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07 June 2010

Lieutenant Neil Campbell of Blackwood

Neil Campbell was born in Adelaide in 1882, and was one of six sons of Dr Allan Campbell and Florence Ann Campbell (nee Way). His father was a member of the South Australian Legislative Council and has been credited with the establishment of the Adelaide Children's Hospital (now the Women's and Children's Hospital) in 1876. Neil's maternal uncle Sir Samuel Way was a very prominent leader in the colony, serving as Lieutenant Governor, Attorney-General, Chief Justice, and Chancellor of the University of Adelaide amongst many other important roles. Neil was schooled at St Peter's College, and served in the cadets for five years then one year as a trooper with No.1 Squadron, South Australian Mounted Rifles. His father died in 1898, and in 1901 at the age of 18 Neil was granted a commission as a lieutenant in the fifth South Australian contingent (SA Imperial Bushmen) sent to the Boer War. He served in South Africa for one year and eight months, spending some time seriously ill with enteric (paratyphoid) fever, and then being attached to Colonel De Lisle's staff for five months towards the end of the war. He was awarded the Queen's Medal with four clasps for his service.

Following his return from the Boer War, Neil attended the University of Adelaide and the School of Mines and Industries, studying engineering. During this time he was very busy in a number of other roles, being a prominent member of the Adelaide Hunt Club, an extra aide-de-camp to his uncle, Sir Samuel Way, who was at that time the Lieutenant Governor, and showjumping at Adelaide and regional shows. He was close friends with Heywood Gordon, the son of Supreme Court Justice Sir John Gordon, and this was how he met Kathleen Gordon, his future wife.

In the early 1910's, following completion of his studies, Neil was working in the mines at Meekatharra in Western Australia as a mine surveyor and assayer, and some time prior to the outbreak of war, he married Kathleen Gordon.

In December 1914, Neil was granted a commission in the AIF on the basis of his previous service, and was appointed as a second lieutenant in the WA-recruited 10th Light Horse Regiment, not surprising given his obvious horse-riding skills. The 10th Light Horse embarked at Fremantle, WA in February 1915, and whilst he was at sea his wife gave birth to a daughter, Margaret. The 10th was amongst the light horse regiments that volunteered to be sent from Egypt to Gallipoli as infantry, and Neil landed there with the rest of the regiment on 21 May 1915.

About 3.20am on 29 May 1915, the 10th Light Horse was holding the trenches at Quinn's Post when the Turks blew up a sap and rushed the position. Neil was blown up when the mine exploded, and also suffered a gunshot wound in his left shoulder. Hospitalised on Malta and discovered to be also suffering from shell shock from the explosion, he was then embarked on a hospital ship to England and deemed unfit for active service in October 1915. He returned to Australia in December 1915, and after a stint in Adelaide he was re-assessed at the repatriation hospital in Fremantle in January 1916 and found fit for further active service.

Neil returned to England, but suffered another bout of enteric fever which further delayed his deployment to France. In September 1916 he was promoted to lieutenant, and in November 1916 he was transferred to Tunnelling Company reinforcements, probably due to his mining and engineering skills and experience. He joined the 3rd Tunnelling Company under Hill 70 near Hulluch, France on 7 March 1917, where they were heavily engaged in tunnelling and placing large mines in the tunnels. On 3 May the unit was engaged in road building and repair when he was examining a German booby trap rifle grenade located in an enemy mine shaft. The booby trap exploded, wounding him in the hands and face, damaging one of his eyes. He was evacuated to England and re-joined his unit in October 1917 wearing an eye patch, having lost sight in the damaged eye.

On 9 April 1918, Neil was commanding No.1 Section of the 3rd Tunnelling Company who were developing machinegun emplacements at Pont-de-Nieppe on the Lys River in a British sector. He was ordered to form part of a defensive line alongside the 15th Royal Scots Regiment near Erquinghem to hold the German advance. On 10 April, Neil's command was extended to include a company of a composite battalion made up of cooks, batmen and various detachments. In the late afternoon, a runner arrived with orders for the line to withdrawn, but Neil was not satisfied and got out of the position to walk back to the unit headquarters to confirm the order. He was never seen again. In his account of the action in which Neil was reported missing in action, in Chapter 13, Volume 5 of the Official History of Australia the War of 1914-1918, Charles Bean described Neil Campbell as 'a singularly fine leader'.

On 29 April 1918 Justice John Gordon was sitting at the Supreme Court when he received a message that his son-in-law was missing. He went home and the court was adjourned. Justice Gordon was the only male member of his family not to go to the war.

Witnesses interviewed as part of the board of inquiry conducted into Neil's fate in early 1919 said that he was a very brave officer who had an absolute disregard for shellfire.

Neil's younger brother Captain Gordon Campbell MC served with the 10th Battalion and was the first 10th Battalion officer to be awarded two bravery awards, receiving a Bar to his Military Cross. Gordon survived the war.

Neil Campbell's name is inscribed on the Blackwood Soldier's Memorial and he is also commemorated in the North Road Church of England Cemetery, Nailsworth.

Photograph: Taken from Adelaide Hunt Club 1905 - Courtesy State Library of South Australia

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