PHILIP ALEXANDER CAMPBELL ~ Second NZEF soldiers honoured with a Diploma from the ‘King’ while Crossing the Line enroute to North Africa.


Born and raised in Dunedin, grocer Frank Muntz volunteered for war service in 1939 and joined the South Island nominees for the First Echelon in training at Burnham.  8541 Corporal Francis Raymond “Frank” MUNTZ was assigned to the NZ Army Ordnance Corps and departed Lyttelton aboard the HMNZT Z6  MS Sobieski, one of six troop ships including. Empress of Canada, Strathaird, Orion, Rangitata and Dunera that departed as a convoy from Wellington on 5 January 1940 with the First Echelon aboard.   This was the first of the three Echelons of troops which would form the bulk of the 2nd (NZ) Division.     

The NZ Division was initially tasked operations on two fronts – the Italian campaign and the beginning of the North African campaign.  The advance of  German and Italian forces had spread into Italy and they had also gained a toe-hold on the North African continent along the Mediterranean Coast including Algeria and Lybia.  The Germans had designs on capturing Egypt and all else before them, until they reached Cairo. 

As readers of the NZ Army’s history in North Africa know well, within a matter of months in 1940 the NZ forces would be engaging the both German and Italian aggressors in fierce fighting in Syria, the Lybian desert, and at key locations such as Tobruk and El Alamein.  The NZ Division would also mount operations in Greece, on the island of Crete, and Italy.  


Troops of the First Echelon waiting to embark at Wellington, 5 January 1940.

Frank Muntz like most aboard the MS Sobieski was both apprehensive and full of anticipation, however all he imagined lay before him, at that moment seemed a world away as the 1st Echelon convoy heaved its way across the Pacific.  Once the troops arrived in Egypt there would be much to do in establishing the NZ Division’s base camp at Maadi, as well as training, training and more training before the soldiers would get a crack at their enemy.  The ship’s passengers had little to do except write letters, some light weapons training and regular fitness sessions to keep them occupied.  A holiday-like mood prevailed whenever the sailing was smooth and the weather warm and fair, often the case as ships reached Zero Degrees Latitude – the Equator.   

Every sailor at sea who crosses the Equator for their very first time is the subject of a special ceremony that invariably will be one of his most enduring memories of life in the Navy.  The ceremony is known as “Crossing the Line” and has a special significance for those of the sea-going persuasion.  Once the ceremony is over, each sailor is presented with a certificate or ‘diploma’ which commemorates their participation and bestows upon each, membership of a unique and select fraternity.  Frank Muntz** became a member of this unique maritime fraternity whilst on board the MS Sobieski.

MS Sobieski

Note:  ** Cpl. Frank Muntz became a POW while on Crete, one of 2,180 New Zealanders taken prisoner and the largest number of NZ POWS ever taken in a single action.  Frank survived the rigours of the German POW camps for the remainder of the war and was eventually repatriated, first to England and then to NZ aboard RMS Rangitikei, arriving at Wellington on 2 September, 1945.  


The ‘Diploma’

A former military colleague emailed me in September last saying he had found a “diploma” in his deceased father’s papers.  Allan, a retired RNZAF officer, is the son of Frank Muntz and also the incumbent Vice President of the Fielding RSA.  When Allan found the certificate among the papers of his deceased father (Frank passed away at Nelson, 03 Dec 1993 aged 76), he also found a second Diploma, named to 9475 Private Philip Alexander CAMPBELL – 27th NZ Machine Gun Battalion.  Allan indicted to me he would very much like to see this “diploma” returned to the family if possible.  We would certainly try.

Neptune, King of all Seas “diploma” issued to Pte. Philip Alexander Campbell aboard Z6, MS Sobieski in January 1940.

“Crossing the Line” – a brief history

The ceremony of Crossing the Line is unique and one that not only perpetuates an ancient nautical tradition that can be traced back to the French in the early sixteenth century, but is also considered a rite of passage every sailor is expected to undertake once in their maritime career – the first time they cross the Equator at sea.  It is an eagerly anticipated ceremony although understandably, with a good degree of trepidation.

By the mid-sixteenth century, sailors had begun to regard it as an ancient right that they baptise those who had not been over the Equator before, and they did so by blacking themselves and dressing up in costumes. Many at that time believed that anyone of another race who crossed the equator would become an African.

By the mid-sixteenth century, sailors had begun to regard it as an ancient right that they baptise those who had not been over the Equator before, and they did so by blacking themselves and dressing up in costumes. Many at that time believed that anyone of another race who crossed the equator would become an African.  The ceremony evolved into a more brutal affair in times past than practiced today with sailors being whipped, thrown overboard, dragged in the sea, and suspended by the ankles or wrists in the sun whilst blindfolded. 

French frigate Meduse conducting a Crossing the Line ceremony – 1816.

Pollywogs and Shellbacks

Crossing the Line in earlier times was a serious business with the rituals lasting for up to a week prior to the initiation ceremony proper (Pollywog Day) taking place. The rituals started with a period of isolation, prayer and giving of thanks  followed by a series of steps representing the transition from a ceremonial death to a ceremonial rebirth.  The transition was comprised chiefly of two parts: a religious ceremony of thanksgiving, and an initiation ceremony that marked the transformation of inexperienced sailors, or “Pollywogs”, into trusted crew members (Shellbacks)

As European powers became interested in overseas exploration, their ships crossed the equator with increasing regularity and a number of traditions sprang up to mark the first time a sailor crossed over 0° latitude – the Equator.  In 1768 Captain James Cook R.N. was captaining HMS Endeavour through the Pacific. His botanist Joseph Banks described how the crew drew up a list of everyone on board, including cats and dogs, and interrogated them as to whether they had ‘crossed the equator.’  If they had not, they had to choose to give up their allowance of wine for four days, or undergo a ducking ceremony in which they were ducked three times into the ocean.  According to Banks, some of those ducked were “grinning and exulting in their hardiness“, but others “were almost suffocated.”  It is unknown how the animals fared, or their fate.

A similar ceremony took place during the second survey voyage of HMS Beagle . As the ship approached the equator on the evening of 16 February 1832, a pseudo-Neptune hailed the ship.  Those who ran forward in response to Neptune’s call “were received with the watery honours which it is customary to bestow“.  The officer on watch reported a boat ahead, and Captain Fitzroy ordered “hands up, shorten sail“. Using a speaking trumpet he questioned Neptune, who would visit them the next morning.   About 0900 the next day, the novice seamen or “griffins” were assembled in the darkness and heat of the lower deck, then one at a time were blindfolded and led up on deck by “four of Neptune’s constables“, as “buckets of water were thundered all around“. The first “griffin” was Charles Darwin, who noted in his diary how he “was then placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of waterThey then lathered my face and mouth with pitch and paint, and scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop. — a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me and ducked me. — at last, glad enough, I escaped. — most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put in their mouths and rubbed on their faces. — The whole ship was a shower bath: and water was flying about in every direction: of course not one person, even the Captain, got clear of being wet through.


Crossing the Line

The line-crossing ceremony is an initiation rite that is conducted for a person’s first crossing of the Equator.  It is  an enduring memory of each and every sailor as it is an event that ushers in a sense of belonging to one’s crew and the seafaring profession. 

Obedience and the profession of loyalty is an integral part of the ceremony.  Aside from the theatrics, the ceremony also plays an important part in fostering crew camaraderie and morale. 

The ceremony can also provide a welcome break for the crew during difficult and occasionally long, monotonous voyages.  Arduous ship routines, rough seas or the constant threat of injury or death in times of tension or conflict, is made more endurable with the ceremony which in peacetime is considered to be entertainment.  While ceremonies can vary from ship to ship, in essence they have similar components as set out in the next paragraph.


All Pollywogs aspire to become Shellbacks.  To do so they must subject themselves to a ceremony which initiates them into the “ancient mysteries of the deep.”  Traditionally, the night before crossing the Equator, King Neptune sends a messenger, sometimes Davy Jones, informing the Captain that he intends to board the ship the following day, and summons a list of the uninitiated (Pollywogs) to appear before him. 

‘Pollywog Day’

King Neptune, Triton, Queen Amphitrite and the Court Shellbacks sit in judgement of a Pollywog (far right).

The day of the initiation ceremony is called “Pollywog Day”.  The day is run by a group of experienced crew members (“Shellbacks” – senior ranking sailors), presided over by King Neptune and his Court Shellbacks (Sons of Neptune) including Queen Amphitrite, Triton their son (the royal baby), and Davy Jones.  Davy Jones is traditionally impersonated by the smallest sailor on board, given a hump, horns and a tail, and his features made as ugly as possible.  He is swinish, dressed in rags and seaweed, and shambles along in the wake of the sea king, Neptune, playing evil tricks upon his fellow sailors.  All are dressed in theme for the occasion.  

Pollywogs are summoned on deck and accused of various farcical misdeeds for which they will be “prepared” before achieving an audience with King Neptune in the hope of being admitted to his realm as a trustworthy Shellback.  The Pollywogs are “prepared” for their audience by Neptune’s trusty Court Shellbacks. 

They are first doused in fresh water – either in a temporary canvas type pool arrangement set up on deck, or are hosed down.  Activities of  “preparation” can involve the Barber snipping a Pollywog’s hair in a ragged and in-complete fashion, being whipped (with rolled up newspapers) while  duck-walking or crawling around the deck on their knees and being taunted by surrounding crew members.  Various parts of the their bodies may be daubed with (soluble) mixtures such as whitewash, sauce and flour.  Pollywogs will have to drink a foul tasting concoction akin to a mixture of beer, chilli sauce and raw eggs.  This is a symbolic of a ‘truth serum’ meaning they shall speak only the truth when swearing allegiance to Neptune and the Sea.  “Preparation” can also involve crawling through garbage, eating coloured food, allowing the Royal Doctor to administer to them, and kissing the Royal Baby (the fattest Chief Petty Officer on board) on the belly!  The Royal Navigator, Royal Scribe, Dentist, Policemen, Chaplain, Judges, Bears, and Attorneys will also have input to the “preparation” which continues throughout the day.  

The ‘Barber’ cometh …. the ceremonial shaving.

The penultimate ritual is a “shaving” by the Royal Barber with a huge wooden “razor,” after which one is dunked in a tub of water (often dyed a hideous colour) to “cleanse” them for the final meeting with King Neptune.  The Pollywogs are then rounded up by the Police for an audience with Neptune.  Davy Jones presents them before Neptune and his entire retinue, proclaiming them to be trustworthy fellow sailors.  Neptune deliberates and makes a judgement as to their acceptance.

Finally, a raw egg broken is broken on the head of each Pollywog to signal their rebirth as Shellbacks, followed by a dunking/hosing in sea water to signifying their loyalty and acceptance by King Neptune, and that they are now at one with the Sea.


Ancient Order of Shellbacks

Neptune – Master of the Seas

The day ends with each of the newly initiated Shellbacks receiving a “Diploma” that commemorates the Crossing the Line ceremony and announces their initiation into the Ancient Order of Shellbacks (or Ancient Order of the Deep) thus earning a safe passage at sea.  The new Shellbacks have the privilege (revenge!) of being King Neptune’s Court Shellbacks and  “administer” to the next group of Pollywogs to be initiated when the ship Crosses the Line again.  

Equator-crossing ceremonies, are common in navies world-wide and are also sometimes carried out for passenger entertainment on civilian liners and cruise ships.  They are also performed in the merchant navy and aboard training ships. 

The Royal Navy has had established Crossing the Line ritual practices since the seventeenth century which have been modified and are bound by written regulations (as are most commonwealth Navies) designed to limit the risk of injury while maintain the reputation of the navy.  In some navies the Crossing the Line ceremony has been extended to ceremonies for other historically significant nautical features, e.g. Crossing the Arctic Line, Antarctic Line, International Date Line, transiting the Panama and Suez Canals, or rounding the Horn of Africa and Cape of Good Hope.                                                   Source:  Wikipedia


Tracing the Campbells

To find a living descendant of Philip Campbell, my research started with his service record.  As many will know there are no WW2 digital military service files connected to the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph website – there is only an incomplete set of predominantly soldier’s personal profile pages that contain minimal detail at best.  Having collected Philip Campbell’s information I decide to try and resolve the case without spending money for a copy of his archived file. allowed me to track Philip Campbell and his family from his birth in Arrowtown to his various posting locations as an employee of NZ Railways, his WW2 and post war service, and his eventual retirement and death at Otaki.  Given I was starting in the location Philip and Mary had been first listed in the Otaki Electoral Roll (1972) and Philips place and date of death (Otaki), I focused on this geographical area for persons with the Campbell surname which extended to include Kapiti, Levin and north up to, but not in, Palmerston North. Family Trees that included Philip and Mary Campbell indicated they had at least two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom remained nameless in accordance with Ancestry’s policy of not publishing names of the living.  To get around this I estimated a year for the birth of the first child basing this upon a very unscientific formula – many children are born within the first two years of marriage (a very hit and miss method).  From the year Philip and Mary Campbell were married, I added 2 years + 20 years to allow for a child’s first appearance in an Electoral Roll once they turned 20 years of age.  This then left me with the a time period from 1969 to 1981 in which a Campbell child might appear, 1981 being the limit of records.  From these I located a listing for an RNZAF Airman, Fergus Ian Campbell, who appeared on just four occasions – 1969 Whenuapai, 1978 x 2 at Wigram and Ohakea, 1981 Ohakea living at Bulls, so I started with this person to see where it led purely on the basis he had been a serviceman.  I was lucky with this, but sometimes you just get a feel for a person or family you are looking for, whether it is something about their name (the Scots connection in this case as Philip’s ancestors had originated from there), or possibly the proximity of family after retirement.  Looking at a person’s work type, marriage and movements can generate ideas and patterns that need to be tested when there is no other obvious lead. 

I cross referenced the geographical areas of interest with the Campbell names listed in the White Pages – nothing obvious.  No luck with a random entry into Google, however by entering Fergus’s name into Facebook I produced a positive result – Fergus Campbell, Marton Mini Cabs.  A call to the company told me Fergus had suffered a stroke and was no longer working at Marton Mini Cabs.  With no listed phone number, the kind proprietor put me in touch with Fergus who confirmed his father was indeed Philip Alexander Campbell.

Whilst Otaki had a particular interest for me having lived and attended secondary school there, I was also very familiar with Freemans Road in which two of my class mates had lived and was located very near my street.  Finding Fergus also produced yet another coincidental connection as I researched the case.  As it transpired Fergus and I had both served at Ohakea as airmen.  While our RNZAF careers had overlapped albeit at different air bases, Fergus had finished his 20 year career as an Electrical Avionics Technician, at Ohakea in Dec 1985 whilst I had arrived to start my final four years of 20, in 1986.  I had just missed him or we would probably have known each other through the appointment I held.  Fergus had enlisted in the RNZAF as an Electrical & Radar Technician in 1965 and during that time, had also spent three years as aircrew, a Helicopter Crewman on the Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopters of No.3 Squadron, before he returned to aircraft electronics and avionics maintenance in his ground trade.

Fergus with his father’s ‘Diploma’ having just received it from  Alan Muntz.

Philip Alexander Campbell

After establishing Philip Campbell’s military identity and unit he had served with in WW2 (thanks to  Cenotaph), I began to reconstruct his family tree from the on-line family records and research his history.


Arrowtown’s main thoroughfare, Buckingham Street.

Philip Alexander Campbell was the third of six children, only four of who survived.  Born in February 1913 at Arrowtown to father Gordon Campbell (1888-1935) and mother Maud Mary WEBB (1885-1949), a widow of Mill Farm Arrowtown, Phil’s other siblings were: James Francis “Jim” CAMPBELL (1908-1984), Gordon CAMPBELL Jnr. (1909-1980), Maud Ellen “Moya” CARNAHAN (1911-2005), Philip Alexander (04 Feb 1913–07 Dec 1991) and George Rennie CAMPBELL (1915-1939).  Two other sons, both of whom were named Colin, were born a year apart in 1923 and 1925 however neither survived beyond few weeks.    

Arrowtown in autumn.

Philip Campbell was raised and primary schooled in Arrowtown.  He completed his secondary school in Dunedin after the family had moved to 133 St. David Street, Dunedin North which is adjacent to Otago University.  When of working age Philip joined the NZ Railways which had a very prominent profile in Dunedin at the time and a major employer either at the Hillside Workshops for engineers, coach builders, painters, upholsterers, numerous other hands-on tradesmen, or at the Dunedin Railway Station, railway yards and port.  Philip had not opted for any the trade skilled jobs at Hillside but instead followed the lead of his elder brother James “Jim” Campbell by joining the NZR as a Clerk.  After two years and at 20 years of age, Philip was a full time Railway Clerk at the Dunedin Railway Station in 1931.  A change of direction within his NZR employment saw Philip move from being a Clerk to become an Assistant Signalman shortly thereafter.

Dunedin Railway Station – 1920.

Dunedin Railway Station – today.

Dunedin’s Wingatui, Signal Box – best preserved example in NZ

Interior of the Signal Box.

The Signalman inside the Box – 1920.


















In Feb 1935, Philip’s father Gordon Campbell died at aged 48, leaving widow Maud Campbell and her five adult children at St. David St, fatherless.  As eldest son Jim Campbell (a Milkman) had moved to his own place in town, and two of the others, Moya (Maud) and Gordon Jnr. (now a Buttermaker) had married and moved elsewhere in Dunedin, Maud decided a return to Arrowtown would be where she felt safest and had many friends, rather than trying to maintain the house in St. David Street which was empty but for herself during the days.  Besides that her son George Rennie Campbell was still living in working as a farm labourer at the Lower Shotover.  Philip at this time was still in training to be a Signalman and had been working the Signal Box at Dunedin as well as some of the more rural signal boxes such as Mosgiel and Port Chalmers.  Maud went to live with son George at the Lower Shotover.  Philip also managed obtained a transfer to the Arrowtown station to assist his mother.  From here he was able to cover both the Arrow or Queenstown signal boxes on an as required basis.

Gathering clouds of war

Winchester Station.

Maud Campbell’s family had been well aware of what was happening on the other side of the world, as were the whole of the country by 1937, however did not greatly concern themselves with what was coming.  Adjusting to life without their father and the care of their mother Maud had been their greatest concern.  Philip in the meantime had be moved twice by the NZR, firstly to the Roxburgh Station until 1938 and then to Timaru in 1939.  His home however remained at the Lower Shotover in Arrowtown with his mother and George.  In 1940 he was posted to Winchester Station

Once the government announced that all men between the ages of 16 and 60 would be required to have their names recorded on a national manpower register (a precursor to war) reality started to sink in – the men all being of fighting age may have to go to war!  Only the luck of the monthly ballot draw would confirm their fate.   

Philip Campbell had enlisted before the cut-off date in July 1940 thereby avoiding the stigma associated with the government’s re-introduced Conscription under the Emergency Regulations Amendment Act.  This took effect from June 1940 although volunteers were still being accepted for Navy and Air Force service until 1941 – thereafter no choice was given:  Army was the primary destination for Conscripted manpower.

In 1940 Philip was working at the Winchester Station in South Canterbury when he was called-up for the to enlist.

27 (NZ) Machine Gun Battalion hat & collar badge.

9475  Private Philip Alexander CAMPBELL27 Machine Gun Battalion (27 [MG] Bn), 2NZEF was a volunteer and was enlisted at Burnham on 12 Sep 1939 as a member of 27 Machine Gun Battalion that would deploy to the Middle East with the First Echelon.  This Echelon was being assembled and organised at Burnham, Trentham, Hopuhopu and Papakura.  Training for officers and NCOs began on 27 Sep, and the main drafts of soldiers started their training on 03 October.  Members of the Regular Force were assigned to the appointments of Adjutant, Regimental and Company Sergeants-Major. 

On 5 Jan 1940, the First Echelon was ready to deploy, the various components being embarked at Lyttelton, Wellington and Auckland for the Middle East.  Seven days later the Second Echelon would start their training.

North Africa

Cpl. Campbell’s son said his father almost never spoke of what he did during WW2.  Given he was in a job that placed heavy reliance on a high degree of security (due to secret nature of the intelligence material, and the operations they were supporting), it is hardly surprising.  He did however answer a couple of questions over the years that his son recalls.  The following was related to me by Philip Campbell’s son Fergus:

NZ Corps of Signals hat badge.

While at Maadi Camp in 1940, Pte. Campbell was returning from a 10 leave period when he ran into his OC walking towards him on the road.  The OC told Phil he had a new assignment and was to report to a certain officer.  On arrival Phil was greeted and asked if he was the man who had been a Signal Box operator for NZR.  Pte. Campbell replied in the affirmative and was immediately told he was no longer a Private Machine Gunner; he was now a Corporal in the NZ Corps of Signals with a staff – a Lance Corporal as his second in command, and two Private Signallers, plus he was given charge of a truck and trailer fully equipped as a mobile communications station with all necessary radio gear and a trailer of spares.  What he was not told however was that the truck had dodgy brakes.  Phil neglected to mention this to his men but was sharply reminded while travelling with his men in a nose to tail convoy during a sandstorm.  They were travelling at about 40 mph when he discovered the brakes had failed and so worked the gears and handbrake surreptitiously to avoid letting his front seat passenger, a Private who was a particularly ‘nervous Nelly’, that he had no brakes at all !!  He feared the his passenger would have a melt down if he knew.

Sand storm over Maadi Camp

Maadi Camp, Egypt – 1941

Another event Philip related to Fergus was while they were parked up in a desert camp.  From their tent, the sound of approaching aircraft was heard.  The four men rushed outside the tent in time to see a Spitfire ducking and weaving as it was being chased down by two Focke-Wulf, Fw 190 German fighter aircraft firing at the Spitfire alternately.   They watched until all aircraft went out of sight, and returned to the tent.   A few minutes later the sound of fighter engines was again heard – back out of the tent went the team just in time to see the two Fw 190s ducking and weaving as they were being pursued by the Spitfire attacking with cannon fire.  They watched as one Fw 190 was hit and smoked as it plummet into the desert.  The Spitfire then executed a “victory roll” and speed away chasing the second Fw 190 until both were out of sight.  That was the day’s entertainment over.

When asked by Fergus if he had come under fire while in Africa, his father replied, “only twice”

The first occasion I was walking through an olive grove a single German  Fw 190 aircraft overflew the position strafing indiscriminately as it went.  It turned and repeated the strafing run.  Parked nearby was a vehicle with a machine gun on an anti-aircraft mount – one of the LRDG vehicles.  Cpl Campbell being a trained machine gunner leapt onto the back of the vehicle, and got the gun firing in the direction of the approaching aircraft.  The attack was over in seconds and the fighter sped away.  It is not known if he hit it but on-lookers who had dived for cover as cannon shells started striking the ground, started cheering as they came over to the jeep  and pointed at the line of smoking holes where the ground had been chewed up either side of the vehicle.”  

LRDG vehicle with guns fitted. The rear gun of the type as used by Pte. Phil Campbell to engage the Fw 190.

Focke Wulf – Fw 190









Cpl Campbell had a very lucky break I would say.  Fergus continued:

The second occasion was when we were engaged in providing communications in support for (classified) LRDG patrols.  On one occasion we were to rendezvous with a LRDG patrol in the desert.  Truck and trailer (with brakes) thundered along until we spotted the patrol.  As we drew closer, small arms fire suddenly started coming our way.  Fortunately they escaped with only a few holes in the truck and trailer. The ‘LRDG patrol turned out to be a German desert patrol that from a distance looked very similar to the LRDG – they had bisected our path!”

LRDG Chev in the Lybian desert

Maj. David Sterling (SAS) far right, with an LRDG patrol in North Africa.









Red Cross badge of  the VAD personnel.

72113 Private Mary Bertha FERGUSSON, WWSA (VAD) from Gisborne, was a volunteer nurse who joined the Red Cross Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD), an organisation that recruited women with nursing training and first aid skills to assist with the war effort, be it in hospital ships or on the ground in Egypt or England.  When the Women’s War Service Auxiliary was formed in 1940, a number of VAD women enlisted for service with the Army overseas.  Mary Fergusson was one who had embarked on HMNZT  Maunganui on 21 Nov 1941 and on arrival in Egypt, was posted to No.3 NZ General Hospital at Helmieh, Cairo. 

No.3 New Zealand General Hospital (3NZGH) – October 1940

NZ Medical Corps badge worn by VAD.

No.3 NZGH was not formed until 11 October 1940 and 48 NZANS  nurses were included in the staff.  The unit was stationed at Trentham Mobilisation Camp and was prepared for service by 30 November but departure was delayed until 1 February 1941.  They sailed aboard the transport Nieuw Amsterdam arriving in Port Tewfik on 23 March 1941.  3 NZGH arrived at Helmieh on the day that 1 NZGH departed for Greece.  

Cpl. Campbell and Pte. Fergusson’s meeting on the Nile was brief and friendly but within days, he was back in the field.  Not being much of a lady’s man, Phil figured that was that and wrote the meeting of Pte. Fergusson off as a brief if pleasant interlude.  El Alamein was the focus of everyone’s attention at the moment and so he got back into his work with the Signals crew.  Besides, he really did not have the time to day dream about some Kiwi nurse he had met and so never gave it another serious thought.  He resolved to send her a note or two, if he had time.  Fate was about to intervene. 


On Feb 10, 1944 Cpl. Campbell arrived in Wellington as part of a draught of Dunedin men serving in the Middle East who had been given a furlough back in NZ.  As was reported in the Arrowtown News section of Lake Wakatipu Mail, 13 April 1944, “Cpl. P.A. Campbell enjoyed his leave in company of Mr & Mrs J. Shaw.”   Mrs James Shaw was the sister of Phil’s mother, Maud Campbell, who was by then had moved from Arrowtown to 30 Strathearn Avenue in Wakari.

Cpl Campbell returned to the Divisional Signals HQ in North Africa in May 1944.  A few months later he was warned to be ready for  secondment to the British Army for a period of duty.  As he was about to return to Cairo in September 1944, Cpl. Campbell was stricken with Malaria, the mosquitoes being a continual threat at dusk and at first light in the morning.  He was in a bad way and the secondment was cancelled.  After a week or so in a Field Hospital he was invalided back to No.3 NZGH in Helmeih, Cairo, a move that was to have a lasting impact on his life. 

No.3 NZ General Hospital – Helmieh, Cairo – 1942

As Cpl. Campbell creaked into the hospital for admission, there in the ward ahead of him was Nurse Mary Fergusson.  Needless to say her colleagues had heard all about their previous meeting on the Nile from Mary, and the odd note she had received from Phil “when he had time.”  The nurses began ribbing Mary to give him a kiss.  With only one brief meeting on the Nile under his belt, that was hardly good cause to initiate a greeting with a smooch Phil reckoned – they had not taken that step as yet, even on the day they met.  The ribbing continued with Phil being their target as sick as he was, to do the manly thing – clearly Mary must have given her colleagues the impression she was quite taken with the handsome Corps of Signals Corporal, even now in his debilitated state.  Not given to public displays of affection, Phil had had enough and asked Mary if they could go somewhere and have a word – if this was to be his first kiss it was definitely not going to be in public.  Mary escorted him from the ward and found a private spot for their very first kiss.  She then admitted him into a ward where she would take very good care of him, and a chance to get to know each other more closely.

VAD nurses in WW2 uniform, c1944.

Jean Chalmers was a VAD nurse in Cairo, Egypt during World War 2. News Photo: Shane Wenzlick







Following his October Medical Board it was decided Cpl. Campbell was to be invalided back to NZ.**  Phil said his goodbyes to his faithful crew he just hated to leave, and to Mary just as she had received news she was to be posted to England for six months to one of the NZ General Hospitals.  They parted amid floods of tears from Mary, promising each other to meet up again in NZ once the war was over.  In the mean time their contact would be limited to written correspondence and the vagaries of  wartime mail deliveries. 

Mary had been due to go to England in December 1944 to start work in the New Year however before she left Cairo, the Matron at 3NZGH intercepted a telegram during the last week of October, addressed to Nurse Mary Fergusson from Cpl. P. A. Campbell in Dunedin – it was a proposal of marriage!  Matron took matters into her own hands – she promptly cancelled Mary’s posting and sent another nurse in her place.  She then told Mary that her war service was done and that she should go home and “marry that man” – Cpl. Campbell.  Mary’s colleagues were thrilled for her and eagerly encouraged her to go – and she did.  matron arranged for travel home as fast as the first available RNZAF aircraft could take her.

Philip Campbell and Mary Fergusson were married in Gisborne on 4th November, 1945.  



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Mr and Mrs Phillip Campbell returned to Dunedin and settled into their first home at 33 Puketai Street in St Kilda.  

Phil’s youngest brother George must have  been touched with marriage bug because within eight months, he too married on Nov 30th, 1946 to Arrowtown resident, Doreen Gwendoline OAKES.  Phil was George’s “Best Man.”

Phil and Mary’s first child,  Fergus Ian Campbell, was born at “Redroofs” on March 13, 1946.  A daughter, Frances Mary TOD, followed.  After Phil’s complete recuperation from the Malaria, he returned to work as a Signalman with the NZ Railways at Dunedin Central Station.

Note:  ** Phil’s younger brother also served overseas – 18607 Private George Rennie CAMPBELL, a Tractor Driver from Arrowtown, enlisted at Gore and entered the war as an Infantry Reinforcement in April 1941.  He served in Egypt, North Africa, Italy and Crete.  George Campbell returned to NZ and to farm work at Balfour before marrying in 1946.


From Dunedin, the Campbell family of four was posted to various Railway Stations around the country – Lower Hutt (they lived in Naenae) in 1946, Matawhero, Gisborne on the East Cape in 1949, Masterton in 1957, New Plymouth in 1963 and Otaki from 1972–1982.  Phil’s final posting was to Auckland where he finished his career with the NZR.  Whilst in Auckland Phil had worn ‘two hats’ – Assistant Station Master Auckland, and Goods Manager Auckland – one of only four men in the country qualified to manage Auckland’s Railway Goods Department, the largest and most complex in New Zealand.  After 40 years of service with NZ Railways Phil Campbell retired in 1986 and returned to Otaki.  But why Otaki you may ask ?

Otaki Railway Station platform.

Platform and entry to passenger Waiting Room.

















Phil Campbell had had a good 10 years at Otaki during his NZR career.  In doing so he had an ulterior motive which only became obvious when he retired.  Not that he had any biological family connections in Otaki, however he did have a connection which was equally as important to him, with his ‘Army family.’   Throughout his five years in North Africa, Phil’s second in command had been 7840 L/Cpl Alan Tucker, NZ Corps of Signals (b:1914, Palmerston North).  Alan was an electrician by trade with significant experience in radio repairs, a man Phil had very much relied on for his expertise and been through thick and thin with, a man he trusted like no other.  These two men had become very good mates in Egypt and throughout the North African campaign.  The nature of their clandestine work with the LRDG on classified operations forged a bond that was special.  After the war, they had maintained contact albeit from afar until Phil had the opportunity to be posted to Otaki.  Theirs was to be a life-long friendship of the sort that only those who have been in war together can know. 

Alan Tucker** and his wife Maida Ellen Frances CLEAVER (1920-2013) of Palmerston North had married in June 1944 and moved to Otaki Beach around 1947.  The ten years Phil and Mary had lived in Otaki in the 1970s and 80s had been a memorable period for  veterans Phil and Alan, to reminisce and to cement their post war family friendships.  So it was back to Otaki that Phil and Mary Campbell moved after Phil retired from the NZR.  The Tucker family were still in Otaki, moving just the once from the Beach to Rahui Road, just off the north-south State Highway, since their arrival in 1947.  Phil and Mary decided when they bought the house at No.16 Freemans Road, that it would be their ‘end of the line’ home.  Conveniently as it happened,the Tuckers lived only 500 meters from the Campbells (as the crow flies) which undoubtedly suited the old soldiers perfectly in their sunset years. 

Philip Alexander Campbell died at Otaki in 1991, aged 83.  Mary Bertha Campbell, 98, died at Hastings in 2012.  They rest together in Otaki.

‘Lest We Forget’

Phil Campbell’s 2IC from North Africa and life-long friend Alan Tucker survived his mate by several more years, finally passing away at Levin in March 1998 at the age of 84.  Both of these old soldiers and firm friends remain not far from each other in the Returned Serviceman’s Section of the Otaki Cemetery.

Note:  This was indeed a story of coincidence as I discovered when Fergus related the details of his father’s employment to me.  I also had lived in Otaki for a few years and whilst attending Otaki College in the 1960s, unbeknown to me Paul and Maida Tucker and their family were living barely 200 yards from my family’s home in Te Roto Road!  The Tucker house faced directly up Te Roto Road, both roads bordering the Otaki Maori Racing Club’s track.  I had first met two of the Tucker family members while attending Otaki College.  I had never met Alan or Maida Tucker however their daughter Felicity, was in the same fourth form class as I, and we remained in the same classes in subsequent years until I left to join the Army after my sixth form year in 1969.  Felicity’s older sister Christine Tucker was a sixth form Prefect whilst I was in the Fourth.  Brother Malcolm and the two youngest Tuckers I did not know.  What a small world it is we live in! 


My thanks to Alan Muntz for contacting MRNZ – it was a pleasure to be able to get a prompt result on returning this item.  

The reunited medal tally stands at 300 – reunited ephemera is not added to the reunited medal tally.








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