Pte William Campbell – an Erskine patient: The forgotten consequences of war

Guest blog by Dr Beverly Bergman Honorary Senior Research Fellow (Public Health) at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing

Pte William Campbell was born in 1891 to Hugh & Catherine McKenzie Campbell of Rustic Cottage, Maryburgh near Dingwall.  Before joining the army,  he worked as a farm labourer in the Black Isle.  He was said to be strong and fit, and well-liked in his local area. He enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders on 10th January 1916 with the regimental number 266666, and served in the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders.

He was wounded in the knee and back for the first time in October 1916, but recovered and was sent back to the front. He was also hospitalised for ‘valvular disease of the heart’ but again appears to have made a full recovery. On 26 June 1917 he was once again wounded, while fighting at Ypres. His wound was sustained after the battle of Messines Ridge but before the start of the Passchendaele offensive, a stark reminder that although many ‘named’ battles took place, military activity continued relentlessly day after day. His wounds are described as gunshot wound (GSW)“left arm completely blown off by shrapnel”.  Note that the definition of GSW at that time includes shrapnel & other injuries due to shell-fire, unlike today where it more commonly refers to a bullet wound. His wound was cleaned at a Casualty Clearing Station  and then stitched at Bapaume a week later. He was then transferred to Winchester War Hospital 7th July 1917 where he spent 110 days as an in-patient. His stump healed soundly and, as a Scottish amputee, he was transferred to Erskine for fitment of artificial limb on 25TH October 1917.


Pte Campbell’s admission entry in the first admissions register (UGC225/3/1)

He was discharged from Erskine on 21st November 1917 and returned to Dingwall  where he took up residence at 4 Tulloch Street. He was formally discharged from the Army on 12th December 1917; the reason given was that he was  ‘no longer physically fit for war service’. Campbell found employment at HM Dockyard Invergordon as a signalman on the workmen’s train Alness-Invergordon. He received a war disablement pension assessed at 100% for 3 months (27/6), which then reduced to 70% (16/-).

The autumn of 1918 saw the second wave of the Spanish flu pandemic. It was unusual as in addition to young children and the elderly, it especially hit people in the mid-20s to mid-30s age-group, and many died of pneumonia. After an illness lasting 10 days, Pte Campbell died of influenza & pneumonia at 6:30pm on Armistice Day, 11th  November 1918.   He is buried at Fodderty Old Churchyard, where 16 First World War casualties lie.

The Campbell family had suffered badly,  both his brothers Evan and John had also been seriously wounded. At the time of William’s death, John was in hospital with a broken leg ‘the bone split from ankle to knee’ (his third time of wounding) and Evan had recently returned to the firing line after being wounded in the arm and foot.

His father was unable to claim compensation for his son’s death despite arguing that his son had been weakened by his wounds, as his death was not considered directly attributable to his wounds.  Nonetheless he is recorded as ‘died of wounds’ in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission register of graves,  and he has full status as a war casualty on the Maryburgh war memorial.

The Spanish flu pandemic killed some 250,000 people in the UK, equivalent to about 1/3 of British fatalities in the Great War.  William Campbell’s story must have been replicated many times over – soldiers survived the war, perhaps after life-changing injuries, only to fall victim to pandemic flu.  The words of the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, Sir William Osler, writing in ‘The Times’ in 1914, had proved only too prophetic as the war drew to an end: “In war, the microbe kills more than the bullet”.

To learn more about Erskine and see a copy of the first admissions register visit the  In War & Peace: The Erskine Story exhibition in the Hunterian Museum  open until January 2017

Keep up to date with the Erskine cataloguing project by following us on twitter: @Erskine_100

Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

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