James Campbell MC TD (1916-2003)

by Sally March

Friday 6 December marks the 10th anniversary of the death of James Campbell (1916-2003, Fellow 1952-1984), a much-loved and respected Fellow of Pembroke whose memory has certainly not faded for his hundreds of pupils and friends among the alumni, Fellowship and staff at the College.

James Campbell’s work lives on through the James Campbell Fellowship in Law, currently held by Mr Nick McBride.

Memories of James Campbell by Michael Kuczynski

Piper, soldier, lawyer, don: an unusual man in the microcosms of academe. Astute, accurate, unsentimental, extraordinarily effective, with a superbly retentive memory, shrewd judgement of form and skill, an instinct for tidiness, and the most efficient sort of kindness by stealth: “the sweetest modest man,” an early pupil of his, then Lord Chief Justice, said seven years ago at a gathering in Cambridge indirectly in his honour.

Campbell, his two brothers and twin sister were born into the Indian Civil Service. Their mother Violet Beadon (d. 1949) was the younger daughter of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, and their father Archibald (1877-1963), Puisne judge in the High Court at Lahore, was the celebrated compiler of the Kilberry Book of Cèol Mòr, the bible of martial piping (Piobaireachd) in the Highlands. (The Campbells of Kilberry go back to the earliest of the Argylls, ca. 1280.) In his own time Campbell was to add two Side Lights to the Kilberry Book, although in that department, perhaps with some guile, he confessed his greatest pride to be “The Elusive Appoggiatura,” a contribution of his to the Piping Times of June 1988.

A year after Campbell’s birth the children were sent home from India, into the care of an indulgent grandmother and other relations. He went to prep school at Seaford House, followed in his father’s and brother’s footsteps to Harrow, and then followed them again to Pembroke College, Cambridge to read law. Along the way he had taken instruction from, among other pipers, the celebrated Willie Ross; father and house-master having supposed piping to be a field in which he might compete successfully with a precocious younger brother. Sticking initially to the “lesser music”(Ceòl Beag), in 1935 in Edinburgh, as he was about to go up to Cambridge, he heard two Piobaireachds which “set him off” and thereafter “it was Ceòl Mór all the way”. (They were “Lament for Mary MacLeod”, played by Lewis Beaton; and “Lament for Sir James MacDonald of the Isles”, played by Willie Ross.) Within a couple of years he was judging for the Piobaireachd Society, on whose music committee he served for the following forty years, latterly also as honorary president. As learnedly expert as he was liberal and conciliatory in these musical matters, Campbell achieved pre-eminence among post-war authorities on piping.

In 1939 at Stirling Castle he had joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, as a subaltern in the Territorial 8th Battalion, 154th Infantry Brigade. They were in the British Expeditionary Force to France, narrowly escaping through Le Havre in June 1940, when the rest of the 51st Division were taken prisoner. In the hasty retreat Campbell lost a valuable set of pipes. The 8th Argylls regrouped into the 78th Division, arrived in North Africa in November 1942, saw action notably at Tebourba Gap (1-10 December 1942) and at Longstop Hill (23-26 April 1943), where in an afternoon dash through heavy machine-gun fire they captured the Western ridge. Landing in Sicily in late July 1943 they were in on the 78th Division’s long haul up the length of Italy, past Cassino-Two, to the woods along the Senio behind Florence, and then on to the breakthrough at Argenta Gap (19-21 April 1945). Campbell’s calm in the gruelling business was an inspiration to shell-shocked junior officers. He was twice wounded and awarded the M.C. after Monte Spaduro (November 1944).

At Cambridge he had taken first classes in the Law Tripos and read for the Bar. De-mobbed in 1946 he became a tenant at 1, Brick Court, practising from the annex. The head of chambers, Colin Duncan K.C., a libel specialist, represented also the Queen’s Proctor in the Probate, Admiralty, and Divorce Court, and there Campbell was his industrious Devil. On occasion the famous Duncan’s mastery of his brief was memorably confounded by his junior’s more precise knowledge of the law. It is said, however, that, practising on the Oxford Circuit, Campbell earned more by playing bridge in the Bar mess than from the dock briefs available at Quarter Sessions. He continued at the Bar until his feline skill in cross-examination was frustrated by the infantry-man’s wartime legacy of hard-hearing. In 1952 he had become director of studies in law at Pembroke, his Cambridge college, and the teaching of its undergraduates became the focus of his activity.

He taught Roman law, contract and tort, and particularly the law of evidence. It was teaching exemplary in accuracy, style, and pitch; not coaching or question-spotting. To pupils of every kind, clever and less clever – through a rare combination of kid-glove discipline and no-nonsense acumen about strengths and weaknesses – he was altogether special. Years after their graduation he had instant recall of them, zest to know their doings and those of their friends, their children, wives and former wives. Those whom he taught or tutored, or whose sports he turned out to watch in even the foulest weather, felt they had been looked after with superb efficiency; and in return gave lifelong affection.

In the early 1980s Campbell had been one of a handful of Fellows who each for their own good reasons had been inclined against the admission of women to Pembroke. But no sooner had they arrived (1983-84) that they found in him a wonderfully well-informed and appreciative follower of their progress. When, after close to a quarter-century on X staircase, he had removed over the wall to 3, Cosin Court, on his morning rounds in College – always taking in the lodge and the linen room – he would drop off the little postcards, in a hand unchanged from the minute-book entries of the 1930s, that summoned those he knew (still more than half the College) and their friends in rotation, to drinks on Saturdays.

In the Lents and in the Mays his station, four afternoons in a row from last to first division, was on a folding chair in the Long Reach – the chair having been conveyed on the back of his bicycle. At the Christmas staff party, as at the London dinners of the Pembroke Society, he would effect his circle round the room to be sure to see as many as possible. A lifelong Arsenal supporter, on Saturday afternoons in the vacation he would listen to the match on a small wireless, with the Fellows’ television sound off, and the picture blurred into blues and greens because the remote control had been trodden on by an irate lawyer (needless to say, not Campbell) during the 1974 election.

Citation in the award of the Military Cross

Captain Campbell, as Officer Commanding Headquarters Company, has always been given, when the Battalion is in action, the responsibility of supervising the maintenance of the forward troops. The period under Review (September to 31st December 1944) has been one when the difficulties of administration have demanded the very utmost of those whose lot it fell to. The areas where the Battalion was in action, and the approaches to them, were constantly under enemy mortar and shellfire, especially directed to harass the lines of maintenance. Supplies had to be brought by mule at night over miles of track often knee deep in mud, sometimes over uncharted ground from which the mines had still to be cleared. Night after night Captain Campbell led the mule train up; when shelling had reduced it to complete disorder, as very often happened, the utmost drive, tenacity, and courage were needed to restore control. Captain Campbell showed all these qualities and more. His gallant example and complete disregard for his own safety when shelling was at its worst were entirely responsible for the consistent regularity with which the supplies came up. His bravery and conduct under stress has always been of the highest order and worthy of the greatest praise. Captain Campbell, whose has served with this battalion throughout the North African, Sicilian, and Italian Campaign, has commanded Headquarters Company since October 1943. During the whole of this long and difficult period he has at all times shown the greatest bravery, energy, and devotion to duty.”

The reference is to the 8th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

From a note by Ld Justice Ward in the Times of 19.xii.2003

…his uncanny ability to dispense a wee snifter or nightcap of gin and not a lot of tonic in a half-pint tankard. He was the one don known to everybody in the college. No matter how inclement the weather, James would be on the touchline or on the towpath to smile at our incompetence or rejoice in our success. He never forgot us.
Indeed his memory was prodigious. It developed from his prep school where he learnt the batting and bowling averages of generations of English cricketers. It was honed at Harrow, or so I was told when preparing material for a speech in his honour. He was apparently keeping wicket when an older boy at first slip broke wind as he bent down on the bowler’s approach. This led to his teaching James between overs verse after verse on the subject of a famous contest of breaking wind which James would recite on very special occasions.
From this grew a Justinian-like codification of scatological verse [with J.D. Forman, 1936] with footnotes to indicate, for example, the Girtonian corruption of what Mrs McGinty would do to the band when the music stopped. It was, however, his memory for those whom he had taught which commanded universal admiration. When we arranged a lawyers’ dinner to mark his retirement in 1984 we had to turn to James for help as only he could name the undergraduates (and most of their wives and children – and their dogs) and place them in their right years.
He was a brilliant teacher effortlessly coaxing the best out of us in his super-visions with his characteristic nodding of the head, a long “Mmmm”, a purse of the lower lip, and lisping “Yah, yah,yah, Ward, mmmm, what do you make of Cwichton-Miller’s views on Wylands and Fletcher?”. Typically he seemed satisfied with the answer, “Not a lot.” We loved him. A modest man, he could not be drawn on how he had won his MC. Saying simply he had forgotten or that it came with the rations. Friendship is a very great art and very few are born with a natural gift for it. To James it was given in abundance.

The College has a number of prints available of James, drawn by the artist Gilly Rayner. The print is free and available to any Member who would like one, while stocks last.

'James Campbell' by Gilly Rayner, 1996

‘James Campbell’ by Gilly Rayner, 1996

If you would like to receive a copy of the print please contact Angela Anderson or Sally March on 01223 339079, or via email at dev@pem.cam.ac.uk.

The portrait of James is one of the many paintings, drawings, miniatures, silhouettes and sculptures that feature in in Dr Bill Grimstone’s new book, ‘Pembroke Portraits’. If you would like to learn more about the book, please contact Dr Grimstone by post (Pembroke College, Cambridge, CB2 1RF) or by email at avg1000@cam.ac.uk.

Pembroke Portraits rotated