Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Raymond Charles Russell (1906–1982)

by P. A. Davidson

This article was published:

Raymond Charles Russell (1906–1982), Presbyterian minister and air force chaplain, was born on 16 December 1906 at Tweed Heads, New South Wales, son of New South Wales-born parents Charles Andrew Russell, oiler, and his wife Jane Purdie, née Green.  The family moved to Newcastle, where Raymond was educated at Hamilton Public and Newcastle High schools.  Afterwards he studied accountancy and auditing, working as a junior accountant with the City of Newcastle Gas & Coke Co. Ltd.  He served for three years as a naval cadet.

Offering for the Presbyterian ministry in 1927, Russell trained at Newcastle, Braidwood and Maroubra, Sydney, and in 1932 entered the Theological Hall at St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney.  On 14 August 1933 at St George’s Presbyterian Church, South Kensington, he married Marjorie Millar Ford.  Licensed by the Presbytery of Sydney in 1934, he was ordained in February 1935 and called to Yass.  Two years later he was inducted minister at Cootamundra.  After the outbreak of World War II, he became chaplain to the local Militia unit.  He was commissioned as a chaplain, 4th class, in the Royal Australian Air Force on 11 November 1940 and was posted to No.1 Air Observers’ School, Cootamundra.  Almost 6 ft (183 cm) tall, with blue eyes and brown hair, he enjoyed swimming, rowing, tennis and cricket.

On 25 April 1942 'Bish' Russell began duty at Headquarters, North-Eastern Area, Townsville, Queensland, as itinerant chaplain covering North Queensland and New Guinea.  In August 1943 he moved to RAAF Overseas Headquarters, London, and was promoted to chaplain, 3rd class, in October.  His area of responsibility covered Britain and extended as far as Iceland and the Azores and Shetland islands.  He became one of the best-known RAAF men in the region and travelled widely, visiting Australian airmen and frequently officiating at funerals of aircrew.

Returning to Australia in February 1946, Russell  was promoted to chaplain, 1st class, in April and was posted to Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne.  Divorced in March 1947, he married with Methodist forms Eileen Bessir Duker at Marylebone Presbyterian Church, London, on 19 June.  Following the formation of the RAAF Welfare Trust Fund in 1948, he served as a trustee (1948-73), secretary (1955-65) and assistant-secretary (1965-82).  As the only full-time senior chaplain in the RAAF, he was secretary (1947-65) of the board of chaplains.

Promoted to group captain in 1948, from October 1952 Russell acted as principal air chaplain (air commodore); his appointment became substantive in 1959.  He was appointed OBE in 1955.  In 1963 he commenced duties at Base Headquarters, Laverton, and also served as chaplain at the Radio Apprentices School, Frognall, Camberwell, Melbourne.  His RAAF appointment terminated in 1965 and he transferred to the Reserve.  However, he remained principal air chaplain in a part-time capacity until 1968.

Russell had become associate-minister at Scots’ Church, Melbourne, in 1966.  The Presbyterian Church of Victoria elected him moderator in 1972.  Survived by his wife and their four daughters and one son, and the two daughters and son of his first marriage, Russell died on 14 May 1982 at Box Hill, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • P. A. Davidson, Sky Pilot: A History of Chaplaincy in the RAAF 1926–1990, 1990
  • RAAF News, April 1965, p 7
  • R. C. Russell personal file (RAAF Discharge Personnel Service Records, Queanbeyan, New South Wales)

Citation details

P. A. Davidson, 'Russell, Raymond Charles (1906–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 December, 1906
Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Australia


14 May, 1982 (aged 75)
Box Hill, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.