Obituaries: Sir Ian Campbell CBE, Naval officer, businessman and councillor

Sir Ian Tofts Campbell CBE VRD JP. Naval officer, businessman and councillor. Born: 3 February 1923 in Edinburgh. Died: 5 April 2022 in Edinburgh, aged 99

As the son of a Great War veteran who fought in the Flanders trenches, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and join his regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

A sergeant in his school Officers’ Training Corps and a drummer in the pipe band, it seemed a logical assumption. But the young Ian Campbell had other ideas: called up to enlist during the Second World War he was offered a place in the Argylls but rejected it in favour of joining the navy.

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That decision took him to the heart of the greatest amphibious assault in history – the Normandy landings of D-Day – when, aged 21, he commanded a landing craft delivering troops into the tumult of gunfire, death and gritty heroism on Gold Beach.

Sir Ian Campbell took part in the Normandy landings of D-DaySir Ian Campbell took part in the Normandy landings of D-Day
Sir Ian Campbell took part in the Normandy landings of D-Day

He went on to earn danger money on a minesweeper, the youngest commander in his flotilla, before leaving the service post-war and becoming a successful businessman, city councillor, JP and director of finance and administration for the Scottish Conservatives, knighted for political and public service.

Ian Tofts Campbell was the son of John and Mary Campbell, born in Edinburgh’s Gilmerton and educated at Daniel Stewart’s College. His father was a successful draper and could afford to send his son to the prestigious school – until somehow the business crashed and bankruptcy cost the family everything, including their home. Although he never knew how, the young Campbell was able to continue at Stewart’s, most likely through a generous relative or a foundation scholarship of the Merchant Company.

He enjoyed his schooldays and joined the OTC. Meanwhile his father reinvented himself as a senior and highly respected civil servant. On leaving school, Campbell went to Edinburgh University to study medicine but it wasn’t for him and his call up for war service provided an opportune escape.

He served with the Royal Navy from 1942, becoming a sub-lieutenant in 1943 and serving for a time on HMS Haydon, a new destroyer engaged in convoy escort and defence patrols in the Atlantic and western Mediterranean before being deployed to support allied landings in Sicily.

In 1944 he was involved in Operation Neptune, the seaborne element of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. His landing craft was one of an armada of almost 7,000 vessels crewed by an international band of sailors and marines including Norwegians, Poles, Dutch, Greeks and Americans, but principally Britons and Canadians. Above them, a canopy of allied air power numbered more than 11,500 aircraft.

British forces began landing at Gold and Sword Beaches at 7.25am on June 6 1944, nearly an hour after American troops had arrived at Utah and Omaha Beaches. Campbell successfully landed his troops near Arromanches and almost immediately took up a new post as naval liaison officer with the Royal Marines on the beach-head. By 10pm almost 175,000 Allied personnel were ashore in France and the campaign to liberate Europe had begun. The cost was the deaths of at least 5000 American, British and Commonwealth troops and almost every German defending the beaches.

Campbell’s next posting was as second-in-command of a minesweeper off Britain’s east coast – a role that came with 3/6 a day danger money,17.5p in today’s currency – but he soon took command of his own minesweeper. Following the end of the war he left active service in 1946 and joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, earning the VRD for long service and enjoying membership of HMS Claverhouse in Edinburgh’s Granton Square, a training centre and convivial wardroom.

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During the conflict he had met John Line, whose family had a wallpaper and paint business in Edinburgh’s Picardy Place. Invited to join the company, Campbell quickly found himself in Bristol as the firm’s representative in south-west England and Wales. He spent five years there, opening branches in Bristol, Exeter, Bath, Taunton, Cheltenham, Swansea and Cardiff.

When the company was bought over by Crown Wallpapers he and John Line established their own firm, MacGregor Wallcoverings, in Newcastle. Campbell developed their export markets and travelled extensively, to Europe and Scandinavia and to America where he was made an honorary member of Ohio’s Cleveland City Business Club and known simply as Jock. However, the company’s success attracted the attention of Crown Wallpapers again and when they bought the firm he retired as managing director in 1978.

The wallpaper business had inadvertently introduced him to his wife Marion, to whom he was married for almost 50 years until her death in 2010. A widowed mother, whose family ran a wholesale drapery business next to the Picardy Place wallpaper company, they met outside when she accidentally dropped her car key under his vehicle, which happened to be parked alongside hers. They married in 1961 at the capital’s St Cuthbert’s Church.

Campbell had a lifelong association with St Cuthbert’s, where he had been an elder since 1953, and was actively involved in the Kirk Session, serving on the congregational board and as treasurer, among other busy roles. Faith was crucial to him and, as a seaman, he revived observance of a forgotten regulation that, when a ship was in harbour on a Sunday, a service should be held on board. One Sunday morning, tied up alongside other ships of his flotilla, he gathered the crew on deck and conducted a rousing service, something he repeated whenever he was in port on a Sunday.

He was also an officer of the Order of St John, director of the Conservative Board of Finance from 1978-1990 and director of finance and administration for the Scottish Conservative Party 1988-1990. During the mid1980s he was an Edinburgh District Council councillor and a JP. Made a CBE in 1984, he was knighted in the 1988 New Year’s Honours.

Despite such a busy public life he still managed to find time for recreation and enjoyed hobbies including golf, watercolour painting and vintage cars.


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