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Alec Campbell, Gallipoli’s Last Survivor, Farewelled

Alec Campbell, the last known Australian participant in the Gallipoli campaign of World War I has been farewelled at a State Funeral in St. David’s Cathedral in Hobart.

CampbellCampbell died last week, aged 103.

Tributes were given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, the Premier of Tasmania, Jim Bacon, and members of Alec Campbell’s family.

Around the nation, a minute’s silence, largely organised by talkback radio comperes, was observed in public places, worksites, schools and on radio and television.

Campbell was 16 years old when he enlisted as Private No. 2731 in the 15th Batallion of the first Australian Infantry Force (AIF) in 1915. Like many others, he falsified his age. He arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey on November 2, in the last months of the protracted, and ultimately futile, battle that had been waged there since the dawn landing on April 25, 1915. Six thousand Australians and New Zealanders had already died there. ‘The kid’ carried water and ammunition to the soldiers at the front. Becoming ill with typhus, mumps that developed into Bell’s palsy, and other illnesses, he was evacuated from Gallipoli during the allied withdrawal in December 1915.

As the last survivor of the Gallipoli campaign, Campbell has been honoured 87 years later in an environment he appears to have questioned. Gallipoli is seen by many as the genesis of true nationhood, an experience at the core of the country’s identity, although whether this is how those veterans would have viewed it is not clear.

A trade unionist for much of his life, Alec Campbell participated in anti-war campaigns, became active in Labor politics, joined the Fabian Society, and became State President of the Australian Railways Union. He contested an election for the Launceston City Council. After the war he worked to assist the widows and families of veterans. He joined the Workers Educational Association. Intellectually curious, in middle age he studied for an Economics degree. During World War II, he worked as a manpower officer in Queensland, enforcing wartime controls.

Regardless of one’s view of the often simplistic and jingoistic attitudes to the Anzac ‘legend’, it cannot be doubted that Campbell represented much that is good of a generation that fought in that foreign war: courage, good humour, humility and concern for others. His passing has been rightly marked as a moment of symbolic significance in the nation’s history.

“Their story rises, as it will always rise, above the mists of ages, a monument to great-hearted men and for their nation, a possession forever.”

– Charles Bean (Official War Historian)

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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