The Last ANZAC
The Last Anzac
26th February 1899 - 16th May 2002
The last entry in the roll of honour for Gallipoli was finally made on Thursday, 16th May 2002, when Alec Campbell, the last Anzac and last surviving participant of the Gallipoli campaign, died of pneumonia, aged 103. With his loss Gallipoli ceases to be a part of living memory and has truly become, as John North referred to it, 'a country of the mind'. The flags of a nation flew at half-mast, the front pages of the major newspapers were devoted to the event, and the Prime Minister cut short a visit to China in order to attend Mr. Campbell's state funeral at St. David's Anglican Cathedral in Hobart, Tasmania.
Prime Minister John Howard described Mr Campbell as the last living link to that group of Australians that established the Anzac legend. "It is a story of great valour under fire, unity of purpose and a willingness to fight against the odds that has helped to define what it means to be an Australian."
Veterans Affairs Minister Danna Vale said the Anzacs fought with the kind of courage, integrity and honour that Australia would never forget. "It is a legacy that will live on."
The story of the last Anzac begins in Launceston, Tasmania, on 26th February 1899, and thus spans three centuries. Alec was the son of Marian Thrower and Samuel Campbell and grandson of Donald Campbell, an immigrant from Argyllshire, Scotland. On 2nd July 1915, two months after the landing at Gallipoli was reported in the Australian newspapers, he presented himself at the recruiting office where he gave his age as 18 years 4 months. He was at that time, he stated, a clerk in an insurance company, and had served three years in the Senior Cadets at Launceston's Scotch College. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. Parental consent was necessary for anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 to enlist in the A.I.F., which should have presented an obstacle to enlistment because Alec had in fact lied about his age, raising it a full two years above his actual 16 years and 4 months. He met the problem of how to show the authorities he had his parents' permission head-on; he simply got it from them. On 30th June 1915 his mother and father signed a letter in which they give their consent to his 'enlistment for the front', unwittingly reserving a special place in history for their son, No. 2731 Private A. W. Campbell, 15th (Queensland & Tasmania) Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. He would be nicknamed and known by his comrades as 'The Kid'.
Later assisted incapacitated World War 2 veterans. He learned to sail, and took part in at least six of the gruelling annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht races. He worked for the Heart Foundation until his retirement at age 80, and continued to drive until he was 95.
Despite all this, it is for his special connection with Gallipoli that Alec Campbell will be most remembered, and while it is sometimes stated that he blazed away at the Turks through loop-holes in the fire trenches, all evidence is against this. The 15th Battalion was not in the front line trenches after its return from rest on Lemnos, and Alec maintained, later in life, that at Gallipoli he was mainly engaged in water-carrying duties between the beach and the front lines, and believed he had never actually shot a Turkish soldier. In this he is supported by the 15th.
Gallipoli Peninsula 87 years ago, Private Alec Campbell, 15th Battalion of Infantry, was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. In 1967 he claimed his Anzac Commemorative Medallion, and in 1990 he returned once again to Gallipoli, to Anzac, as part of a trip organised for veterans to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the campaign, and was presented with the unofficial Gallipoli Star, which he proudly wore. In 1999 he received the 80th Anniversary Armistice Remembrance Medal and in 2002 the Centenary Medal. He was featured on a set of stamps, The Last Anzacs, along with Walter Parker and Roy Longmore, which Australia Post issued to mark Australia Day 2000.