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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Phyllis Campbell and the Angels of Mons

In 1901, Phyllis Campbell was a boarder at a small school for girls at 45 Mount Park Road, Ealing, run by Ellen Deere and Anna Rayson, while her mother lived nearby with her cousin, Jessie M. Campbell. Her age was given as 8 and she had aged only 9 years over the next decade when she was to be found living with her mother in a flat in Bickenhall Mansions, off Baker Street in St. Marylebone.

Phyllis – or Phillis Frances Campbell, to give her full name – was born in Brisbane, Queensland, on 21 August 1891, the daughter of Howard Douglas Campbell and Frances Cyril Vivian Campbell (nee Dean-Morgan), according to the Australian Birth Index.

She was the second of their third child, although Mrs. Campbell acknowledged only two on her 1911 census return and acknowledged only her daughter during her 1912 court case. Phillis's siblings both met tragic ends, Lorne Douglas Campbell dying at the age of 10 months, and Yorke Douglas confined to a mental hospital, where he died at the age of 22.

A very brief sketch of her life appeared in a Queensland newspaper in 1915 which recorded:
Miss Campbell was born in Australia twenty-one years ago. She is a cousin of Lady Archibald Campbell, and with her parents came to England at the age of seven. A few  years later she went to school at Passy, in France, and since then has lived in Paris and at Roscoff, in Britany, with her mother.
The trip from Queensland to London took place in early 1899, when she was indeed seven. The family connection to Lady Archibald Campbell was a little tortuous: Janey Sevilla Campbell was the daughter of James Henry Callander and his first wife, the Hon. Jane Plumer Erskine. Orphaned by the deaths of her mother (1846), her stepmother (1849) and her father (1851), she was raised by the Duke of Argyll and went on to marry his second son, Lord Archibald Campbell (1846-1913).

A family connection to the Dukes of Argyll was often mentioned, although the closest connection I have been able to establish, working back through the line of Mrs. Campbell's husband Howard Douglas Campbell's family connection to the House of Lochnell. John Campbell, the first Laird of Lochnell, who died at the Battle of Langside in 1568, was the son of the 3rd Earl of Argyll (c.1486-1529). Any later connection has yet to be established.

A close family connection must have been established very soon after her arrival, as Mrs. Campbell attended the wedding of  Miss Blanche Elizabeth Campbell Balfour, daughter of Lady Frances, third daughter of the then recently deceased 8th Duke of Argyll. Reports of her marriage to Edgar Trevellyan Stratford Dugdale on 18 November 1902 noted the glittering array of guests ("all that is most distinguished in society") including Princess Louise, the Duke of Argyll, the American Ambassador and his daughter, Lord and Lady Knutsford, Lord and Lady Rayleigh, the Duke of Northumberland and Lady Cranborne. A cast one might expect at the marriage of the Prime Minister's niece. Thankfully one paper (The Queenslander, 3 January 1903) had room to note:
One of the guests was a pretty little Queensland girl, Miss Phyllis Campbell, the granddaughter of Admiral Donald Campbell of Barbreck, who came with her mother.
Phyllis would have been 11 at the time and still attending school at Ealing before heading to Passy, a suburb of Paris, which was home to the Collège de Passy, originally founded by Les Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes in 1839. Secular laws forced the brothers to move lock, stock and students to Froyennes in Belgium in 1905, but the original school was maintained by parents and later became known as Saint-Jean-de-Passy.

Miss P. Campbell was listed among the guests at the marriage of Herbert Asquith and the Hon. Cynthia Charteris on 28 July 1910 but her most notable appearance in newspapers occurred two years later when she gave evidence in court during her mother's court case against the Prince Line relating to the conditions on the Carib Prince during their Mediterranean trip between July and September 1911. Phyllis backed up her mother's evidence about falling ill on the trip and the poor conditions, but judgement in the case was eventually found for the defendants.

If we are to believe the 1915 brief biography, Phyllis and and her mother moved to France, and were lived in Roscoff, in Britany, north-western France. In 1913, she began writing for Occult Review – as had Lady Archibald Campbell – with "Some French Ghost Stories" (Jan 1914) and "Some More French Ghost Stories" (Apr 1914), which appeared under the pen-name Phil Campbell. In the January 1915 issue, appeared the following:
I made an appeal last month on behalf of the Red Cross Hospital (auxiliary) at Saint Germain-en-Laye, where Miss Phyllis Campbell, an occasional but valued contributor to the Occult Review, has been nursing since the commencement of the war. I gave no particulars last month, which doubtless partly accounts for the rather scanty response of my readers. To-day I am making good this omission, and I much hope that those who are regular readers and can afford at least half-a-crown will be kind enough to lend a helping hand ... I append two hospital photographs, giving convalescents, nurses and the doctor of "Salle C," where Miss Campbell is nursing.
 
It was Campbell's next contribution that made her name famous. "The Angelic Leaders" appeared in the August 1915 issue with little fanfare, but the phenomenon described – almost immediately dubbed the Angels of Mons – took hold of the public imagination, thanks to the widespread appearance of stories in national and provincial newspapers.

Ralph Shirley, editor of Occult Review, immediately wrote The Angel Warriors at Mons – which he described as a "penny pamphlet (post free, 1½d.)" – dealing with the subject and giving various historical parallels. "The evidence in detail is not yet as strong as one could wish, but it is so strong cumulatively that one cannot help feeling that a plausible case has been made out for the occurrence of these phenomena," he wrote in the September issue. At the same time he reprinted (in small type) Miss Phyllis Campbell's article as the great demand for the previous issue meant many potential readers were unable to obtain copies.

Campbell had another article in the same issue on "Omens and Warning of the War" in which she described a number of odd occurrences relating to the war, including one that begins
A friend of mine is the last living representative of an ancient and semi-royal French family. In the time of Henri Quatre, the then head of the house was the intimate companion of that indomitable fighter. The present Comte de —–  has known my youngest sister since she was a small child, and a pretty and romantic friendship has always existed between them. In January 1914, she went to Germany to finish her education—she was not very happy there, and wrote frequently asking to be brought home to Paris.
Although Phyllis Campbell had no younger sister, named Joan in the story, she continues her story, relating how the Comte de —–  dreamed of a dead relative and became so convinced that war was imminent that he persuaded Margaret, an elder sister of Phyllis who also did not exist, to travel to Germany to bring back her non-existent sister who, Campbell claims, was the only girl out of thirteen to escape Germany unmolested.

This was her last contribution to the magazine, as she concentrated her efforts on a biographical book entitled Back of the Front, which was published by George Newnes in October 1915. The book was positively reviewed in Occult Review (December 1915), as one might expect:
Under the title of Back of the Front, Miss Campbell has given us a very vivid narrative of her experiences in France at the time of the commencement of the Great War. The phenomena of the angels of Mons naturally fill a place in her volume, but not a conspicuous one. The book is rather a picturesque narrative of the experiences of an observant girl who happened to be in France at one of the most dramatic periods of France's history, and who did her part in nursing the wounded soldiers during the first stirring months of the campaign at a hospital which was at one moment within an ace of being overrun by the advance guard of the victorious Germans. That narrative is so freshly and dramatically told that it constitutes in effect a series of pen pictures of various characteristic incidents of those early days and gives to the reader the feeling of living among the scenes and people of whom it is written. The French attitude to the German invaders, and the intensity of their loathing and contempt towards their relentless foe, is vividly portrayed.
The Aberdeen Journal (2 November 1915) noted Campbell's praise of the Highland regiments. "She writes proudly of their splendid appearance and of the enthusiastic praise of the French—especially of the French women." It, too, noted that Campbell had not made the Angels of Mons phenomena central to the book, it being covered in two chapters. W. L. Courtney, who wrote the book's introduction, describes how he had...
... been shown the various documents which prove that she was an accredited nurse with the French Red Cross. I have seen her photographs, her medals, her diploma and the insignia of her office. Above all, I have read some of the numerous letters which she has received (and still receives) from her grateful patients in which the tale is told of a nurse's devotion and of her exceeding great reward. It is the more necessary for me to give this testimony, because I understand that some doubts have been expressed as to the credibility of a narrative which to my mind carries conviction from its first page to its last, and in reality requires no external proof. Of course it may be difficult in some cases to distinguish between memoranda taken at the time and the results of mere memory. But in the book before us the authoress very evidently gives a picture of the impressions she gathered at the time—very vivid and unforgettable impressions, printed on a retentive brain during months of poignant suffering and strenuous and self-sacrificing service.
    Frankly I do not know what to say about the "visions" which wounded soldiers narrated to Miss Campbell, as they have done also to other witnesses. She only tells the tales as they were told to her, and carefully avoids expressing any judgment on their merits or their veracity.
In another book on the subject, On the Side of the Angels, the author Harold Begbie describes Phyllis Campbell as "extremely pretty, childlike and sensitive," and defended her accounts. Others took a different view both at the time and as the years passed, yet Phyllis Campbell wrote nothing more on the subject and, in fact, seems to have written nothing further on the subject of her wartime experiences.

In 1918, Arthur Machen (whose The Bowmen had popularised the legend of the Angels of Mons) wrote to Vincent Starrett that "Phyllis Campbell ... became involved a little later in a scandal in which an officer was also concerned; I believe her to have become a conscious liar in the matter." (The Strange Case of "The Angels of Mons": Arthur Machen's World War I Story by Richard J. Bleiler, quoting Starrett vs. Machen: A Record of Discovery and Correspondence, St. Louis, MO, Autolycus Press, 1977)

After the Armistace Phyllis Campbell turned to writing novels, publishing two light romances through Mills & Boon. The first, dedicated "To Charles Moore with my love" appeared in early 1920 to almost absolute silence; I have found no mention of the book being received by libraries, let alone any reviews. It can only be found in Britain's five copyright libraries in the UK, which tends to be a sure sign of poor distribution.

The story begins with two rich men, one a dying man who entrusts the protection of his daughter, Jan Macgregor, to the other. But dark forces have combined to try and discover what old Shamus Macgregor had done with his millions, of which there is no trace. Jan moves into a cheap hotel in a back street off Portman Square. Young Dwight Kenyon still loves her: he wants the girl not the money, but the girl refuses until she can earn herself a decent living, which will not be easy and she turns to the stage.

Small clues confirm that this is the same Phyllis Campbell—the quoting of a Moorish proverb; a description of a desperate one-armed boy who had almost lost his life in France during the war; and kind doctors and nurses look after our heroine's aunt when she falls ill. It was a somewhat cliched story but enjoyable.

The White Hen followed in October, which was rather more widely reviewed, although the reviews were not overwhelmingly good. The Australasian (12 February 1921), for instance:
To pass the time one might ask for nothing better, than a story which; concerns an impoverished noble family of France, the ducal head of which, who was crippled badly in the war, manages to keep the wolf from the door by the sale of dainty little figures and animal studies modelled in clay, the while he dreams of becoming one day a famous sculptor; an American millionaire of the accepted hero type, "young, tall, lean, sinewy, sunbrowned, and weather-beaten, with piercing grey-green eyes, a straight haughty nose, and a firm-lipped, yet humorous, mouth," who masquerades as a chauffeur; the mysterious loss of a diamond of fabulous worth, the sale of which was to provide the "dot" of the beautiful young daughter of the aforementioned ducal house; a mad duchess with a pet hen; various more or less successful attempts at theft and murder; and the essential love interest and happy ending.
    With all these ingredients to her hand Miss Phyllis Campbell, in her latest novel, “The White Hen” (London: Mills and Boon), does not achieve, perhaps, all that she might have achieved, but she has written an entertaining  study, the first chapters of which are good fun, with little human touches that lift it rather above the average. The chief fault of the book lies in its length. For a light novel of this type to be really successful it should not be possible for the reader, with a slight feeling of boredom, to skip a page here and there when only a little more than halfway through the book.
The Age (22 January 1921) was more scathing still: "The main idea is preposterous, 'the situations are artificial, the humor forced." Perhaps for this reason Phyllis Campbell's career as a novelist appears to have ended almost as soon as it had begun.

No more was heard of Phyllis Campbell, who disappeared as thoroughly as her mother had before her, although Richard Bleiler (in The Strange Case of "The Angels of Mons": Arthur Machen's World War I Story) believes he has spotted a later tale. "She may have been the writer of "The Hand of Thais," a ghost story that was read over  the English radio on 23 December 1937; if so, this appears to be her last identifiable publication." But, bar that possible sighting, nothing more was heard from Phyllis after 1920.

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