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.
Amyas’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.