b. 10/01/1894 Thurso, Scotland. d. 26/02/1942 Halfaya, Africa
John Charles “Jock” Campbell (1894-1942) was born on the 10th January 1894 in Traill Street, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland, the son of Daniel Alexander Campbell (1857-1948) and Marion (nee McKay). John had twelve siblings with Sarah and Kathleen being two of the sisters. Daniel was a merchant for the East India Company, before retiring to Sedbergh, Yorkshire. John was educated atSt Salvator’s Prep School in St Andrews, Fife in Scotland before John attended Sedbergh School. John resided at Evans House at the school from 1907 until 1912. Other Old Evanian’s were the only Jamaican to serve with the RAF in the Battle of Britain – Herbert Capstick and a former England rugby captain John Spencer.
He was a bank clerk prior to enlisting in the military. On the 4th August 1914 John was serving in the ranks with the Honourable Artillery Company. After attending the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) on the 28thJuly 1915. On the 4th August 1915 Second Lieutenant JC Campbell was in France with the Reserve Brigades of the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) serving with B (Reserve) Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). He served in France and Belgium being wounded twice in February and May 1916. He was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ (MiD) before returning to the UK on the 23rd September 1916. He was promoted to acting Lieutenant on the 10th February 1917.
On the 10th August 1917 he was to return to France where he was awarded the Military Cross on the 15th June 1916 whilst serving as an Acting Captain with 16th Brigade, RHA. He returned to the UK on the 15th October 1918. But he had another war ahead of him. It was no accident that he was in the Royal Horse Artillery, for he was a famous horseman and for four years between the wars had been an instructor at the Weedon Equitation School. He played polo, rode at point to point meetings, and hunted with the Pytchley.
In 1922, he married Rosamund Elizabeth Rhodes in Daventry, Northamptonshire, and she was a relative of Cecil Rhodes, the British mining magnate and politician in Southern Africa during the latter stages of the Victorian era. On 29th May 1924, John and Rosamund had a daughter, Rosita Anne, born in Daventry. They would later have a second daughter, Diana (known as Tid).
In 1936 he was the Adjutant of the 3rd Brigade and was the Captain of the Equestrian Team at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. He then had command of 24th Field Brigade and between 1937 and 1938 he was the Battery Commander of the 2nd Heavy Brigade.
Jock would then serve during World War II. When World War II started, Campbell was 45 years old and a Major commanding a battery in the 4th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery in Egypt. When Italy declared war in June 1940, Campbell, by then a lieutenant-colonel, was commanding the artillery component of 7th Armoured Division’s Support Group under Brigadier William Gott. The British Army was heavily outnumbered by the Italians, so General Archibald Wavell formulated a plan with his senior commanders to retain the initiative by harassing the enemy using mobile all-arms flying columns. Campbell’s brilliant command of one of these columns led to them being given the generic name “Jock columns” (although it is unclear if the idea originated with Campbell or not).
During August and September 1940 he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Onfive occasions he commanded harassing sorties of tanks and guns to inflict heavy losses on the Germans showing great energy and endurance. During the final stage of General Sir Archibald Wavell’s advance in December that year Jock earned a bar to his DSOby coolly commanding his men to beat off air attacks over the desert. On one day alone whilst performing his duties in an open truck Jock encountered seventeen bombers and twenty four fighter attacks.
In September 1941 Gott was promoted to command 7th Armoured Division and Campbell took over command 7th Support Group as an acting Brigadier. In November 1941 during Operation Crusader, 7th Support Group was occupying the airfield at Sidi Rezegh, south of Tobruk, together with 7th Armoured Brigade.
On 21st November 1941 they were attacked by the two armoured division’s of the Afrika Korps. The British tanks suffered heavy losses but prevented the Germans taking the airfield. Brigadier Campbell’s small force, holding important ground, was repeatedly attacked and wherever the fighting was hardest he was to be seen either on foot, in his open car or astride a tank. The following day, the 22nd the Germans captured the Sidi Rezegh ridge and moved in from the east and west flanks. That evening Jock and the 7th Support Group withdrew to the upper escarpment. The next day Jock was again to lead tanks into battle and on two occasions he himself manned a gun to replace casualties. During the final enemy attack he was woundedin the upper arm, but continued most actively in the foremost positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at point-blank range, and finally acted as loader to one of the guns himself in spite of his wounds. He refused to be evacuated and remained with his command. John Charles Campbell DSO, MC announcement of his Victoria Cross award was gazetted in the London Gazette on the 3rd February 1942.
According to the famous Australian war correspondentpresent at the battle Alan Moorehead states: ‘He led his tanks into action riding in an open armoured car, and as he stood there, hanging on to its windscreen, a huge well-built man with the English officer’s stiff good looks, he shouted, ‘There they come, let them have it.’ When the car began to fall behind, he leapt on to the side of a tank as it went forward and directed the battle from there … They say that Campbell won the VC half a dozen times that day. The men loved this Elizabethan figure. He was the reality of all the pirate yarns and tales of high adventure, and in the extremes of fear and courage of the battle he had only courage. He went laughing into the fighting.’
In February 1942 when Gott was promoted to lead XIII Corps, Campbell was promoted to Major General and given command of 7th Armoured Division. He was killed three weeks later on 26th February 1942 at Halfaya, Egypt, when his jeep overturned on a newly laid clay road surface. The unfortunate driver at the time was Major Roy Farran of the 3rdHussars, later to earn fame serving with the Special Air Service winning the DSO twice, a MC with two bars, the Croix de Guerre and the American Legion of Merit/Honour. Roy Farran was thrown clear in the process and the other passengers knocked unconscious, on recovering he found Jock Campbell was dead. Roy Farran later admitted that he had considered suicide whilst awaiting rescue. He was buried with full military honours in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Cairo. His medal group including the VC, DSO and Bar and MC, are held by the Royal Artillery, and are currently in storage following the closure of the Museum at Woolwich. They will hopefully be part of the new Royal Artillery Museum planned to open at Larkhill, Salisbury Plain in 2020.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ARTILLERY MUSEUM, WOOLWICH, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: CAIRO WAR MEMORIAL CEMETERY, CAIRO, EGYPT.
ROW K, GRAVE 171
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Thomas Stewart and Brian Drummond – multiple images from Miller Academy, Thurso, the RMA Sandhurst, and Sedbergh School.