Sir David Graham Muschet (‘Soarer’)
KCB. GOC Infantry Division
Clifton College, RMC Sandhurst
David Graham Muschet (‘Soarer’) Campbell was the son of Major
H Wotton Campbell, Cameron Highlanders.
He was commissioned in the 9th Lancers on 16 March 1889.
During the first decade of his military career Campbell
was better known for steeplechasing than for soldiering.
He won the Irish National Hunt Cup (1895, 1896), the
Grand National (1896) and the Grand Military Steeplechase (1896,
1897), a unique record.
The Grand National was won on a horse called ‘The Soarer’,
which Campbell acquired on the toss of a coin and which
henceforth gave him his nickname.
This impression of Campbell as a dilettante soldier is, however,
Seriousness began in earnest with the South African War, which
he received orders to join while on his honeymoon!
He served throughout the war, including a period in
command of a mobile column, and was twice wounded.
Wounds were to become a feature of his military career.
After the end of hostilities Campbell returned to regimental
soldiering, serving as Adjutant of the 9th Lancers (1902–4),
before a period as a Brigade Major in India (1905–9).
He was appointed CO of his regiment on 15 March 1912 at
the age of 43. By
common consent, under his command 9th Lancers became one of the
best units in the British Army.
He was to have an eventful war as its CO.
9th Lancers were engaged with the enemy within 19 days of
On 24 August 1914 the regiment, together with a squadron
of 4th Dragoon Guards, made a charge at Elouges against six
battalions of German infantry and six batteries of guns.
The cost was high: 250 casualties and 300 horses.
Campbell was ordered to charge.
He would have preferred to fight dismounted.
This was also a recurrent pattern in Campbell’s career:
the conflict between orders and his own sense of what was
militarily possible or prudent.
9th Lancers, with Campbell in the van – indeed rather
further in the van than he intended – made a second charge, this
time against the German 1st Guard Dragoons at Moncel on 7
was on a fresh horse, his previous one having gone lame.
The new horse was called ‘Crasher’.
It was well named.
Fortified by an over-generous portion of oats, the horse
tore off towards the enemy.
Campbell found himself nearly 100 yards in front of the
rest of the regiment and facing a wall of lances.
Amazingly, he survived, despite twice being wounded.
The first wound was inflicted on his arm by a German
lance. Campbell was
one of the last men in British military history to be wounded by
this historic weapon.
The second was a gunshot wound to his leg, very probably
inflicted by one of his own men. The bullet catapulted him over
the hindquarters of his mount.
He fell to the ground and the rest of the regiment rode
Campbell’s career as a regimental commander ended in November
1914 when he was promoted to the command of 6th Cavalry Brigade.
This did nothing to improve his well being.
He was wounded again, at the
Frezenberg ridge on 13 May 1915, this time by a shell.
The soldier-poet Julian Grenfell
(1st (Royal) Dragoons) was mortally wounded in the same
Campbell’s destiny was clearly hazardous, but charmed.
He remained in command of 6th Cavalry Brigade until May
1916, when he found himself promoted to command 21st Division, a
New Army formation that had been misused and badly shaken during
the battle of Loos.
Campbell commanded 21st Division for the rest of the war.
He was one of only two men to command it in action.
By the end of the war he was the fifth longest serving
divisional commander in the BEF.
Claud Jacob had nursed 21st Division back to military health
after Loos. Jacob evidently did a good job.
Campbell made few personnel changes when he assumed
command. The chief
of staff (GSO1) he inherited, Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Paley,
remained with the division until October 1917, when he went home
to become Assistant Commandant of the RMC.
His successor, Lieutenant-Colonel [later General Sir]
Harold Franklyn, was at Campbell’s side for the rest of the war.
The division’s CRA, Brigadier-General Richard Wellesley,
stayed in post until May 1917, when he was promoted BGRA XIII
successor, Brigadier-General Henry Newcome, commanded 21st
Division’s guns until the day before the Armistice.
Continuity was even more pronounced at the head of the
administrative staff, where Lieutenant-Colonel G J Acland-Troyte
continued in post until the end of the war.
Campbell inherited as his CRE one of the war’s
outstanding soldiers, Clifford Coffin. Coffin had only two
successors, Lieutenant-Colonel G H Addison (January 1917–July
1918) and Lieutenant-Colonel G Master. Campbell did, however,
replace two of his three brigade commanders. Recent research
confirms the ability of divisional commanders to remove
subordinates whom they felt to be inadequate. It is less clear,
however, what influence – if any – they had in selecting
replacements. If Campbell had influence, he exercised it well.
If he did not, he could count himself fortunate in those he was
given. Cecil Rawling replaced the GOC 62nd Brigade,
Brigadier-General E B Wilkinson, on 13 June 1916. Rawling was
responsible for 21st Division’s first great achievement, the
brilliant capture of Shelter Wood, on 3 July 1916. After
Rawling’s death, in October 1917, the remarkable George Gater
commanded the brigade. The GOC 64th Brigade, Brigadier-General G
M Gloster, was also removed on 13 June. Campbell apparently had
Gloster sent home as soon as he learned his age, 52, without
further enquiry into his abilities as a soldier. His
replacement, Hugh Headlam, remained with the division until July
1918, when Andrew McCulloch, who enjoyed a short but brilliant
career as a brigade commander, succeeded him.
Campbell’s principal characteristics, according to those who
knew him best, were his mental and physical energy.bb
He was unsparing in his determination to get to the bottom
of any problem and he understood the importance of attention to
detail. This inclined him to be receptive to new ideas. He
regularly visited his front line and even over flew it, on one
occasion taking part in aerial combat. His standards were those
of the first-class pre-war regimental commander. He knew no
others. His adherence to them did not always endear him to
‘civilian’ soldiers, especially New Army officers. But Campbell
knew that it was going to be a hard war against a formidable
enemy. ‘Softness’ was not an option.
If he harboured any doubts about this, the division’s attack
on the opening day of the Somme, at Fricourt on 1 July 1916,
provided all the reinforcement he needed. ‘It does make me sick
to read about this “terrific bombardment”, it is absolute rot
and written by a lot of rotten war correspondents,’ he commented
in a letter possibly written on 5 July. ‘No doubt we have many
more guns than formerly, but we have not a quarter enough and
every gunner will tell you so.’ ‘Sally’ Home recalled a
conversation with Campbell a few days later. ‘Went to see David
Campbell who commands 21st Div.,’ he wrote in his diary, ‘and
had a talk with him with reference to his attack on the north of
Fricourt village. He had over 5,000 casualties in his Division.
His view was that it could have been taken in the first rush
before the Boche had time to get his machine guns out of the
dug-outs. Later it cost us a Battalion or more.’
21st Division was several more times engaged on the Somme,
performing especially well at Bazentin-le-Petit (14–17 July),
where it took all its objectives. Campbell frequently found
himself in conflict with the GOC XV Corps, Lieutenant-General
Sir Henry Horne, whose interference and pressure he resented.
(Campbell was also to have a stormy relationship with the GOC V
Corps, Lieutenant-General Cameron Shute, in the autumn of 1918,
but by then Campbell’s experience had taught him to be more
forceful in his dissent.) During 1917 21st Division took part in
the battles of Arras, Third Ypres and Cambrai, a testimony to
high command’s opinion of its military efficiency. There was no
respite in 1918. 21st Division fought three major actions during
the German Spring Offensive: on the Somme at Epéhy and Chapel
Hill; on the Lys at Messines Ridge; and on the Aisne. The
division was sent to the Aisne for a ‘rest’. It was deployed in
an exposed salient on the far bank of the Aisne despite
Campbell’s protest to the French commander General Duchêne, who
not only ignored belated intelligence of German offensive
intentions but also showed contempt for the experience of
subordinates who had repeatedly faced the German infiltration
tactics. The result was a disaster. ‘Monday (27 May) was the
worst day I have spent in this war, which is saying a lot,’
Campbell laconically commented.
It was perhaps Campbell’s greatest achievement as a soldier
to put 21st Division back together yet again and to lead it in
successful attacks, notably those at Miraumont and against the
Beaurevoir Line, during the ‘Hundred Days’.
Campbell remained in the Army after the war and was knighted
in 1919. He was appointed Military Secretary in 1926. Campbell’s
wartime experience had made him an enemy of the pre-war army’s
chummy ways and an advocate of merit, which he did his best to
advance. This did not go down well and he was replaced within a
year. As GOC Aldershot (1927–31) he turned his attention to the
re-organisation and mechanisation of the army, but these were
difficult policies to advance during a period of economic
stringency when the official line was that there would be no
more ‘Great Wars’. Major-General Sir David Campbell died in
Malta, where he was Governor and GOC-in-C in March 1936. He was,
in the words of Richard Holmes, ‘a great and good man’.