An order of monks, the vice admiral’s girl and an unholy row over his VC
VICE Admiral Gordon Campbell’s unflappable bravery won him a Victoria Cross in 1917.
And, in an act of extraordinary modesty, he turned down the offer of a second VC later in the First World War.
Yet, a century on, even the stoic sailor would have been astonished by the unholy battle his only grandchild is waging to prove his chestful of medals is rightfully hers.
Caroline Roscorla, 68, has taken the Anglican Fellowship of St John the Evangelist to court after it sold Vice Admiral Campbell’s military honours for £840,000 in 2017 – 64 years after his death at the age of 67. She says the holy order had no right to auction the medals, so she is due the proceeds.
The monks say that they were left them by the admiral’s only son, David Campbell, who pledged all his worldly goods to the order when he joined in 1966, rising to become Father Superior. Now the dispute is before London’s High Court.
Vice Admiral Campbell earned his VC when his torpedo-hit ship, HMS Farnborough, destroyed a German U-boat in the North Atlantic.
As the Farnborough, a merchant ship fitted with hidden guns, was sinking he ordered some men to the lifeboats but kept others back. When the submarine surfaced, they opened fire and sank it. He was also awarded a Distinguished
Service Order, with two bars, and a cluster of other gongs including the French Croix de Guerre.
He used the same tactic to attack two more German submarines. The recommendation for a second VC was backed by King George V but was politely refused.
The Fellowship of St John, based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, says it came into possession of the medals after the admiral’s pacifist son, Father David Campbell, joined the order in 1966. They were loaned to Dulwich College in south London, where Vice Admiral
Campbell had attended, before finally being sold at Sotheby’s.
The collection was bought by his great-nephew Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza, a multi-millionaire art collector and Mrs Roscorla’s second cousin.
But Mrs Roscorla is now suing the Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association for £700,000 – the amount fetched at the auction before the £140,000 ‘buyer’s premium’ commission was added – claiming she actually inherited them in 1974.
The admiral’s granddaughter, who is niece to David Campbell, claims the medals were hers and only at Dulwich because she had agreed to the loan.
Her lawyers say that, while Father David made a will in 1966 when he joined the order, leaving everything to the fellowship of St John, that did not include the medals – which they say stayed in the family.
She claimed her uncle, who died aged 95 in 2010, had wanted nothing to do with the medals because he was a pacifist. Mrs Roscorla, a financial adviser from Truro, Cornwall,
insists that her uncle ‘relinquished’ the medals to her.
However, the Fellowship of St John say the order’s rules make clear that all of Father David’s possessions passed to them.
The order’s QC said Father David made ‘life vows’ when he became a monk in 1966, meaning ‘his property passed to the order ... and the order assumed responsibility and liability for his welfare and health for the rest of his life’.
The legal dispute had a brief hearing last month at the High Court and is to go to trial next year.
Honoured: Gordon Campbell and his medals
Fought over: His VC and other honours