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Alec William Campbell (26 February 1899 – 16 May 2002) was the final surviving Australian participant in the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War. His death broke the last living link of Australians with the Gallipoli story.

Biography

Alec Campbell was born in Launceston, Tasmaniamarker, Australia. At the age of 16, claiming to be two years older and enlisting without his father's permission, he left his job as a clerk with the Colonial Mutual Fire Insurance Company and lied about his age in order to enlist in the army. He joined the 15th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in 1915. Not even being old enough to shave, Campbell gained the nickname "The Kid"' during his training in Hobartmarker. One of his cousins had died already at Gallipoli and the idea of Campbell's deployment terrified his parents. He landed at ANZAC Cove in early November 1915 and assisted in carrying ammunition, stores and water to the trenches. He received a minor wound in the fighting at Gallipoli. When he was evacuated from Turkeymarker with the rest of the Australian forces in 1915, he became ill with a fever which caused partial facial paralysis. He was subsequently invalided home aboard the HMAT Port Sydney. He was formally discharged in 1916 -- a Gallipoli veteran at only 17. He only fought in the war for two months; and he later explained tersely,
"I joined for adventure. There was not a great feeling of defending the Empire. I lived through it, somehow. I enjoyed some of it. I am not a philosopher. Gallipoli was Gallipoli.


Civilian life

Campbell had a crowded life. In South Australiamarker, New South Walesmarker and Tasmaniamarker, he was variously a jackaroo, carpenter, railway carriage builder, mature-age university student, public servant, research officer and historian. He received vocational training in motor-body building at the Hobart Repatriation Trade School. He was a union organiser in the Launceston and Hobart railway workshops and an organiser with the Amalgamated Carpenters and Joiners (now part of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union) (CFMEU). He became president of the Tasmanianmarker branch of the Australian Rail Union between 1939 and 1941, and president of the Launceston Trades and Labor Council between 1939 and 1942. He also worked on the construction of Old Parliament Housemarker in Canberramarker.

After the Second World War, Campbell completed an economics degree at the age of 50. He worked with the Department of Labour and National Service.

A lover of sailing, he became an accomplished boat-builder; and he competed in six Sydney to Hobart yacht races. In 1950, he circumnavigated Tasmania aboard the Kintail.

Campbell married twice -- both wives were named Kathleen; and he fathered nine children -- the last one being born when he was sixty-nine.

He led an uncommonly vigorous life. Only in the final few months of his life did he need to use a wheelchair. In the end, a chest infection led to a deteriorating condition; and the 103-year-old war veteran died peacefully. His second wife, Kathleen, who survives him, observed,
"Alec has become national property, although I'm not sure he realises it."
He was survived by thirty grandchildren, thirty-two great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Australian "legend"

In 2000, Campbell was recognised as one of the "Australian Legends." His name and photograph were honoured as part of an annual series of commemorative postage stamps issued by Australia Post since 1997. The stamps commemorate living Australians "who have made lifetime contributions to the development of Australia's national identity and character". Campbell lived to fully enjoy this honour.

Campbell's 45-cent Legend stamp displays the soldier's portrait as a young man, photographed just prior to his departure for Gallipoli. Formal photographs of the other two ANZAC centenarians complete this stamp set. In addition, a fourth stamp features the 1914-15 star medal which was presented to all those who fought in campaigns during those war years. These stamps, designed by Cathleen Cram of the Australia Post Design Studio, commemorate the story of events and people shaping contemporary Australia.The Campbell stamp honours him as an individual and as a representative of all 68,000 soldiers at Gallipoli whose actions affected Australia's evolving self-image.

In one of his last public appearances, Campbell led the 2002 ANZAC Day Parade in Hobart. As he sat in his car before the parade, he especially seemed to enjoy shaking hands with the dozens of young children who came up to greet him. In the month before he died, it seemed that he could have ridden at the head of an old soldier's last parade.

Campbell's birth in 1899 was just shortly before the Commonwealth of Australia came into being. At his death, the nation honoured him with a Commonwealth-sponsored state funeral at Saint David's Anglican Cathedral in Hobart on 24 May 2002.

In the context of Campbell's death, then Australian Prime Minister John Howard observed that Campbell was the last living link to that group of Australians that established the ANZAC legend. Howard also acknowledged that Gallipoli was "a story of great valour under fire, unity of purpose and a willingness to fight against the odds" and that Campbell "was the last known person anywhere in the world who served in that extraordinarily tragic campaign."Campbell never understood the intense public attention on his later life and his longevity and was unhappy at times that he was lauded by conservative politicians who ignored his later union activity. After his death he received many tributes including from Tasmanian Returned and Services League (RSL) State President Ian Kennett, said that Mr Alec William Campbell was a great Australian and that he "led a full and happy life and put his energies, upon returning to Hobart, back into his career and family".

At some point between 1996 and 2002 as the ranks of Anzac survivors thinned and Campbell's own health failed, his name rose to prominence. Assertive nationalist and martial forces sought to turn him into an icon as "the last of the Anzacs." Campbell himself resisted the myth-making. Campbell himself observed that there was nothing really extraordinary in being the last; rather, he pointed out the simple fact that he had been one of the youngest at Gallipoli.

With the passing of the last survivor of Gallipoli, the words of General Sir Ian Hamilton resonate with new meaning:
"Before the war, who had ever heard of ANZAC? Hereafter, who will ever forget it?"


Medals and honours







See also



References

  1. Shaw, John, "Alec Campbell, Last Anzac at Gallipoli, Dies at 103," The New York Times, 20 May 2002.
  2. "The Last Anzac", RSA Review (Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association), June 2002.
  3. "Australia Day: Australian Legends", Stamp Bulletin (Australia Post), p. 3.
  4. Cahill, Rowan, "Alec Campbell, the last Anzac, a unionist", Workers On-line (Australian Rail Tram and Bus Industry Union), 2000.
  5. "Racing Legends are first past the post,", Australia Post, 2007.
  6. Goldstein, Richard, "Roy Longmore Dies; Australian 'Legend,' 107,", The New York Times, 2 July 2001.
  7. "Previous Australia Post Australian Legends", Australia Post, 2005.
  8. "156 years collecting Australian graphic art,", Priority (Australia Post), 2000.
  9. Australia Post: "Stamp Bulletin Online No. 254: Australian Legends - The Last Anzacs,", 21 January 2000.


External links







  • Australian War Memorial Collection:
    • ART90416: 1991 painting, oil on canvas, by Bryan Westwood
    • REL30869.001: 1914-15 Star c.1919
    • REL30869.002: British War Medal 1914-1920 c.1920
    • REL30869.003: Victory Medal c.1920
    • REL30869.004: 80th Anniversary Armistice Remembrance Medal c.1999
    • REL30869.005: Centenary Medal c.2002
    • REL30869.006: Gallipoli Star (unofficial), manufactured privately and presented on 22 April 1990 by Mr Ross Smith
    • S03425: Interview by Peter Rubenstein for "Voices From The Great War", 26 February 1997, 54 min 24 sec



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