Memories of Duncan Campbell

Memories of Duncan Campbell

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Donald Campbell
1908 – 1958

When reading an article on the history of a particular building or institution, such as Mearnskirk Hospital, one get the facts of how the Hospital came into being and what ultimately happened to it - the bare bones, the bricks and mortar.  It does not however give the meat on the bones or indeed the heart of such an institution.  It is with this idea that I write a few words about what I know of Mearnskirk Hospital.  What do I know?  Very little in real terms, some are personal memories and some are memories relayed to me by my parents and grandmother.   

Mearnskirk Hospital was always a very important part of my growing up in Cambuslang. We went to Mearnskirk Gala Days in the summer and enjoyed the Punch and Judy shows, the races - egg and spoon, three legged races, etc.  

We went to our local Church, Cambuslang Baptist Church in November for Santa’s Night when a very special person came every year to give an annual talk on the Hospital and the work being carried out.  He never left that meeting empty handed.  It wasn’t like a visit from Santa who left toys for the children when he visited, this person left the Church with more toys than his arms could carry. The toys were Christmas presents for the children at Mearnskirk Hospital.  Why did he come to our particular church every year and visit other venues throughout the year giving talks and raising awareness of the work at the Hospital? He came to our church because this was his own church and he was one of us. This Church supported every public event at the Hospital because of Donald Campbell.  

Donald was a quiet, reserved individual who engendered loyalty and love from everyone he met.  He was the Stores Clerk in the Hospital and in today’s terminology he would be the Procurement Officer.  What did he procure - everything - medical supplies, catering supplies, cleaning equipment and very importantly entertainment.  He was involved  when stars who were visiting Glasgow such as Danny Kaye, the UNICEF Ambassador for Children, our own Jimmy Logan and many others.  They came willingly to visit the hospital to lift the spirits of the children.  One of the most popular was Danny Kaye who loved being with the children almost as much as Donald Campbell, my Uncle.  

Donald Campbell, didn’t just work at the Hospital.  He lived the Hospital.  His whole being was dedicated to the children who were confined there for many years with often only once a week, once a month, or once a year visit from their families.  He encouraged everyone he knew to befriend these children and to support, in their own way, the work of the Hospital.  

He started at the Hospital, when it opened in May 1930, when he was 22, and with the exception of a few years service with the Royal Scots Regiment during the War he remained there until 1958. Even during his war service he brought back lovely and lasting memories of children in Holland who continued to write to him for many years after the War.  Addressing their letters to “Dear Pigeoning” in memory of a lovely game he taught all children and which I still use to amuse my own grandchildren nowadays.  He was mentioned in Despatches for lifting wounded soldiers off the beach at Normandy in complete disregard for his own safety.  When he returned to Mearnskirk after the War he continued his work.  He lived in a small room at Mearnskirk and visited his sisters in Cambuslang, once a fortnight and also his brother in Rutherglen.

Donald organised parties, outings, entertainment, etc., in order to make the long years pass quickly for the young inhabitants of the Hospital. The photographs show the smiles on the faces of some of youngsters.  He never refused anyone who asked for help in any way. He gave and never sought anything in return.

He always held the Glasgow Taxi Drivers in high regard for their hard work every year in giving of their time, income and efforts to take the youngsters on a special day out to the Ayrshire Coast. Something they are still doing to this day.

He also held the Staff in its entirety in the highest esteem, Consultants, Doctors, Nurses, Seamstress and Cleaners as they all had their part to play in the “Team” who served the children.  He often commented that the children at the Hospital were lucky in that they had the best Consultants looking after them and the best nursing staff to take care of all their requirements.  Dr. Wilson and Dr. Dale often came in for special praise.  

My Mother used to visit Donald at the Hospital and of course I was allowed to go along.  This entailed taking a tramcar journey to the centre of Glasgow and then a bus journey out to Mearnskirk to spend some precious time with my much loved Uncle.  When he died the Church at Cambuslang didn’t hold Santa Nights any longer, they held “Donald Nights” and continued to support the day to day work of the Hospital.

I am sure there are many people who remember Donald Campbell.  If you are privileged enough to visit the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow and view the archives, you can look through photographs and see that Donald appears in many of these. Either may be having tea and cakes at an event to raise money for the Hospital, be surrounded by youngsters who all have smiles on their faces or on stage letting some of them ‘shine their lights’ for other young patients to enjoy.  

How lucky Mearnskirk Hospital was when they appointed Donald to be a Stores Clerk.  How lucky the children both in Mearnskirk and in Holland were when Donald came into their lives. How lucky my sisters, my self and  my cousins were that Donald was our uncle.  He made each and everyone of us feel “Special” and we carry him in our hearts with great love and affection.  He was a quiet, humble, self-effacing man who dedicated his life to the happiness of the children at Mearnskirk Hospital.  

The children were the heart of Mearnskirk Hospital and were supported by the medical team who worked hard to ensure that they recovered from the terrible effects of Tuberculosis and Polio and by people, such as Donald, who attempted to make the children’s stay at Mearnskirk that much more bearable when they were taken away from their families, not just for a couple of days, weeks or months but very often for years.

Donald died prematurely in 1958 at the age of 50, still working at Mearnskirk and is still fondly remembered by many who knew him.

Donald in uniform and with friends at Mearnskirk

Moira Wilson

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