Croydon staged a civic ceremony in the town centre yesterday to commemorate the borough’s only World War I recipient of the Victoria Cross, the nation’s highest award for gallantry.
The date was the centenary of the Atlantic naval action in which Commander Gordon Campbell, VC, won his honour.
Campbell was born in Croydon in 1886.
On February 17, 1917, he was commanding HMS Farnborough in the north Atlantic. Farnborough was a Q Ship, a merchant vessel which had been heavily armed and disguised to deliberately lure into range the U-boats which were causing havoc with allied convoys.
Campbell’s ship was off the coast of Ireland when he spotted an enemy torpedo trail. Altering course, he allowed the torpedo to hit his ship, causing severe damage. When the German submarine surfaced, to close-in for the “kill”, and with the Farnborough lying very low in the water, Gordon gave the order to fire, resulting in the sinking of the U-boat. The Farnborough was taken in tow and safely beached.
Campbell enjoyed a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, also being awarded the Distinguished Service Order and two bars, and rising to the rank of vice-admiral. Between the wars, he served as the naval aide-de-camp to King George V, and he was elected MP for Burnley, where he defeated the Labour Party leader, Arthur Henderson, in the 1931 General Election. His nephew, Brigadier Lorne Campbell, was also to earn a VC in action in north Africa during World War II.
Since his death in 1953, aged 67, Gordon Campbell’s VC has been held by his old school, Dulwich College.
Yesterday’s civic ceremony, at the cenotaph in Katharine Street, is part of the Victoria Cross commemorative paving stones programme, a national scheme that will see every VC recipient of WWI commemorated.
Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, the Mayor of Croydon, said: “It’s thanks to the bravery and selflessness of people such as Commander Gordon that we in Britain enjoy the freedoms available to us today – freedoms that we’re sometimes guilty of taking for granted.
“I’m proud to be a part of a ceremony that will mark the part played by Commander Gordon and his crew in a remarkably hostile environment and I hope people will come along to the cenotaph to pay their respects and say a quiet ‘thank-you’ to a brave man.”
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