Category Archives: Royal Flying Corps

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.


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.

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.