Great War soldier’s record

‘No Holidays’ Ministry of Munitions poster, 1916-1918 (EXT 1/315)
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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Early 20th Century 1901-1918

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What can we find out?

On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Britain sent many soldiers to fight in France and Belgium, known as the ‘Western Front’. Men came from all classes of society. Some were already in the army when war started and many others volunteered to fight as soon as war broke out. However, as the war dragged on, conscription was introduced in 1916 and men had to join the army. Coming from various backgrounds and experiences, soldiers reacted differently to the horrors of war and life as a soldier. Their behaviour and conduct as soldiers was written down in their individual service papers.

This lesson focuses on Donald Campbell, a young Scottish man who joined the army on 10th August 1903. He was 18 years and 4 months old. Here you can examine his service papers. As Private Campbell joined the army years before the outbreak of war, it is important to work out what he did and where he went. Where did he come from? What was he like? Was he a good soldier? Use these military records to find the answers to these questions.


1. You need to decide what makes a good soldier.

  • Think about your personal responses to the questions posed below
    • Does a good soldier always obey his orders?
    • How would a good soldier act?
    • What would a good soldier be prepared to do?
    • Would a good soldier ever get drunk?
    • Why is it difficult to decide what makes a good soldier?
  • Write a paragraph, expressing your own opinions, under the title ‘My requirements to be a good soldier’

2. Look at Source 1. This source shows part of a disciplinary record.

  • Why is this important to see this record?
  • Look at the titles carefully – what is the fourth column for?
  • What does this suggest about expectations? (Think – would you expect this title to be part of an official form?)

3. Read Source 2, 3 and 4. These records show Donald Campbell’s charges.

  • How old was Private Campbell by 1913?
  • What was Private Campbell found guilty of in Glencorse on 15 January 1913?
  • Using information from all three extracts, what offences was Campbell found guilty of throughout his military career?
  • In your opinion, how serious were these offences?

4. Look at Source 5. This is Donald Campbell’s employment sheet:

  • What do you think the initials in the ‘military character’ column stand for?
  • How is Campbell described in December 1913?
  • How is he described six months later?
  • What evidence is there in this source to show that his behaviour changed between 1913 and 1914?

5. Look at Source 6. This is Donald Campbell’s casualty record:

  • Why is this source useful to us?
  • When and where was Private Campbell wounded in action?
  • What happened a day later?

6. Using all the source evidence you have examined, look back at your ‘requirements to be a good soldier’

  • Would it be possible for a historian to suggest that Campbell was not a good soldier?
  • What evidence could a historian use to suggest that Campbell was a good soldier?
  • In 200 words explain your own opinion of Private Donald Campbell – was he a good soldier? Back your ideas up with clearly explained source evidence. Make sure you examine both viewpoints before reaching your final conclusions


8493 / Private Donald Campbell

Each member of the British army has service papers that record their army career. Upon joining the army, the first of these papers, called the Attestation Form, is filled in. This is a form that records detailed information about the soldier including name, age, address, height, hair and eye colour, previous jobs, and whether or not they have been in prison for committing crimes. When completed and signed, the soldier is given their unique Regimental number.

Donald Campbell joined on 10 August 1903 and became a member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots Lothian Regiment, who gave him the number ‘8493’. He was five feet five inches tall, weighed 137lb, came from Inverness, and worked as a cellarman in the pub trade before joining the army. Many young men such as Campbell joined the army for adventure and to see the world. Other records show that he spent time in the Army serving in Britain, India, Pakistan, France and Belgium.


On 23 May 1915, Donald Campbell died of wounds he suffered the previous day. He had been wounded in action on 22 May during the second battle of Ypres. Now a large town in Belgium, during the First World War Ypres was the site of three huge battles. On 22 April 1915 the Germans attacked the Allied trenches, beginning the second battle. The Allies were pushed back several miles, although quickly dug new trenches to prevent the Germans breaking through. The next 40 days saw frequent attacks and counter-attacks from both sides. By the time this second battle of Ypres ended on 31 May the Germans had only gained a small amount of land and both sides suffered appalling casualties, including the loss of Private Donald Campbell after 11 years, 287 days service.

Teachers' notes

This lesson focuses on a Scottish First World War soldier, Donald Campbell. The main task requires pupils decide whether he was a ‘good soldier’. Such a broad question asks pupils to actually investigate and decide what, in their opinion, constitutes a ‘good soldier’ during the First World War. This lesson does not give a broad history of the First World War, instead personalising the conflict by helping pupils find out what happened to one soldier. By studying the issues in this way, pupils are able to reflect and develop their knowledge and understanding of the war from a wider perspective. Campbell was a professional solider, not a new recruit in 1914. Looking through Campbell’s army papers, pupils examine and record details about him, leading on to an extended piece of empathetic writing.

This lesson can form part of studies for Scheme of Work Unit 18, and would also be a valuable activity for Modern World GCSE groups investigating the First World War. In addition, it offers coverage of National Curriculum requirements for History in England, relating breadth of study requirements to study significant events and developments from across the 20th century (13) and Unit 18: Hot war, cold war – why did the major 20th-century conflicts affect so many people?


Image : EXT 1/315 : No Holidays Ministry of Munitions poster

Sources 1-6 : WO 363/C – First World War record of Donald Campbell.

External links

Soldiers’ Stories Audio Gallery
Listen to the diaries, letters and memories of some of those who fought in the trenches of France.

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 3, Key stage 4

Time period: Early 20th Century 1901-1918

Download: Lesson pack

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