Kenneth Gordon Campbell (1895–1915), Lieutenant in the 12th (Service) Battalion the Highland Light Infantry, died in action at the unsuccessful Battle of Loos on the Western Front on 25 September 1915. He was commemorated in several locations. His name was inscribed on Special Memorial 11 in the Dud Corner Cemetery Loos, in the Pas de Calais area of northern France. He was commemorated on a tablet in the chapel at the Magdalen Hospital, Streatham, London where his maternal grandfather, the Revd William Watkins, was Warden. He was commemorated at St Faith’s School, Cambridge on their war memorial board.
He was commemorated on the War Memorial Cloister and on a war memorial in his old boarding house at Winchester College. Kenneth’s body is not buried in his family grave.
Upbringing and Education
Kenneth was born on 12 February 1895 in Newnham Croft, Cambridge. He was the youngest of the four children of Frederick Gordon Bluett Campbell and Blanche Iveson Campbell (née Watkins).
He was first educated at St Faith’s School, Cambridge under the Headmaster, Ralph Shilleto Goodchild, and the school was known locally as Goody’s. Kenneth then went to Winchester College, Hampshire. Kenneth was at Winchester College between September 1908 and July 1914. He was in B House, known as Moberly’s. His housemaster was initially Mr Fort and then later Mr Aris. Kenneth was a very successful sportsman whilst he was at Winchester. He played golf from 1909 and he was part of the school’s golf team from 1912, acting as president in 1913. He also played with success during the holidays in Newquay, winning the Newquay Golf Club’s major competition, the Atlantic Cup, when he was 17. He also played in the school’s 2nd soccer XI in 1913 and in the 1st XI in 1914. At Winchester they play their own version of football at six and fifteen a-side. There are three teams, drawn from the various boarding houses. Kenneth played in OTH or Houses XV in 1913 and he was a reserve or ‘on dress’ in 1912. He rowed for his house IV between 1911 and 1913, and he also played soccer and fives for his house. He was elected a member of the ‘Sixteen Club’ in November 1913. The Club was an essay or discussion society for senior boys at which the boys took turns to read papers on various academic subjects. He became a prefect and Head of his House. Kenneth was a member of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) in which he became colour sergeant.
Kenneth was elected to a Classical Scholarship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge shortly before the War started. However, he did not take it up and obtained a commission as a Lieutenant on 29 September 1914 in the 12th (Service) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. Kenneth’s paternal great grandfather, Norman Campbell, had been in the 71st Highland Light Infantry and Norman’s father (Kenneth’s paternal great great grandfather) had been in the Loudoun Highlanders. The 12th (Service) Battalion was mobilized for war and Kenneth accompanied his Battalion when it set out for France on 11 July 1915. He was second in command of ‘B’ Company when he led it to attack on 25 September at the Battle of Loos.
The Battle — Gas Warfare
The attacking troops of 15th (Scottish) Division-–including 46th Brigade, in which Kenneth’s Battalion served–-were in position for the assault by 0230 on 25 September, having moved up through flooded trenches into advanced positions only two hundred yards from the German lines. By 0400 the heaviest British bombardment of the War so far was underway. General Douglas Haig ordered gas to be released at 0550, and the infantry to attack at 0630. The Battle of Loos was the first time that poison gas was used as a weapon and the battle proved to be the largest offensive on the Western Front during 1915. It was also the first time that New Army units were engaged en masse. New Army units were all volunteer units created specifically for the War on the recommendation of Horatio Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War.
Kenneth’s Battalion went into the attack on the left front of 46th Brigade, with two companies in the attacking wave and the other two in support. There were two German saps projecting into No Man’s Land on the left flank, and it was thought that these contained machine-guns, which might enfilade the attackers. ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies were therefore ordered to cross No Man’s Land south of these saps with the rest of the Brigade and then to use hand-grenades (‘bombs’ as they were then known) to push their way northwards along the German front-line trenches. They would thus, it was hoped, cut off the saps from the rear.
The gas attack was unsuccessful, the wind conditions being too still to roll it forwards into the German lines. Indeed, it caused delays and losses to 15th Division. In particular, it settled in the trenches of Kenneth’s Battalion among the men of ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies, killing some of the men. What was left of the companies then attacked. Kenneth and ‘B’ company were on the left, northernmost, flank, and thus closest to the southern enemy sap. They had hoped to take shelter in it, but the sap turned out to be a shallow scrape, providing little cover, and the German machine-guns exacted a heavy toll. Every officer and sergeant in ‘B’ company was hit as they made for the German front-line, and when the survivors reached the enemy trenches they were too weak to carry out the original plan. At 0715 the Battalion’s four machine-guns moved up in support, but a third of their crews became casualties in the process. Three machine-guns were emplaced in the captured German line, and the Battalion clung to their gains for the rest of the day.
Death and Commemoration
Kenneth, who was twenty when he died during that first morning of the Battle of Loos, was originally buried one and a quarter miles north-west of Loos Church, but his body was later moved, though it could not then be individually identified. He is therefore commemorated by Special Memorial 11 in the Dud Corner Cemetery, Loos.
Both his schools, St Faith’s and Winchester College, commemorated Kenneth’s death on their war memorials. In addition he was commemorated on a mural tablet in the chapel at the Magdalen Hospital, Drewstead Road, Streatham, London. This was where his maternal grandfather, William Watkins, was Warden between 1883 and 1917. According to the book The Magdalen Hospital, Kenneth “was well known at the Magdalen throughout the twenty years of his life, and much beloved. The memorial was unveiled by his former headmaster at Winchester, the Bishop of Southwark.” At the time of his death his parents lived at 15 Market Street, Cambridge. The Thatched Cottage, Brundall, Norfolk is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as the address where his parents were living at the time of his death. However, this was the address his mother went to live at after his father died in 1917. It was close to Blofield in Norfolk where her younger sister, Gertrude Ellen Shillito (née Watkins), was married to the Rector.
Commemorative tributes in the Winchester College War Memorial Book, the Western Morning News, and the Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic New.
LETTERS FROM THE FRONT
Kenneth sent letters and postcards to his mother every few days (duplicating many of them to his sisters, wider family and friends) whilst he was in France between 13 July and 24 September before his death on 25 September 1915. His family in return sent him frequent letters, envelopes, magazines, chocolate for making cups of cocoa, Horlicks milk tablets, peppermint creams, carbolic soap, socks and pyjamas. They also sent him rolls of muslin, Keating powder (insect powder) and flypapers as a result of poor sanitation, flies and mosquitoes, which Kenneth continually mentioned.
Kenneth kept up a jolly schoolboy tone throughout but he described his daily life in detail. He often referred to specific dates and pages within the Daily Mail and The Times to give clues to his family as to his actual location (as censorship prevented him from specifically telling them). Kenneth’s Commanding Officer of the Battalion was originally Colonel Lumsden, who he described as ‛Lummy, who was mostly blood and thunder with a lot of lightning in it’. However, Colonel Purvis replaced Colonel Lumsden shortly before he set out for France. Kenneth much preferred him and described him as a ‛jewel’ and ‛quite efficient’. Kenneth departed from England at Folkestone and arrived in Calais in France:
I was not seasick coming across, and all arrangements went like clockwork. We had six hours in the train though….We are resting here for a couple of days before going nearer the guns. It is a lovely spot overlooking the sea, and a most gorgeous day. We came over on a rocky… turbine steamer which was not very steady, but as it only took two hours we were not ill.
Kenneth was able to speak French so that he could talk to the local community. Outside the immediate war zone life in the French countryside appeared to be relatively normal. Kenneth described going for a walk where he was ‛pestered for souvenirs, cigarettes, etc by small boys’, having access to coffee, omelettes and ‛sparkling white wine which [was] like heavy champagne at 1 franc a bottle’ and that his rations were ‛excellent, plenty and good’ although the ‛beer [was] bad and tast[ed] like turpentine’. He attended church services when he could, and on one occasion he mentioned listening to both German and French records on a gramophone that he and his fellow soldiers had found.
Two days after arriving in France Kenneth moved about ten miles inland and he was billeted at a chateau. The following day he marched for 40 miles over the course of three days staying first at a house overlooking a river and then at another chateau before arriving at ‛a miserable cottage with a basin the size of a thimble to wash in’ in a mining village where he stayed for eight days. He was then within striking distance of the trenches as he stated, ‛We can hear the guns quite plainly but they are quieter at night. The searchlights are quite a sight at night’.
As a commissioned officer Kenneth’s days away from the front were filled with a regular routine that involved a number of administrative duties. He described a typical day as follows:
On Thursday I got up 7.30, washed(?) shaved and cleaned my teeth and then walked down to an ’Estaminet’ and had my breakfast, the Estaminet being the officers’ mess. After that I walked across to the Orderly Room, which is a clean little cottage parlour and stayed there working on returns etc. Orderly Room is where the prisoners come before the C.O. and other details. At one I went and had lunch. After lunch I went to the Orderly Room again till teatime as the letters arrive about 2 o’clock and so I was busy. After tea I went for a short stroll with Nicoll and we watched seaplanes being fired on by anti-aircraft guns. It was quite fun but rather far away. You can see the smoke of the shells as they burst in the air. We didn’t know if they were German or not, but I fancy it was one of our aeroplanes.
After tea I came back. I tried to talk French to the old landlady here, and got on quite well. Then I went and had dinner. Dinner was at 8 and then I went to Ord[erly] Room to get orders for Friday which were nil. So I went to bed at 9.30, and was extremely comfortable, and snored until 7.0 this morning….
Kenneth gave a description of a return in another letter:
If you sit down for one day in a place, sure as fate they will want a return showing your numbers as you marched in, the number of men sick, number of billets you’ve got, how many horses have to be shod, how many men have bad toenails, how many anythings make everything, ad infinitum.
He was also responsible for censoring letters for the Company:
The men write such trash, and so many lies, that it is quite a job. We leave the lies in of course. One man made quite a humorous remark in his. He said ‛It is not so bad at all in the trenches and would be quite pleasant if it weren’t for the people opposite.’
On 25 July 1915 Kenneth was sent to the trenches. The Commanding Officer and Kenneth were attached to one regiment for two days of instruction followed by two further days of instruction attached to another regiment. By this time he was close to Vermelles (about 20 miles from Lille):
In the first place we went to, we had to go by night, and we walked along the open road to within 800 yards of the German position, and got to Hd quarters which were the cellars and dug-outs round farm buildings which are absolutely knocked to pieces. The desolate towns here are awful.
I slept the first night soundly, and went round the trenches the following day. We had six shells at us, and I can assure you I ducked pretty quickly, but they were quite a way away. We left that place that night, and came here and this is an old coal mine. All the workings are pretty well intact, but every piece of glass is smashed. We got to the Hd Qrs without mishap, and found that it was a splendid dug-out in the side of a quarry, quite safe. I slept in a half-ruined house in the middle of the village, and found a comfortable bed. The dug-outs etc here have all been completely furnished from the village, so, so they are quite homely.
Kenneth’s battalion had been holding the Germans for eight days by this point without casualties although both sides had been attacking each other daily with large numbers of shells:
There are shells sticking in the ruined wall of the church, and the altar rails are propped up against it where someone has used it as a ladder to get at to pick the shell (unexploded) out. There are big pits 4ft across where shells have pitched, and there is not a single house standing intact. It is a place about the size of Newquay, and is only one of many, so you can imagine the desolation.
On 29 July Kenneth was released from the front line for a week’s respite. A week later Kenneth moved to billets for about a week before moving back to the trenches for a fortnight. From this time until his death he was constantly in and out of the trenches. His letters started to become less frequent and he began to mention the lack of sleep, cold, hunger and lack of access to clean water. Initially, he had been able to travel on horseback or by bike but towards the end he spent much of his time marching a number of miles backwards and forwards to and from the front in the hot weather.
Kenneth mentioned his Company’s first casualty in his letter of 17 August (censorship discouraged mention of casualties in letters home):
We were unlucky enough to have our first casualty (an officer was killed). He left the trench to get a German out of some wire he had got caught in and the man shot him with a revolver. He died at once I believe and we buried him today. It is very pathetic because he had no business to go out, but of course the Boche did him a dirty trick.
At the end of August Kenneth’s temporary position of adjutant was withdrawn from him as he was considered to be too young despite acting in that temporary role for eight months. However, his superiors had assured him that he was next in line for promotion to Captain. At the beginning of September Kenneth was transferred to B Company as second in command. On 24th of September, the evening before he died, Kenneth wrote to his mother and his sister, Lorna. Both letters are transcribed below.
Friday 7 p.m.
From the abode of mice & men the oracle speaks. However, if harm should befal the oracle at any time, the parents of the oracle will have heard before getting this letter & all will be serene & fair.
This sounds childish & foolish, but is as true as true. Don’t be anxious, but this is the letter of the day, & then comes tomorrow!
Lorna seems to know a good deal about me from that Londoner Sergeant. However – as this letter will not be sent off until the day after tomorrow, I am afraid I am making you anxious to no good.
However if __________! Pa will remember the lines of Horace beginning ‘Dulce et ___’ the end of which he is not to disclose before Oct. 1. However you get news before you get my letter so cheers.
Friday 8.00 p.m.
Thanks for your sweet letter from Eye. Hope George is well. Please give him my love, and wish me well.
Parish : St Paul Lat Lon : 52.202152, 0.13629328 – click here for location
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.
War Graves Photographic Project
Census returns for England: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837 – 1915
England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index, 1837 – 1915
London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754 – 1921
England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837 – 1915
England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index, 1837 – 1915
England & Wales, Death Index, 1916 – 2007
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858 – 1966
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914 – 1919
Web: International, Find a Grave Index
The Times, 9 December 1909
The Times, 16 November 1917
Compston, H. F. B., The Magdalen Hospital: The Story of a Great Charity
(London: SPCK, 1917)
Notebook belonging to Blanche Iveson Campbell (née Watkins)
Campbell, H. C., Paternal Descent of Henry Cadogan Campbell (in manuscript)
Information kindly provided by the following institutions: Cheltenham College; St Faith’s School, Cambridge; Winchester College; Exeter College, Oxford; Clare College, Cambridge; Trinity Hall, Cambridge; and Trinity College, Cambridge.
Communications from Kenneth Blyth, nephew of Kenneth Gordon Campbell
By Emma Easterbrook and Ian Bent