The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (NX70836) Major George Norman Strachan Campbell, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya, AASC, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.246
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 2 September 2020
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Gererd Pratt, the story for this day was on (NX70836) Major George Norman Strachan Campbell, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya, AASC, Second World War.

Speech transcript

NX70836 Major George Norman Strachan Campbell, 2/3 Motor Ambulance Convoy Malaya, AASC
DOD 2 September 1945

Today we remember and pay tribute to Major George Norman Strachan Campbell.

George Campbell was born in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern on 19 April 1896, the son of George and Clara Campbell.

After attending Melbourne Grammar School, Campbell studied medicine the University of Melbourne. He put his studies on hold, however, when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 March 1916 at the age of 19.
He joined the Australian Army Medical Corps, working at a clearing hospital in Maribyrnong, and then after sailing to Egypt, at hospitals in Alexandria and Abbassia. He also had a stint with the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance in mid-1918.

Campbell suffered from a range of illnesses during his service, at various times contracting influenza, parotitis, severe fever, and malaria. After returning to Australia in January 1919, he gave up his medical studies because of recurrent problems with malaria. He took up land as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme – but, like many others, was unsuccessful. Instead he went into business as a broker and commercial organiser, initially in Tasmania, later moving to Melbourne.

Campbell married Alisen Webb Burbidge on 7 February 1923. Four years later he was appointed the Organising Secretary for the Victorian War Memorial Appeal Fund, an influential and very public position that would see him raise funds to establish Victoria’s Shrine of Remembrance.

He became a member of the “Old Melburnians’” Society, a supporter of the United Australia Party, and was regularly featured in the society pages of the press.

Campbell continued to serve with the Australian Army Service Corps, and steadily rose through the ranks, promoted to lieutenant and then captain.

On 29 March 1931 a daughter, Ann, was born to the Campbells.

With the advent of the Second World War, George Campbell, now 43 years old, was mobilised with the Australian Army Service Corps. In February 1941 he was seconded to the Second Australian Imperial Force. Now with the rank of major, he was appointed commanding officer of the 2/3rd Motor Ambulance Convoy.

As Campbell’s unit left Australia with other elements of the 8th Division, the talk on board centred on the possibility of action against German and Italian forces in North Africa. But the men soon learnt that they would not be travelling to Egypt. With the threat of Japanese aggression bringing the war closer to home, the 8th Division was instead sent to Malaya.

The Japanese invasion was swift and ruthlessly effective. British forces defending the Malay peninsula were driven south in a relentless but short campaign. By the end of January 1942, the Allied forces had retreated to Singapore Island, and just over a fortnight later Singapore was forced to capitulate.

The speed and ease of Japanese victory over what was supposed to be an impregnable fortress stunned those at home in Australia.

Over 130,000 troops, including 15,000 Australians, were surrendered to the Japanese. Almost 1,800 Australians had been killed during the 8th Division’s fighting in Malaya in mid-January. Far more would die during captivity.

Initially imprisoned in the now notorious Changi Gaol, it wasn’t long before the men were divided into work forces to labour on the Burma–Thailand Railway. A Force was the first Australian group to leave Singapore for Burma on 14 May 1942. Campbell was part of the next group, B Force, consisting of almost 1,500 prisoners of war who were transported from Changi on 7 July 1942 on board the tramp ship Ubi Maru. The men of B Force were sent to four main camps in Borneo, of which Sandakan contained the most Australians.

At first the prisoners were treated reasonably well. But rations began to reduce as beatings increased. By late 1944, with Allied forces advancing toward Borneo, groups of Australian and British prisoners were sent on a forced march west to Ranau. Many died on the way; their bodies were never recovered. Those unable to continue were killed. Those too weak to march had been left behind, where all died or were murdered. Only six Australians sent to Ranau survived the war.

Major George Campbell died on 2 September 1945, at the age of 49.

Today, his remains lie buried in Labuan War Cemetery.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Major George Norman Strachan Campbell, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Duncan Beard
Editor, Military History Section

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