The Minute Book
Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Captain Frederick William Campbell, V.C.
Topic: The RCR

For most conspicuous bravery on 15th June, 1915, during the action at Givenchy. Lt. Campbell took two machine-guns over the parapet, arrived at the German first line with one gun, and maintained his position there, under very heavy rifle, machine-gun and bomb fire, notwithstanding the fact that almost the whole of his detachment had then been killed or wounded. When our supply of bombs had become exhausted, this officer advanced his gun still further to an exposed position, and, by firing about 1,000 rounds, succeeded in holding back the enemy's counter-attack. This very gallant officer was subsequently wounded, and has since died.

Thus reads the Victoria Cross citation published for Captain Frederick William Campbell of the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion. (London Gazette, No. 29272, dated August 20, 1915)

A more detailed description of Campbell's VC action is found in Annals of Valour; Empire Day, Friday May 23rd, 1919 (pub by A.T. Wilgress, 1919) and is provided below:

The Battle of Givenchy

The last Victoria Cross of 1915 was won near the village of Givenchy in the Lens district, where, in 1917, many Canadians were to win the great distinction in the successful struggle for "Hill 70" and the mining suburbs of Lens.

The Battle of Givenchy in the middle of June, 1915, was one of the minor actions fought during that summer when the British armies were still only mustering, and the Allies were ill-equipped with artillery and munitions compared with the vast supplies which the enemy had in hand. The result was that what was gained by the dauntless courage of the British, was often speedily lost "owing to the weight of the enemy's gun-fire". In the case in point, the strong positions so gallantly won soon had to be abandoned.

On June 15th, the 7th (British) Division was detailed to drive the Germans from a strong position called "Stony Mountain", while the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion was to cover the right flank of the attacking Division. This meant that the Canadians must, for their part, capture 150 yards of German front line running from "Stony Mountain" to another stronghold which they called "Dorchester".

On this occasion the British batteries began to bombard the enemy's positions late in the afternoon. At two minutes to six a mine was exploded close to the first German trench, and, while the air was still full of dust and smoke, the leading company of Canadians leaped out of their trenches, dashed across the seventy-five yards of No Man's Land despite the fierce machine-gun fire from "Stony Mountain", cleared the foe out of the "Dorchester" defences, and began to work their way toward the British on the left.

Captain Frederick William Campbell, V.C.

Captain F. W. Campbell. – A second wave of Canadians now surged across No Man's Land, and with it went a machine-gun officer. Lieutenant (acting-Captain) Campbell, with two guns and their crews.

Campbell was quite a remarkable man. It chanced that this tumultuous day of battle, on which he was to win the little bronze cross "for valour", was his forty-seventh birthday. He was the first Canadian farmer to find a place on the roll of V.C.'s. He was also a veteran of South Africa (having served in a Maxim gun squad), and, consequently, was one of the comparatively few members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who, before this great war, had "seen a cannon fired in anger”.

There is in the Citadel of Quebec a curious memento of Campbell's presence in South Africa, in the shape of the wheel of a 'gun-carriage fashioned out of the legs of a table from a Boer house. The gun-carriage had been struck by a shell at the Modder River; and the gun must have been abandoned had it not been for Campbell's ingenuity.

From his early youth he had been a member of the active militia, serving first as a private, and later becoming successively Lieutenant and Captain of the 30th Wellington Rifles. At the time of his birth, his father, Ephraim B. Campbell, was teaching a school in Oxford County. Six months later he moved to a farm in Normandy Township, Grey County; and thus his only boy was brought up to farm. Before his marriage the young man bought another farm near that of his father. He made a specialty of raising horses, and was a director of the Mount Forest Agricultural Society. But when the call to arms rang through the Empire, Campbell did not even wait to let the busy summer season go by, nor did he hold back on account of his three children – the eldest a boy of ten and the youngest a little girl of three.

He went at once to Valcartier and was accepted for service as Lieutenant in the 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion. He sailed with the First Canadian Contingent on September 24th, 1914, and reached France in February, 1915. His Battalion took part in the awful fighting at Ypres, though it was in reserve at the beginning of the gas attack; and now he was celebrating his birthday in this fierce struggle at Givenchy.

starting from the "jumping-off" trench with two machine-guns, as already stated, Lieutenant Campbell reached the German front trench with only one gun and a part of its crew. The whole crew of the other gun had been put out of action in the dash across the open. He pressed on along the trench toward "Stony Mountain", but was soon held at a block in the trench. Now he had but one man left. Private Vincent, but this big lumberman from Bracebridge proved a host in himself. When Campbell failed to find a suitable base for the gun, Vincent offered to support it with his broad back; and this enabled the Lieutenant to fire more than a thousand rounds upon the Germans who were massing to attack. Between them the gallant pair frustrated the enemy's schemes; but, as they were retiring, Campbell was seriously wounded, and four days later he died at No. "7" Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, leaving behind him a noble memory of courage, kindness, and cheerfulness. He was buried in a beautiful cemetery on a hill-top which sloped toward the sea and the little Island-Mother of the Empire that lay across the shining waters.

The 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion was perpetuated by the Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (M.G.) after the First World War. On amalgamation with The Oxford Rifles and The Royal Canadian Regiment in the 1950s, this perpetuation, and the responsibility to honour and remembers all of that unit's achievements, passed to The RCR.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 3 July 2013 11:10 PM EDT

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