Category Archives: Military Cross

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.


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.