Colonel Mike Campbell-Lamerton

Mike Campbell-Lamerton will go down in Lions history as the skipper who gave up his Test place because he believed he didn't merit selection. [more]

Colonel Mike Campbell-Lamerton

Mike Campbell-Lamerton will go down in Lions history as the skipper who gave up his Test place because he believed he didn’t merit selection.

The physically-imposing Scotsman had already toured with the Lions in 1962 before being chosen to lead the 1966 party on their tour of Australia and New Zealand.

After playing in both Tests against the Wallabies and the opening rubber against the All Blacks, Campbell-Lamerton handed over the captaincy to David Watkins for the second and fourth Tests in New Zealand.

His decision was a measure of the man, as he put the team before his own individual aspirations on what was a challenging tour for all involved.

Despite missing out on two of the four encounters with a formidable New Zealand side, the committed second row continued to fulfil his team’s considerable media commitments.

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Campbell-Lamerton made a total of 257 speeches and featured in more than 100 television and radio interviews as interest in the Lions concept continued to grow. 

He was credited by many of his colleagues as being the glue that kept the Lions together on what was a difficult and much-criticised trip to the other side of the world.

During his distinguished rugby career, Campbell-Lamerton won 23 caps for his country and represented Halifax, Blackheath, London Scottish and the Amy, in which he served for a total of 33 years. Although usually a lock forward, he started all four Lions Tests in 1962 at No8.

Campbell-Lamerton died in March 2005, aged 71, some four years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Mike Campbell Lamerton’s factfile
 
Date of birth: August 1 1933
Clubs: Halifax, Blackheath, the Army and London Scottish
International caps: Scotland 23
Height: 6ft 4in (1.94m)
Weight: 17 stone 8lbs (112kg)

Campbell-Lamerton’s Lions lowdown

Lions debut: Versus Rhodesia, May 26, 1962
Lions Tests: 8 (All four Tests vs SA in 1962, both Tests against Aus in 1966 and the 1st and 3rd Tests against NZ in 1966)
Lions non-Test appearances: 32
Total Lions appearances: 40 (20 in 1962, 20 in 1966)
Lions points: 10* (two tries) *under the current scoring system of five points for a try
Final Lions appearance: Versus Counties / Thames Valley, Papakura, September 6, 1966

The early days

Born in Valletta in Malta, Campbell-Lamerton lost his father during the Second World War in 1943. He was the elder of two brothers and was educated at Ottershaw School near Windsor.

At just 15 years of age, Campbell-Lamerton’s life was nearly brought to a premature end when he was struck on the chest by a javelin.
National service

Having joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) as a teenager in 1952, Campbell-Lamerton served a total of 33 years in the Armed Forces. He saw active duty in Korea and Cyprus, as well as Northern Ireland.

He twice came close to losing his own life on duty, with both occasions coming before he had won his first international cap or toured with the Lions.

While serving in Korea, Campbell-Lamerton and his lifelong friend, David Gilbert-Smith, led two platoons during the Battle of the Hook, recovering positions overrun by the Chinese offensive. He trod on a mine and heard a faint click. The young soldier remained still while the corporal with him, who fortunately had worked in bomb disposal during the Second World War, rendered the mine safe.
He was unfortunate not to be awarded a Military Cross after he and Gilbert-Smith had regained high ground in Korea despite being overrun by the enemy while under heavy fire. Only one Military Cross could be awarded and, as the older of the two, it was Gilbert-Smith who received it.

His next brush with death came during the EOKA campaign in Cyprus a few years later in the mid-1950s. Campbell-Lamerton somehow survived after falling 60 feet from a helicopter in full combat gear. He sustained serious leg, hip and back injuries but he made a remarkable recovery and went on to reach the pinnacle of a rugby player’s career.

Campbell-Lamerton’s horrific accident was a life-changing experience in more ways than one. Although he suffered serious injuries and had to spend a long period of time recovering, the incident actually led him to meet his future wife. Marie-Christine Cottrell responded to a loudspeaker appeal for a volunteer to take Campbell-Lamerton to hospital, which she duly did in her sports car. The rest is history.

The 1966 Lions tour

Campbell-Lamerton was a surprise choice for captain, with many expecting the leadership to be given to Welsh back row Alun Pask. He was 32 years old when he toured with the Lions for the second time and was no longer captain of his national side.

The challenge ahead of the Lions was a massive one. The All Blacks side of that era was among the best the country has ever produced and the Lions found themselves on the wrong end of a series whitewash.

At one stage on the tour, the manager, Des O’Brien left the party for a reconnaissance mission to Fiji (where a final tour game was to be played), and the coach, John Robins, was in hospital with damaged ankle ligaments. This left Campbell-Lamerton in almost sole control of a squad who were finding things hard on the pitch as well as off it. Despite the added responsibility, he responded dutifully and with a great degree of humility, with his actions on that tour ensuring that his team-mates still speak incredibly highly of him. 

"Mike was a decent man and much-maligned", said Brian Price, his second-row partner in three of the tour internationals.

"We knew how hard he was working and it was because we respected his efforts that we stuck together."

His decision to step down from the Test side when he felt the team would be best served by someone else is a decision that must have taken a great deal of courage. It is an unusual one in competitive sport and one that showed his willingness to put the needs of others before himself in whatever he did in life.

“We knew we would meet a different and much stronger challenge in New Zealand and it was an incredibly tough tour,” said David Watkins, the man to whom Campbell-Lamerton handed over the captaincy for two of the four Tests against the Kiwis.

“Mike decided to stand down for the second and fourth Tests and asked me to take on the captaincy. He only wanted what was best for the team and was someone whom I greatly admired.”

Life after rugby

Campbell-Lamerton retired from the sport after the 1966 tour to Australia and New Zealand and continued to serve in the British Army, rising to the rank of Colonel.

He was commander of Old College and Victory College at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and, in 1985, he became bursar at Balliol College, Oxford, later being elected an Emeritus Fellow. He became president of the university rugby club and was also elected a Knight of Malta, the organisation which raises funds for Catholic charities. He was awarded an OBE in 1979.

Like father, like son

Campbell-Lamerton’s three sons, Jeremy, Michael and Ian, all went on to play for London Scottish.

Jeremy emulated his father’s achievements by earning international honours with Scotland. Jeremy was capped three times as a second row in 1986 and 1987.

Did you know?

Campbell-Lamerton won silver medals in the All-Ireland shot and discus championships.

After one game in which Scotland had destroyed France at Murrayfield, the French press labelled Campbell-Lamerton "Michael L’Abominable", a reference to a topical obsession with the Abominable Snowman.

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