Thursday, 29 January 2009

Colonel of the month - January

One of the things that first drew me towards No Good Boyo as a connoisseur of the amusing (rather than the "certain diminutive evil Welchman" that one of my trainers warned me of on my first day in the same workplace) was our shared delight in the foibles of gloriously moustachioed military and colonial gentlemen. For those who share our passion, either currently or in the near future after reading this, I offer up a few highlights on one of my personal favourites: Colonel (later Major-General) David Graham Muschet "Soarer" Campbell of the 9th Lancers.

The nickname 'Soarer' comes from the horse he rode to victory in the 1896 Grand National. I first came across this delightful character in Richard Holmes's excellent book "Tommy - The British Soldier on the Western Front 1914-1918", in which Holmes quotes the medical officer who found Campbell lying in the long grass after charging into a superior force of German cavalry in September 1914. "I'm sorry to find you like this, sir" the medical officer recalled saying.
"Nonsense my dear boy - I've just had the best quarter of an hour of my entire life!" retorted the thrice-wounded Campbell.
Subsequently he was promoted to command of the 21st Division - a 'New Army' formation composed primarily of men who had answered Kitchener's 'Your Country Needs You' call. He was in command of this division when it was badly mauled in 1918, and said of the affair "Monday (27 May) was the worst day I have spent in this war, which is saying a lot".

Blimpishness aside, it says much about the man's character that his 'best quarter of an hour' involved leading from the front, crossing swords with the enemy and receiving multiple wounds, while his 'worst day' involved being in command but behind the lines while his men were suffering.

There is a good short biography on Birmingham University's Centre for First World War Studies page, which features the magnificent aside "Wounds were to be a feature of his military career". Though British generals of WWI have not enjoyed a high reputation on the whole, there were nonetheless some genuinely brave and charismatic men among them. Campbell certainly seems to have been such a man.


No Good Boyo said...

Dear Sir,

Am I alone in thinking?

Yours etc,

Deakin (Col, rtd)

Gyppo Byard said...

Dear Deakin (Colonel, Retarded)

Yes you are. Nobody else does it.

Dashitall man, think of the regiment!

Yours etc,

Fortescue-Trouserbugle (Buffy (Lt-Col (Retd)))

No Good Boyo said...

Point tecken, old man.

By th'way, are yer one er th'Ludlow Fortescue-Trouserbugles?


Gyppo Byard said...

No, but I was lud low with a cold over New Year.
F-T (B(LC(R)))

scarlet-blue said...

Would you like me to polish your bayonet?

Gyppo Byard said...

Young Miss Blue - Hardly the job fer a young lady, but y'can blanco m'boots by all means.
Pip pip!
Fortescue-Trouserbugle (Buffy)

M C Ward said...

That's a great article - favourite lines, "He fell to the ground and the rest of the regiment rode over him" and "Campbell’s destiny was clearly hazardous, but charmed".

Bring back National Service.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I feel I've intruded upon something private here. If only young people today could take a leaf out of Campbell's book, eh what? My grandfather served on the Somme as one of Kitchener's recruits and had an understandably low opinion of High Command, but he might have taken to Campbell.

Gyppo Byard said...

Wardy - Yes - his own regiment riding over him does have a certain piquancy...

Gadjo - We are clearly of the generation whose grandfathers served through WWI and lived to tell the tale. Both mine were honourable if obscure and low-ranking veterans, and shared a dim view of the high-ups which is entirely understandable; though in my maternal gf's case this was mitigated by having served with one of the most charismatic and legendary officers of the entire conflict.

I shall say no more until I blog about him in due course; suffice it to say that I looked up to my granddad as a hero in my early boyhood more than anyone else I've ever known, and the photo of him in his Arab robes astride his camel is still prominently displayed in my parents' house.