John was the elder son of Archibald George Blomefield Russell, and his wife Janet Frances Kerr. A.G.B. Russell was an art historian who had been educated at Christ Church. He was Lancaster Herald, College of Arms, from 1922 until 1954 when he became Clarenceux King of Arms. He died in 1955. His wife died in 1962.

Like his father and younger brother, John was educated at Eton. He Matriculated in 1935 and graduated with a 2nd in Jurisprudence in 1938.

He was gazetted to the Gordon Highlanders on 10 May 1940 and joined the 2nd Battalion. It was based in Malaya as part of the Singapore garrison.

John was killed on 31 January 1942 in the battle for Singapore. [The garrison surrendered on 15 February.]

He is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial Column 77 and on the Swanage, Dorset War Memorial.

His brother, Charles, was killed in Burma in February 1945.