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Great Uncle Allan

"We don't talk about Allan - he was the black sheep of the family"

Dora Campbell (my grandmother, c 1970)

Allan Campbell-Evelyn Darby wedding 1939.jpg

Allan Campbell, 1885-1946

My middle name is Allan.  My father's middle name was Allan.  I think I recall, sometime probably in the 1970s, asking my grandmother where the name came from.  I can't be terribly sure of that, but I do recall asking her about Great Uncle Allan, my grandfather's younger brother.  My grandmother was an impressive woman, a woman of great strength; formidable one might say.  I remember her answer to my question about Allan as clearly as if it were yesterday, not some 50 years ago.  She gave me her most imperious look and with a matter of fact tone which allowed no room for comeback or further questioning said "we don't talk about Allan; he was the black sheep of the family".  That was it.  My total knowledge of Great Uncle Allan was limited to a dozen or so words, with no opportunity for further exploration.

Of course times have changed.  Not only are "black sheep" far more acceptable than they might have been in my grandmothers somewhat Victorian days, but the internet era is well and truly with us, bringing with it the opportunity to research said black sheep.

Allan Campbell was born in 1885.  His older brothers had both served in the Boer War, but I can find no record that he did.  He was only 14/15 years old at the time of that conflict, so it would otherwise seem unlikely that he had done so.  But at the age of 29, on 31 May 1915 he enlisted in the AIF.  His enlistment papers attest that he was single, and that his occupation was that of grazier.  The papers also state that he had previously served for 18 months in the 7th Australian Light Horse, which would suggest that he had indeed seen service in the Boer War.

On the 18th November 1915 as Sgt Major Campbell of the 32nd Battalion AIF he embarked on the HMAT Geelong, bound for Europe.  On 12th May 1916 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.  Six weeks later, on 19th July 1916, at the Battle of Fromelles in Fluerbaix France, he was injured.  His medical records report that "he received a gun shot wound of the vertex of his skull; he was unconscious for half an hour".  He was repatriated to hospital in England where it seems he made a full recovery.  On 31st August 1916 he reported to Folkstone in Kent for embarkation back to the Western Front.  Nine days later he was promoted to Lieutenant, and less than seven months after that to Captain.  Then only twelve months after that (April 1918) he was "Mentioned in Despatches" by General Sir Douglas Haig for "conspicuous services". On 3rd June 1919 Captain Campbell was awarded the Military Cross for "valuable services rendered in connexion (sic) with military operations in France".

Hardly the stuff of a "black sheep".

The next couple of decades are hazy.  It would seem likely that at some stage after the war he travelled to what is now Papua New Guinea where his older bother James was a plantation owner.  The photo above - the only one I have of him - has an accompanying article, from the Pacific Islands Monthly in April 1939.  It states:

B.S.I. Plantation Inspector Married in Sydney

One of the best know residents of B.S. I. (British Solomon Islands), Mr Allen (sic) Campbell of Berande, who is presently in Australia on leave, quietly married Miss Evelyn Darby, only daughter of the late Captain T.A. Darby and Mrs Darby, of Waverley, in Sydney on March 30.

Mr Campbell, who is the youngest son of the late Hon. James Campbell M.L.A. and the late Mrs Campbell, of Elsternwisk, Victoria, has been in the Western Pacific for many years Inspector of Plantations in the Solomons and Bougainville T.N.G., for Burns Philp (South Sea) Co. Ltd.  The bride is a sister of Mr L Darby of Burns, Philp and Co. Ltd, Port Moresby, Papua.

Mr and Mrs Campbell will leave Sydney for the Solomon Islands by the "Malaita" on May 13.

Fast forward seven years, and once again he is in the Pacific Islands Monthly, which on 18 September 1946 reported:


ONE of the best known and most popular men in the Southwest Pacific, Mr. Alan (sic) Campbell, died suddenly in Rabaul on September 10 from a heart attack. As a supervisor and manager of Burns, Philp plantation interests, he was a trusted official of the Big Firm. He had been for some weeks in Rabaul, making preparations to resume active direction of the Choiseul Company’s plantations in Bougainville, for which he had been responsible since 1933. He first became associated with Burns Philp in 1908, as a plantation overseer.

Mr. Campbell served in both World Wars. After the Jap invasion forced him to leave the Solomons, in 1942, he was attached to the Navy and the Allied Intelligence Bureau, and did good work in the ensuing 3 years—mostly at Brisbane, where he attended to shipping and supplies. Mr. Campbell leaves a widow.

He had no family.

This is interesting, as it indicates that he lived in the islands well before he enlisted in WWI, likely, as I had long thought, having followed his brother James ("Jim"/"JW") after the Boar War.

Allan was buried in Rabaul, and had I known it when I was in Rabaul in the 1970s I would have gone and visited his grave.  Of course the grave may no longer be there following the 1994 eruption of Tavurvur (which I had climbed when I was there).

Further digging into the history records reveals that Allan played a role as a Coastwatcher during WWII.  The Coastwatchers were just an amazing group of volunteers, and if you ever want to read a real-life gripping tale from those times, try Peter Ryan's Fear Drive From Feet.  I had read that back in the 70s, having no awareness at that time that Allan himself was involved.  Eric Feldt's comprehensive history "The Coast Watchers" (Oxford University Press 1946/1975), a copy of which I just happen to have in my library from my own time in PNG, comes this wonderful excerpt (pp 247/8):

In January [1943] , with the last Japs gone from Guadalcanal, it was decided to occupy the Russell Group.  Campbell and Andresen were despatched to ascertain if the enemy were still there.

Campbell and Andresen took their launch into one of the sheltered channels which lie in the group while darkness hid them.  They established a camp at a deserted plantation, and from it sent scouts to the neighbouring villages.  Reports reached them that there was a large force of Japs on a nearby island, but these left ten days later.  Their departure was reported, but in the meantime a naval and miliary party was despatched from Lunga to scout the position.  They arrived in the Russells, armed to the teeth, magazines charged and fingers on triggers, to be greeted by Campbell with the prosaic invitation to a cup of tea.

Still hardly the stuff of a black sheep.

I have known some of the above for some time now.  But from here the story gets even more interesting, as new information from came to light.  Some years ago I undertook a genealogy DNA test for a bit of fun.  The results of the test throw up possible relatives from all round the world, most of them very distant and obscure.  But this month (Feb 2023) a new, fairly close relative appeared in the DNA list; a 4% DNA match with 250 "centimorgans".  That means that he and I are definitely related; 2nd cousins. So far, so good.

I've since made contact with this new cousin, who's just a few years younger than me.  He's lived in Sydney most of his life, but now lives in the "Sunshine Coast" region north of Brisbane.  He's confirmed what genealogy suggested, that is, that he is Allan's grandson.  It seems that in 1933 Allan had a son, James Allan (named we believe after his brother, James, who had died three years earlier) with a Mrs Elizabeth Scott.  It is likely, but not entirely clear whether Mrs Scott, a New Zealander, was still married to her husband at the time (I'm told that Mr Scott was the district manager for Burns Philp in New Guinea/the Solomons, for whom Allan also worked).  James Scott was born in Tulagi, Solomon Islands.  Tulagi was the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1896 to 1942 (and James's son, my recently discovered second cousin, was born in Sydney in 1959).  Of course this is completely at odds with Allan's obituary comment that "He had no family". 


So whilst he "officially" had no family, clearly he did in truth.  Perhaps it was just not talked about at the time, or perhaps Mr Scott never knew of the situation.  Fascinating stuff.  But it would seem likely that grandmother Campbell knew, and given the moral standings of the times, that was probably enough to warrant her "black sheep" assertion!!  But it also seems most likely that I'll never know her true motivation for that judgement.

As best as I can tell Allan was an intriguing character.  He was indeed a traveller, albeit a bit shadowy.  That I really know so little about him only adds to the mystique of the man.  That he spent many years in what is now Papua New Guinea, as I also did in the 1970s and 80s, adds to the connection I feel.  Along with his brothers - Norman and his older brother James - I would have loved to have known him.

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