Henry James Campbell established Campbell College in East Belfast in 1894. He had made his fortune in the linen trade and set up the college as a boarding school. In the years preceding and during the Second World War, the school had a varied history.
In 1935, Jimmy Steele led an Irish Republican Army Raid on the school building. The aim, to secure guns and ammunition held inside the Officers’ Training Corps. A gun battle took place between the IRA and Royal Ulster Constabulary at the gate lodge on Hawthornden Road. Constable Ian Hay received five bullet wounds but survived. Steele and three other members of his gang were captured and imprisoned in Crumlin Road Goal in 1936.
During the Second World War, the War Office requisitioned Campbell College as a military hospital. In 1940, the college evacuated and boarders transferred to the seaside town of Portrush, Co. Antrim. At the same time, boys attending the school by day were moved to Cabin Hill, which had been the junior school.
It must record, in fact, a generation of boys at Cabin Hill and at Portrush who were Campbellians but knew not Campbell.
Campbell College Register 1952.
What were once changing rooms of the college’s successful sports teams became operating theatres. Baths and medical equipment took up classrooms and Nissen huts in the grounds served as wards. By October 1945, some 34,000 servicemen passed through the former school.
20 British General Hospital
This military hospital was based in Carrickfergus from September 1940 to November 1940. That November it moved to Campbell College in East Belfast, where it remained until January 1943. Later incarnations of 20 British General Hospital were based in Moira and Bangor, Co. Down.
24 British General Hospital
The longest standing military hospital at Campbell College, Belfast was No. 24 British General Hospital. It remained from August 1940 to April 1944.
25 British General Hospital
The No. 25 British General Hospital only operated for a couple of months at Campbell College. It remained from February 1944 to April 1944. Between 1940 and 1944 it operated in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, and Bangor, Co. Down.
31 British General Hospital
Another military hospital at Campbell was No. 31 British General Hospital. Between time at Hellingly and Hatfield, No. 31 operated at the Belfast school site from August 1940 to June 1942.
The Belfast Blitz
On the night of 4th-5th May 1941, the German Luftwaffe bombed Belfast in The Fire Raid of the Belfast Blitz. At Campbell College, 19 people died including patients and medical staff. Most of the medical staff served with the Pioneer Corps or the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Allied deaths at Campbell College
Axis deaths at Campbell College
Back to School
The Belmont campus without the Netherleigh site returned to civilian use in February 1946. The last of the Nissen Huts remained standing until 2001. Cabin Hill, the college’s junior school, which housed students during the war, closed in 2006.
Famous past pupils of the school include the author CS Lewis who attended for only a few months. Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Terence Malcolm Bulloch was also an ex-Cambellian. He served as Piper Sergeant Major in the Officer Training Corps and excelled at rugby union during his time at the school. One final noteworthy past pupil is William John English, awarded the Victoria Cross. He served with the Royal Ulster Rifles during the Second World War.
The years of the Second World War are detailed in ‘The Campbell College War Record 1939-1945’. This one-volume piece, compiled by CR Beavan and Colonel WD Gibbon runs to 59 pages containing records of those who died during the Second World War. The book, published in 1946, also lists the honours and awards of past members and shows portrait photos of each man.
The wartime events at Campbell College also lived long in the memory of Albert Maxwell BEM. He worked as the groundsman and head porter for 64 years, only retiring in 1993. He lived in the B1 listed gate lodge until his death in 1997.
The school’s War Memorial stands on its original site in the school’s grand hall. The unveiling took place in 1950. The rectangular bronze plaque on wooden paneling lists those killed during both World Wars. The ornate stonework pillars and carved school coat of arms is a design by ex-Campbellian Captain James R Young. One hundred and two names are listed having served and died in the Second World War.
My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage. My courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scabs I carry with me. – Second World War (1939-1945).
Inscription on Campbell College War Memorial.
The Latin motto of Campbell College, which received a Royal Charter from Her Majesty The Queen in June 1951, is “Ne Obliviscaris” – Do not forget.