Born: 1 August, 1933, in Malta.
Died: 17 March, 2005, in Burmington, Warwickshire, aged 71.
MICHAEL John Campbell-Lamerton was one of the outstanding second row rugby players of his generation, captaining Scotland and the British Lions.
Born in Valletta at the Royal Naval Hospital, Campbell-Lamerton was the eldest of two sons of Lt Commander Robert and Margaret Campbell-Lamerton. After his father was killed in action during the Second World War, the family moved to Surrey.
National Service in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in 1952 led him into a career as a soldier, in which he excelled. Noted particularly for the care of his men and his personal bravery, he converted his National Service commitment to the Dukes into a career move after the experiences of the Korean War in 1953. This conflict, a brutal affair often overlooked in the light of the Second World War’s atrocities, saw the Dukes in the thick of the action.
The Chinese offensive at the Battle of the Hook was part of a major assault against British positions. On the night of 28 May, 1953, the Chinese attack was halted by heavy artillery and mortar fire. Two platoons led by Campbell-Lamerton and his lifelong friend David Gilbert-Smith were given the task of leading the counter-attack to clear the Hook promontory that had been over-run by the enemy. By 3:30am the Hook was back in the Dukes’ hands.
Campbell-Lamerton cheated death on several occasions. While on foot patrol in Korea he trod on a mine; noticing the barely audible click, he had the presence of mind to remain calm and immobile while calling out to a colleague. By good fortune the corporal with him had seen service in 1945 as a bomb disposal expert and de-fused the mine after what must have seemed an eternity.
He had another close escape in a helicopter accident in 1957 while chasing Eoka guerillas in Cyprus. A 60-foot plunge to the ground in full combats caused severe back, hip and leg injuries, and he had to learn how to walk, let alone play sport, all over again at the Royal Air Force rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, in Surrey.
Campbell-Lamerton met and married Marie-Christine Cottrell in 1956 while he was stationed in Gibraltar. He was injured during a rugby match and a loudspeaker announcement asked for a volunteer to run the player to hospital. Marie-Christine sped him to casualty in her sports car and the romance blossomed.
His rugby career saw Campbell-Lamerton play for the Duke of Wellington Regiment, Blackheath, Halifax and London Scottish. He represented and captained Yorkshire, the Army and Combined Services, and won 23 caps for Scotland in the days when only four or five caps could be won a season. Having a Scottish mother entitled him to wear the thistle, and he made his international debut in 1960. He also played for the Barbarians, and was selected for the British Lions in 1962 and 1966, latterly as captain in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Success on the rugby field came after a prolonged and painful physical rehabilitation. A player of immense strength - at 6ft 4in and 17st 8lbs he was the biggest man on the 1966 Lions tour - he was unstoppable in full cry. Following the Scots’ savage mauling of the French at Murrayfield, the French press ran a headline calling Campbell-Lamerton "L’Abominable", a reference to the hulking Yeti, which was all the rage in the newspapers at the time. The epithet could not have been more inappropriate but the fear factor created worked wonders against the French in future years.
The Lions tour of 1966 was one of longest ever, running to just over five months. Although unbeaten in Australia over eight matches, a feat that is still to be bettered, the Lions lost all four Test matches in New Zealand. With a weak touring party, the tour manager going on holiday in Fiji mid-tour and the coach suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, Campbell-Lamerton took it upon himself to carry full responsibility for all aspects of the tour - including a remarkable 257 speeches. The team rallied behind him, but the burden was enormous, and Campbell-Lamerton dropped himself for the final Test match.
"Mike was a decent man and much-maligned. We knew how hard he was working and it was because we respected his efforts that we stuck together," was how BE Price, his second row partner, summed up the collective spirit.
Campbell-Lamerton retired from international rugby in 1966 aged 33 but remained a powerful ambassador for the sport. In 2001 at a 25th-anniversary dinner for the Lions tour at the Savoy in London, only five of the original squad were unable to attend. The tour had clearly enjoyed huge esprit de corps, but was short on firepower against the 1966 All Blacks team.
Rugby was in the blood, and eldest son Jeremy followed in his father’s footsteps by representing London Scottish and Scotland in the 1980s. His other sons, Michael and Ian, have also represented London Scottish.
An equally successful career unfolded in military service, with Campbell-Lamerton commanding a battalion in Northern Ireland, and Old College and Victory College at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. After retiring from military service in 1985 he became bursar at Balliol College, Oxford, and was later elected Emeritus Fellow of the college. While at Oxford he was president of Oxford University RFC.
Away from his military, academic and sporting careers, he was also a fine cricketer, athlete, swimmer, squash and basketball player, and was a referee on the television show Superstars. He was also involved in charitable work as a Knight of Malta. Whatever he turned his hand to he executed with huge efficiency and drive. His fair but firm approach was always successful. His regimental motto Virtutis Fortuna Comes - fortune favours the brave - is indicative and appropriate of his mental approach to adversity.
In 2001 Campbell-Lamerton was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He persevered with enormous fortitude to the end. When he passed away, the game of rugby observed a minute’s silence before Scotland’s Calcutta Cup match against England at Twickenham earlier this month.
He is survived by his wife, three sons and daughter, Clare.