More than 100 years after the first mayor of Invercargill city John Daniel Campbell won a medal during a motorcycle race from London to Edinburgh in June 1919, it has been donated to the Catlins Museum by his grandchildren Campbell Ronald Weston, of Dunedin, and Denise Campbell, of Auckland. Jenet Gellatly finds out about Mr Campbell’s journey.
THE small, battered medal lay in the dirt for almost 60 years…
It had been a treasured memento of an event which had taken place in June 1919.
Invercargill resident John Daniel (JD) Campbell had enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force 36th Reinforcements, Engineers, travelling from the quiet, backwaters of Invercargill, to the other side of the world, arriving in London, England, in June 1918.
At the time of his enlistment his occupation was recorded as a cycle and motor importer.
His shop was at 31 Dee St, opposite the then post office, with another branch on Wyndham’s main street.
While in the United Kingdom, he took part in the Motor Cycling Club’s (MCC) London to Edinburgh motor trial, travelling from the capital of England to the capital of Scotland on an
AJS motorcycle with a sidecar and passenger, a distance of just more than 400 miles (643km).
It was now June 1919. Barely seven months previously, World War 1 had ended.
During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic which had swept the world, Mr Campbell fell ill with pneumonia in the October while in London.
After recovering, he was granted extended leave from February 1919, which allowed him to take part in the June rally.
Although there had been MCC Trials before the war, they had ceased from 1915 to 1918, with the 1919 12th trial the club’s first major trial since the war had ended.
Of the 176 entries, 131 gold medals were awarded to those who completed the rally in less than 23 hours.
Those who completed it within 24 hours were awarded a silver medal (5), and a bronze medal was given for those within 30 hours (1).
His grandson Campbell Ronald Weston said Mr Campbell, who was aged 31 at the time, was one of those awarded a gold medal.
According to The Southern Cross newspaper of August 2, 1919, Mr Campbell was the only New Zealander who competed and it had been an ‘‘all-night race’’, where he rode ‘‘a trusty AJS machine’’.
Although Mr Campbell was the rider, the identity of the sidecar passenger was unknown, although according to his daughter, June Weston’s (nee Campbell) written recollections, it was another New Zealander and they were both awarded a gold medal.
On one side the medal reads, London – Edinburgh, June 6th and 7th, 1919, Side Car. J D Campbell and was embossed with entwined laurel leaves underneath. On the other was a
classical Roman/Greek image of two women in flowing robes holding shields, one with the emblem of England, the other of Scotland, and the words Motor Cycling Club. Founded 1901.
John’s father was also named John Campbell, one of the owners of the Campbell and Leggett sawmill partnership which had mill sites at Kahuika, Ratanui/Houipapa and
Tahakopa. His mother was Sarah Campbell, of Invercargill.
When he was discharged in September 1919, Mr Campbell returned to Invercargill, where he resumed his business, holding the AJS Motorcycle agency at his cycle and motor shop.
He became a councillor from 1925 to 1929, and Invercargill mayor from 1929 to 1931, as well as serving as president of the local branch of the Red Cross Society and executive
member of NZ Red Cross and of the NZ Joint Council of Order of St John and Red Cross Society and was awarded a Member of the order of the British Empire (MBE).
During his tenure, Invercargill was proclaimed as a city on March 1, 1930.
The medal was a treasured reminder of his ‘‘successful participation in the prestigious race’’, Mrs Weston had written.
However, it was lost while he was visiting his father’s sawmilling operation at Tahakopa.
‘‘He went to see his father John, who was operating a sawmill in partnership in the Tahakopa district.
JD took with him the medal to show to his father. Then unfortunately the medal was lost, falling from his pocket,’’ Mrs Weston wrote.
‘‘He had travelled over a lot of the area being logged that day and was never certain where it may have been lost.’’
‘‘There were little steam-powered bush trams that hauled the logs on wagons, over wooden tracks, to the sawmill. JD had left school at 12 and had obtained his ‘ticket’ to drive these
at the age of 14. He may have lost the medal while driving one of the bush trams.’’
Her father regretted losing this medal, she wrote.
So it came as a surprise about 55 years later when Mrs Weston received a phone call from a farmer in Tahakopa. It was May 1975.
The farmer had been riding a motorbike across a recently ploughed paddock and saw what he thought was a newly exposed bottle top glistening in the sun.
‘‘He stopped to investigate and to his surprise found a circular medal covered with soil,’’ she wrote.
‘‘After cleaning it, he was able to read the [name] J D Campbell on it,’’ and took the trouble to find Mr Campbell’s daughter was June Weston, who was living in Invercargill.’’
The farmer phoned Mrs Weston and, soon after, she and her son, Campbell Ronald Weston, travelled to his property, where the farmer passed the previously lost medal to her.
Mr Weston and his cousin Denise Campbell, of Auckland, presented the gold medal to Catlins Museum manager Mike McPhee, along with information of John Daniel Campbell’s war service, the history of the medal and its story, earlier this year.
Mrs Weston died in August 2017.
‘‘Now, after my mother’s death, it seemed appropriate to return the medal to the area where it was found,’’ Mr Weston said.
– Various sources