Private Donald Campbell (32), 2 Battalion, was another of the local men killed early in the Gallipoli campaign. According to the formal record he was killed in action on 2 May 1915.
Donald Campbell was born at Tarraville and went to the local state schools (Tarraville and Balloong). Later, he left the district and moved to New South Wales for work. When the War broke out he enlisted in the Sydney suburb of Kensington (9 October 1914). At the time, he was 23yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘motor mechanic’. However, even though he had moved to NSW, he was well-known in the Shire of Alberton and his father was still living in Tarraville. When the telegram of his death arrived in late May 1914, the report in the local paper on 24 May 1914 – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – read:
On Thursday last, May 18th, the postmistress, Tarraville, received the sad news that Private D. Campbell was killed in action on May 2nd, and asking her to kindly inform father, Mr. D. Campbell, of Tarraville, of the sad news …. The late Private D. Campbell was 25 years of age, and was a native of Tarraville, where he was well known and highly respected.
In the same edition of the paper there was a death notice for … Donald McGregor Campbell, late of Tarraville, South Gippsland; and Yass, N.S.W., age 25 years. The notice was inserted by … C. and T. Livingston, Yass, N.S.W., and T. and J. Collins, Balloong.
Thomas and Jane Collins were farmer and wife from Balloong and it appears that Donald Campbell worked for them. Similarly, it appears he subsequently moved to NSW with C and T Livingston for work. C and T Livingston appear to have been brothers who left the district for Yass in NSW. Overall, Campbell must have worked for some time as a farm labourer both in the district in which he grew up and then in country NSW, before shifting to Sydney.
Campbell’s name appears on the honor rolls for the 2 schools he attended, and in both cases his name is recorded as one of these killed. His name also appears on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll but he is not marked as one of those killed. His name is not included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.
Campbell’s father – D. Campbell – was living at Tarraville at the time his son enlisted and he was still there when word of the death came through. However in mid 1916 he moved to Modialloc and from that point it appears that he became uncontactable and, despite the efforts of the AIF, untraceable. The last entry that covers attempts to contact the father is dated early 1924, nearly 10 years after the son’s death. He obviously knew of his son’s death, but there is no sign of any correspondence from him, or on his behalf, to the AIF requesting details of the death, the existence of any will, the return of personal belongings etc. In fact, there is not a single piece of correspondence from any family member or friend. Because the father effectively disappeared there was no pension, and his son’s medals were never distributed. Similarly the Memorial Plaque was returned unclaimed in 1922. The simple entry on the file was ‘untraceable’. The father’s address for the (National) Roll of Honour was also given as ‘untraceable’.
The details surrounding the death of Private Campbell are similarly limited. There was a definite date – 2 May 1914 – and the death was confirmed relatively quickly, with the father notified in less than 3 weeks. However, the body was never recovered – Private Campbell is recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial – and details from both the battalion war diary and the Red Cross report are contradictory. Even more contradictory is the fact that a court of inquiry into his death was held on 24 March 1916 and, as a result, his status was changed from ‘missing’ to ‘killed in action – 2/5/15’. Yet his father had been informed by telegram nearly one full year earlier that he had been killed. The father had never received the advice that his son was ‘missing’.
The war diary for 2 Battalion does not record any casualties for 2 May, although it does report 2 men killed the next day (3/5/15). The 4 witness statements in the Red Cross report claiming to present the details of Private Campbell’s death contradict each other. They also suggest that the official date given for the death could have been incorrect.
The first statement – Corporal A K Jamieson (61), 2B – suggests that Campbell disappeared very early in the fighting at Gallipoli:
Informant was in the same platoon with Campbell, and last saw him on Monday, April 26th. He then left to take up another position, and was never seen again. The position he went to was afterwards shelled, and was previously under machine gun fire. It was never occupied either by our troops or the Turks.
The second statement – T Smith (469), 2B – has Campbell killed by shell fire on 15 May:
I knew Campbell, he was in the original Batt. and was cook for the Orderly Room. I last saw him cooking outside a dug-out on May 15th before the attack on the 19th when a shell came over from the direction of Olive Grove and blew him to bits. I am quite sure it was Campbell. I saw the stretcher-bearers collect his remains in pieces in an overcoat. I do not know what Coy he was in nor where he came from.
The third statement – H H Winley (698), 2B – confirmed the account in the second statement and gave particulars on Campbell’s appearance. Campbell, on enlistment, was just under 6 ft, of fair complexion and about 13 stone (82 kg). The complexion here is apparently wrong but, after several months in Egypt, the general description could still be be a match:
I confirm the above report, but think Campbell was batman to Capt. now Colonel Steven. Campbell was bout 5 ft 8, rather dark, slim, and I think he came from Newcastle, N.S.W.
The fourth statement – Sgt. E C H Haxby (52), 2B – appears to support the basic line in the first statement:
Informant states that on or about 25th April 1915 in landing on Peninsula, Campbell landed in 15th Plt. with Informant with many others. He dashed on ahead of the main body of troops and has never been heard of since. In all probability killed by machine gun fire and still unburied.
All the statements were dated July or August 1916, at least 15 months after the landing at Gallipoli and several months after the court of enquiry had determined that Private Campbell had been killed in action on 2 May 1915. They were written by men who either were then serving in Europe or had been invalided back to Australia.
The recorded details of Private Campbell’s death are incomplete and contradictory, and his case typifies the difficulties the early AIF faced in coping with the number of casualties experienced. As the War progressed it would become far more proficient in managing the business of death in battle.
Private Campbell also typifies the lot of the son whose legacy was lost to his family: the details of the death were incomplete and contradictory; there was no grave; no personal kit was ever returned; information for the (National) Roll of Honour was never provided; neither medals nor the Memorial Plaque were ever distributed; and there was no pension or gratuity for any family member. Commonly, the legacy of those killed lived on in the shared memory of the family, often over many generations. Here was a case where even this limited blessing appeared denied. It can only ever be speculation, but perhaps the father’s grief could not be contained in the conventional ways, and he too was a casualty, but of a different kind.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative