A very Argyll tale of wartime service

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The screening of ‘A Very British Scandal’ on BBC television and iPlayer brought the famous story of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, into the spotlight again.

Socialite Margaret Whigham married her second husband Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll in 1951, four years after her divorce from American businessman Charles Francis Sweeny following 14 years of marriage.

The Duke had been married twice before.

Their time together, however, descended into unhappiness, mired in sexual scandal and the couple divorced in 1963 after a much-publicised court case.

Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, remained a figure of fame and notoriety until her death in 1993 at the age of 80.

The Duke’s second wife Louise, grandmother to the current Duke of Argyll, also gained a level of fame – but for her exploits during World War II.

Courtesy of archives belonging to Argyll Estate, known as ‘The Argyll Papers’, the extract below is taken from previously-unpublished transcripts of recordings made by the 11th Duke of Argyll between 1969 and 1971. He died in 1973 at the age of 69.

Ian Douglas Campbell was born in Paris on June 18 1903, the great-grandson of the 8th Duke of Argyll. He joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1921 and served until 1928.

At the start of World War II, the 8th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was attached to the 51st Highland Division and went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force under the command of Major General Victor Fortune.

Captain Campbell was recalled and served as an intelligence officer.

In June 1940, the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk, but the 8th Argylls were sent to defend a section of the Maginot Line in support of the French 10th Army. The Highlanders sustained heavy losses and were eventually cut off at Saint Valery-en-Caux as Hitler’s Panzer divisions rapidly advanced.

Naval rescue attempts were hampered by the German advance and foggy conditions.

Captain Campbell recalled: ‘Our speed was limited by the relative immobility of the French and a rapidly growing sense of the inevitability of being cut off from any chance of embarkation…

‘All the remaining British in the town were ordered to parade in the station square. Henry Swinburne read them an order from Victor releasing them from further duty and advising them to make off, if and as they could.’

Captain Campbell was taken prisoner and marched to Laufen Castle in south-eastern Bavaria. He was given the ID number 1251 and confined, along with a number of his colleagues, in Room 17 in Oflag VII-C.

He and the other prisoners were short of clothing; their only garments being what they had been wearing when captured. During winter, warm clothing might mean the difference between life and death.

Fortunately, the International Red Cross had agreed a reciprocal arrangement which, in theory, allowed both German and Allied prisoners of war to receive parcels from their relatives through the Red Cross. In practice, however, it was a difficult operation beset by logistical and political difficulties.

Captain Campbell’s wife Louise, though, saw an opportunity to assist her husband and other PoWs.

Louise and her two-year-old son Ian, later 12th Duke of Argyll, were in Biarritz during the fall of France. They managed to get across the Spanish border and eventually to Portugal, as Louise had an American passport and sold her jewellery to pay for the journey.

She found accommodation in a hotel in Estoril, Portugal. From there, in September 1940 and with help from volunteers and from the Portuguese Red Cross, she started to distribute two-kilo parcels to oflags and stalags using the daily Lufthansa flight from Lisbon to Berlin.

Her husband said: ‘I heard in August from Louise in Lisbon and in September my first parcel from her arrived. It was cigarettes, and nothing has ever been more welcome. Of course we were still in the battle dress in which we had been captured; nothing had come through from Britain.’

Louise continued to distribute parcels until October 1944 when, due to the intensification of fighting, it was no longer possible to send them.

A letter from Captain Morgan, a fellow prisoner, describes Captain Campbell as a PoW: ‘Ian was my great support and mainstay in camp. It was such a great comfort to have somebody who looked at things exactly as I did. Furthermore, we are both incorrigible optimists. I know of no-one who has such completely absorbing intellectual resources as Ian…with his books or his designing, and [he] lets the sordidness and dullness of prison life slide over him.

‘He is always cheerful and his admiration for Louise and what she is doing is quite touching.’

Ian Campbell was held as a prisoner of war until 1945 and inherited the dukedom on the death of his second cousin once removed, Niall Campbell, 10th Duke of Argyll, in August 1949.

The 11th Duke and his wife Louise divorced in 1951.

If you would like to view The Argyll Papers, email archives@inveraray-castle.com to make an appointment. To support the archives join the Friends of the Argyll Papers at www.friendsoftheargyllpapers.org.uk

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