PLAY back video recordings of
recent Iraq hostilities and see scenes of shot, shell and red-hot
reporting by the coalitionís embedded war correspondents and free-range
reporters, lucky enough to escape death or injury by so-called "friendly
They dodge shells under our eyes, bullets snick past them and they are
sweat-stained, battle-begrimed and some look, even at base camp, as if
they had been beaten up in an airless cell of an Afghan prison.
from the appearance of Bill Deedes, the Daily Telegraph columnist who went
to cover the 1936 Ethiopia-Italy war for the Morning Post, dressed in a
double-breasted, pin-striped suit, Trilby hat and carrying a raincoat. He
did have a khaki-drill outfit, sola topi, and doubtless, sticks, specially
cleft, for native runners.
Different, too, was the approach to Henry Morton
Stanley by the New York Herald proprietor, James Gordon Bennett, "I want
you to attend the opening of the Suez Canal, then proceed up the Nile.
Send us detailed descriptions of everything likely to interest American
tourists. Then go to Jerusalem, Constantinople, the Crimea, through Persia
as far as India. Afterwards, you can start looking around for
I was privileged to meet one of those giants of the
word written under the stress of battle and cataclysmic political events,
who had no television exposure but whose dispatches for Reuters earned him
the reputation of being among the most quoted correspondents of the Second
World War, and one of the fastest reporters in the business.
He was Doon
Campbell, who has died, aged 83, and who was, in effect, out of the
Scotsman Publications stable, serving for some time in the Evening
Dispatch as a reporter, after starting on the Linlithgowshire Gazette and
West Lothian Courier.
A son of the manse, Doon was born in Annan in 1920
with only one hand. Later, he wore a wooden left hand, always covered in a
glove. Before his first war assignment for Reuters he had all his teeth
extracted lest he suffered toothache at some dentist-free front and
replaced them with dentures in an act of single-minded dedication to the
I met him on his occasional war-time visits to the
Dispatch when he chatted to aspiring journalists like myself who saw him
in an heroic light, a man who could write impeccable shorthand and
flawless English while civilisation tottered.
His first local triumph was after
the German bomber raid on the Forth Bridge and Rosyth in October 1939 when
he cycled six miles from his Broxburn office to South Queensferry,
interviewed local residents and while binocular-using newshawks were
sweeping the skies for swastika-marked planes, phoned his story to the
He started at Reuters in Fleet Street as a sub-editor
in 1943, where, with a mind unclouded by knowledge of the subject, became
science correspondent. His first war assignment was to Italy where he
covered the controversial bombing of Cassino monastery - "Cassino
disappeared under the greatest frontline air blitz in history."
near-death brushes was his D-Day experience when he landed in France with
Lord Lovatís Commandos. Staggering with his heavy correspondentís pack
through the dead and dying from the beach, he found a sheltering ditch.
His typewriter keys became so clogged with shell-spattered mud that he
scribbled his story on an exercise book page, datelining it, "A Ditch 200
yards inside Normandy", and paying a naval officer £5 to dispatch it to
Reuters. At the warís end, he covered Far East stories and secured the
now-legendary, seven-minute lead over agency rivals on Gandhiís
Following spells in the Middle East and Paris, Doon
returned home where he married Mary Toms, with whom he had two sons, and
spent some years in Paris. On his wifeís death in 1995, he linked up again
with his former fiancee, the charming Pat Cameron, who, after 50 years,
still looked after his war correspondentís badge and cuttings.
Now a Reuters
editor, he became one of three deputy general managers but afterwards, in
office changes, found himself increasingly on the executive periphery and
retired after 30 yearsí service.
Doon was fearless, not given to
sensationalism or to James Thurberís dictum, "Donít get it right, get it
written." His passing is a loss to British journalism, often perceived, in
some organs at least, to be regrettably lacking in such virtues.