Charles Sybil Adlamn (Charlie) CAMPBELL


CAMPBELL, Charles Sybil Adlamn

Service Number: 5502
Enlisted: 16 March 1916, Enlisted at Broken Hill
Last Rank: Sapper
Last Unit: 1st Tunnelling Company (inc. 4th Tunnelling Company)
Born: Lancelot, South Australia, 20 January 1885
Home Town: Broken Hill, Broken Hill Municipality, New South Wales
Schooling: Burke Ward School, Broken Hill
Occupation: Miner
Died: Killed in action, Belgium, 18 September 1917, aged 32 years
Cemetery: Menin Road South Military Cemetery
S.28 Id.9-4 Plot I, Row U, Grave 8
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Broken Hill War Memorial, Silverton IOOF WW1 Honor Roll
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World War 1 Service

16 Mar 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 5502, Enlisted at Broken Hill
25 Oct 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 5502, Tunnelling Companies, Embarked on HMAT 'A38" Ulysses from Melbourne on 25th October 1916, disembarked Plymouth, England on 22 December 1916.
29 Dec 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Sapper, Tunnelling Companies
28 Jan 1917: Embarked AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 5502, Tunnelling Companies, Embarked SS Onward at Folkestone for France; marched into Etaples 29 January 1917.
16 Feb 1917: Transferred AIF WW1, Sapper, 1st Tunnelling Company (inc. 4th Tunnelling Company), Taken on Strength 1 Australian Tunnelling Company from Reinforcements Tunnelling Companies.
18 Sep 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 5502, 1st Tunnelling Company (inc. 4th Tunnelling Company), Third Ypres, Killed in action near Hellfire Corner
19 Sep 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 5502, 1st Tunnelling Company (inc. 4th Tunnelling Company), Third Ypres, Admitted dead (multiple shrapnel wounds) from 3rd Australian Field Ambulance.

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Biography contributed by Janet Scarfe

Charles Sybil Adlamn Campbell

SN 5502

1st Australian Tunnelling Company


Charles (Charlie) Sybil Adlamn Campbell was born on 20 January 1885, the second of three children (all sons) born to John (Jack) Campbell and his wife Elizabeth (nee Harvey). His birthplace was Lancelot, a small settlement near Petersburg (later Peterborough), in the mid north of South Australia.

Charlie’s father John had been brought up on the large merino property near Kapunda known as Anlaby. John’s father Hugh had been a shepherd on Anlaby and his younger brother Charles Fraser Campbell would later rise to the position of Anlaby’s stud master and overseer. As a young man, John worked on the vast Mount Gipps Station in far western NSW (the area where vast mineral deposits were soon to be discovered) before returning to South Australia. He farmed around Peterborough initially in good seasons and then through the crippling drought in the 1880s.  He gave farming and became a casual farm labourer in the 1890s before moving back to far western NSW in the late 1890s, this time to the mining town of Broken Hill with his wife and three sons. He worked for many years as a teamster, and lived in Railway Town.

Charlie attended the Burke Ward School in the late 1890s. He later worked on Netley Station and then in the mines. Like many men in Broken Hill, he joined a lodge (virtually the only means of accessing sickness, death and funeral benefits) – in his case, connected with the Independent Order of Oddfellows in Railway Town.

War Service

Charles Campbell enlisted in Broken Hill, a recruiting centre, in March 1916. He was 31 years old, and a miner. According to his attestation papers he was 5 feet 6½ (168 cms) inches tall, and had a sallow complexion – a consequence of his occupation.

The far-off war was having a profound effect on Broken Hill. German companies had been the main customers for Broken Hill’s silver-lead and zinc concentrates, but when war was declared in August 1914 all contracts with German smelters ceased. The next years, 1915-16, were times of great industrial unrest in the town between miners and employers. On the war front, the importance of skilled miners in the trenches of the Western Front had become apparent. The first intake of officers and men in the Australian Mining Corps (precursor of the Tunnelling Companies) was in March 1916, the same month as Charles Campbell enlisted.[2]  Any or all of those factors mixed with patriotic fervour and a sense of adventure would have influenced Charles’ decision. He passed his medical examination and signed his attestation papers on 31 March 1916, and like most Broken Hill recruits was sent to Adelaide.[3]

After several months Campbell was transferred to Seymour army camp to join the Mining Reinforcements. On 25 October 1916, he and the reinforcements embarked on HMAT Ulysses, disembarking in England two months later just before Christmas on 22 December. After a week’s leave, he was sent to the Australian camp at Perham Downs on Salisbury Plain. On 28 January 1917, his unit left England for France, marching into Etaples in northern France the following day.

Charles was transferred from the Mining Reinforcements to No 1 Australian Tunnelling Company (1 ATC) on 6 February 1917 with the rank of Sapper. Ten months had passed by since he enlisted.

Charles and his mates arrived in northern France midway through the notoriously bitter ‘Somme winter’ of 1916-17. The ground was frozen to a depth of 16 inches (40cms) in January and February, and did not thaw into mud in many places until May.[4]

In his extensive study of the Australian Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front, Damien Finlayson summarised the miners’ work as digging  ‘complex and elaborate systems of connected shafts, inclines, tunnels, drives, chambers, dugouts, subways and posts’ which often contained medical dressing stations, rescue stations and command posts. The miners worked underground in silence; they ‘tapped, picked and shovelled and listened, fully aware that the enemy was doing the same somewhere ... up to eight hours a day, every day, in a dimly lit, cramped, isolated and silent environment with the constant spectre of a sudden, violent death’.[5]

The task assigned to Campbell’s unit, 1 ATC, in the spring of 1917 was the total destruction of Hill 60 and as much as possible of the Messines Ridge near Ypres. Over several months, the miners in the unit constructed numerous tunnels deep under Hill 60 and other locations on the Messines Ridge in readiness for setting the explosives. It was both technically difficult and exceedingly dangerous. Members of the unit were killed in explosions, bombardment and raids; others were gassed.[6]

On 7 June 1917, 1 ATC completely destroyed Hill 60 and much of the Ridge as well with its carefully laid explosive charges. In all, 21 massive mines exploded in a 19 second period. With a few hours, the Allies had captured the entire Messines Ridge from the Germans. The Battle of Messines that followed lasted seven days and was ‘the first major denial of German capacity to overlook the British lines with impunity.’[7]

After the destruction of Hill 60 and the Messines Ridge, the location and the work of 1 ATC changed significantly. It moved from Poperinghe to a new camp near Dranoutre, reputedly ‘one of the most comfortable British camps on the Western Front.’ Its new task was the repair of roads south of Hill 60. The roads in the area, essential for the transport of troops, equipment and supplies, were continually being destroyed by both shelling and traffic. After the Battle of Messines, road building and repairs could be done in daylight as well as at night with less danger of enemy fire. [8]  

Charles Campbell was now housed in relative comfort and doing less dangerous, less physically taxing work.

In early September 1917, preparations were well underway for the battle for Menin Road, the main supply line to the British front. Men from 1 ATC were sent just south of Ypres to ready the pitted roads for the passage of men, weapons and supplies. Their other role was the construction of a deep dugout system for an advance headquarters near the Hooge Crater. Frank Hurley, the war photographer, described conditions at the Hooge Crater as wretched, with the men working well below ground and knee deep in mud. It was also dangerous, and several men were killed.[9]

Charles Campbell was working at or near the Hooge Crater. On the night of 18 September he was in a lorry sent to collect a shift of men from the Hooge Crater and bring them back to camp.[10] The lorry arrived before the shift and most men in the lorry got out to walk around. It was a foolhardy act: men and lorry stood exposed on a notoriously dangerous section of the Menin Road between Hellfire Corner and the Birr Cross Roads, and the Germans’ precision strikes were legendary. The lorry was hit with a German high explosive shell and blew apart. The one man in the lorry was killed immediately. Charles Campbell and four others near the lorry were fatally wounded.

Campbell was admitted dead from multiple shrapnel wounds to the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance the following day, 19 September. He was accepted as Killed in Action.

The Battle of Menin Road took place on 20 September with heavy casualties inflicted on the Allies. 

Charles Campbell was buried in the Menin Road South Cemetery near Ypres.

Some months later Charles’s father John received a parcel with his personal effects: a disc, wallet, letters, a diary, two purses, six coins and a badge. John was also awarded a pension of 14/- a fortnight from 31 December 1917. In the fullnes of time, he received Charles’s Victory Medal and British War Medal, and the customary Memorial Plaque and Scroll.

In his will Charles bequeathed all he owned to his older brother Alexander and his nephew Francis in Broken Hill, and in the event of their deaths to his younger brother Francis (Frank) in New Zealand.

Charles’s brother Alexander named his son born in January 1918 Alan Menin Campbell to mark Charles’s death and burial place.

There is a memorial to Charles Campbell in the Broken Hill Cemetery adjacent to gravesite of his mother Elizabeth and brother Alexander. His name is also listed on Western Football Club memorial to the men of Railway Town, Broken Hill, on a paver at the Broken Hill RSL, and on an honour board of the men of his lodge which is located in the Silverton Gaol and Historical Museum, Silverton NSW.


(Acknowledgement: Thank you to Sue Scarfe for genealogical information about Charles Sybil Adlamn Campbell.)



[1] Geoffrey Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill, Macmillan Australia, 1968, p27.
[2] Damien Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets: the Australian Tunnelling Companies on the Western Front, Big Sky Publishing, 2010, p1.
[3] Charles Sybil Adlamn Campbell, Service Record, Canberra, National Archives of Australia.
[4] Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, p157, p158.
[5] Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, p15, p16.
[6] Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, p174, p183, p188.
[7] Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, pp191-200.
[8] Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, p202.
[9] Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, pp238-43.
[10] Finlayson reconstructed the events that followed from the service records and Red Cross files of several men who died in the incident, including Edgar Cullen Hall and Albert Hodder. There was no Red Cross file for Charles Campbell. Finlayson, Crumps and Camouflets, pp242-43.