Lord Campbell of Alloway: Lawyer whose skills saved lives in Colditz

 

A small black-bound exercise book with squared pages, covered in notes in a tiny, slightly forward-slanting hand, all in pencil, bears testimony to Alan Campbell's war. The young lawyer used his five years incarcerated in Colditz Castle between 1940 and 1945, and his legal knowledge, to save lives. The casebook (now in the archive of the Imperial War Museum in London) records the details of 42 tussles between the German authorities and fellow prisoners of war held at the castle known as Oflag IVC (or 4C).

Among those grateful to Campbell were an American colonel and 13 Czechoslovak officers serving with the British Royal Air Force who had been sentenced to death, and whom the powers on high in Hitler's Reich were determined should not be reprieved. Campbell's role is praised in a Top Secret document circulated by MI9 in March 1945 and released recently.

"The magnificent defence put up for each officer by Lieutenant Alan Black Campbell" enabled leniency by the resident judge at the German Supreme Appellate Military Court at Leipzig, the document says. The judge, it adds, "went on to pay a very great tribute to him and said that he was only sorry he was unable to meet him."

The court, having heard Campbell's defence, presented at Leipzig by a local lawyer, set aside the convictions of the Czechs, deemed to have committed treason by flying with the RAF, because their invaded country was considered part of the Reich. The American, Lt Col WH Schaeffer, sentenced to be executed for obstructing a German officer, had with Campbell's help achieved one last appeal hearing, and was saved by the liberation of Colditz, which came on the day the hearing was due, 16 April 1945.

Campbell, known as "Black", paid tribute to "the integrity and humanity of that Court which implemented the concepts of Public International Law and Natural Justice", noting that it appeared "members of the Court were put under intolerable personal pressure to reject all appeals" – by the SS chief Heinrich Himmler – and that an order existed from Hitler, given after the Allied bombing raid on Dresden, 30 miles from Colditz, on 13 February 1945, that about 20,000 British prisoners of war should be shot at dawn.

The cases were presented at Leipzig by a Dr Naumann, in Campbell's words "a good and kind local lawyer", practising in the town of Colditz, who had been a POW in the First World War. Western prisoners were allowed to choose an advocate from among their fellows. Campbell made sure that copies of his arguments went into the pockets of representatives of the Swiss Protecting Power who visited under the Geneva Convention.

Campbell's legal skills also helped to mitigate or even avoid punishments for some of the more popularly celebrated escapers and prison-guard-baiters about whom the various books and films, TV series and documentaries have been written. These included Peter Tunstall, whose name occurs repeatedly in the casebook, against the word "retrial", and Dominic Bruce; both had created disruption.

But Campbell's legal arguments, composed by discussion with the accused and witnesses in out-of-the-way parts of the labyrinthine castle, could take his mind off his own predicament only part of the time. An officer with the Royal Artillery Supplementary Reserve, Campbell had been captured in northern France in the summer of 1940, one of the 34,000 British troops abandoned there as France fell and Britain evacuated from Dunkirk.

He had endured a gruelling forced march to Germany and was sent to Laufen, then Colditz and Spangenberg, from which he tried to escape, then back to Colditz. Of the escape attempt from Spangenberg he wrote in verse: "Two false alarms, a terse farewell / Good luck, goodbye, go up the dell / As freedom's toil was all but done / First wire, then wall, then dry moat won / A sentry on the drawbridge run / Saw the loose rope and fired his gun./Before there was a chance to flee / Out rushed the guard and covered me."

He imagined himself and his fellow prisoners as chess pieces removed from the game, and as well as the legal notes kept under floorboards with escape equipment, he composed more than 30 poems of love, reflection and longing, published in 1953 and reissued, revised, in 2004. The name he gave to the legal summaries, "Colditz Cameos", is also the title he used for his volume of encapsulated human passion from behind bars.

In "Mood Madness" he describes "These bars and fetters, locks and casements / These high-walled courtyards ranged in wire / Engender bitterness and hate / Incensed Tantallian desire", while in "Prison Life" he writes: "The stress of prison life is strange / Each human keyboard has a range / an octave high, an octave low, of which an untried man can't know / until some new restraint imposed / upsets the balance in repose."

The insights he gained were to colour the rest of his life. He made up for having had to cool his heels in youth with a vigorous public career that continued into his nineties, becoming the oldest sitting member of the House of Lords, and one of its most frequent attenders, still appearing and speaking a few weeks before his death.

That career took off with his work as a barrister before the short-lived Industrial Relations Court of 1971-74; he advised and warned the governments of Heath, Wilson, Callaghan, and Thatcher. He was a recorder of the Crown Court (1976-89), and was made a life peer as Lord Campbell of Alloway (the title alludes to Scottish family connections) in 1981.

Thereafter he sat as a Conservative peer on Lords' committees, including the committee for Privileges and Conduct and the committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment, and was on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights until 2003. In Lords debates he would cut through mealy-mouthed rhetoric on subjects such as Guantanamo Bay. In July 2003 he asked, on the question of potential coercion of inmates by the US authorities: "Is it correct that these men are denied access to an advocate of their own choice?" In the last year of his life he spoke on subjects including the EU budget, housing benefit, North Korea, and measures to eradicate polio.

Alan Robertson Campbell grew up in Kent and London and was educated at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, before being called to the Bar in 1939. From war's end he practised as a barrister on the Western Circuit, taking silk in 1965. Among many positions, he was a consultant on industrial espionage to the Council of Europe from 1965-1974 and President of the Colditz Association until it was wound up in 2006. He wrote many publications, mainly on restrictive trade practices, industrial relations and European law, but never returned to the theme of Colditz, and never went back.

Alan Robertson Campbell, lawyer and author: born 24 May 1917; ERD (Emergency Reserve Decoration) 1996; cr 1981 Lord Campbell of Alloway; married 1946 Diana Watson-Smyth (divorced 1953; one daughter), 1957 Vivien de Kantzow (died 2010), 2010 Dorothea Berwick; died London 30 June 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders