A couple of years ago I wrote a short piece about my wonderful friend Archie Campbell-Murdoch, on the occasion of his 103rd birthday. Alas, Archie died a few weeks ago, at the age of 105. He will be much missed by all his many friends; but we’re all so glad that he died peacefully at home – he was so adamant about not dying in hospital. His funeral,held at a Catholic church in Salisbury, was packed. Archie’s spirit hovered over us all. I was there with Maryanna Tavener (widow of John); she said she felt blessed for weeks afterwards. (Incidentally, Maryanna took the picture below, on the one occasion on which she met Archie. It was at a concert I gave in Salisbury last December, just before my birthday; I’m holding the cake that Archie gave me.)
There is one question lingering, though, about a curious circumstance surrounding Archie’s end. I got to visit him a couple of weeks before he died; it was a lovely visit, despite his weakened and bed-bound state. (About a week later, I talked to him on the phone – his last phone-call, apparently. He thanked me for the visit, and said that he wanted to ‘see lots more’ of me; I knew then that he wasn’t referring to meetings in this world.) During my time in his room, he reminded me that he’d left me his collection of Trollope novels, and asked if I wanted to take them away with me. ‘They’re in that box over there,’ he said, gesturing towards the foot of the bed. I looked, and saw an ancient suitcase lying underneath a chair. I opened it; but it was obviously the wrong box. I couldn’t see any books – but what I did see was a pile of papers. The one on top was marked ‘Intelligence Report – Archie Campbell-Murdoch’ and was dated (I think – it was only a brief glance) 1945. At that point, something happened to distract me, and I went back to Archie.
As his devoted relative and friend Muriel – a cellist, who with her husband spent countless hours sitting with Archie in his last weeks – drove me back to Salisbury station, I told her about this interesting find. She gasped: ‘But he always said he was a fireman during the war’. We sat for the rest of the short journey in musing silence. At the funeral, I asked Muriel whether she’d been able to inspect the papers. She looked at me. ‘They’ve gone,’ she said. ‘We looked – but somebody’s taken them away.’
By the time I saw him on that last visit, Archie was beyond getting out of bed, let alone carrying a suitcase full of papers. I don’t think he could even make a phone-call unaided. And there were very few visitors after me, aside from his regular carers. So who came, and took the papers? It is a total mystery; and I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer…