Be­yond Pass­chen­daele

- grandad’s voice echoes down cen­tury

Argyllshire Advertiser - - FEATURE - Colin Cameron edi­tor@ar­gyll­shiread­ver­

ON WED­NES­DAY Septem­ber 20, 2017 it will be 100 years since Mar­garet Pow­ell’s grand­fa­ther was killed, leav­ing be­hind a wife and baby.

Gor­don High­lander James Camp­bell, from Lochgilphead, died at the height of the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele, also known as the Third Bat­tle of Ypres.

The im­pact of his death has echoed down the years in the fam­ily, and it is an event that Mar­garet was al­ways told about as a child by her fa­ther.

Now aged 68 and liv­ing in Bish­op­briggs, Mar­garet has re­cently taken time since her re­tire­ment to re­search her fam­ily his­tory, un­cov­er­ing a re­mark­able story.

Born on the Isle of Bute, James Camp­bell came to work as a slater in the Lochgilphead area. He met and fell in love with lo­cal lass Phemie Lang, and one of their wed­ding gifts, on De­cem­ber 27, 1911, was a beau­ti­ful clock from the Kil­martin Foot­ball Team, for whom James played in goal.

Like many other cou­ples on a Satur­day evening, James and Phemie would walk along the shore road to the tree that once stood at the cross­roads at the Cor­ran. Folk from Ar­dr­ishaig would also be there, lis­ten­ing and dancing to the fid­dle mu­sic.

James had al­ready served with the Gor­don High­landers in the Boer War be­tween 1899 and 1902, and was kept on the army re­serve list un­til 1913. He had one year of free­dom un­til it all be­gan again.

He man­aged to get leave to go home from the front, and so in 1916 his only son Hugh was born.

In his last let­ter home James talked lov­ingly about his wee boy get­ting on so well, and in the same let­ter he told Phemie not to worry as he would be home soon, and all would be well. But it was not to be.

Mar­garet ex­plained: ‘By Septem­ber, the Third Bat­tle of Ypres was not go­ing well. It had been the worst sum­mer in Bel­gium for decades, and troops were bogged down in the hor­ren­dous sea of mud.

‘The gen­er­als in­sisted on throw­ing ev­ery­thing they had into the as­sault, and the Gor­don High­lander reg­i­ments were part of the Pass­chen­daele sac­ri­fice.’

Phemie re­ceived the dreaded chap­lain’s let­ter dated Septem­ber 25. It read that her hus­band was ‘killed in ac­tion on the 20th of this month. He took part in the big ad­vance­ment that day and in help­ing to win vic­tory he laid down his life’.

Mar­garet be­lieves James’s own lov­ing let­ter, with its kisses and cheer­ful re­as­sur­ances, would have reached Phemie af­ter the death no­tice.

With young son Hugh to sup­port on her own, Phemie worked at all sorts of jobs, and saved enough to open a shop sell­ing newspapers and paraf­fin. She grad­u­ated to a to­bac­conist’s on Ar­gyll Street in Lochgilphead, now the Fyne Liv­ing premises, and then to a well-known wooden sweetie shop op­po­site the Em­pire Cin­ema on Union Street dur­ing the 1950s and 60s.


Hugh moved to Glas­gow, and raised his own fam­ily there. Over the years, the lure of Ar­gyll has, how­ever, drawn them back reg­u­larly to visit cousins, and to hol­i­day in and around the Lochgilphead area.

‘Granny had a lovely house op­po­site the Em­pire Cin­ema and we vis­ited ev­ery Easter and sum­mer, and have vis­ited Lochgilphead since I was six months,’ Mar­garet re­calls.

‘Be­ing the old­est, I got to help in the shop, sell­ing the penny sweets and half­penny caramels. Granny had a lovely photo of grandad in her house. One of those big old brown framed ones. I still have it in our loft.

‘My dad talked to us about the bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele from an early age. So we have al­ways known about him. When I re­tired, I did one of those ge­neal­ogy classes and chose grandad as my fo­cus. We didn’t know about the let­ter un­til 1997, the 80th an­niver­sary, when dad showed it to us. Maybe he thought we wouldn’t be in­ter­ested.

‘The let­ter was so poignant be­cause grandad was up­beat, and hope­ful and it was amaz­ing to hear his own ‘voice’. He sounded like a lovely man. Just the sort of grandad you’d want to have.’

Be­cause James was miss­ing in ac­tion, he does not have a grave for the fam­ily to visit, but his name is on Phemie’s head­stone in Achnabreac Ceme­tery, on the war me­mo­rial in Lochgilphead, listed with the fallen in Bel­gium’s Tyne Cot Ceme­tery, and in the book­let re­cently pro­duced by the Mid Ar­gyll Youth Fo­rum.

This year, on Re­mem­brance Sun­day, James’s four grand­chil­dren will bring their own fam­i­lies to take part in the lay­ing of a wreath, in honour of a brave great, great grand­fa­ther, still re­mem­bered.

James Camp­bell in full Gor­don High­lander re­galia.

Phemie stand­ing in the door­way of her shop on Ar­gyll St, now ‘Fyne Liv­ing’ with son Hugh.

James’s grand­daugh­ter, Mar­garet Pow­ell.

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