Episode 4: Officer and a Gentleman
On the next episode, screening April 25 2015 at 7pm on TV ONE:
Officer and a Gentleman
General Andrew Russell was one of New Zealand’s greatest military leaders – commanding the New Zealand troops at Gallipoli and in Europe during the First World War. He grew up on a Hawkes Bay farm, and today his great-grandsons still farm the same hills at Tuna Nui Station.
“Dad used to call him grandfather, but to us he was always referred to as The General” says Sam Russell, who farms the station along with his older brother Andrew. Younger brother Dan farms another station further up the East Coast, and the boys’ sister Rachel also farms near Gisborne.
The General was born and raised on the station, 30 kilometres from Hastings, but went to school in the UK, including attending Sandhurst Military Academy. When war broke out in 1914, he was given command of the NZ Mounted Rifles and shipped out to Egypt and then Gallipoli.
He wrote many letters home to his wife Gertrude and young sons at home, first from Gallipoli Peninsula, and then from the western front in Europe. In France, by 1917, General Russell had gained a reputation as a man not afraid to lead by example.
Great Grandson Dan Russell says much to dismay of his superiors, he was very much a front-line general. “He believed time spent in reconnaissance was time well spent, and he would often go to the front line to see the condition of the men.”
On one of those trips he got so close to the action that a sniper shot him through his helmet. Apart from a small graze, he was miraculously unharmed, and the helmet still hangs in the stair well at Tuna Nui.
The homestead and the terrain on the family station are largely unchanged over the years, but farming technology has evolved dramatically in the last century.
Andrew has set up an intensive beef grazing system for the bulls, which means they don’t have to feed supplements. It’s a labour saving system – just like the automated drafting gates and scales which Sam uses on his lambs. And the boys think their great-grandfather would have approved.
“He was always forward thinking,” says Andrew, “trying new grass species and looking at different stock policies. Just like in his military thinking, he was always looking for the next way forward.”
General Russell died at Tuna Nui in 1960, aged 92, and received a funeral service with full military honours. His ashes were buried on the family station, marked by a bolder at his favourite spot on the station.
Phillida Russell, The General’s grand-daughter-in-law, says he was a man of moral courage. “He didn’t shirk from responsibility. He didn’t look around for excuses and someone else to blame. He had a robust attitude to life.”
And the family values the hard work and planning of earlier generations. “The most important legacy of The General is that we are where we are,” says Andrew.
“This is the place where he chose to farm. It’s a stunning location, the infrastructure was well set up and he built a solid base, which each generation has built on since.”
For more on General Russell, visit: www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3r34/russell-andrew-hamilton
For more about WW1 centenary commemorations: www.ww100.govt.nz
To learn more about game bird shooting at Tuna Nui Station visit: www.nzgamebirds.co.nz/tuna-nui
To learn more about the NZ-originated global charity Surfaid: www.surfaid.org
Nga Taonga Sound & Vision
Television New Zealand Collection
Russell Family Collection
Post Production Manager