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Remembered Today:

Roy Campbell DCM

Simon Birch

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The article below was sent to me by Jim Kelly of Ontario - as you can see he put much time and effort into it - and is a fitting epitaph to a brave officer.



The quest for information on Roy Campbell started in an unexpected way.  A visit to a gun owner and the examination of an old rifle.  It was a recent acquisition for the new owner.  The rifle was a Gewehr 98 Mauser, the rifle used by German infantry during the First World War.  The markings on it showed that it had been built in Berlin in 1906.  The disk in the gun’s stock showed that the rifle had been issued to a member of the 170th Regiment, a unit from Baden, Germany.  While examining the rifle, the owner had noticed some scratches on the gun’s stock.  They became more distinct and legible as he cleaned the rifle.  What was revealed was ‘R.C. 42241 12th Battery’.  The rifle had been a war souvenir, that much seemed obvious.  Subsequent research revealed that the service number 42241 belonged to Roy Campbell and that he had once served with the 12th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery.  The information that was scratched into the stock of that rifle started a quest for information that revealed the military story of a true Bruce County hero of the First World War.

Roy Campbell was born September 15, 1887.  His military attestation papers give his place of birth as London, Ontario but birth records tell a different story.  Those records confirm that he was born in Kincardine Township, near Lorne.  The census of 1891 shows Campbell still living in Kincardine Township but by 1901 he had moved to London, Ontario.  While in London, Campbell became a member of the 1st Hussars militia.  He served with them for twelve years prior to the outbreak of the First World War.  At the time of his enlistment he was working as a machinist and traveller for the firm of Lawson and Jones of London.

When war broke out in August of 1914, Roy Campbell immediately travelled to Valcartier, Quebec to enlist with the First Canadian Contingent.  He was assigned to the 8th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery.  When the First Contingent sailed for England in October, 1914, Roy Campbell was listed in their nominal roll as a Sergeant.  The second in command of 8th battery, was Captain Henry Duncan Graham Crerar. Captain Crerar would serve with distinction in the First World War and would go on to command the First Canadian Army in Europe in the Second World War. 

When the First Contingent reached England they were sent to the Salisbury Plain to continue the training that had begun in Canada.  The majority of the men had to live in tents during a cold, wet and miserable winter there.  Nicholson’s Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War described the conditions. “Indeed the miserable weather turned training into drudgery.  There were no means of drying clothing, and men who ploughed through ankle-deep mud all day had to let their rain-soaked uniforms dry on their backs.’  One officer noted that the conditions were ‘simply appalling’ and ‘just one sea of mud.’  He went on to state that the troops ‘would have been a thousand times better off in Canada that they are at Salisbury Plains.’”

A reorganization of the artillery units took place in December, 1914.  Formerly six guns per battery, the new scheme reduced that number to four.  The extra guns and personnel from the 8th Battery, including Roy Campbell, were moved to the newly-formed 12th Battery.  With the reorganization came a promotion for Campbell.  He was now the Acting Battery Sergeant Major.

Roy Campbell and the 12th Battery, 3rd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, embarked at Avonmouth, England, bound for France, on the 11th of February, 1915.  At that time the 12th battery consisted of 4 officers, 129 other ranks, 124 horses and four 18-pounder artillery guns. Shortly after their arrival in France they were ordered to the Front.

An article in the Walkerton Telescope, March 16, 1916 described the 12th Battery’s actions after their arrival in the war zone in 1915.  This account was related in the article by Gunner Jennings (Garfield Jennings, 42336).  “We got our first taste of battle on a big scale when we moved to Neuve Chapelle.  We entrenched in a position that was thick with artillery.  The batteries were placed about every twenty yards apart.  I don’t know how much artillery was massed here to keep the German reinforcements from relieving the men in the trenches, but we must have had a good many guns there.  We went into this position as fast as the horses could drag up, and we fired at ‘gun fire.’  ‘Gun fire’ means that you fire just as fast as you can load, fire, reload and fire.  We were there fours days and four nights.  We couldn’t see the battle that was being fought in front of us.  We couldn’t see the trenches we demolished, or the whole groups of men for which we got the range from the observation officer, and killed with one or two shells.  We couldn’t see the bayonet charge, the mine explosions, the bomb attacks, the big sweeping offensives or the counter-offensives that, they say, surged back and forth on the field in front of us.  The aeroplanes flew back and forth over us, snooping us out and sending back the signal approximating our range.  The shells came and killed other men in other batteries, shattered the guns, smashed the wagons to kindling wood, and slaughtered the hard-working, eager, faithful horses.  But our battery was skilfully officered.  We lost neither a man nor a horse nor a wagon during that four days’ and four nights’ fighting.”

The biggest test for the men of the 12th Battery would come in April, 1915.  That was when the German Army launched its offensive toward Ypres, Belgium.  Historians know it as the 2nd battle of Ypres. The Canadian troops involved knew it as the first poison gas attack of the war.  Major E. Woodman Leonard, the commanding officer of the 12th Battery, submitted a report after the battle, documenting the role the Battery played.  Some excerpts are included.

“About 4.30 p.m. (April 22) thick clouds of greenish grey smoke were noticed on our left, which spread and filled the air in our vicinity with a vile smelling gas which iritated (sic) both eyes and lungs.  Fire was at once opened by me on our zone and was kept up on registered points until our withdrawal.  Early in the action many Turcos (French colonial troops) ran past in rear of us apparently panic stricken and some took refuge in our dugouts.  From them I learned that the French Colonial Division (which had held the line on our immediate left) had been driven back and that the Germans were coming through in force.  This news was later confirmed from Brigade Headquarters, but definite details as to the situation was lacking.  None of the Turcos were wounded but some were undoubtedly suffering from the effects of the enemy gas.

The German shell fire on our position gradually became heavier and shortly after dark No. 3 gun was hit, the shield and other fittings being torn off.  The rifle fire on our left also became noticeably louder and bullets were flying right across the battery. 

             About 9 p.m. an order was received to withdraw and between 10 and 10.30 this was successfully accomplished.  Our fire was kept up until the removal of the guns and all this time, also when moving down the road, a hail of German shells was falling.  In passing through the village of St. Julien, rifle fire seemed to be all about us, and how the Battery escaped with so few casualties would be difficult to explain.

On the morning of the 23rd our fire was continued at intervals, but I early discovered, on going forward, that there were no troops between us and the Germans.  Our situation would have been critical had they advanced but they were busily engaged in digging themselves in and later I moved the Battery.

Our fire was continued that evening and early on the morning of the 24th, about 10 a.m. the enemy batteries located us, blew in some of the dugouts and forced us to take cover in a ditch to one flank.  About an hour later I got teams in and galloped one gun to safety but all efforts to get the other two out failed on account of the heavy shell fire the Germans opened whenever the teams tried to approach. 

No definite information as to the general situation was available and as the enemy appeared to be still advancing, I decided to attempt the removal by hand of the remaining two guns.  This arduous task was successfully accomplished under heavy fire and I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the officers and men who carried it out.”

At this point the narrative is taken up by Gunner Williams (William Williams, 42413), in the Telescope article. “We placed our guns in a new position several hundred yards to the rear, and then went forward to manhandle the one remaining gun to the new place.  Here we worked the pieces at ‘gun fire’ for several hours.  We were in the open, having no time to dig a pit or conceal ourselves in any way.

It was here that the Germans broke through long enough to give us the hottest half hour of our lives.  The infantry in front of us had given way, and we were face to face with the Germans.  They got within 200 yards of us and started an enveloping movement that would have had us surrounded if it had succeeded.  But our shrapnel was too much for them.

When it seemed as though we were being cut off, we banked the guns in a half circle and let them have shrapnel at point blank as fast as we could feed the shells into the four pieces.  Our fire spread to the shape of a fan and it moved forward in solid formation, and when the first shell fell the next kept right on coming.  They were brave enough, but no one could stand that concentrated point-blank fire, and they fell back.”

Major Leonard’s report continues.

“From the night of the 24th April until Midnight May 1st the 12th Battery remained in action near Potijze. During the fighting at Potijze my Battery like the others was exposed to heavy shell fire from both front, flank and rear, several men being killed, quite a number wounded, and one gun was put out of action by a direct hit.  Everything considered our losses were slight, as large howitzer shells burst all round the guns, several dugouts were blown in and the cook house hit by 2 large shells and completely demolished.

From time to time the enemy shelled our vicinity with more or less accuracy.  Not a day passed without something of the sort and at times the bombardment was heavy.  On May 13th they located my position accurately and put in a number of shells, blowing the wheels and fittings off No. 4 gun and partly demolishing the wagon.  This damage was done by the enemy 14 cm howitzer.”

             Canadian casualties during the Second Battle of Ypres numbered 6000.

             During the remainder of 1915 the 12th Battery continued to provide vital artillery support at the front.  They were actively involved in the battles of Festubert, Givenchy and the British attack at Loos in September. 

 Roy Campbell was released from the 12th battery and attached to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in November, 1915.  His transfer into the RFC was likely as a result of his pre-war job as a machinist.  The rapidly expanding need for aircraft at the front would have required the skills of people who could maintain them. Campbell’s RFC personnel file noted that he became qualified as an engine fitter (aircraft mechanic).  By February, 1916 the transfer to the RFC was made permanent and he became a member of 22 Squadron. 
              Details of Roy Campbell’s time with 22 squadron are scarce.  Squadron records were destroyed in a fire during the war.  What is known is that at some point in late 1916 or early 1917 Roy Campbell became an observer/gunner in a 2-seater aircraft, the Farman Experimental FE2B.  The FE2B was a ‘pusher’ aircraft.  The observer sat in the nose of the aircraft.  The pilot sat behind the observer with the engine and propeller behind both of them.  Roy Campbell’s duties as an observer would have been to take photographs of enemy trenches, direct artillery fire and to defend his aircraft from enemy attack using the two machine guns.  His RFC personnel file shows that he spent seven months in this role.  Campbell’s service as an observer included the month of April, 1917, a period that became known in the Royal Flying Corps as ‘Bloody April’ due to the massive casualty rates. 
During that month the RFC suffered casualties at the rate of 4:1 compared with the Germans.

In June of 1917, 22 Squadron was operating near Guillancourt in France.  It was during that period that Roy Campbell and his British pilot, C.R.L. Falcy, flew a mission that resulted in both of them being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).  The DCM is second only to the Victoria Cross as an award for bravery for enlisted men.  A description of the mission from the ‘Great War London’ website is given below. 

“One particular mission stands out in this period. Following a preliminary photographic mission on 12 June 1917, Falcy and his observer, Roy Oswald Campbell, set out on 16 June in FE2b number A848 on what his (Falcy’s) log-book refers to as a ‘special mission’. The exact purpose of it is not clear, but it was a photographic mission aimed at countering German Kite Balloons. These were gas-filled balloons used to direct artillery fire, a vital and deadly role in the war on the Western Front where vantage points over enemy positions on the ground were few and hotly contested. They were extremely dangerous to attack, being heavily defended by aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.

Falcy’s log-book records the results succinctly: ‘Shot down: controls cut.  Campbell climbed out on plane.  Both got DCM.’”

Described in another report as ‘a feat of great daring,’ Roy Campbell's citation for the DCM reads as follows; “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst acting as observer to another NCO, he and his comrade performed a most daring and successful photographic reconnaissance for the purpose of confirming information they already obtained respecting the working of hostile kite balloons. During this operation they were heavily fired upon, and their machine put completely out of control, but with wonderful coolness and presence of mind, they righted the machine, Sergeant Campbell climbing on to the extreme tip of the wing in order to do this.”

By September, 1917 Roy Campbell had been accepted for training as a pilot in England.  His initial assignment was to #5 Officer Cadet Wing followed by a stint in the #5 School of Military Aeronautics in Denham.  He was briefly assigned to #5 Training Depot Station, Easton on the Hill, before joining 87 Squadron on Christmas Day, 1917.  87 Squadron was in the process of being formed in England at the time and was equipped with the Sopwith Dolphin  and SE5a fighters.  Campbell’s time with 87 Squadron was short-lived.  His file shows that he transferred to 62 Training Squadron at Hounslow and then to the No.2 School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery at Driffield, in May, before being assigned to 65 squadron in France. 

On June 15, 1918, Roy Campbell arrived at the 65 Squadron aerodrome near the French town of Bertangles.  A scout or fighter unit, 65 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (the Royal Flying Corps was made part of the Royal Air Force April 1, 1918) had been in France since October of the previous year and were heavily engaged in the air war on the Western Front. The squadron was equipped with Sopwith Camels.

             The Sopwith Camel was the most successful Allied fighter of the First World War.  Introduced to service in 1917, the Camel had a maximum speed of 113 mph and a ceiling of 19,000 ft.   It was fitted with twin Vickers .303 machine guns and could be equipped with four 20 lb bombs fitted under the fuselage.  This gave the Camel impressive firepower for that time.  Despite its success as a fighter, the Camel was a very tricky plane to fly.  It was tail heavy and had tremendous torque from its rotary engine.  It required constant pressure on the rudder and on the control control stick to keep the aircraft flying straight and level.  Stalling the aircraft invariably led to a dangerous spin.  It is said that more Allied pilots were killed learning to fly the Camel than were killed by enemy action.  Pilots liked to joke that the Camel offered the choice of a wooden cross, the Red Cross or a Victoria Cross.  But to those who mastered the plane it was a very agile and maneuverable and a deadly fighter aircraft.

             Like many other pilots, Roy Campbell had some difficulties while learning to fly the Camel.  The Royal Air Force required a report to be completed any time an aircraft was damaged or a pilot injured.  The following two reports, ‘On Casualties to Personnel and Machines (When Flying),’ were filed regarding Roy Campbell.

During a practice flight on the 19th of June, 1918, the report noted; “Pilot in taking off with his engine full on, lifted the tail of the machine too high, and, on striking a rut the machine overbalanced onto its nose.  Pilot not hurt.  Port diagonal strut, propeller, oil tank, instrument board and No. 1 bay of fuselage smashed.”

On the 29th of June, Campbell was engaged in ground target firing practice.  Engine failure caused a forced landing near Poulainville.  “Machine left aerodrome at 9.45 a.m.  After about 30 mins. flying, pressure gave out and in making a forced landing machine caught a bank and turned over.  Pilot slightly injured.  Damage to machine follows;- both bottom rear longerons, all planes, centre section, empennage (tail assembly), propeller smashed.  Rear engine bearer bent.  Fuselage badly strained.”

The 65 Squadron Record Book maintained a chronicle of the squadron’s activities, while in France and Belgium.  The names of pilots, flight times, weather reports and descriptions of events were all recorded.  There is no record of Roy Campbell flying in July, 1918.  The injuries he sustained on June 29th likely kept him from flying for a while.  That and a bout of tonsillitis.  In a postcard that he mailed home, dated July 30th, Roy Campbell ended his note by saying “Had a touch of tonsillitis but am O.K. again.  Love to all, Roy.” 

By the middle of 1918 the Sopwith Camel, although still a capable aircraft, was being outclassed by faster and better German planes and was increasingly being used in ground attack roles.  Ground attack by aircraft was known to be an effective strategy during battles, preventing supplies and reinforcements from reaching the front.  It was also very dangerous.  Added to the ever-present threats of enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns were rifle and machine fire from ground troops.  The wood and canvas construction of WW1 aircraft offered no protection for the pilot.

Detailed records for 65 Squadron for the month of August, 1918, do not exist.  The squadron history, written after the war, gives a general description of what they were doing at that time.  “During August the Squadron was occupied in low bombing and shooting up the enemy in the Great Advance (Battle of Amiens) working in conjunction with the cavalry and the Canadian Corps.”

The normal strength of 65 Squadron varied but was usually between twenty and twenty-four pilots.  During the period August 6-10, 1918, 65 Squadron lost 10 pilots, killed, wounded, or shot down and taken prisoner.  It cannot be known for certain if Roy Campbell was active during that time.  It seems very likely that he was.  The urgency of the situation would have meant that, if he was fit and able, he would have been flying.

After the Battle of Amiens, 65 Squadron was moved to the Dunkirk area.  They were brought up to strength, re-supplied with aircraft and the new pilots trained.  The squadron’s return to active duty was not long delayed.  By September they were back in action.  As stated in the squadron history, “The principal duty whilst here was escorting (DeHavilland) D.H.9’s of No. 108 and 211 Squadrons on long distance bomb raids over Bruges, Ostend and Zeebrugge.  A few O.P.’s (Offensive Patrols) and Night Bombing Raids on the coast were also carried out.”

The records for 65 Squadron resumed in September, 1918.  On September 3rd, sixteen of the squadron’s aircraft, organized into three flights, took off on an offensive patrol.  Roy Campbell was part of ‘C’ flight.  The ensuing dogfight is described in the Squadron Record Book.  “Patrol was attacked by 8 E.A. (Enemy Aircraft) over Bruges and vicinity at about 10.55 a.m.  A Fokker biplane got on the tail of 2/Lt. (Second Lieutenant) R. Campbell and after both pilots had manoeuvred for some time, Lt. Campbell eventually fired a long burst into E.A. at point blank range.  E.A. went down through clouds completely out of control.  Another E.A. got on his tail and was shot down out of control by Capt. J. White (Canadian pilot, Joseph White, DFC and bar, from Halifax).  Lt. Campbell saw an E.A. above him flying at about 9000 ft.  He climbed up to him and put a long burst into him at fairly short range from underneath.  E.A. went down out of control but Pilot was unable to see him crash owing to clouds.”

Bad weather grounded 65 Squadron occasionally in September.  For the pilots, these days would have been a welcome respite from the flight duties that continued on an almost daily basis.  Aircraft were flight tested after maintenance.  Pilots practiced gunnery and bombing on ground targets and honed their flying skills. They flew in offensive patrols.  Sometimes they encountered enemy aircraft, often they did not.  Roy Campbell took part in all of these activities.

In mid-September some of the pilots of 65 Squadron were assigned to ‘bombing patrol.’  On the 15th, the day he turned thirty-one years old, Roy Campbell and three other pilots bombed various targets in Ostend.  Campbell’s results were summarized in the Squadron Record Book.  “4 bombs dropped on E. bank of Canal from 500 ft. running inland from Ostend.  No bursts observed.”  On the 16th eight pilots bombed targets in Ostend and Zeebrugge.  Roy Campbell’s results were duly recorded.  “4 bombs dropped from 100 ft on 1 of 2 ships east of Mole at Ostend.  4 bursts observed within 20 yds of ship and smoke was seen to come out of stern of ship after bombs were dropped.”  On the 26th of September Campbell was strafing trenches.  “2/Lts. Campbell and Lockey fired 100 rounds at trenches West of Dixmude.”

On the 27th of September, 1918, seventeen pilots of 65 Squadron, including Roy Campbell, were assigned to an offensive patrol.  The weather was described as “Fine with light wind from S.W.  Visibility good.  Afternoon clouds low.”  Between 10:30 and 10:35 they all took off and flew along the coast toward Ostend.  Roy Campbell was the pilot of Camel E1549.  The leader of the patrol, Captain A. Jones-Williams, had to return to the aerodrome minutes after takeoff with ‘plug trouble.’  A little over an hour after takeoff the squadron was engaged in combat.  The squadron record book noted, “Encountered 15 Fokker Biplanes in the vicinity of Ghistelles at 11:50 a.m.”  In the combat that ensued, the pilots of 65 Squadron claimed four enemy aircraft destroyed or driven down.  The description of the combat concluded by stating “2/Lt. R. Campbell last seen at 11:50 a.m. near Ghistelles with 2 E.A. (Enemy Aircraft) on his tail.”   When Roy Campbell did not return to the aerodrome his name was entered on the casualty list as ‘missing.’

The news reached Kincardine a short time later.  Excerpts from local newspapers record the details.  Kincardine Review, of October 10, 1918 reported, “Tony Campbell, of town, received official notice on Tuesday last, that his brother, R.O. Campbell, of the R.A.F. has been missing since September 27th.  Lieut. Campbell is a son of Mrs. David Campbell, Lorne, and enlisted with the 12th Battery at London, and went overseas with the first contingent four years ago.  Previous to enlisting he was in the employ of the White Engine Co. of London.”

  The Kincardine Reporter, October 10, 1918, noted: “Roy Osborne (sic) Campbell, aged 29 years, who was reported missing on Sept. 27th, was a native of Kincardine Township, having been born at Lorne.  He is a son of Mrs. David F. Campbell, who still resides there.  He enlisted in London, Ont., in August, 1914.  He went overseas among the first.   He had been flying for several months and was noted for coolness and courage.  It was he who some months ago, when his plane was damaged and coming down out of control, climbed out on the wing and guided it safely back into the lines of the allies before it descended.  He was a soldier of the highest type and since going overseas has been twice decorated for conspicuous bravery.  It will be remembered that he was one of the London, Ont. representative soldiers who went to the old country to represent Canada at the King’s coronation.  He was an athlete and a fine type of Canadian manhood.  It is to be hoped that he will yet turn up.”

The odds of surviving years of front-line service in the Great War were slim. The odds were even slimmer when much of that time was spent as an observer or pilot in the air war.  Courage and skill Roy Campbell had in abundance, but those daunting odds finally caught up with him.  The hopes of family and friends proved to be in vain.  On November 1, just days before the Armistice that would end the war, it was confirmed that Roy Campbell’s plane had crashed.  His official status changed from ‘missing’ to ‘killed in action.’

 Second Lieutenant Roy Oswald Campbell, 65 Squadron Royal Air Force was buried in the German military cemetery at Lichtervelde, Belgium.  After the war he was reinterred, as were many Commonwealth soldiers, into the Harlebeke New British Cemetery, also in Belgium. 

  As an engine-fitter with 22 Squadron, Roy Campbell would have seen first-hand the planes damaged by anti-aircraft and machine gun fire.  He certainly would have known that many aircraft and crew took off from the aerodrome and did not return from missions.  He would have witnessed the results of crashes that happened during training flights.  The casualties associated with the air war would have been very familiar to him.  Roy Campbell could have remained an engine-fitter and served the rest of the war in a much safer role.  But he didn’t.  Roy Campbell knew exactly what the risks were when he volunteered for active service as an observer and a pilot.  That is the kind of bravery that isn’t recognized by any medal.  The bravery that is recognized by medals saw him awarded the Belgian Croix-de-Guerre, the Decoration Militaire and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. 

The mystery of the war-souvenir German rifle remains unsolved.  Where, and under what circumstances, did Roy Campbell get that rifle?  How did the rifle end up back in Canada?  What happened to the German soldier who once possessed it?  Those questions will probably never be answered.  The one thing that the rifle did help to reveal was the incredible story of Roy Campbell’s military service.

Roy Campbell is commemorated on the Kincardine Cenotaph.


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