Campbell During Political Crisis and War

Classmates in Arms

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Intro to Campbell During Political Crisis and War

To set the context for this project it is important to provide a broad overview of CCB before and during the war. We must understand the political context of Ireland before the war, how boys and Old Campbellians (OCs) were shaped by the prevailing values of middle class Edwardian society and how they responded to the outbreak of war in August 1914.

Soldiers featured in this story

OCs frequently served with those whom they had known at school.

When William Moore (OC 811) joined the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, in June 1917, he told his parents that he knew 70% of the officers in the unit.1 Bristow Malone (OC 121) was also in the 9th and would die on the same day as Moore.2

However, the greatest concentration of OCs was in the 13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. Seven were recorded as serving of which four did not return; they were W.H. Smyth (OC 183), G.M Rogers (OC 888), T.D. Kingan (OC 284), E Johnston (OC 766), A.C. Herdman (OC 860), James Davidson (OC 45) and W.M. Wright (OC 319).

Bristow Malone

Eric Dodds (OC 1023) and William Semple (OC 913)

Eric Dodds (OC 1023) became firm friends with William Semple (OC 913) at CCB because they shared a sixth form study together.3 Both were drawn together by a ‘passionate taste for English literature…and both of us rejoiced in militant atheism’.4 They also shared an interest in politics. Dodds said that when the Debating Society had a mock general election Semple stood as a ‘Home Rule’ candidate and Dodds was his election agent. They were ‘crushingly defeated, but it was great fun’.5 They were also both united in their ‘deep contempt for, and hatred of’ the headmaster.6 

William Semple

In July 1914, Dodds and Semple were on holiday together in Germany and Austria. When they heard that the heir to the Austrian throne ‘lay dead in Sarajevo…this did not trouble us’, Dobbs wrote in his memoirs. They remained in Munich and were entertained by some German students for whom the most important thing was ‘competitive duelling, as rugby and rowing [was] to their English contemporaries’. From Munich they went to the Dolomites for some climbing. When they were running low on money, they tried to wire Semple’s parents to send more but found their telegrams for places in the UK were not being accepted. They decided to move ‘homewards’ once they heard that the German authorities required all foreigners of military age to report to the nearest police station. They only had enough money to get ‘hard class’ train tickets to Aachen, near the border with the Netherlands. They headed there as the Semples’ sister Maud was teaching in a convent in Maastricht. They got to Aachen and managed to get over the border after walking to Maastricht and eating raw turnips on the way. Once in Maastricht, they got to his sister’s convent. Dodds wondered in his memoirs after the war had they been interned in Germany, whether Semple may have survived the war.7

Joseph Johnston

Charles Johnston (OC 611) & Joseph Johnston (OC 973)

Charles Johnston (OC 611) was five years older than Joseph Johnston (OC 973) and, though unrelated both served in the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers. While they had been at CCB at different times they worked closely together in the trenches of France. On 12 February 1916, it was reported that both had a narrow escape from a shell which wrecked their billet. Charles received a mere scratch on the ear and Joseph suffered a shrapnel bullet through the pocket of his coat.8 At the end of April 1916, Charles was the commander of C Company and Joseph was his second in command.9 On 1st July, both went into action together during the attack of the 36th Division on German positions around Thiepval. The battalion advanced on German trenches at 7.10 am but their progress was ‘caught by a severe machine gun fire, both frontal and flanking, and also by an artillery barrage.’ Charles was killed in the assault and was one of 8 out of 13 battalion officers to fall on that day.10 Joseph was promoted to Captain after the attack and took over command of the company. He was himself killed on 18 February 1917 at Neuve Eglise, ‘shot through the heart by a sniper just after Stand-To, while standing upon the fire-step to examine our wire’.11

Elliot Johnston