Doon Campbell: youngest reporter on D-Day beaches and later Reuters' editor

Doon Campbell, a legendary editor of Reuters who died last week at the age of 83, was the youngest reporter on the World War Two D-Day beaches.

Campbell, who was the inspiration for generations of foreign correspondents, died after collapsing at a nursing home in Suffolk.

He was born missing his left forearm, which meant Campbell was ineligible for military service, allowing him to join Reuters at the height of the war in 1943 at the age of 23.

Barely a year later, Campbell was wading ashore with Lord Lovat’s Commandos on D-Day – the youngest correspondent on the body-strewn Normandy beaches that day.

Crouched in a ditch under fire for three hours tapping out his dispatches on a typewriter, the intrepid Scot saw sights that remained with him for the rest of his life.

“I staggered through the shallows and up the beach, a sandy cemetery where the wounded, some of them desperately mutilated, lay scattered, their blood clotting the sand,” he recalled half a century later.

Campbell stayed with the troops through France, the Netherlands and into Germany – including the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – filing graphic and detailed reports.

“In one hut, 50 men huddled sore to sore. One seemed to have a rail over his head – then you recognised arms,” he wrote. “But they all said ‘hello’ and tried to smile.”

After the war, Campbell joined the band of roving foreign correspondents whose reports from across the world brought home the often grim realities of life in far-flung places.

His own career as a frontline reporter took him across Europe to Asia, the Middle East and the United States.

“Doon was the journalists’ journalist. He embodied everything Reuters stands for and was a fearless foreign correspondent. We all mourn the loss of a Reuters’ legend,” said Steve Jukes, current head of news.

Campbell was promoted to deputy chief of news in 1952. He became head of news six years later and editor in 1963 – a post he held for two years as Reuters developed into the foremost newsgatherer of its age.

Among the scoops he collected along the way were Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and Mao Tse-tung’s civil war meetings with Chiang Kai-shek.

But he also met and interviewed Ho Chi Minh, Nehru, King Abdullah, the first King of Jordan, and the Shah of Iran.

Campbell quit Reuters for a post with United Newspapers in 1973, and was awarded an Order of the British Empire medal in 1984 for services to journalism.

His autobiography, The Magic Mistress, details what he freely admitted was his 30-year love affair with Reuters.

“He was addicted to Reuters. He adored it,” said Andrew, Campbell’s youngest son.

He said that his father had become increasingly frustrated as his eyesight began to fail in recent weeks, making it difficult for him to read his beloved news.

“He left all his affairs in order and was self-sufficient to the end. It was as though he just decided he had had enough,” Andrew said.

Campbell, born on 11 March, 1920, died on Monda, 26 May. He is survived by three adult children.

Jeremy Lovell

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