It seems fitting to begin this project with Professor P. G. C. Campbell of the 253rd Battalion, a man who understood the value of historical inquiry.
Lieutenant Colonel P. G. C. Campbell
253rd (Queen’s University) Highland Battalion
We moderns, however go with magnifying glass and dissecting knife to the past, attempting to discover how our forebears lived and thought, and ever present in our researches is the question, how do these things throw light on ourselves; to what extent can we trace a continuity of process between the past and the present?
(P.G.C. Campbell, “Early Roman Religion,” Queen’s Quarterly, 1909, 58)
Percy Gerald Cadogan Campbell was a professor of Romance languages and French at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario from 1902 until his retirement in 1949. The son of a Scottish Anglican chaplain, Campbell was born on 8 January 1878 in Calais, France. After graduating from Balliol College, Oxford, he moved to Canada in order to take a teaching position at Queen’s. In Kingston, Campbell joined the 14th Militia Rifles (The Princess of Wales’ Own), rising to the rank of major.
During the First World War, Campbell served as commandant of the enemy alien internment camp at Fort Henry. In November 1916, he was appointed commanding officer of the 253rd (University Highland) Battalion. At a 20 November recruitment rally in Grant Hall, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell appealed for volunteers alongside Zinovy Peshkov, a Russian-born French Foreign Legion officer who had lost an arm fighting on the Western Front.
Despite Campbell’s effort to raise the battalion from the student body, most students had enlisted in other units or were already serving overseas. As G. W. L. Nicholson noted in his Official History, the 253rd Battalion consequently “had little connection with Queen’s except for its name.” Nevertheless, many officers were graduates of the university.
Arriving to England in May 1917, Campbell was assigned to the 5th Canadian Reserve Battalion. After falling ill with bronchitis, Campbell was admitted to the Shorncliffe military hospital in June. The medical board determined “he is very much run down and requires leave to recuperate.”
In October 1917, a recovered Campbell proceeded to France as a staff officer with the Imperial Forces 10th Army Corps. Writing in The Varsity, Professor Herbert T. Wallace emphasized that the former 253rd commander, “like the good soldier that he is, reverted in rank to go overseas.” After ten months in the field, Campbell was relieved to England. Discharged as medically unfit, the forty-year old Campbell returned to Canada in October 1918. A medical board in Kingston detailed various ailments such as heart pain, headaches and an occasional “feeling of being out of sorts.”
Despite these medical problems, Campbell’s physical health soon improved. In 1922, he won the first national doubles and mixed doubles (with his wife) badminton championships. After the war, the professor assumed an active role in the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps on the Queen’s campus, becoming the commanding officer from 1928 to 1932. He died in Kingston at the age of eighty-two on 13 November 1960.
Digitized Service File (LAC):