Alec William Campbell
(26 February 1899 – 16 May
2002) was the final surviving Australian
participant in the Battle of
during the First World
. His death broke the last living link of Australians with
the Gallipoli story.
Campbell was born in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.
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
being old enough to shave, Campbell gained the nickname "The Kid"'
during his training in Hobart.
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 Turkey 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
. 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.
Campbell had a crowded life. In South Australia, New South
Wales and Tasmania, he was
variously a jackaroo, carpenter, railway carriage builder, mature-age
university student, public servant, research officer and
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
Forestry, Mining and Energy Union
president of the Tasmanian 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
Parliament House in Canberra.
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
1950, he circumnavigated Tasmania aboard the
Campbell married twice -- both wives were named Kathleen; and he
fathered nine children -- the last one being born when he was
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
He was survived by thirty grandchildren, thirty-two
great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
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
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
at Saint David's Anglican Cathedral in Hobart on 24 May
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
With the passing of the last survivor of Gallipoli, the words of
General Sir Ian
resonate with new meaning:
- "Before the war, who had ever heard of ANZAC? Hereafter, who
will ever forget it?"
Medals and honours
- Shaw, John, "Alec Campbell, Last Anzac at Gallipoli, Dies at
103," The New York Times, 20 May
- "The Last Anzac", RSA Review (Royal New
Zealand Returned and Services' Association), June 2002.
- "Australia Day: Australian Legends", Stamp
Bulletin (Australia Post), p. 3.
- Cahill, Rowan, "Alec Campbell, the last Anzac, a unionist",
Workers On-line (Australian Rail Tram
and Bus Industry Union), 2000.
- "Racing Legends are first past the post,",
Australia Post, 2007.
- Goldstein, Richard, "Roy Longmore Dies; Australian 'Legend,' 107,",
The New York Times, 2 July 2001.
- "Previous Australia Post Australian Legends",
Australia Post, 2005.
- "156 years collecting Australian graphic art,",
Priority (Australia Post), 2000.
- Australia Post: "Stamp Bulletin Online No. 254: Australian Legends
- The Last Anzacs,", 21 January 2000.
- Australian War Memorial Collection:
- ART90416: 1991 painting, oil on canvas, by Bryan
- 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
- REL30869.005: Centenary Medal c.2002
- REL30869.006: Gallipoli Star (unofficial),
manufactured privately and presented on 22 April 1990 by Mr Ross
- S03425: Interview by Peter Rubenstein for "Voices From
The Great War", 26 February 1997, 54 min 24 sec