Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell VC, DSO & Two Bars (1886 – 3 July 1953) was an English naval officer, later a writer and politician, who was a recipient of the Victoria Cross.
He was educated at Dulwich College, which he attended between 1898 and 1900. He then joined the Royal Navy. In 1917, by the age of 31, he had reached the rank of Commander during First World War when the act for which he was awarded the VC took place. On 17 February 1917 in the north Atlantic, Commander Campbell, commanding HMS Farnborough (Q.5) (one of the "mystery" Q ships) sighted a torpedo track. He altered course and allowed the torpedo to hit Q.5 aft by the engine-room bulkhead. The 'Panic party' got away convincingly, followed by the U-boat. When the submarine had fully surfaced and was within 100 yards of Q.5—badly damaged and now lying very low in the water—the commander gave the order to fire. Almost all of the 45 shells fired hit the U-boat which sank. Q.5 was taken in tow just in time and was safely beached. Read more on Wikipedia
Campbell wrote several publications, including the successful My Mystery Ships published in 1921:
And an Introduction by Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly. Illustrations from photographs and sketches and diagrams by Lieutenant J. E. Broome. An interesting account by Campbell in his own words of his experiences on board the mystery ships in which he served. Mystery ships were camouflaged to appear like peaceful merchant ships, but with real guns that were hidden until a few seconds before opening fire, or more frequently opening fire the instant the guns were disclosed. They cruised on the trade routes hoping to encounter an enemy submarine so that they might attract her attention, and then when the submarine came to the surface to sink her because of heavier armament. He relates the encounters with the enemy, both successful and unsuccessful and how his crew were the only ones who, not only once, but twice, succeeded in sinking an enemy submarine after their own ship had been torpedoed. Kessinger Publishing, 2011
Gordon Bowker states that Lowry and brother Russell were taken by their elder brother Wilfrid, a part-time officer in the RNVR, to see an unidentified Q-ship in the Mersey sometime in 1918/19. (Pursued By Furies Pg. 16). Lowry must have retained an interest in Q-ships as they appear in the short story 'Goya The Obscure' when Lowry notes an advert; "Mystery Ship VC Visits Wallasey" (Pg. 273). This relates to a lecture given by Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell at Wallasey Town Hall on Friday, January 10th 1930. The advert noted by Lowry appeared twice in the Wallasey News on December 21st 1929 and again on December 28th 1929. A short reminder also appeared inside the paper on December 28th as seen below:
There is no record of Lowry attending the lecture though he may have attended as could have been home in Caldy after his first term at Cambridge University. The date of the lecture is significant as it shows that he was collecting newspaper headings/signs for inclusion in 'Goya The Obscure' during this period. 'Goya The Obscure' was published in June 1930 in Venture 6.
A report on the lecture appeared in the Wallasey News on 18th January 1930 with the headline: Beating the Submarines - Admiral Campbell, V.C., and the "Mystery Ships". The event was organised by the Mersey Mission to Seamen to raise funds. There was a full attendance at the Town Hall to hear the one and half hour illustrated talk by Rear-Admiral Campbell who gave a "thrilling account of some his own experiences". Below are extracts from the newspaper account:
......The dire perils which fraught the means of coping with the submarine menace during the Great War by "mystery ships" were graphically recounted........
....In view of recent attempts at stark realism in books on the war, ostensibly with the objective of promoting peace, the nature of Rear-Admiral Gordon Campbell's lecture assumed a special importance. In its grim vividness it militated towards such an objective...
...The Mayor (Alderman J.G. Storey) was present and at the conclusion of the lecture proposed a vote of thanks to the speaker..."Rear-Admiral Campbell has told us of deeds of heroism," he said, "that will live long as the British flag flies; deeds of which every man and woman in Wallasey is proud, and always will be, if only for the fact that two Wallasey men took part in the gallant action under his command."........Mr Martindale (Wallasey), who served under Admiral Campbell, sat among the audience, in which was the mother of another man who served under the Admiral, named Morrison. Wallasey News 18th January 1930.
Q-ships appear later in Lowry's novel Under The Volcano. The character Geoffrey Firmin, the Consul in Lowry's Under The Volcano was a Lieutenant-Commander of the Q-Ship S.S. Samaritan during WW 1. In the novel, Firmin is haunted by his involvement in the deaths of a captured German U-Boat crew by placing them in the furnace of the Samaritan. Read more on Malcolm Lowry @The 19th Hole