Author Archives: painetvin

Amyas Sampson (1899-1918) and Michael Sampson (1889-1959)

Amyas Sampson
4 August 1914, the day that Britain declared war on Germany, was also the fifteenth birthday of Amyas Sampson (see photo, left, seated with his mother and brother). Amyas was the younger son of John Sampson (1869-1931), Librarian of the University of Liverpool. On 8 August 1918 Amyas, by then a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, was reported ‘missing in action’. He was never seen or heard of again. His elder brother Michael (b. 1889), invalided out four times, returned safely with a Military Cross and bar.

The John Sampson archive at the University of Liverpool contains correspondence between the brothers and their parents. Many of John Sampson’s frequent letters to his wife at the family home in Wales were written in the Tate Library, now part of the University’s Victoria Gallery & Museum. One file in the archive contains letters from Amyas: postcards he sent as a child; letters from Beaconfield School, near Runcorn; letters from Canada (where he worked at the Merchant’s Bank of Canada in Ontario until he was eligible for military service in August 1917); letters from his training for the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto and Texas; and a telegram announcing his posting to France in May 1918.

In August 1915, Amyas was on holiday in Edinburgh. He reports on his journey: ‘I did not feel inclined for sleep. Grannie and Grandpa seemed to sleep alright. The train had been so full of soldiers, who were sprawling everywhere, that we were forced to travel in a first-class carriage which we had all to ourselves.’ John Sampson’s 1915 letters are full of Michael’s war service in France, the anti-German sentiment in Liverpool, and the reported ‘extermination’ of the Liverpool Scottish regiment.

In October 1916, Amyas wrote to his mother: ‘I have a safety razor. I thought it would save me a lot if I got one, so I do shave myself. Up till now the ceremony has been only a monthly one.’ In contrast, his father’s letters of 1916 include war news from Michael, who was injured in the battle of the Somme.

In March 1917, Amyas wrote to his father from Canada: ‘I think I had better write to the General Manager [of the bank] at the end of April saying that since I shall be eligible for military service in August I shall be obliged to leave ‘for three years or the duration of the war’. Please write and tell me what you would like me to enlist with when the time comes.’

His father’s letters in 1917 carry war news from his both his sons, Michael in the army and Amyas, from August a cadet in the Royal Flying Corps in Canada.

Sampson last letterAmyas’s last letter to his mother (see envelope, right) is dated 8 August 1918. In it, he tries to reassure her: ‘There was a wonderful push this morning. It will be in tomorrow’s papers I expect. We heard a furious bombardment all night. I don’t think it will affect us very much, but I shall send you a postcard every other day for a while so that you needn’t worry.’

His father’s letters of 1918 carry news of Michael’s Military Cross, his first sighting of an aeroplane over Liverpool Cathedral, and his anxiety about Amyas, then missing in action. Sampson has convinced himself that Amyas is a German prisoner of war. In 1919, his letters comment on the Spanish flu epidemic and the strikes (and increasing motor traffic) in Liverpool. There is no news of Amyas.

The bad news finally came on 3 February 1920. Sampson wrote to his wife that day: ‘I had the enclosed certificate from the War Office this morning. Poor little Am!’

Amyas Terrell Sampson, b. 1899, Lieutenant, Royal Flying Corps d. 1918? and Michael Trevisky Sampson, b. 1889, Temporary Captain, Lieutenant, then Temporary Major, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, d. 1959, are the sons of John Sampson, University Librarian (1869-1931) and Jessie Margaret Sprunt.

This profile was submitted by Katy Hooper, Special Collections and Archives, University of Liverpool, and is based on material from the University Archive.

John Sampson’s archive can be searched via the website of the Special Collections & Archives, University of Liverpool Library.


Edmund (Ned) Goodchild (1893-1915), George Goodchild (1895-1987), Arthur Goodchild (1896-1963), relatives of Henry Finch

Suffolk_Regiment_Cap-BadgeNed, George and Arthur Goodchild were three brothers – my uncles – who volunteered to serve in Kitchener’s New Armies in 1914. All joined the Suffolk Regiment (see cap badge, left): George attested on 24 August in 7th Battalion, and Ned followed on 8 September in 9th Battalion, where he was joined a week later by Arthur. They all wrote frequently to their mother, who kept their letters, the last dated July 1916. These came to me on the death of my mother, their sister. With my cousins’ approval, I used them to write an account of their fathers’ army lives, now online at Why did they volunteer? As agricultural labourers, they clearly felt that army life could not be worse than farm work.

While Britain’s small regular army was despatched immediately to France, the New Armies remained at home to be trained up by inadequate numbers of senior officers and NCOs. Obsolete or non-existent rifles, no uniforms and poor accommodation in winter 1914-15 delayed the creation of battle-ready troops. Instead of the intended six months, George reached France after nine months and Ned arrived fifty-one weeks after enlisting.

Arthur’s war history was complicated. In 1914, he was fourteen months under-age and severely deaf since birth. He spent many days confined to barracks, sometimes (but not always) having failed to hear an order. In March 1915 he was transferred to 3/Suffolk, a Special Reserve unit at Felixstowe. Because he had refused to allow army surgeons to operate on his ear, Arthur believed he was classed as unfit for active service. But the decision was reversed, and he arrived in France at the end of July 1915, ironically a month ahead of Ned.

The war on the Western Front in 1915 was dominated by the British assault at Loos on 25-26 September. One of the great set-piece battles of the war, it was also one of the least successful. So great was the slaughter by German machine guns of British soldiers caught on open ground that German medical personnel were moved to come out and assist the wounded survivors to return to the British lines. For 9/Suffolk, the experience was shocking. Civilian soldiers of the New Armies required a gradual introduction to the trenches in order to acquire battle skills. But, having arrived in France on 31 August, 9/Suffolk was held near the coast for three weeks, then marched some 70 miles over four nights and thrown unprepared into the battle on 26 September.

In the aftermath, all three brothers were briefly in the vicinity of Loos, although they did not see each other. George’s 7/Suffolk took over trenches at Loos on 30 September. Arthur joined 1/Suffolk at Loos in September and went into action on 1 October. But the battalion was withdrawn a few days later. His experience of trench warfare was terrifying but brief and not repeated. By the end of October, 1/Suffolk was en route to Salonika in northern Greece, where the battalion dug trenches to protect against an attack that no enemy intended to make. Arthur remained there, bored but not endangered, until sent home for surgery on his ear in July 1916. His final war letter was written from hospital in Brighton where the surgery failed, and he was duly discharged from the army as unfit for further service.

Ned and George were less fortunate. On 4 November 1915 George received a leg wound in the Hohenzollern Redoubt at Loos. He wrote home: ‘When I got hit there were four of us standing close to each other, talking and smoking, Ford and Palmer they were on my left and they both got killed by the same bomb that hit me, the other fellow was on my right and he escaped.’ Invalided home, George thereafter battled with the medical authorities not to be returned to the trenches. ‘They will send me to France again if they possibly can, but not if I can help it… Scores of my old mates from the 7 batt. have been sent back again but they won’t get me back.’ George completed his war service on home duty in Britain and Ireland and was discharged in March 1919.

While George lay in hospital, news came that Ned had been killed on 19 December 1915. After Loos, 9/Suffolk had moved to the Ypres Salient, where the enemy launched the first phosgene gas attack. He was buried that night in a small local cemetery. But when permanent cemeteries were built after the war, there was no trace of his body for re-burial. His parents were informed of his death by letter dated 20 December – officers’ next-of-kin would receive a telegram – but they were still unaware of their loss when his mother next wrote to him on 28 December. In March Ned's last cigarettes1916 they received the balance of Ned’s pay owing to him (£5-14s-4d) and a small bag of his personal effects which included a cigarette case with his last three “ARF A MO” cigarettes. I found these undisturbed almost a century later (see photo, right).

Arthur spoke for all the brothers when he wrote in 1915 that ‘if I get out of the army alive I shan’t work on the land if I can get anywhere else’. After the war, he and George returned to live close to my grandparents in Suffolk, but not as farm labourers. By the time I knew them, Arthur had his own house-building business while George worked for an engineering company in Ipswich.

Private Edmund Leonard Goodchild, 9th Battalion Suffolk Regiment (1893-1915), Private George Goodchild, 7th Battalion Suffolk Regiment (1895-1987), Private Arthur Goodchild, 9th Battalion Suffolk Regiment (1896-1963), infantrymen; relatives of Henry Finch, Senior Fellow, School of History (via Economic History and Latin American Studies), retired 2001

Francis Chisholm Young (1897-1917)

Frank YoungFrancis Chisholm Young, known as ‘Frank’, was the son of mathematicians William Henry Young (1864-1942) and Grace Chisholm Young (1869-1944). William Young was Associate Professor (1912) and Honorary Chair in Philosophy and History of Mathematics (1913-19) at the University of Liverpool. During the First World War, Frank was 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Flying Corps.

Family and official letters in the University Archive tell Frank’s story. A letter dated 28 October 1916 from the Royal Flying Corps to his parents, regarding Frank’s training and preparation, notes his great mathematical abilities and that he is ‘anxious to become a ‘mere pilot’’. On 4 August 1916, a friend wrote to his mother, Grace, of a meeting with Frank in Oxford, whilst he was on leave from his training. She notes: ‘He met me at the station in his uniform. He looked very well in it. […] He seemed very well, happy and absorbed in his work […] he attends lectures and drills and studies machines. He said the work would be of much value to him afterwards. He will be there only a month and then goes elsewhere to learn to fly.’ She continues: ‘It is curious how quickly the military manner comes, to watch Frank taking the salute of the many Tommies we met as we walked. […] I had the feeling that whatever hard times may come Frank is enjoying his first month of service.’ She ends: ‘Our boy is off now on his country’s service and our share in him must be but small.’

Frank was killed on active service on 14 February 1917, aged 20.

In a letter dated 5 March 1917, a colleague and friend of Frank’s writes with unaffected enthusiasm of Frank and the wonderful work he was doing as an artillery observer: ‘They say the batteries were ‘all mad about his work’ and did better shooting with him than with anybody. His Squadron Commander, Leman, told me that he considered that he would have made one of the finest pilots in France if he had lived.’

‘The day before he died he had four fights in the air and described it as the finest day he had ever had. On the last day he and his observer must have been in some way surprised. They were flying at about 5,000 feet and nine German planes dropped down from about 12,000 feet and suddenly fired into them. Of course they had not a chance.’

A manuscript letter of condolence from James Arthur, Councillor of Penang, to Professor Young regarding his son’s courage fighting in the war reads: ‘I remember your […] deep affection for him and of the great promise which he had shown in his school career […] the fact of such a glorious death is not without its consolations.’

This profile was submitted by Jo Klett, Archivist, University of Liverpool, and is based on material from the University Archive, collection reference D599 and D140.

Tom Heald (1889-1980), relative of Anne Wolff

Tom HealdMy father, T.L.C. Heald (far left in the photo), enlisted in August 1914 as a Private in the 5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment (Territorial Force), and left for France as a 2nd Lieutenant on 14 February 1915. Apart from when he was wounded in 1917, he served continuously on the western front until February 1919, ending the war as a Staff Captain. He was awarded the Military Cross, and was twice mentioned in despatches. When he died in 1980, aged 91, I found in the attic a shabby black case fastened with rusty clasps which had formerly been used for holding old 78 records. Attached to the handle was an old luggage label on which was written simply ‘My War’. Inside, there were a number of small khaki clothbound notebooks with squared paper, containing an almost daily account of his experiences at the western front from February 1915 until early 1919. Soldiers were forbidden to keep private diaries, meaning that those who disobeyed this rule left behind much that was valuable.

The diary entries, factual and at times laconic, only occasionally revealed my father’s deep feelings. One such time was when his childhood friend Basil Walker, a tall kindly man with whom my father had volunteered the previous August, was killed at Ypres on 10 May 1915. He wrote: ‘The worst day of my life. Upset me frightfully. […] It does seem hard that poor Basil should be taken. I shall never meet a better man as long as I live. He was hit in the head whilst chatting to the officers in front of their dugout. Suppose his head must have been too high though some say the bullet came through the parapet. He knew nothing about it. He is very much missed by the battalion. Went up the trenches at night to see Hartley and get Basil’s things. We put him in the dressing station for the night.’

As the war drew to its close, and like many others, my father’s mood became deeply depressed. On 16 August 1918, he wrote: ‘My birthday. I am 29. Good heavens nearly 30 and no prospects and no wife. The longer this war goes on the worse it will be for me. What chance has a man of thirty, untrained in business, of getting work at a decent rate of pay when the war is over?’

After the war, my father worked in a cotton business in Egypt, returning to England in 1924. In 1932 he took up the profession of solicitor. Then, in 1937, he was given the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and raised the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment (Territorial Force), which he commanded until 1940. At the age of 50, he became Officer commanding troop ships which transported soldiers to other theatres of war.

In later years, my father hardly mentioned the war, and I always felt that he had tried to bury the remembrance of it in the unconscious as being too painful to recall. For a long time afterwards, he suffered recurring bouts of trench fever and endured vivid nightmares of bombarding shells, dreaming that he was buried beneath the debris. The dreams became particularly acute at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. When he was very old, and the dreams had faded, he once remarked: ‘If you have been through the Somme, nothing is quite the same again.’

Thomas Lane Claypole Heald, b. Southport, 1889, Private, Second Lieutenant, then Staff Captain, Cheshire Regiment, d. 1980, is the relative of Anne Wolff, née Heald, BA Egyptology and Italian (1973), MA (1993).

This story is based closely, with her permission, on material in Anne Wolff’s book Subalterns of the Foot: Three World War I Diaries of Officers of the Cheshire Regiment (Worcester: Square One Publications, 1992). It has been edited by Kay Chadwick. Tom Heald’s diaries are held at the Imperial War Museum, London.


Thomas Unwin (1888-1971), relative of Tim Unwin

ThomasUnwinAviatorMy grandfather, Hugh Thomas Haldane Unwin, known as Thomas, was one of the first fighter pilots in history, and the eldest of four brothers who fought on the front in the First World War: Thomas, Shadforth, Bobby and Gerald. Defying the statistics, all the brothers survived the war. Three of them also earned the Military Cross. My grandfather’s citation in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 1 February 1919 reads:

Lt. Hugh Thomas Haldane Unwin, 1/1st York. Dns [Yorkshire Dragoons].
On the night of the 17th/18th September 1918, with eight men of his platoon, he raided a strongly wired pill-box on the north bank of Zillebeke Lake. After resistance, the garrison escaped while his patrol was endeavouring to get through the wire. With conspicuous courage he entered and thoroughly searched the pill-box, obtaining valuable identifications. Three previous attempts to raid this post had failed.[1]

Prior to the war, Thomas and Shadforth had emigrated to Canada in search of fortune and adventure, but they returned to join the war effort in Britain. Thomas joined the Yorkshire Dragoons, initially in the ranks, and received his ThomasUnwinFlyingCertcommission signed by King George on 1 January 1916. Later that year, he became affiliated to the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, learning to fly in a Maurice Farman biplane at the Military School in Ruislip (see his flying certificate, right). He subsequently flew sorties over the Somme. As a child, I remember him telling stories about his exploits, and in particular about one occasion when the machine gun, which was meant to fire through the propeller, shattered the propeller instead. Fortunately, he survived the crash landing. There was probably a bit of bravado in the way he subsequently told the story, but there was also no doubt unimaginable bravery. And while Thomas was one of those magnificent men in their flying machines, both Shadforth and Gerald were among the last soldiers to see active service on horseback. Shadforth joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and served out the war as a Bombardier in the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade. Gerald was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Bucks Hussars, and earned his own Military Cross as a brigade galloper when ‘he on two occasions went forward, with great coolness and indifference to danger, to reconnoitre the village for machine guns’ (London Gazette, 18 July 1918).

My grandfather and his brothers came out of the war and went on to live long, active and successful lives. They were the lucky ones, and they knew it.

Hugh Thomas Haldane Unwin, b. 1888, Lewes, Sussex, d. 1971, Hampshire, 2nd Lieutenant, 1/1st Yorkshire Dragoons, is the relative of Tim Unwin, former James Barrow Professor of French, 1995-2000

[1] Zillebecke is about a mile and a half south east of Ypres.

James Green (1881-1952), relative of Ray Oliver

James GreenJames Green (see photo, left) was my Great Uncle. When I was a small boy in the 1940s, and on into my teenage years, I regularly had contact with Uncle Jim whenever he visited his older brother Joseph, who was my maternal grandfather. Both men were not given to idle chatter, but they clearly derived much brotherly companionship while seated on each side of the coal fire burning in the old-fashioned black iron fireplace. I knew that my grandfather did not serve in the First World War, as he was in his late thirties in 1914. But I was quite unaware at the time that Uncle Jim had served in the army during the conflict.

The recent revival of interest in the history of the First World War, particularly the personal stories, reminded me that I had inherited a collection of family photographs from my mother. I recalled that there were three pictures of Uncle Jim in uniform, but just what role he had was a mystery until I located the photos and took a close look at them.

It is clear that he wore what has proven to be the uniform of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). Uncle Jim was a devout Baptist, and the discovery that he served with the RAMC entirely suited the gentle and caring man I knew him to be. I do not know whether this indicated that he was a conscientious objector, or whether he was able to opt for a non-combatant role due to his age (he was 34 in 1914). My mother never said anything to me to clarify his role and activities while serving with the Corps. But I know that serving in the RAMC was not a soft option for many, when they were required to venture unarmed into the front line and no man’s land to treat the wounded and recover the dead.

Uncle Jim was a life-long bachelor, who worked in the cotton mills of Oldham after the war. Like many who have served in combat areas, he never to my knowledge expressed any thoughts or opinions based on his experiences. How I wish I had been old enough to ask questions. I wonder now if he would have revealed any details of his personal First World War.

James Green (1881-1952), RAMC, is the relative of Ray Oliver, M.Eng. Electrical Engineering (1975).

Pádraig Thornton (1889-1969), relative of Niamh Thornton

Padraig ThorntonMy First World War story concerns my grandfather, Pádraig Thornton (1889-1969), also known by his Irish surname Ó Droighnéain. Born in Moycullen, County Galway, a village seven miles west of Galway city, he lived a life immersed in politics, and was deeply touched by the times he lived through. His wife, Lena (1894-1977), and their seven children carried out most of the labour on what was a diversified farm that provided well, producing enough to sell and make a profit, despite being a fairly typical, modest-sized West of Ireland farm. As an asthmatic and the only surviving child of twelve births by my great-grandmother, he had been encouraged to rest up, and was given the time to read and learn. He attended the local village school gaining fluency in English, Greek and Latin. A native Irish speaker, he was bilingual, choosing to speak Irish at home and English when he had business in Galway city, or had to represent his own or others’ interests to the authorities.

During the First World War, my grandfather supplied horses, pigs and sheep to the British Army at fairs around Galway. He was also a founding member of a local farmers’ co-operative, in operation from 1914, which supplied butter, eggs and vegetables to the London Market.

After the First World War, the co-op was repeatedly raided by the Black and Tans, a notoriously brutal force established by Winston Churchill to impose order during the Irish War of Independence, which began in early 1919. The soldiers recruited into the Black and Tans had been damaged by the experience of the First World War. They ‘were part of a hurriedly constructed counter-insurgency apparatus which included the existing police force, the regular army, secret service detachments and two completely new forces, the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans’.[1] Many soldiers who had fought in the trenches during the First World War were both unskilled and ill prepared for tackling the guerilla warfare that was happening in Ireland at the time.[2] In guerilla warfare, it is hard to know who the enemy is, so ordinary citizen establishments, such as the Moycullen co-op, were attacked. It went bankrupt as a result of the raids by the Black and Tans, and Lloyds of London, its insurers, refused to pay out because the raids were considered an act of war. My grandparents’ farm only survived because Pádraig signed it over to Lena. Others in the village continued to pay the co-op debts into the 1950s, which served to build resentments that had ramifications beyond the payment of debt. It created enmities that even spilled over into my generation, as I grew up in that village. Unable to adjust back to civilian society after the First World War, the Black and Tan recruits willingly fought in another war, and their actions inflicted terrible financial and emotional hardship on generations to come.

Pádraig Thornton, b. 1889, Moycullen, Galway, d. 1969, farmer, is the relative of Dr Niamh Thornton, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies, CLAS.

[2] Ibid.