Anglican mission charity to benefit from legacy of First World War bravery

Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell VC. Photo: Morton and Eden
Published November 21, 2017

An Anglican mission charity is set to receive a large windfall when it auctions off a rare set of First World War medals this week. The medals were bequeathed to the Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association by the son of Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell, who received them for distinguished service in the Royal Navy. They include a Victoria Cross (VC)—Britain’s highest gallantry award for armed forces personnel—which is awarded for bravery “in the face of the enemy.”

Campbell received his Victoria Cross for sinking a German submarine, U.83, in February 1917. His ship, HMS Q5, or Farnborough, was hit by a torpedo and began sinking. He ordered some of his men into lifeboats, but others remained on board, manning the ship’s guns. When the German submarine surfaced, they opened fire, sinking it. Only one German sailor survived. The Q5 was beached.

The citation for Campbell’s VC, published in The London Gazette 21 April 1917, read: “In recognition of his conspicuous gallantry, consummate coolness, and skill in command of one of H.M. Ships in action.”

Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell wearing his medals. Photo: Morton and Eden

Campbell’s son, David, was an Anglican priest and a member of the monastic community the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE). He served his curacy in Portsea before becoming chaplain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. A further curacy in Fareham followed before he went to London as a missioner, planting what became the Parish of St Mary the Virgin in Isleworth.

At the age of 40, he became a postulant in the Society of Mission Priests of St. John the Evangelist—known as the Cowley Fathers, after the Oxfordshire suburbs in which they were founded in 1866 by Richard Meux Benson. At the time, “the society was then 40 years past its heyday—many members were very old and some even remembered the founder, who had died in 1915,” Campbell’s obituary in The Times newspaper said.

In 1960, he was professed and was elected superior in 1976. Prior to that, he had been appointed prior of St Edward’s House near Westminster Abbey in London. By the time of his death, that was the last remaining SSJE house. It has since closed and the site sold to Westminster School.

The charities created by the SSJE in the U.K. are now administered by the Trust, which continues “to honour the monks’ work of missionary priesthood in a large variety of ways.” When he died, Campbell bequeathed his father’s medals to the charity. And they will be auctioned on Thursday at Sotheby’s auction house by the specialist auctioneers Morton and Eden. They have been given a guide price of £300,000 to £400,000.

In addition to the VC, Campbell’s medals are a Distinguished Service Order with two bars, the 1914–15 Star, British War and Victory Medals, Defence and War Medals and two Coronation medals. There are also two French medals: the Légion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre. The medals were awarded between 1914 and 1953.

The medals awarded to Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell. Photo: Morton and Eden

Campbell’s £1,000 prize-money that he received with the Victoria Cross—about £80,000 in today’s money—was shared with his ship’s crew.

The chairman of the Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association, the Rev. Charles Card-Reynolds, is vicar of St Bartholomew in Stamford Hill, London. Speaking to the Anglican Communion News Service from the diocese of the Windward Islands, where he is visiting projects supported by the Trust in response to the recent hurricanes, he said that the funds raised by the sale would be used to continue the Trust’s work of supporting the church in the areas of mission and teaching.

“We receive many calls for grants and are committed to supporting local church projects,” he said. “We are a major funder for pastoral placement schemes, lay ministries and missionary priesthood, and continue to work in those communities in the U.K. and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion where the monks of SSJE once ministered.

“The sale of the medals, we hope, will be a significant boost to our funds and our ability to make grants. Admiral Campbell was a devoted churchman and it says much of his character that he declined the award of a second VC, instead allowing his men to nominate someone else from the crew.”

This year, the Trust established two university scholarships in honour of Bernard Mizeki—one of the first converts of the Cowley Fathers’ mission in in South Africa; who was martyred in 1896.


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