs Jonathon Elliot, of maiden name Almy Greene, daughter of a Quaker preacher, and they subsequently had a son also named Nathaniel. It was this Nathaniel who became the founder of the branch of the family tree of which Gyrth was but one twig. These two Nathaniels will be referred to as Nathaniel I and Nathaniel II respectively.

Nathaniel II married Agnes Davison Bissete (or Bissett) of Scottish and Huguenot extraction, another neighbour, and they had a family: Alma, Agnes, Mary, Benjamin (born on 10th January 1849, died September 20th 1935) and John (who died on September 3rd 1929).

Benjamin studied law and eventually became a Judge of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. He married Louise (nee Coleman, 16th Jul 1850 - 7th Mar 1934) on 4th September 1872.

Louise was a daughter of Captain William Coleman, a descendant of Captain Seth Coleman (born about 1744) a leader in the Nantucket Whaling Company which had moved up to Nova Scotia in 1785 to gain favourable trading conditions with Britain.

Born on the 13th April 1892 Gyrth was their eighth and youngest child. Thus he was a great grandson of Nathaniel Russell I, the Loyalist.

Nathaniel I was a brother of Revolutionary Benjamin Russell, the printer. Their presumed earliest migrant ancestor was John Russell who crossed the Atlantic in 1636, was a founder of Woburn, Massachusetts, and was later imprisoned as an Anabaptist, and whose son, also John Russell, and also an immigrant, was the second pastor at the First Baptist Church in Boston from 28th July 1679 till his death in December 1680.

Around the turn of the century, as a small child, Gyrth unveiled a plaque in Dartmouth Methodist Church in memory of his grandfather Nathaniel Russell II, J.P., 28th Nov 1809 - 25th Aug 1887, who had been prominent in Church activities. (Autobiography of Judge Ben Russell 1932, pp. 13,19) It seems that most of his forebears held strong convictions of one sort or another, as apparently did most of his contemporaries.

The older siblings were Frank Weldon, Harold Allison, followed by 2 girls, Nancy, Grace Marguerite, then 3 boys, Benjamin, Bernard Wallace and Arthur Hawthorne.

Gyrth was the name of the Earl of East Anglia who succeeded Aelfgar, who took over Mercia in 1057. The name is pronounced "girth". His earldom did not last long for in 1066 he was pronounced dead, he and his brothers having been defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. (p.53, Historical Atlas of Britain Falkus & Gillingham Book Club associates, 1981)

"Gyrth was the younger brother of King Harold and fought alongside at the Battle of Hastings - continued to fight after Harold was killed by an arrow in his eye, and was finally felled by William the Conqueror himself. It was the Judge who named (the youngest child). Perhaps he was reading Lord Lytton's 'History of Harold' based on fact with frequent references to earlier records. I think the name is also on the Bayeux Tapestry. Anyway there was already a William and a Harold, so he thought a younger brother could be 'Gyrth'." wrote Ronagh Russell on c.24th Aug 2000. Volumes by Bulwer Lytton certainly occupied the Judge's bookshelves as will be evidenced later.

Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in 1892 was a small community. In his maturity Gyrth Russell described it thus:-

"In this rather raw Eastern Canadian town everyone stood on equal terms. The children of the doctor, the lawyer and the comparatively wealthy manufacturer attended the same school with those of the dockers and the mechanics. Anyone making his superior spending power an excuse for putting on airs was soon made to feel foolish. If the doctor wanted a new stable built at the back of his house he just called in the builder and had it done without asking anyone's permission. If anyone wanted to go trout fishing, he packed his kit and went to the most convenient stream or lake - and fished. Nobody 'owned' the water or, if they did, it never occurred to them to charge money for fishing in it. If you wanted to shoot you could buy any sort of gun you liked without a licence and go into the woods where anything you brought down, excepting only humans and cows, was yours. Even the town drunkard was allowed to replenish himself whenever he could pay for it and nobody disturbed his alcoholic sleep under the lime trees. If the arm of the law in the person of our only policeman was ever stretched in his direction it was only to ease the fuddled head into a more comfortable position.

The freedom we enjoyed could not have been quite peculiar to the locality however. In those days anyone could go to the railway or steamship offices and buy a ticket to almost anywhere in the world. He didn't need a passport or even an identity card, a document, by the way, of which nobody had ever heard. You just told the people your name and they believed you - or perhaps they didn't. This may have contributed something to the unhappiness of the policeman's lot of which we heard much at the time but it was more pleasant than for the rest of us. Neither did anyone care how much or what sort of money you took into or out of the country. If you had any it was yours to spend where and how you liked."

On another occasion Gyrth enlarged:- "My talk not to teach anything but only to share with you some of the less serious thoughts of an exceptional mind. Now please don't get the wrong impression - I don't mean exceptional in the sense of being in any way superior but just different. Different because I have led a different kind of life to most. I am a peripatetic, which the vast majority of people are not. It all began when I was a few days old and was snatched out of my cradle in being rescued from a burning house. I have never stayed very long in one place since."

That house had been built in about 1870 for John P. Esdaile. It overlooked Halifax Harbour. The family may have moved there in about 1883, Gyrth's older brother Harold, born in about 1875, having remembered moving house when he was aged 8 years. (see HAR autobiography p14,).

There is some doubt about the date of the fire because elsewhere Gyrth wrote, suggesting his greater maturity at the time, "I do not know what the house was like in which I was born because it disappeared in flames before my critical faculties were fully organised but my only memory of that was a sizeable mound of charred wood left from the fire. At the time, my mother was on a ship called the "Beta" returning from a visit to Bermuda. There was no wireless then so my mother who had been telling the other passengers about her home overlooking the Harbour and offering to point it out was very perplexed when she could not see it even with the aid of the Captain's binoculars! What the other passengers thought is not recorded."

But in 1893 Benjamin Russell acquired Mount Amelia. Gyrth recalls:- "An early memory concerns another house nearby owned by my father and having the improbable name of Mount Amelia where I spent my infancy, returning to the rebuilt house at an early age.

I well remember the (house) my father built on the same site. I cannot recollect that it had much architectural merit, at least, it was not outstandingly ugly and it had a character of its own. I suppose it might be described as Canadian Victorian, being more or less in the Victorian style but built entirely of wood even to the roof covering. There were no planning authorities to tell my father what he could or could not do - he did exactly as he liked. The result was certainly no worse and, in many respects better, than most of the houses one sees going up today, although my father was no architect and had very little sense of artistic values. What he did have was a very decided idea of what would suit him - an individual choice not something forced on him by Acts of Parliament and municipal bye-laws."

Sue recalls that his elder brother Harold claimed some part in the design of this new house, but it may have been designed by Edward Elliot who had partnered his architect brother Henry who had recently died (1892). This must be the large many-gabled house shown on p 19 of Martin's Dartmouth. The Russells named it Mount Pleasant. A photograph of the same house was later sent to Gyrth by his father with a note on the back "My Dear Gyrth. If you could make me a satisfactory picture of this place as you must remember it I would be glad to pay you a full and fair price for it. Yours affectionately Dad."

In the 1950's Gyrth recounted to the Penarth Photographers "I can quite well remember some of the earliest photographs. My father would now be something over a hundred had he lived and my grandparents nearer a hundred and fifty. The photographs I remember were of these grandparents whom I never saw in the flesh, having been born too late. They were called tin-types - the photographs I mean, of course, not my grandparents. The proper name, as you are all sure to know, was Daguerreotypes, after the inventor, actually printed on metal plates. I only mention this to prove that I know it myself, very dark in tone with a surface as smooth and shiny as glass. I believe they were sometimes printed on glass but these, I think, were on copper. I can still see them in my mind. I remember that my grandfather wore a light coloured frock coat with very large buttons and a velvet collar, tight fitting trousers without creases and he carried a top hat of exaggerated shape. I think it was called a "beaver" then. My grandmother wore a bonnet, a very tight bodice and a bell shaped skirt reaching to the floor and lots of lace."

(Sue possesses such an image bearing the name Harry, which she presumes to mean Harold Allison Russell, depicting an infant in a high baby carriage. If correct this would put the date in the second half of the 1870s.)

His father "always wore a hat the like of which I have never seen. It appeared to be a cross between a bowler and a topper. I can't imagine where he found them - I don't remember having seen anyone else wearing one."

Gyrth recalled:-

"My mother had borne eight children of whom I was the final edition. She was too worn out with child bearing to care and was glad to pass the responsibility for my upbringing to my sister Nancy. Whilst I was still a child Nancy married R.E.Finn (Later Rt. Hon.) She must obviously have been desperately in love to have changed her religious belief before she could marry. The union was unfortunate for everyone, including me, Nancy dying in the birth of her first child, who also died. My family were only just tolerant of Finn but I must admit to some admiration for his constancy - he never remarried."

This loss occurred when Gyrth was aged 10 and seemed to have had a profound effect on his relationships with the opposite sex.

Nancy's husband was Robert Emmett Finn, born in Halifax on 10th June 1877, who became a member of the Provincial Legislature and Government and later House of Commons. They married on 17th June 1902. Their child was a boy, also named Benjamin.

"At an early age I was sent to school, first to a kindergarten presided over by an old dear called Miss Hamilton, graduating from there I went to a real school where the teacher, wholly unlike my sweet Miss Hamilton, was a real Tartar. I showed my dislike by slapping her face good and hard. She retaliated by shutting me in a cupboard having a glass door through which I could be seen by the entire class as a terrible example to them. All this was related to my mother when I returned home. She said I was never to go to that nasty school again!" "... so, from that time, my schooling became ever more haphazard." "Until the age of fourteen I had a very scrappy sort of education.."

It seems that Gyrth's mother frequently went to Bermuda for periods of time accompanied by one or other of her children because there is a record of her return on the Alpha on 9th June 1895. With her was Harold aged 20 who described this trip as being for the benefit of his health and lasting 3 months.

Gyrth's turn came some 3 years later: "When I was six years old my mother again visited Bermuda taking me with her." "We stayed with Alec Smith and his family who lived at St. George. He was the proprietor of the only considerable general store in that part of Bermuda. I still have quite vivid memories of that visit, the extraordinary whiteness of everything due, I was told, to the coral of which the whole island is composed, even houses being built with it, of sitting on the edge of a quay looking fathoms deep into the crystal clear water seeing the brilliantly patterned fish darting among the seaweed." He told Ronagh that there were "Bananas everywhere." and that he loved them, stuffed them inside his little sailor blouse to pull out and eat, much to the amusement of the little girls at the girls' school to which he was sent (presumably to get him out of the way).

Back in Nova Scotia he recalls "My early childhood was largely spent sitting on the only little bit of flat roof watching the activities of a busy seaport which, incidentally, was the only Royal Naval base on the Atlantic coast."

The Judge (autobiography p. 294) also mentions this useful architectural feature:-

"When contagious illness attacked my family at Prince Arthur Park... It was scarlet fever. The other boys were obliged to hold their conversations with the patient through the sealed windows that, if not closely guarded, would open on the roof of the veranda where they were collected." (See also HAR p.14 re the house) The sick boy was Ben who later became a civil engineer, went to Alberta and was awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen for his contribution to "opening up the West". (Ronagh, 23/9/00)

Ronagh quotes Gyrth "There was an Indian Reservation near Halifax. I used to go and play with them" He was referring to MicMac Indians, and probably said Dartmouth rather than Halifax. There is now a MicMac Boulevard in that city.

In about 1899 The Canadian Prime Minister Laurier visited Nova Scotia (Martin p.19) and called in on the Judge. Gyrth remembered the occasion: "One of the most bitter memories of my childhood was the visit to my father (then an M.P. for Halifax Co.) of Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Prime Minister of Canada. Being considered too young for such company I was sent to the home of my eldest brother and his wife, while my brother Bernard was allowed to meet the great man and even to sit on his knee! Usually the most considerate and tactful of men, that was one of the few errors I have known my father to have made. It resulted in a coolness to this particular brother lasting for years."

Despite this early experience of disappointment childhood was overall wonderfully enjoyable in retrospect -

"But, looming above all these wider liberties (of life in the provinces), nothing gives me greater reason for gratitude than the peculiarly personal one of freedom from school. I, alone of all my contemporaries, escaped the horrors of compulsory education, even more destructive of the spirit then than it is now. Through a combination of circumstances unnecessary and tedious to relate, I had the almost unique privilege of educating myself except for a few brief interludes when I was caught and placed behind bars. With the exception of these few incarcerations, which I imagine must have been as purgatorial for my teachers as I know they were for myself, I was allowed to learn whatever I liked in my own way. Whether or not it was a good thing for me, I, of course, cannot know."

"Only in the field of religion and morals were we perhaps a little inelastic. There was great religious freedom in the sense that nobody minded which of the dozen or so denominations you patronised as long as you went to church but to have no affiliation with any of them was considered quite scandalous. We had every religious freedom except the freedom not to have any. I have sometimes wondered how much of this church-going was due to zeal and how much to fear of what the neighbours would say. I myself was hounded to church every Sunday morning - that is, whenever I could be captured - for years. I endured agonies of boredom as the target of seemingly endless sermons which only served to imbue me with a strong dislike of the whole Biblical hierarchy from Adam onwards. Imagine my pained surprise in later years to hear my father confess to the same scepticism about our inherited religion that I myself felt."

It seems that he was never privy to the autobiography of his older brother Harold, in which he made much the same confession.

"I am pretty sure, only, that I was no worse off educationally than the friends of my youth who spent anything up to fifteen years behind those gloomy (school) walls. While they were being crammed with useless statistics about the population of Peru and quaint rules of grammar like not ending sentences with prepositions, I was reading. Reading everything I could lay hands on just at the age when it could make the most lasting impressions."

From a number or sources it is possible to get an idea of the reading matter likely to be available to the truant in his childhood:-

His father the Judge wrote (autobiography p.8):-

"Among the books that fell into (my father's (Nathaniel Russell II,)) hands at this time - Thomson's "Seasons", Pollock's "Course of Time", "The Guide to Holiness" and a few others - it happened that he picked up a book narrating "The Campaigns of Napoleon", which he read through from cover to cover."

These may not have survived the house fire to remain available to the young Gyrth. But (From HAR's autobiography p.13)

his older brother Harold wrote of his own reading:-

"...his (Judge Ben's) library contained the two large volumes of John Fisk's Cosmic Philosophy. Through these I (Harold) became acquainted with the works of Herbert Spencer, for which I spent the odd dollars which came into my hands, until I had accumulated and read the entire set from First Principles to the final volume of Principles of Ethics.." and (p.27.) ".. in addition to what I had acquired in school...I had.. read practically everything that had been written by Herbert Spencer, most of Thomas Huxley's lectures, Mill's Political Economy, his essay on liberty and his book on Socialism, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, books on finance, industry, and social problems to the number of a fair-sized library. Of fiction and poetry I had read but little.... Dickens I generally found tedious...Bulwer Lytton and Sir Walter Scott were equally impossible, Jane Eyre and George Elliot I could not find of interest.... father was not a reader of fiction, and such books seldom found their way into my hands."

In 1883 (Jimmy Russell's Magazine cutting) the Judge, with his great friend Dr Weldon founded the Dalhousie Law School in the old Haliburton House, building the library shelves themselves and stocking them with contributions from their own and friends' bookcases. (auto p. 141)

Between the end of his schooling and the start of his career as an engineer Harold "first came in contact with the political philosophy of Henry George..." (p.29.) and "I found use for the knowledge acquired through the reading of science"

No doubt many of these books remained accessible in the family for the younger children's use.

(p.23-4.) Harold refers to ".. . my father's efforts. He was a good reader and would frequently read to us from some book in which he was interested: and from these half hours I gained an insight into a world of knowledge with which school had nothing to do. He purchased and read for my special benefit a series of science primers which gave me an understanding of the elements of astronomy, geology, and chemistry which I could never have gotten through the methods of the schoolroom..."

A decade and a half later Gyrth was not so lucky! Writing about his experience he explained:-

" My father who was a busy M.P. and later a Judge of the Supreme Court hardly ever had time to bother except that he was most anxious that I should learn Latin. Up to now I still haven't done so!" This was despite his father having recruited a University student to tutor him in the language!

In 1896 the Judge was elected M.P. and for the next 8 years he and Louise spent 7 months in every year in Ottawa. When his second term ended and he worried about securing sufficient remuneration on his return to Dartmouth to pay for the education of three sons he wrote seeking assurances. The reply dated Oct 3rd 1904 was "Send the boys to college" (Frank, Harold and Ben had already graduated from Dalhousie University, as had also Grace Marguerite, so the three boys referred to presumably being Bernard, Arthur and Gyrth) (Judge autobiography p. 246).

	But a different college was the destiny of the youngest son, for in 1897 Harold. M. Rosenberg had arrived at the Victoria School of Art & Design in Halifax. By 1904-5 the 12 year old was taking private lessons with him (a note in the booklet accompanying the "Eighty/Twenty" exhibition - "100 years of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design").

"At the age of fourteen, I discovered the Art School and its friendly Principal. It was like a home-coming to one who had been wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. It was then that I conceived the (to my parents) wild idea of becoming an artist. I persisted in this to the extent that my parents were finally reconciled to it giving me every encouragement and assistance in their power. From that day I determined to be a painter and have never wavered in my purpose despite many setbacks and disappointments, but I wouldn't have changed it for anything..."

His older brother Harold, an amateur artist himself, became a great friend of H.M.Rosenberg knowing him as "Rosie". Meantime the young Gyrth, boarding at 70 Morris Street, continued his studies under him at the Art School which was then in a building on the corner of Argyle and George Streets, just below the old Town Clock and overlooking the Parade, his etching of which is dated 1912. The building is now (2002) used as a restaurant named The Five Fishermen.

In 1910 he made an early painting of a ship in Halifax harbour which much later (15th Oct 83-26th Nov 83) was exhibited in the Map Room, Exploration Ho, 18 Birch Ave, Toronto M4V 1C8.

In February 1910 Lewis Smith took over the Art School and introduced etching classes. He had a press which Gyrth used. Throughout the winter months of early 1911 student and teacher worked together at the press, their creations being put on view at the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition of 1911 (Tovell p.130).

The Provincial Exhibitions of both 1912 and 1913 included more of his etchings. They may have included two of Halifax street scenes, owned by Scott Robson by 1996 and included in an Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, A New Class of Art: the artist's print in Canada, 1877 - 1920. (Book: Rosemary L.Tovell, 1996).

No doubt it was in this period while still working at 60 Bedford Row Halifax he produced the aquatint of the scene, a print of which remains in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. In this he used light and dark brown inks creatively with a speckled texture to suggest the falling of snow. The techniques were further developed to produce "Winter Scene, Halifax", using three shades of brown and a second printing in blue to emulate winter light. Both these were dated 1912. Other local scenes depicted at about that time were oil paintings, "Barrington and Buckingham Streets", and "Waterfront, Halifax", an etching, "Fountain, The Parade, Halifax" and aquatint, "Argyle Street". (?200 years Art Halifax, 1949 from Dietz, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia). Later in life Russell described his "some dozen" Halifax prints as "more or less experimental." and to Ronagh he confessed that the speckled snow effect of the aquatint was accidental!

On July 11th 1911 he married Gladys Harman Webster (known as Joan) at the Presbyterian Church. She was of a large well-known middle class Nova Scotian family and of similar age to Gyrth and on 26th July that year their first child Cedric (Ted) was born. Sadly he died of a spinal tumour in 1952. Two more children followed: Guinevere (1st May 1914) and Alan (8th Jan 1926). Guinevere as a child hated the name she had been given, and confiding in her father, he suggested she take another, and suggested "Nancy" from fond memories of his older sister who had largely brought him up. (Nancy's reminiscences, as recalled by Sue.)

"After a few years (beyond the age of fourteen) I went to Gloucester, Mass. for the summer in order to paint marine subjects and to mix with some more experienced artists. Then I spent the winter at an art school in Boston, Mass. drawing from the life model."

According to Captain Percy F. Godenrath, Catalogue of Canadian War Memorials, Ottawa, 1940, Gyrth went on to study under Pape in Boston in 1910 but this year seems to have been a mistake and should have been 1911 which was an eventful year for Gyrth.

This must have been a reference to Eric L Pape (also known as Frederic Pape, the founder director of the Eric Pape School of Art, operating 1897-1913, presumably in Boston, where Pape spent most of his career, married to another artist, Alice Monroe who died during this period on 17th May 1911.

By 1912 McAlpine's City Directory of Halifax (necessarily to some extent retrospective) shows him resident in a house at 16 Granville Street not far from Bedford Row.

"Then I was persuaded to accept an appointment as draughtsman in the Public Works Dept. of Canada." The persuader was probably his older brother Harold who had joined the Federal Public Works Department in 1900 and resigned in the autumn of 1912. He may have been aided and abetted in this by his friend and Gyrth's mentor, Harry Rosenberg.

On 15th April 1912 the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage in the North Atlantic. "It was sometime during this period that I saw the cable ship returning to her station at Halifax, her decks piled high with coffins containing some of the bodies found floating in the sea after the Titanic disaster. Here is a slight drawing of the Mackay Bennet made prior to the event." (SF has a photocopy of the sketch referred to in this talk given in Penarth, much later).

The Titanic was one of many liners plying the Atlantic at that period. The founder of the Cunard line, Samuel Cunard, had been born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1787 and lived on Hollis Street in 1838. Three decades later he would have had the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia for a neighbour!

For a long period Cunarders sailed out of Halifax, and until the transfer of their express service to Southampton in the 1920s they touched at no French port on their route to Liverpool: Cherbourg did not appear in company brochures until the 1920s. (Cunard: 150 Glorious years, John Maxtone Graham, David and Charles, 1989.)

A photograph of 1913 (evidently early in the year) shows Gyrth in the snows of Canada. (Steve Regis 13/10/99).

In August 1913 McTavish, editor of the Canadian Magazine commissioned Russell to illustrate an article "Changing Halifax" by Archibald McMechan with drawings and prints. (41.4 Aug 1913, pp 326 -336) (Tovell p 120) But the 21 year old was discontent:- "I stuck the Public Works Department until 1913 and then I revolted; it was too much like leading a double life. In the summer of 1913 I sailed on a very slow liner to the Thames and from there I went to Paris."


Paris had become the centre of the Art world. The tsunami of Impressionism had swept its way out across the globe and secondary waves of post- and neo-Impressionism emanated from its epicentre. For any aspiring artist Paris was the place to be and most of them went! Académie Julian welcomed all comers, opening the doors of its several branches to hundreds of students, many of them from overseas. Its reputation was enhanced by inclusion amongst its alumni of Bonnard, Matisse, Vuillard and many other artists who later became well-known. The 21 year old Canadian joined them. He describes the routine:-

"I stayed in Paris for a few months drawing nude models at the Académie Julien, ad nauseam. The idea was that the model (usually a woman) took up an acceptable pose on Monday morning and maintained it intermittently for the rest of the week. The students drew the model on identical sheets of Michallet paper, starting with the crown of the head at the top and finishing with the soles of the feet at the bottom of the paper. I had scores of such studies which, years later, I threw into a tidal river flowing as I suppose into the sea. A few hours later, the tide having turned I was flabbergasted to see all my charcoal nudes washed up on the shore being eagerly gathered up all dripping wet by the inhabitants of the riverside village." (This was Topsham on the river Exe.)

Gyrth also attended the Atelier Colarossi at No 10 Rue de la Grande Chaumière (Thatched Cottage). (Tovell p 161 note 108). Close neighbours at No 8 at about the same period were the Canadian artist Caroline Armington (née Wilkinson), who had taught in Nova Scotia, and her husband Frank.[letter 11/5/1916 from Art Museum of Toronto to Eric Browne of National Gallery, Ottawa]

Gyrth also found time to make excursions from Paris. A painting entitled "Charenton", a town at the confluence of the Seine and the Marne, 4.8 km south west of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, was shown at an exhibition in Canada a decade later and at some time he painted the Harbour Entrance, Honfleur (auctioned by Ritchies of Toronto on December 2nd 1996). The Quai, Honfleur was exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1950 with a price tag of 25 guineas. The National Gallery of Canada holds a pen and black ink drawing entitled "Le Havre, Globetrotters" dated 1916, the same year in which he made an etching of the White Barn, Montarlot, a village about 3 miles (4½ km) SE of Moret sur Loing.

His friend of later years, Donald McIntyre, refers to Gyrth's period in France as "very fruitful" and that the best things he ever did were of beach tents at St Malo in 1913, some sold cheap in the depression, another to the Welsh and Contemporary Arts Society. One remains in the property of his widow who also has a photograph of a washerwomen's shelter on the side of a river, his sketch of which became the subject of a painting in 1942. Other subjects included fishing punts on the Seine. Donald McIntyre tells how Gyrth did silver point drawings in Paris, too.

Retracing famous footsteps Gyrth recounts ".... I have been to Barbizon, in the Forest [of Fontainebleu] and talked with the inn-keeper there. He told me that many of Millet's now famous paintings, worth thousands of pounds, were traded in at the inn for a meal." At the time he was probably staying in Moret-sur-Loing, the town in which the Impressionist Alfred Sisley spent the last 20 years of his life to die in poverty in 1899.

Whether or not Gyrth ever met or studied under Monet is not known, but certainly the master had some influence on the young artist - a small study in oils of the facade of the Church at Moret is very reminiscent of a painting in Monet's Rouen Cathedral series with a convincingly gritty look to the depicted stone. Sisley had emulated Monet in making a series of paintings of the Moret church at different times of day and under different lights. His great friend of later years, Donald McIntyre, confirmed that Gyrth would often paint out on the beach where sand would sometimes become stuck to the wet oil paint. Did he carry some sand back to Moret?

Gyrth also made an etching of the Church's Flamboyant Gothic doorway, previously a favourite subject for Sisley, the plate for which was kindly given to his daughter Sue by his widow, Ronagh, along with a print made from it.

Speaking to a group of photographers in 1957 about the changes of the past century Gyrth said "In 1857, the Art world might have been compared to a broadly based pyramid rising from a host of artist craftsmen engaged in a great variety of activities, to the maestro at the apex. There were no important ideological differences dividing them and there were comparatively few full-time teachers of art. It was a fairly compact group....

.... The same evolutionary process operated in art for centuries until quite recently. Then, suddenly, artists became revolutionary, inventing strange idioms which very few people could understand and appreciate. Now it has become the fashion for the artist to invent his own language so making it just about impossible for the average person to know whether what he is saying has any meaning or is just pure humbug. There has been nothing like it since the Tower of Babel.

In order not to make it too involved and because France has for a long time been the leader in everything pertaining to art, I will confine myself for the moment to French artists, not excluding some who may have been French by adoption. The principal figures in French art at the time coinciding with the invention of the camera were; Millet, Corot, Rousseau, Daubigny, Troyon and Courbet. Overlapping in time but a bit later came the Impressionists and post-Impressionist painters, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne and Van Gogh, who was really a Dutchman, but is generally thought of as a French artist. This is not a complete list, of course, but just some of the outstanding names. Loosely classed as Impressionist painters were Monet, mainly interested in effects of light, Manet and Renoir, both chiefly figure painters, and Degas, also a figure painter who made a speciality of ballet dancers. .....Cezanne and Van Gogh, while they accepted much of the Impressionist theory of colour, deviated from it each in his own way. They would be more accurately described as post-Impressionists."

"...The Impressionists were not opposed to naturalistic painting; they only wanted to improve it by substituting the true colours of nature for the brown fog of their predecessors. So far there was no attempt to alter natural appearance, but only to make them appear more natural.

Some of them felt that, with Impressionism, the last word had been said as far as naturalistic painting was concerned and, also, the new invention of the camera made it slightly absurd.

So the artists began to question whether truth to nature was, as supposed, the primary aim of art, or, in fact, had any place in art, and some of them were repelled by the new colour theories of the impressionist school, arguing that it made art more like a cold-blooded science. The choice before them lay between imitating their predecessors and, incidentally, competing with the camera, or finding a new road. Many and devious were the roads they took, from post-impressionism to the Fauvists, Cubists, Futurists, Neo-primitives, Vorticists, Surrealists and various other isms. Time is too short to describe them all. It is sufficient for my purpose to say that none of them were very concerned with holding up a mirror to nature."

Meanwhile Gyrth still had concerns at home in Canada:- On May 1st 1914 Gyrth's second child, his daughter Guinevere (Nancy), was born in Halifax, Canada, and although she remained a Canadian citizen all her life, never actually set foot there. That is she left before she started walking! And in July 1914 The Canadian Magazine printed a reproduction of "The Pontoon".

Barely one month later "The first world war broke out in 1914, a memorably beautiful summer. I was in Moret-sur-Loing living with some American friends. They asked me to go to London in case the man's mother there needed any help. She didn't, but I thought it better to sit tight where I was since the German army seemed to be carrying all before it, and, as I was told later, nearly overran the village I had just left."

"When I arrived in London as a young man, a number of people were deceived in me. I don't mean I deceived them - they deceived themselves. As I had come from Paris, the Mecca of all progressively minded artists and the cradle of every new-born fashion in art, and because my drawing was cock-eyed and my painting technique clumsy, they thought it was intentional - that I was one of the new boys who were going to set the Thames alight. But they were wrong - it was only that I couldn't do any better.

It was not very long before I was elected to one of the best known Societies of Art and my work was reproduced in various art periodicals. I was befriended by one of the most distinguished London art critics. It was all very gratifying but rather bewildering. One day my critic friend invited me to the Cafe Royal to meet some of the Vorticist painters. But I loathed Vorticism and had no wish to be caught up in the Vortex. It was not my ambition to sit in a dim studio beating my brains for new ideas to stun the public. I enjoyed then, as I do now, getting into the open and meeting my artistic problems under the open sky - to paint what I could see with my own eyes, interpreting it in my own way, however undistinguished. I said I would rather go down to London Pool and look at the shipping.

Those few words, spoken impulsively, settled the course of my life. From that time, I went my own way, making my own discoveries and solving my own problems. My friend the critic lost interest in me, the Art magazines ceased to publish my work and it was many years before they began to notice me again, but they did - eventually."

Perhaps one of the works mentioned was his aquatint "Bedford Row, Halifax, NS" published in 1915 in The Studio, Volume 63. The Society to which he referred was the Royal Society of British Artists in which he was registered as a member on 13th March 1916 and in the following two years he exhibited 11 works there. His critic friend seems to have been Paul George Konody (1872-1933) of the Daily Mail & Observer [see Chap 3]. On 1st April 1916 the Third Exhibition of Canadian Etchers opened at the Art Museum of Toronto with Russell as a new exhibitor.

It was not long before Gyrth was attracted to Rye in Sussex, one of the ancient Cinque Ports. The original five were Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich, medieval ports on the South East coast of England allowed trading privileges in exchange for providing the bulk of the English navy. Winchelsea and Rye were added to the number later. Since its earlier days as a port geological changes have pushed shingle below its former sea cliff to form Dungeness at the rate of several meters per year. Looking out from the Castle one sees the river Rother winding its lengthened course through the extensive shingle banks.

Deserted by the sea the town became frequented by artists. Gyrth took up residence at "The Warden" described in the 1911 town Directory as the "Warden" Temperance Hotel at 105 the High St. Prop. Edward Bryant. The adjacent shop, 107 High St. (later Easton's Art Gallery) was the associated Miss Kimson's Apartments. The advertisement of 1904 noted that it was "two minutes from station.. Speciality: Primest hams (cooked) 1/6 lb... Commercial Room, Cycle Store, 24 beds. Terms strictly moderate...." Obviously ideal for the impoverished artist!

From there Russell pursued his trans-Atlantic correspondence:-

In a letter to Eric Browne of the National Art Gallery in Ottawa on 13th June 1916 he explains that he had destroyed prints about the time he went to Britain and "to ask me for etchings is like trying to get blood out of a stone. I could send you any number of drawings, almost any medium, but of etchings I am absolutely barren. The difficulties in a country area with no printer within fifteen miles, are so great as to make etching nothing but a bug-bear."

This letter resulted from an attempt by the National Gallery to purchase two works which had been exhibited by the Art Museum of Toronto, at their "Fourth Etching Exhibition" held 5th -28th April 1916, one of which, "The Sands", priced at $11, had already been purchased. They were more successful concerning "The Rother at Rye" for which they paid $6. Also exhibited was the colour aquatint "The White Barn Montarlot", purchased by the National Gallery of Canada (Tovell p.119).

Negotiations continued and a fresh print of "The Sands" was made. Russell handwrote again:-

" Rye, Sussex, July 12 1916


National Gallery of Canada


Dear Mr Brown,

The difference between the print of which the trustees approved and the one I sent to you is simply that one is printed in simple colour and the other with a brown over print. I am afraid it is out of the question to get you the other print as it was sold before going to Ottawa to somebody in Toronto. I am sending you three printed in simple colour from which you may be able to choose.

I don't know whether or no it is permissible to make suggestions to a national gallery,- you being the only body of that distinction to take even a casual interest in me as yet. In the days of my extreme youth I sent a few prints, mostly colour-prints, to several exhibitions in Canada and, never having sent anything else, what infinitesimal reputation I have there rests solely on these. Now that I am become a man I have abandoned etching almost entirely and the prevailing belief that I am an etcher is an entire myth. That the trustees of the National Gallery of Canada approved of "The Sands" raises it in my estimation, but I cannot feel proud of it or of any other effort which I have made in that direction. I would gladly exchange the print for something better without regard for any difference in price. Accordingly I take the liberty of sending you a batch of my "sunshine drawings" in Chinese ink,- any one of which may be taken in exchange for the etching. These drawings have never been shown in Canada nor indeed anywhere else with the exception of the one which was reproduced and is on the way to its second exhibition at the Glasgow Institute (first shown at the R.B.A.) There can be no harm in making the suggestion,- you have the drawings and the prints,- "you pays your money and you takes your choice." If the trustees wish something in colour I would suggest that they have a look at the pastel which is appearing in "Colour" probably August or September. (If you don't know the publication I shall forward a copy. [no closure of bracket] I do not wish to imply that I am in a position to scatter gifts but if the National Gallery want one of my pastels - really wants it as I want a houseboat and a prolonged trip to Spain, I would rather that no monetary consideration should make or mar the proposition. You can readily understand my anxiety to be well represented if at all,

Yours very truly,

Gyrth Russell

The prints did not dry as well as they should have. Before framing one, it should be thoroughly soaked in clean water and tacked securely by the four corners until quite dry."

The pastel referred to shows an apparently continental street scene, houses with shuttered windows, two distant figures in a "boxy" perspective, a lot of lilac used for the shadows, with creams, pinks, green and red.

"Quartier Latin" (Latin Quarter) was exhibited in the Black & white/ miniature/ architecture section of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art Exhibition 23/9/1916 -16/12/1916. but not illustrated in the catalogue. Gyrth Russell's address was given as "The Warden", Rye, Sussex.

[RGIFA Catalogue 1916-1921, RGIFA 1861-1989, Vol 4 Roger Billicliffe (designation painter) seen at Mitchell Library 6/4/01]

RGIFA is now (2001) within an office of a chartered accountant with one lady member of staff, working part-time at 5 Oswald St, G1 0141 248 7411]

On September 4th he writes from Rye Sussex to E R Greig, Secretary & Curator at the Art Museum of Toronto "I had a violent spasm of etching and colour printing....." presumably in preparation for the Exhibition of the following year. This may have included the etching of the "Doorway of Martyrdom, Canterbury" acquired by the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario.

In 1916 the National Gallery of Canada purchased the oil painting "The Lane in Spring" from the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Gyrth probably still felt very much a Canadian and was too involved in his own business to concern himself greatly in events across the Channel.


While Gyrth Russell had been pursuing peaceful activities in London and Sussex complete contrast prevailed less than two hundred miles away across the English Channel. He tells how in the first few months of the war:-

"The Germans were repulsed and the war settled into a kind of stalemate. The Canadians came over in their thousands to camp on Salisbury Plain. It was a vile winter and many of them died in a dreadful plague of influenza. I also had influenza but I also had a warm comfortable bed and people to care for me. Nevertheless it left me very weak."

By April 1915 the Canadians had become involved in the Battle of Ypres, experiencing deadly attacks of chlorine gas. Days later in the Battle of St. Julien one in three Canadian participants lost their lives. The following year the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually annihilated in the Battle of the Somme which cost Canada over 24,000 casualties. In the spring of 1917 the Canadians captured Vimy Ridge a strategically important enemy defence position overlooking the Souchez River which had cost 130,000 French casualties earlier in the war.

"Then [29/8/1917] Canada became a country of conscripts and the recruiting offices started to badger me about a medical check. Luckily for me someone spoke to Lord Beaverbrook who was forming a group of Canadian artists to make a record of the war on behalf of the Canadian Government."

Beaverbrook had started life in 1879 in New Brunswick, another of Canada's Maritime Provinces, as William Maxwell Aitken, and in his youth had studied law in Nova Scotia under Judge Benjamin Russell who regarded Aitken as a star pupil. When made a Lord he took his name from a locality near his birthplace.

In November 1916 Lord Beaverbrook established the Canadian War Memorial Fund in London with a budget of £15,000, (Tovell p. 145) initially taking on British subjects as war artists. Later in August 1917 he recruited 4 Canadian artists including G. Russell and A. Y. Jackson, then on January 18th 1918 Caroline Armington (Née Wilkinson), who had taught art in Halifax in the 1890s (Tovell p. 161 note 106), also, at her own request. They were commissioned to make full editions of prints (for sale later).

In the mid-sixties Gyrth recalled the recruitment interview thus:-

"How's your father?" [Catch phrase originating in a music hall]. These were the first and almost the only words addressed directly to me by a great newspaper baron now entering his eighty-sixth year.

How was I, a young innocent abroad, to guess that the abrupt question was probably meant to mock me and throw me off balance. I had heard frequently of this man whom my father regarded with a mixture of pride and fearful wonder, much as I imagine the Minotaur might have been seen by his parents. I had no reason to suspect the sincerity of the questioner knowing what I did about the teacher - scholar relationship between them over several years - but I did, nor have I since felt otherwise.

All this was a very long time ago, during the world's first attempted suicide. I hated it. It was contrary to everything I valued and believed in. I don't think it was just the fear of death; I had risked my life often without any obligation, usually by drowning, but the thought of being buried alive in a filthy trench and my body serving to fertilize a French peasant's crop of root vegetables -!

My father's distinguished pupil was, at this time, partnering the Welsh Wizard [Lloyd-George, the British Prime Minister] in carrying on the war against the Germans (the war to end war resulting in the peace to end peace) but he found time to organise a corps of artists, photographers and writers to make a historical record of Canada's part in the conflict. Several of my friends, of whom the principal one was the "Observer" art critic, Konody, arranged an interview for me in the Minotaur's lair, somewhere in the labyrinth behind Fleet Street. I can't say we hit it off exactly, but he was eventually persuaded that my help was essential for a successful recording and I was enrolled as an Officer of the Canadian Army." Konody was also art critic of the Daily Mail (Maria Tippett, Art at the service of war, Univ of Toronto press 1984)

"By this time, the old man's most brilliant student, one of the few he visualised as the brilliant advocate and future justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, had gone completely out of orbit and was heading for the Sun - all he was interested in was the highest of high finance, giving the Welsh Wizard the benefit of his financial and organising genius to win the Kaiser's War."

The effects of that war were not confined to Europe:-

submarines were a hazard to trans-Atlantic shipping, the Lusitania having been sunk in 1915, the risks to Gyrth's works of art in transit being trivial compared to all else. On 9th March 1917 E. R. Greig of the Art Museum of Toronto writes "Thank you for sending them and taking the risk of submarines"

And even on the Western seaboard of the Atlantic life was not uneventful!

"In the later years of the 1914 war a munition ship blew up in Halifax Harbour flattening a large area of the city and causing thousands of casualties. Hearing all the commotion in the street my father went to the door to see what was ado. At that moment the explosion occurred. My father said that, although many people had their clothes blown off, he had his blown on because, when he went downstairs he had no waistcoat on but after the explosion he had! As he was a man of great repute sitting on the Bench of the Supreme Court we were obliged to accept his story."

The explosion took place at 9.06 a.m. on December 5th 1917 and had been caused by the collision of vessels in Bedford Basin between Halifax and Dartmouth. It was the largest ever explosion before the atomic bombs of World War Two, the Mont Blanc having aboard over 2,600 tons of explosive, including picric acid and TNT. Vast swathes of both cities were devastated and about 2000 deaths caused, of which 50 were in Dartmouth. The situation of the 25,000 without adequate shelter was not helped by the severe wintry weather which followed. Gyrth's mother Louise was away in Calgary with one of her children, but his niece Anna, Harold's oldest child, just 14 years old, well remembered the event, her schoolmarm rushing from the building screaming "The German's are coming!". Returning from the dithering Halifax City Council the following day Gyrth's older brother Harold pushed the Mayor and Council of Dartmouth into taking effective action. "As a result of my effort I found myself the head of the Relief Committee, and with a band of loyal and faithful workers, such as I never again may hope to see in action, we stopped at nothing."

It fell to Judge Russell to deal with the pilot on board the Mont Blanc. He wrote "When Captain MacKey... was arrested for manslaughter in causing the death of his colleague and others, I was asked to test the matter by the issue of a habeus corpus. It seemed to me that, far from being negligent or careless, as charged in the information, the defendant had taken every possible care to prevent the collision..." The decision to release the pilot proved unpopular. One of the Judge's sons overheard an opinion that the Judge should be castrated for it.

Meanwhile back in Europe the Canadians had been fighting continually in the area of Arras and had secured part of that city and Lens. British and Canadians had fought a war of attrition at Passchendaele for a fortnight starting late October 1917 with the loss of many more men. In November the Canadian Cavalry Brigade supported the successful British tank attack at Cambrai.

On Christmas Eve 1917 Gyrth was made a temporary Honorary Lieutenant, HQ, OMFC. On entering the service on 17/1/1918 he was 25 years 9 months old, 5ft 6½in tall, weight 126lbs, Chest 32½ins, range of expansion 3 ins. Rates of pay -Pay $2.00 F.A. .60, Mess 1.00, Total $3.60.

His war record shows a succession of transitions:-

"17/1/1918 Commissioned Lieutenant

1/2/1918 TOS Can. Record List, France

24/2/1918 Seconded to Can.War Records"

Tippett explains that only four artists were authorised to go to the front at any one time and Russell was amongst a group kept in the wings until sometime after December 1917, but a drawing entitled "The Top of Vimy Ridge" adds the date 23rd February 1918 to the title, so he was probably at the front throughout that month.

"I was given a commission in the Canadian Army as an artist. It was an immense relief to me to know that I did not have to kill anyone. I was sent to France with a perfectly free commission to draw and paint anything I pleased just so that it had anything whatever to do with the war. Beaverbrook was my commanding officer and I saw very little of him. What I did see I didn't much like."

"So I went, or perhaps I should say I was taken to France where I joined a mess at Canadian H.Q. (at Aubigny). I was allotted a car and a driver who was instructed to drive me anywhere in the area occupied by Canadians." "I made a number of studies in the Canadian sector of the Western Front where I was associated with Augustus John, Orpen and several Canadian artists in what was termed Canadian War Records under the leadership of the late Lord Beaverbrook. Sir Frank Brangwyn was also of the number and recommended me for the commission but I don't think he went to France." Russell was also at Bethune and Amiens. (A.John letter of 14/1/1945)

"And that was how I came to know another Welsh Wizard called Augustus John who painted me for no other reason than my having a long face, A.J. at that period having a liking for the lean look and the lantern jaw! I also had the discomfiture of dining with a Canadian general whose name I have mislaid but well remember his blistering comments about the b***** artists! I think what started him off was John's boast of being the only British Officer other than King George the Fifth to sport a beard! "

"I also met Orpen and a Scottish artist whose name escapes me. Orpen wanted to know why John had chosen to paint me especially. John explained it was because I had a long face (he was going through a phase of long faces then), very flattering I thought! Some twenty years later I enquired of John about this portrait. I presumed it would be quite beyond my means but possibly I might have a photograph of it. John's reply was that it had been sold to an American in a job lot of paintings and he (John) had no photograph and couldn't remember to whom he had sold it! So, someone in America thinks he has a portrait of our unknown warrior little guessing it is only me disguised as one!"

Alfred Munnings was also amongst the group. Renowned for his paintings of horses he found his subjects amongst the Cavalry. In 1944 he and John were rivals for the Presidency of the Royal Academy. Munnings won the election by 24 votes to 11.(Oxford Dict of 20th C Art)

Gyrth's war record reveals something of life in the service and life for his family in England:-

17/1/18 Address on Officer's Declaration paper was Thorverton, Devonshire: By 13/5/19 Gladys W Russell's address was 4 Queen St Exeter:

On the War Service Gratuity & Separation Allowance form Gladys W Russell's address was corrected from 4 Queen St Exeter to 13 St Kilda Terrace, Brixham, payment being made on August 26th and Sept 26th 1919: On the back of form M.F.W.42: Remarks 47 High St Topsham, Devonshire, Eng.

Travel allowance paid Dec 18th for period 25 -28 Nov 1918 was £2"13s

Travel allowance paid Mar 28th for period 13 -16 Mar 1919

was £2"13s which was equated to $12.89.

In the Allied advance starting August 1918 the Canadian Corps was assigned to spearhead an attack near Amiens and advanced 19 kilometres in 3 days. Thence to Arras and Cambrai. Through October the Canadians joined in an uninterrupted advance through Valenciennes to arrive in Mons for the Armistice on November 11th 1918. The War was over.

In the four years of the War Canada lost over 66,000 men, nearly one third of whom were posted "missing presumed dead"

The intention of the Canadian War Memorials Fund had been to create a Memorial to the Canadian war effort - "this series of decorative panels was thought out in connection with an architectural scheme which is to form a suitable and imposing framework for the pictures, so that they will present themselves as an impressive ensemble in orderly sequence. The memorial, when complete, is to have more in common with the Pantheon in Paris than the ordinary round of fatiguing and bewildering picture galleries." it was explained in the introduction to the catalogue of the Exhibition of the first portion held in the Royal Academy Galleries at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London in January 1919.

Years later, speaking to the members of the Barry Music Club, Gyrth commented:-

"It sometimes happens that the artist cannot even buy the opportunity of fulfilling himself. I am thinking of your own Augustus John whose life long ambition was to be a mural painter but who was never given a chance to prove himself. The nearest he ever got to it, as far as I know, was in 1918 when he was the brightest constellation in a little group of which I was a very junior member engaged to paint war pictures for Canada. He was commissioned to design a large mural for a building intended to house the collection, and actually got as far as making a very large cartoon about forty feet long by ten feet high. Unluckily for him the philanthropist who was putting up the money for the building had a difference with the then Prime Minister of Canada and withdrew. So there the matter ended. I am sorry that John never got painting his large panel..."

Lieutenant Gyrth Russell was represented in the Exhibition by 21 works, his pictures hanging amongst those by Alfred Munnings (later knighted), Major Augustus John, and a fellow-countryman Lieutenant A.Y.Jackson, A. R. C. A., who became a leading artist in the Group of Seven, and many others.

Russell and Jackson shared some aspects of their art education, Jackson having first gone to Paris in 1905 and having studied at Académie Julien under Laurens who taught there for many years. After a two year return to Canada A. Y. Jackson went back to Paris in 1911. (Catalogue of exhibition, Canadians in Paris, 1867 - 1914 at Toronto Art Gallery, 1979). There is some similarity in the style and subject of their war paintings, too. (Compare Jackson's Lorette Ridge and Cathedral at Ypres (both 8½" * 10½", Paul Duval >1970) in the McMichael collection at Kleinberg art gallery (10365 Islington Ave Kleinberg, Ont L0J 1C0) with Gyrth's.

	Russell's pictures convey scenes of scarred, desolate landscapes, crumbling buildings, skeletal trees, stretcher bearers carrying their sad burdens, groups of men marching over the horizon (probably to their destruction), with the occasional lighter moment such as a soldier conversing with a French civilian. Rosemary Tovell writes "Russell's war etchings display an intensity and toughness that contrasts with his usually sweet-tempered subjects." (p 148) But the pictures can only hint at the unimaginable horrors of the dreadful war.

Some prints were available for sale at one or two guineas each and Queen Mary, a patron of the arts, who visited the Exhibition purchased at least one of Russell's, a print ( 23.8 cm wide * 17.8 cm) of an etching entitled "War Damage Arras 1917". This is the same size as that entitled "Hotel de Ville, Arras" property of Art Gallery of Ontario. (Some confusion about the title seems to have arisen because this bears the same catalogue number (246) and description as "Hotel de Ville, Cambrai")

"The Exhibition was opened by Sir Frederick Borden, the then Premier of Canada, a former political opponent of my father's and whom I had met on previous occasions." The occasion did not enhance Gyrth's opinion of Beaverbrook whom at the first interview had thought him a bit flippant when he hadn't been needlessly overbearing. "This impression was confirmed some months later when the work of the war artists was shown at Burlington House." "As I ventured to make myself known to (the Canadian Prime Minister) the Beaver caught hold of my arm and pulled me away interrupting our conversation with some excuse about a photograph. The incident didn't help to alter my opinion."

The Memorials exhibition went on to the Anderson Gallery in New York in June 1919 and thence to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, then Montreal and Ottawa. The Last Phase was exhibited by the National Gallery of Canada in 1920 in Montreal. The Exhibition in London represented a stage in Gyrth's winding down process, the formalities of which are summarised in terse notes at the foot of an Information Form for the purpose of making a record of Canadian artists and their work:-

31/3/1919 To Kinmel Camp Rhyl

(This was shortly after Canadian soldiers, impatient to get home despite shortage of shipping, rioted, wrecking the camp on March 4th 1919. In putting down the insurrection some men were shot, and five, including David Gillan of Nova Scotia, killed. Extra efforts were then made to repatriate the troops.[BBC Radio 4 16/04/2002 3 p.m. and The Kinmel Park Camp Riots, 1919 by Julian Pulkowski, Flintshire Historical Society, 1989])

3/5/1919 To Canada

16/5/1919 SOS CEF (SOS is apparently short for "Struck off Service", or possibly "Struck off Strength", that is, demobbed.)

His war record notes:-

Active operations 1mo. C.W.R.

Embarked Her Majesty's Troopship Royal George @ Liverpool on 3rd May 1919. Disembarked at Halifax 14/5/1919

demob 16/5/1919

Final pay sheet made out at St John (NB) on 16/5/1919. On discharge his proposed residence was given as C/O Judge Russell, Barrington St. Halifax.

At his leaving examination on 5 April 1919 his physique was described as slight, nutrition as fair, pulse 100, eyes were grey, vision and hearing normal, arteries good, general health and physical condition good, no affectations of the various body systems, but needing four dental fillings in the top incisors.

Gyrth considered his war service to be a harrowing time which he wished to forget (Manor House Gallery Catalogue). He told Ronagh that the stomach wounds were the worst. His reaction to anything that reminded him would be "I don't wish to know.. I've seen enough of that sort of thing..." He wrote "I am quite pleased that my very immature paintings of that period are safe from the public gaze, at any rate, for my lifetime." - and so they were!


Rick Carpenter re the Canvas of War exhibition, 2000:-

"I wanted to tell you that his painting was used in a video in the exhibit and it was the only one featured from the First World War in that particular clip discussing war art. Rather nice to see just how valued his paintings are... it was the one showing a squad of soldiers marching away into the desolate and destroyed landscape with one straggler more in the foreground of the painting following."

Note: Wyndham Lewis arrived at Canadian HQ, Vimy Ridge, to draw gun emplacements on 1st January 1918 (Tuesday). Returned to London 26th January (Saturday). Demobilised April 1919. Book from Balham Library, Art and War @ IWM. Wyndham Lewis born in Amherst NS.

CHAPTER 4 Devonshire [Between the wars 1918 -1928]

Some time before enlistment in late 1917 Gyrth had taken up residence with his family at Brookside, Thorverton, a picturesque little village a few miles north of Exeter, the County capital of Devon, in the South of the county on the River Exe.

Although a mere pin-head on a road map, the village has a surprisingly well documented history, primarily because the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral were the lords of the manor since the time of Edward I (1272 - 1307). The water mill was noted in the Domesday Book of 1086. Its wooden bridge of 1307 was replaced by a stone bridge in 1415. In the 18th century the village was on a busy crossroads. By 1850 two thirds of the parish of 4000 acres was owned by the Cathedral authorities and one other large resident landlord. Many professions were represented amongst the thousand or so people who lived in the village itself, which had three schools, one founded in 1673, and three inns, the Dolphin already extant in 1650. From early times Thorverton building stone was quarried one mile west of the village.

[Devon: W.G.Hoskins, David and Charles, 1972 ex Bromley Library]

Late in life his daughter Nancy was able to guide her son to the house which she remembered from her early childhood. She described it as the lodge keeper's house on the Brookside Estate. It was an elegant 2 storey west-facing double fronted stone-built house, directly on the road with the brook on the opposite side. Generously sized rooms were brightly lit by the large windows. At the rear was a walled yard.

His studio was at 4 Queen Street, Exeter, the top of a row of shops on the west side of the street. This became the family address during Gyrth's absence on war service. A report in the Canadian Magazine of Nov 18-April 1919 quotes an Exeter newspaper article which mentions that "his studio looks down upon the busiest corner of Exeter." This would be the intersection of Queen Street and the High Street.

In August 1920 Ryman's of Oxford published a series of signed proof Etchings of Oxford and Colleges by Gyrth Russell, Number two was "High Street, Oxford, size 12½ inches _ 9 inches limited to 150 Signed proofs at £3..3..0 each. Others in the series were No.1. Cornmarket Street, Broad Street, Brasenose, Merton, Oriel and Hertford.

These had probably been the result of work done while living in the Home Counties some time previously because by the 1920's Gyrth was having to correct the impression that he was only an engraver, etching work then being fashionable, but he much preferred work in water colour and oils. So on 4th February 1925 he wrote to Eric Browne of the National Gallery of Canada that he had destroyed whatever impressions he possessed.

War records reveal that for a period his family lived at 13 St Kilda Terrace, Brixham, Devon before being reunited with Gyrth after the armistice at 47 High Street, Topsham, a small village on the Exe estuary some 4 miles SE of Exeter. Nancy frequently explained that the correct pronunciation was "Tops'am" and was very tempted to rename her Orkney home as such, so fond was she of her memories of the town. Here he continued to work on his War Commission prior to the Exhibition. By 1922 his name appeared with that of Gladys Webster Russell (qualified through husband's occupation) on the electoral register for that address. Both names remained so up to 1927 inclusive. "Women did not gain the right to vote until 1918 (if over 30) or 1928 (over 21)." p.49 Tracing your ancestors D.M.Field Treasure Press 1987].

Another place with a long history stretching back into the Bronze Age, Topsham made its mark as the naval base for Exeter in Roman times, the Roman penetration of Britain having gone no further than the River Exe. Centuries later in 1282 the Countess of Devon, for her own financial advantage, cut off Exeter from the sea by the construction of weirs across the river. Topsham became its outport as well as a shipbuilding town. It was also a coastal fishing port later engaging in Newfoundland cod fishery as well as having a local salmon fishing industry. Along with Dutch bricks, which came to Topsham as ballast in returning vessels, came Dutch styles of architecture, contributing to the charming and varied townscape.

There Gyrth was able to indulge in his twin delights of painting and "messing about in boats". His studio was a large stone building on the quay. From Topsham as a base Gyrth was able to explore North and South coasts of Devon as well as what lay between and make paintings of the many delightful little villages and harbours.

His interests still spanned the Atlantic, though, with a dependent family in England, it was on that side of the water that most of his activity took place. But Canada still held a little of his attention - Lieutenant Gyrth Russell was [C/O Judge B Russell, according to his war record] at 279 Barrington Street Halifax on 4th November 1919 there having been an exhibition of his work in Halifax in 1919 (referred to in Halifax Echo of 8/11 1923). He also featured in an article in the Canadian Magazine of the period November 1918 - April 1919.

On 24th of February 1920 [or was it 1929?] the Foreign Office of Great Britain issued a passport in his name. (Steve Regis).

	In 1923 he made another return visit to Canada accompanied by at least 50 works including 21 etchings which were exhibited in early November 1923 in the Green Lantern Building on Barrington Street, Halifax (modern numbering 1585). On 8/11/1923 the Halifax Echo reported "Those who had the privilege of seeing Mr Russell's art exhibit four years ago read eagerly of his recent arrival in his native city".

Amongst titles mentioned were, from his recent experiences,:-

"Shapter Street" - there are Higher and Lower Shapter Streets in Topsham.

"The Causeway, Topsham",


"Appledore, North Devon",

"Bathing Barge",

"Victoria Parade, Torquay"

Slightly earlier periods were represented by etchings of the "Norman Stairway, Canterbury" and "Merton College Chapel" and other buildings of Oxford University.

The exhibition went on to the Church of England Institute in St John, New Brunswick between 1st and 11th December 1923.

What most seems to have impressed the reporter of the St John New Brunswick Telegraph Journal in the report of Monday 3rd December was the Chinese ink drawing:-

"Charenton" (le Pont), a district just SE of Paris 3 miles/4.8 km from Notre Dame Cathedral, on Right Bank of Seine at influx of Marne, and at SW edge of Bois de Vincennes a large park E of Paris.

Of his Devonian output honourable mention was made of

"Cuckoo Time",

"The Church Wall", Topsham,

"The Blackberry Pickers",

"October Morning",

"The Cliffs near Westward Ho!",

"Exminster Marsh", and

"The Lane in Spring"

This last was a companion painting to that of the same title acquired by the National Gallery of Canada in 1922. (check)

Some of these works had previously been exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art and at an exhibition of his work at the office of the Agent-General of Nova Scotia and reported in English newspapers, The Daily Mail and the London Times.

Between his arrival in Canada and the exhibitions Gyrth found time on Monday October 29th 1923 to make a sketch of his father Hey (?) B.Russell J.S.C.

He may very well also have met his former teacher, Harry Rosenberg, who had been called out of retirement to teach at Halifax Art School in 1922 (Tovell p. 129).

It seems that Gyrth was unaccompanied by his family on this home visit - Ronagh reminds one "If he went, he did so alone - Remember Nancy never set foot in Canada though born there". Indeed Nancy still had a Canadian passport at the time of her death, even though she had left the country before she was able to walk.

Gyrth's second son, Alan, was born on 8th January 1926. It was at some time during this decade that Gyrth's parents seem to have visited him and his family in Britain:-

Joan told Ronagh of this visit and how his mother was absent-minded and confused - it must have been in England as she spoke of putting something in their travelling case. "Joan told me how Louise Russell gave her table linen & Joan put it back in Louise's trunk".

While living in South Devon Gyrth had come to know Laurence du Garde Peach, (eventually M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt.) a writer and Lecturer at Exeter University. With his wife Marianne they became life-long friends despite the parting of their ways, Laurie having finished up in Derbyshire.

They cooperated in the production of the book "Unknown Devon" one of a series about English counties, published by John Lane at the Bodley Head in 1927. John Lane was an art dealer as well as a publisher (Tovell p.86).

Gyrth and Laurie toured Devon together, Gyrth producing sketches and pastel illustrations, both men apparently having a lot of fun.

Amongst the 58 pen and ink drawings is one showing the procession of six-legged visitors who visited their little tent at night. Another illustrated their attempt to "sail" an old hulk from the entrance to the Exeter canal, built belatedly in 1564 to bypass the Countess Weir, opposite Topsham, to the creek at Dawlish Warren, a distance of some 4 miles down the Exe estuary. A red and white striped awning formed the sail, a boathook the main spar. Donald McIntyre thought the drawing was simply a joke until he was shown a photograph of the event. Laurence says of Gyrth that "he has stuck on more mud banks in the estuary of the Exe than any other painter of the same weight in the British Isles".

The eight originals for the colour plates could not be kept because of the smudging of the pastels. One, "A Byre", has an almost identical composition to his wartime "Courtyard".

All are in his characteristically easy style.

If one knew nothing of Devon before reading the book one would warm to it in the first chapter and be in love with the county by the end.

Gyrth referred to "Unknown Devon" as "the bloody book" because, it seems, the trip around the coast of Devon with Laurie to gather sketches was more fun than producing the book.

The small north Devon village of Appledore at the mouth of the River Torridge featured strongly in the book. On at least one of his trips there Nancy accompanied him and reported that on one rainy day, unable to work outdoors, he found his way into the local boatyard, where he made a water colour of the activity within the shed. The painting, hanging in Nancy's sitting room amongst several other Gyrth paintings, was always a source of fascination for Sue on her visits. She was generously allowed to choose it as a memento after Nancy's death.

In the generally economically depressed post war years of the 1920's there was little money for purchase of works of art and hence the later reduction of prices from those at the Royal exhibition. So Gyrth turned his hand to poster design. He enjoyed the work, getting on well with the Railway publicity people and benefiting from a petrol allowance!

Ann remembers Gyrth telling her how he would "twist" a landscape to make a better composition. She thinks it is written in a book of his somewhere. Describing his method to the Barry Music Club in the 1950's he tells:-

"It is not always easy to know by which process of thought any particular work of art came into being. You might feel convinced that the artist never saw anything resembling what appears on his canvas, that it is purely the product of his imagination, whereas it might be nothing of the kind. The artist may have begun by seeing some object and making quite a faithful study of it, then, by redrawing again and again, each time leaving out some detail, simplifying contours and making his own additions, the artist will eventually arrive at a very stylised, or, perhaps crudely simple statement of a thing he has seen, but it is still an objective study and not basically a work originating in the imagination. Or, he might work the other way around by conceiving his picture in imagination and then clothing his concept with realistic detail, whereby you could easily be deceived into thinking it a representation of an actual scene.

Most of my railway posters have been done that way. I hand the problem over to my subconscious mind and the broad line is presented to me in due course. All I have to do is to fill in some relevant detail with whatever I can find or invent. Then people write to me or the railway, asking where this place is so they can go there for a holiday. A bit unkind, you may think. Perhaps, but there is a valid excuse for it. It is a little impractical to publicise the whole county by including every notable feature in the same poster. But it might seem invidious to select one tiny, recognisable portion of the county to the total neglect of all the rest. The only alternative I can see is to use a very abstract design of a suggestive character impossible to mistake for an authentic view. This has, in fact, been tried and was a complete success in that it didn’t deceive a soul, Unfortunately it didn't attract anybody either!"

Things were not going so well on the domestic front however. Nancy told her son that Joan wasn't much of a mother but a great socialite and she felt guilty that she often went round to another family in Topsham to a much more motherly figure. To her younger half sister Sue she confided that her mother considered her to be something of an ugly duckling. (Though short in stature Nancy had very fine features!) Sue remembers Joan as rather sophisticated with an ultra-U accent, and was most impressed as a child by the very long cigarette holder. She seemed to have been a well-organised person but Gyrth's relationship with his wife was breaking down, and eventually the couple split up. Ted (Cedric), now about 18 years old, had, by then, returned to Canada, toddler Alan accompanied his mother, while in about 1928 adolescent Nancy chose to go with her father to live in London.

CHAPTER 5 Between the wars - Two

In 1928 Russell first exhibited at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (though not then a member). The titles were September Morning, Brixham and Nightfall, Brixham. His address was then given as 29 Kieldon Rd Battersea London SW11. Nancy was known to be there with him because she was mentioned as residing at that address in the will of her great aunt, Mary (Polly) Chesley, whose mother was a sister of Judge Benjamin Russell. Born in 1891 Mary died in India in 1936. [Sharon MacDonald 38 Ravenrock Lane Halifax N.S. B3M 3A1 902 445 3342, letter 26/6/1998]

The double fronted Victorian house known as "The Laurels" was in what was then a working class area near Clapham Common. It had small gardens front and rear, and the ground floor was occupied by an elderly lady who claimed to be related to Walter de la Mare. Gyrth rented the first floor and attic rooms.

Looking at the facade the left hand front room was the studio and sometimes also sitting room, the right front room was children's bed and playroom, left rear was a kitchen dining room, and right rear was the parental bedroom. The Russells also had use of the back garden.

On 10th January 1929 Gyrth's father the Judge celebrated his 80th birthday. [His mother was c. 18 months younger, her 80th to be on 16/7/1930]

There still exists in Ronagh's possession a passport photograph dated 1929, apparently the year in which he went to Northern France and painted "St Malo in Brittany, France" and "Honfleur in Normandy, France". (W.Martha E. Cooke, W.H. Coverdale Collection of Canadiana: Paintings, Water-Colours and Drawings (Manoir Richelieu Collection) Cat Nos 969 and 970. Public Archives of Canada, Minister of Supply and Services, 1983. Via Judy Dietz of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.)

A studio portrait of Gyrth dated 1930 is in the collection of the Archives of Nova Scotia. It was one of a group of portraits of artists made by the photographer M.O. Hammond of Toronto, which found its way initially to the Nova Scotia Museum with an accompanying typewritten note:- " ...Mr Russell saw service in the Great War and on his return he showed a collection of his work in Toronto, of oils, water colours and etchings. He was best known at first by his etchings, but his exhibition in 1929 indicated more decided concentration in oils. While in 1919 he showed a few scenes from Nova Scotia, his change of residence was reflected a decade later by pictures wholly from France and England. Mr Russell paints with authority in an impressionistic manner, and loves to record the fishing-boats and shore scenes of Normandy and Brittany. His pictures are bright, well drawn and attractive in subject." This would seem to refer to the exhibition in which St Malo and Honfleur were noticed by the Coverdale collectors, and which may well have been held at the Jenkins Gallery in Toronto mentioned in the Martha Cooke reference.

It seems that Gyrth did not return to Canada after 1929. Ronagh writes (30/01/2002) "Re. the query why Gyrth stayed on in Britain - he just loved the soft colouring of our climate. When I suggested we visit Canada - 'Oh no! The sky's just blue. The trees (he waved a zig-zag line) green. You never have the lovely cloud shadows and changing light. The soft colours'. 'What about visiting your family?'. 'If they want to see me they can come here'. I never met his parents but they did both visit Gyrth and Joan."

Evidently Joan also made a return visit to Nova Scotia because on January 6th 1930 "Joan" (Gladys) embarked at Halifax Nova Scotia on the Aurania bound for London. The trip had taken place during the cold winter period, a season when the harbour would have been unusually busy as the closure of the St Lawrence Seaway forced Canadian traffic to call in and forward freight and passengers by rail. She was accompanied by Anna Louise, a dietician, another member of the large Russell clan. Both stated their intended address in Britain as 29 Kieldon Road. They disembarked at Plymouth on 13th January. Anna and Gyrth soon established a liaison, but they were unable to marry because he was not then divorced from Joan, eventually having 3 children, Annette (nicknamed Biddy during her childhood), born on Christmas Eve 1930, Susannah (Sue) and John.

The years of economic depression were heralded by the Stock exchange crash of 1929 and went on into the 1930s. But the delivery boy from Clark's, the local grocer, was impressed by Anna's sophisticated taste for "Mocha and Mysore" coffee.

On July 15th 1932 Susannah (shortened to Susan and later Sue) was born. Her father painted a portrait of baby Susan aged several months. Slightly damaged by its travels in her mother's luggage during the WWII it now hangs in Sue's bedroom. By this time teenage Nancy was no longer in residence at Kieldon Road.

The girls were not encouraged into the studio - a place smelling of turpentine and full of colour. On an occasional incursion 6 year old Susan was very impressed by an illustration of a colour wheel in one of her father's books. In her mind remains an image of a still life of anemones - beautifully rich reds and purples.

During the 1930's Gyrth collaborated with C. Allen Mold RI, PS, a photographer who used the rear attic room as a darkroom, a mysterious place of black curtains, small rectangular dishes full of liquids, strange smells and black and white prints hanging to dry around the ceiling. There were occasional outings in Mold's car. Susan remembers a visit to Mold's home - full of heavy oak furniture, including a pedestal chair on which it was ideal for a small child to spin around. There were also cabinets full of neatly arrayed birds' eggs.

Commercial artist Dick Rose was also a friend of Gyrth before the war.

At about this time Gyrth designed a proscenium which may have been for William Eric Thorpe for whom he made architectural models. [See Manor Ho]

In the mid 1930's Gyrth did a series of roughly postcard sized paintings for a commercial client. He covered each with celluloid which domed over the card like a lens. The family was then at a low financial ebb - "I haven't got a farthing!" Anna would exclaim. So there was great delight when father came home having completed the transaction for the postcard paintings for the sum of £20, a small fortune under those circumstances.

In about 1937 he produced a design for an advertisement for Sunlight soap. One day travelling on the top deck of a London bus Mother and the girls passed a hoarding with a huge reproduction poster of the advert which Susan knew to be her father's work. She was thrilled. The poster legend was "All the blessings of Sunlight" and showed sun and sky, a line of billowing washing, back view of a lady, in landscape format.

(Ronagh Russell, 25/2/95)

At about same period he was doing work for cigarette companies - Player's, and for the railways - Southern Railway. Each carriage consisted of a series of compartments with a corridor alongside. In each compartment were 2 bench seats facing each other, above which was a central mirror flanked by 2 picture frames in which were mounted landscape prints depicting scenes in the area of operation of the railway. These were known as carriage prints. To the Russells they were bread and butter.

Amongst his output before World War II were illustrations for the Tatler magazine. (Ronagh Russell, 25/2/95)

Settled in London, Gyrth Russell became active in the Artists' Society and the Langham Sketching Club described in an article in the Morning Post of February 25th 1930. There is a watercolour cartoon of Langham Sketch Club in which Dick Rose and Allen Mold feature (RR phone call 20/3/98) Meetings were held on

Friday, 17/2/1928, Wednesday 12/2/1930, Friday 19/2/1932, and Friday 28/4/1933.

On Thursday 24th November 1932 Gyrth called in at the Imperial War Museum and left 6 drawings, acknowledged by Ernest Blaikley, the Keeper of Art, the following day (later numbered as 4700 - 4705). He refers to:- Art and War: Canadian War Memorials published by Colour.

It is not known whether he went to the Langham Club that evening an event missed by Ernest Blaikley.

Right up until WWII Gyrth was sending consignments to North America including to a Mr Button.

Early in the 1930's Gyrth and Anna had a sailing dinghy which they used on the Thames, some evenings sailing to the Prospect of Whitby on Limehouse Reach for an evening drink. A London Transport leaflet says of the Prospect of Whitby

"57 Wapping Wall E1 020 7481 1095

The former Devil's Tavern was built around 1520 and last remodelled in 1777, but it's still something of a river landmark and tourist attraction. The pewter topped counter resting on wooden casks, stone flagged floors, low ceilings, giant timbers, fireplaces and pebbled windows are wonderfully preserved and add to the unique atmosphere, while river views from the terrace and rickety balcony are quite stunning."

Other times they would sail up the Thames past Putney, Hammersmith and Chiswick to Kew gardens or Strand-on-the Green (photo). Sometimes they went downstream as far as Canvey Island. Once they took Annette and Susan - who was impressed by the sea wall and the walkway across to the pub, despite not being allowed in, having to drink lemonade outside.

On 17th January 1936 a divorce decree was made between Gladys and Gyrth. It was made absolute on 27th of July 1936. No co-respondent was named.

In about 1936 Gyrth obtained a small yacht, the Olive, moored below Rochester Castle on the River Medway. Many visits were made at weekends and school holidays.

One morning Gyrth had been put in charge of the girls, who must have been making themselves a nuisance. An expert on muddy estuaries, Gyrth put them out of his rowing boat onto a tidal mudflat in the middle of the river Medway, a shallow dome smothered in worm casts with a distant view across muddy water to a row of houses on one bank and to fields on the opposite bank. Susan felt very abandoned as the boat went off. But Gyrth came back to collect them just as the exposed area of mud flat began to shrink ominously.

On another occasion a Short's seaplane was floating on the river near the factory, someone working on it. Gyrth asked if the girls might take a look over it and they were allowed to climb a ladder to look in through the passenger door into the cabin. Another quarter century passed before Susan was again aboard an aircraft.

Gyrth recorded his memories of adventures of the Olive:-

"A week ago I sat on the sea-wall of a small riverside town looking at little "Olive" perched cockily on the mud, her boom, with the mainsail neatly stowed under the sail cover, pointing to the sky, for all the world like an impudent sparrow's tail and comparing her with her successor a 40 foot Bawley, very nearly double the length, I was thinking of the day, just three years ago, when I warped her out of the muddy creek where she was lying, a proud but scared owner of three days standing. At that moment she seemed immense to me who had never skippered anything larger than a 10 foot sailing dinghy.

In the last year or so I have lost the affection and respect I had for "Olive", but, now that she has gone to a new owner, I can think of her kindly enough. I realise now that if she gave me a pretty bad time it was largely my own fault for demanding something which it was not in her power to give. A little boat with less than two feet of free board and rigged for a fine day in some sheltered water was never intended to meet and overcome the fierce spring tides which scour that mournful coastline between Calais and Dunkerque. What I thought of her then was unflattering, but I think now it was greatly to her credit that she got there in spite of a broken boom, torn mainsail and her crew of two dropping from physical exhaustion and loss of sleep.

Thirty six hours out from Rochester Bridge we crept into the yacht basin at Dunkerque, under diminutive topsail bent on the gaff and our boat water logged, for the topsides were dry from long exposure to the sun, entailing constant pumping. To work the pump, we had to brace ourselves on a swaying seat inside the cockpit and work a plunger up and down through a hole [actually a different illegible? technical word] in the deck, an acrobatic feat in itself, added to which the plunger was frequently in need of repair. With a last effort of will we shoved a hook over the side and Dick put the lead over to take a sounding. It went to the bottom for the last time leaving him with the broken line in his hand. It was the final episode of a long nightmare. Our spirits were completely broken. We dropped where we stood and slept the sleep of the dead, heedless of the fact that the portable wireless was rendering up its soul to its maker in six inches of bilge water. A kindly Frenchman with his family of boys from a neighbouring yacht took us in hand and put us on a mooring. With their help a carpenter was found, a new boom shipped and we spent two perfect and well earned days sketching and photographing the fishing craft and the old town, when we didn't simply lean on a wall and look at it all.

I learned a number of things from that voyage, but not the most important. Still, it is quite useful to know that roller-reefing for mainsails in small boats with the boom end well aft is a pretty idea with no foundation of common sense. In the most ideal conditions it is almost impossible to work it single handed because the boom roller always gets caught up in the sail and has to be freed. In a strong breeze with the boat pitching and tossing it is simply impossible for any number of hands without serious risk of drowning.

A few days later we learned that towing a deep-keeled yacht through a canal by man power is very hard work. My ideas about tow paths date (or rather, did date) from "Three Men in a Boat". Being completely uninterested in any form of mechanical propulsion on water other than as a utilitarian way of getting quickly from Folkestone to Boulogne, I only learned by bitter experience that the marine engine has made tow-paths obsolete, I have often walked on tow-paths and it was very unobservant on my part not to notice all the things which have been allowed to grow on them unchecked. I suppose it was because I had never really looked at them with a view to towing anything. Anyway, this towpath from Ostend to Bruges was quite impassable, so we discovered after a delightful sail from Dunkerque, a less delightful altercation with a Sahib in a large white ketch who expected us to carry hefty rope fenders in addition to all the clobber we had under our feet (we never touched his paint anyway) and caulking a few of the worst leaks on the fisherman's hard at Ostend. We arrived at Bruges after dark, very tired and very wet after a long day largely spent hoisting a dripping tow rope over bushes and clumps of weeds. The final effort of getting under a railway bridge, first going under the wrong arch and getting aground and then finding the mast too high and having to lower it, completely cured me of canals. Apart from this there is something awfully moribund about canal water. It adds a gruesome sort of smell to a boat's bilge and the unhealthy looking green slime which accumulates on the bottom fills me with melancholy forebodings of death and decay. We enjoyed every minute we were in Bruges as long as we were off the boat, but we both had the same feeling, confessed only after we had reached home, that going back to the boat at night was like going to a morgue. No, canals are very pretty to look at, bordered by tall poplars or reflecting the stone balconies of a lovely old town, but I shall never take a boat on one again.

Having learned our lesson about canals we came back to Nieuwpoort tailing on the end of some barges, and from there we had a comparatively uneventful voyage home with one short call at Dunkerque, where we politely declined an invitation from the skipper of a motor-yacht to go into the town for "a spot of slap and tickle". [On an added page: Does it follow "slap and tickle"?]

"whatever does it mean?" asked the next-to-youngest Hand. "Kisses" said the very-youngest-Hand with an authoritative air.

But the picture of "Olive" which deserves to live longest in my memory is the one in which she figures as an extraneous ornament on the quarter deck of one of His Majesty's capital ships. A disgraceful episode if you like, but certainly an unforgettable event in the life of any boat. I will venture to guess that there are not six small yachts in the British Isles which have been taken for a ride on a 25,000 ton battleship. This happened the following summer. The second week of August found me in Ramsgate harbour, having just escaped a South-westerly gale which brought a fleet of French fishing smacks to shelter and would certainly have ended "Olive's" career and mine with it had we been caught outside. Even in harbour we were far from comfortable and gladly retreated to the tidal basin until things blew over. We had started out three strong, but I lost the senior member of my crew, he having to retire with a painful abscess above the knee. This left me with John, a young water rat of about fourteen.

I think it was standing on the sea-wall at Ramsgate watching the battle between wind and tide in the Channel that brought it home to me how far "Olive" was from her legitimate sphere of action. Still she had to be taken back to her moorings in the Medway, so, when things seemed a bit calmer and the Frenchmen had gone about their business (a very unprofitable one according to the "patron" who treated us to some bien brandy) we warped out of the inner harbour and made preparations for a start. My last night at Ramsgate was about equally divided between fishing vainly for a kedge which had accidentally dropped over-board, trying to get weather reports and making a very bad job of lashing our bedding up to the cabin roof so it wouldn't get wet, incidentally nearly suffocating myself and giving vast amusement to John, who has all the schoolboy’s love of slapstick comedy. Laughter, whatever its cause, is infectious and I couldn't help but see his side of the matter in spite of my situation, when I was flat on my back, firmly wedged between the mast and the side of the boat with a heavy bundle of bedding holding my legs down, quite unable to move in either direction. "Olive's" cabin is little bigger than a large-sized dog kennel.

In the small hours we snatched a brief rest and then set sail with a good westerly breeze and the tide in our favour, taking the precaution to reef down before we started. We made good time around the North Foreland and there we met the full force of the wind sweeping down the estuary. Mid-day saw us off Margate and some hours of hard sailing brought us to Herne Bay. At this point we parted company with the dinghy, and by the time we had picked her up the tide had turned against us. This was too much for poor "Olive". She could only hold her own against wind and tide. I had reckoned that by taking the overland route we should make Sheerness by nightfall, but, seeing the hopelessness of this and not daring to risk night sailing among shoals with no lights to guide me, I decided to edge her into deeper water. I piloted her safely between the shoals and was just thinking we were safely with deep water when she descended in the trough of a wave and we felt a bump. If there is ever a more hollow feeling than that of bumping on bottom in rough sea I hope never to experience it. Three more bumps each more severe than the last saw us over it, but then our real troubles began. "Olive" had needed pretty frequent pumping before that, but now she set out to show us what she could really do. Before many minutes the floor boards were awash and in our efforts to keep the water at reasonable level our pump gave up the ghost. As we struggled toward the Nore, John squatted in the cabin filling buckets of water and passing them out to me to tip over the side. My other duties were steering, tending sheets, trying to sort out a bewildering array of lights swaying drunkenly about the horizon and keeping a sharp eye on the endless procession of shipping streaming into London River. We had no means of fixing a stern light, so our only method of advertising our presence was to flourish a bicycle lamp when we saw something astern. This was also one of my duties. It was no doubt a bit puzzling to the man on the bridge which perhaps explains why one small tramp went out of his way to get within hailing distance and spoke witheringly about navigation lights.

Navigation lights! Had we any we could not have kept them alight in that frenzy of flying water.

It was then about 1.00 of a moonless night with the wind blowing harder than ever. Reports received at Ramsgate of a gale blowing in the West did nothing to reassure us. Looking toward Sheppey we could see what appeared to be the lights of the town, but in the wrong place for Sheerness. On nearer approach we made out the form of a big battleship lying at anchor. We passed between this and the Nore light vessel. The steering was becoming more difficult because of play which had developed at the top of the rudder post, and, for some reason still unexplained the boat would sail only on the port tack. On the starboard tack she simply sagged into the trough of the waves and then came up and shook. It felt as if half our rudder had been carried away. At two o'clock I held a brief conference with John. We had had no sleep worth mentioning for two nights. Our only sustenance since leaving Ramsgate the previous morning had been a few sweet biscuits and a bottle o

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Gyrth Russell's Timeline

April 30, 1892
dartmouth, Canada
July 26, 1911
May 1, 1914
January 8, 1926
October 8, 1939
United Kingdom
December 8, 1970
Age 78
penarth, wales, United Kingdom