Campbell College, Belfast, Co. Antrim

Campbell College in East Belfast has a strong Second World War heritage having served as a military hospital from 1940 - 1944 and being bombed in May 1941.

Campbell College

Belmont Road

Belfast

Co. Antrim

BT4 2ND

United Kingdom

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 World War Two, Campbell College 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 RUC 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 1939-1945 conflict, the War Office requisitioned Campbell College as a hospital. In 1940, the college evacuated and boarders transferred to the seaside town of Portrush in 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 Campbell College.

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 in 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.

Campbell College Military Hospital

Imperial War Museum Photo: No 24 British General Hospital suffered extensive damage during the Belfast Blitz. The main building at Campbell College, Belfast was bombed killing nineteen people. This photo features in the book ‘Bodies In Our Backyard’ by Elaine McClure.

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 based at Hellingly and Hatfield, No. 31 operated at the Belfast school site from August 1940 to June 1942.

Campbell College in The Belfast Blitz

On the night of 4th and 5th May 1941, the German Luftwaffe bombed Campbell College. Nineteen people died including patients and medical staff.

Most of the medical staff served with the Pioneer Corps or the Royal Army Medical Corps. They included:

Many other servicemen died over the years in the military hospital. Some from Allied forces included Belgian soldier Private Leon Maton and French airman Ernest Almayrac.

Blitz damage at Campbell College

Imperial War Museum Photo: The Belfast Blitz of May 1941 devastated the No 24 British General Hospital at Campbell College, Belfast. The wards in the school grounds consisted mainly of Nissen huts. This photo features in the book ‘Bodies In Our Backyard’ by Elaine McClure.

German deaths at Cambell

German prisoners of war were also treated at the East Belfast site. Some of those who died at Campbell College were buried at Belfast City Cemetery until their exhumation and repatriation in 1962.

The German casualties included Wilhelm Dalbeck, Wilhelm Jungclaus, August Kreinbring, Rudolph Blume, Alfred Rinn, Wilhelm Thoene, Herbert Lisser, and Gerhard Geier.

The Belmont campus of Campbell College 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.

Past Pupils at Campbell College

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 World War Two.

William John English VC

Imperial War Museum Photo: VC 385 (Part of the Imperial War Museum VC and GC Collection). Lieutenant William John English, 2nd Scottish Horse, awarded the Victoria Cross, Vlakfontein, South Africa, 3 July 1901. Copyright Imperial War Museum. Used under Fair Dealing.

The War Record

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 World War Two. 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.

Campbell College Military Hospital

Imperial War Museum Photo: Severe damage caused to the Nissen hut wards at Campbell College Military Hospital, Belfast. The Luftwaffe attacked the No. 24 British General Hospital in May 1941. This photo features in the book ‘Bodies In Our Backyard’ by Elaine McClure.

Remembering Campbell College at War

The Campbell College 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.

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