An Impossible Dream
A.A. (Tony) Campbell
A.A. (Tony) Campbell, 1923-1995 c1944.
This is a little historical story of my father. It's more difficult to write, as it is of a very personal nature, whereas those of his predecessors were essentially academic in nature, disconnected from any substantial emotion. Given that this story sits under the grouping of "Ancestral Journeys", I thought that I'd start with a contextual extract from An Impossible Dream. In that I said:
Like many of my generation, my upbringing was heavily influenced by my parents’ wartime experiences, particularly those of my father. At the age of nineteen, he was conscripted into the armed forces; his logs books record that he spent his twenty-first birthday at the Advance Flying Unit at Castle Combe, Wilshire, UK, undertaking armaments and navigation training on board an Airspeed Oxford. By the 10th April 1945, as Flight Lieutenant Campbell, he had commanded twenty-five missions over Germany, amassing over two hundred operational hours as captain of his Lancaster bomber, nearly all of that at night. By the time the war had finished the logs show that he had been promoted to acting Squadron Leader - no doubt in part due to his innate capability but more likely because everyone else had been killed. I am completely unable to relate to the constant fear with which he must have lived. And he had experienced all of this by the age of just twenty-two years.
Some seventy years on, having thought deeply about this in the two decades since his death, I still cannot comprehend the impact that these experiences must have had on his psyche. Like most of his ilk, he refused to talk about his experiences, even, as far as I could tell, to those who were there with him at the time. He simply buried the memories as best he could. I recall
only a single reference, many years ago, when he was talking to an old wartime mate of his - a snippet I’m not sure that I was even meant to hear: “We did some things I’m not proud of.”
Even the subtle downplaying of the experience expressed in these few words is instructive. Today we would say that he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD - undiagnosed and untreated, except for the medication he prescribed himself in the form of Southwark Bitter.
Within the context of this being an examination of ancestral journeys, my reconstruction of his trip to the UK shows that his first ever journey out of Australia was by sea, in August/September 1943, from Adelaide to Brighton, UK. He had enrolled in the RAAF at the age of nineteen, on 20 June 1942. His service record shows him as a "bank clerk"; he had probably joined the then Bank of New South Wales at the age of sixteen or seventeen, in 1939 or 1940, but that is a guess on my part. That first journey was followed numerous training assignments across the southern part of England, and then of course the twenty five operations across the English Channel into Europe. He returned to Australia, again by sea, in October 1945, coincidentally in Perth, WA, not far from where I presently live. As best as I can recall, after he returned to Australia only once ever did he leave his country again, in 1982 when my parents came to visit me when I was living in Port Moresby, PNG. My mother wanted to travel, especially in their later years after he had retired from work, but he refused. They travelled within and around Australia, and almost always by car or train. He didn't totally avoid air travel, but he didn't enjoy travel by plane, and it seemed to be towards the bottom of preferred means of travel. I had no real insight to that at the time, but of course on reflection it now makes sense.
I must now digress for a moment and tell of one of the most amazing coincidences in my whole life. Rather than write extensively of that coincidence, I will allow it to be told by "podcast" - see One Night in December (go to podcast #21 if the link doesn't automatically take you there). Here, Adrian Woolrich-Burt and Pete Chicken, both ex-RAF officers, tell of this coincidence from their own perspective; the first 10 minutes or so explain it well. I have had several email exchanges with Adrian, and his discovery and our electronic discussions prompted me to undertake some further research. One of the most poignant discoveries in this research comes in the form of an extract from a RAF Confidential Report (Officers), dated June 1945. In it his two senior officers (ranks unable to be discerned), comment as follows:
Generally above average as a Captain, on operations and as an officer. Throughout his time on the squadron he has shown himself to be keen, efficient and very willing. He has a lot of personality: was popular and an asset to the squadron. <sgd. John Jones>
A conscientious officer with the gift of leadership. Generally rather above the average <sgd. B A Casey>
I genuinely think that his wartime experiences limited his potential. Reports from his schooling showed that he was a reasonably gifted student, especially in Maths and Physics, and the above assessments seem to suggest that he was well regarded. He was successful in his business career, but likely could have progressed further. That said, he did do well in a career which saw him (and the family) live and work in Adelaide, Darwin, Whyalla, Adelaide (again), Renmark, Cootamundra, Mount Gambier, Darwin (again) and Newcastle, before retiring to the southern Adelaide suburb of Port Noarlunga, in what became the family home for 30+ years. There I think he found a level of peace, although that peace was nearly always bolstered with alcohol use. Sadly, with the benefit of many years of reflection, I have to say that I never really knew my father (as indeed I didn't know his father, or those before him). Certainly not deeply; not properly. That fault lies with both of us, and of course cannot now be rectified. His one and only journey certainly influenced him in ways that I will never truly understand. I would speculate that this one journey in 1943/45 had a greater influence on him than my many have had on me. And further that that influence has cascaded down through him to me, and through me, to my daughter. Such is the way of the world.
My parents married in 1948. She came from the upper-middle class part of Adelaide society, he somewhat less so. I can imagine the society of the day proclaiming that she had "married down". She was devoted to him through their almost fifty years of marriage. He was mostly happy, certainly moreso in his later years.
I will close by adding a couple more photos of him from the defining time of WWII. Adrian Woolrich-Burt and Pete Chicken talk about the photo on the bottom right, stumbled upon by me at the Red Lion pub in East Kirkby in late 2018; an important part of the amazing set of coincidences I speak about above.
Flying Officer Campbell, Captain, far right with possible crew (unidentified):
Sgt A Sawyer, Flight Engineer
Warrant Officer R Johns, Navigator
Flt Sgt A Wright, Bomb Aimer
Flt Sgt E Fitzgerald, Wireless Operator
Sgt. E Weaver, Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt. P Davison, Rear Gunner
LAC Campbell, age 19, top row, right