The soldier who came back from the dead
Published on 3 May, 2017
It is the legacy of a father who refused to accept that his beloved son had been killed 100 years ago today in one of the most brutal battles of the First World War.
The Chancel at St Brides's Church in Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire symbolises the miraculous return of Captain Hamish Weir Samson MC (Military Cross) who was missing, feared dead for nearly three months.
The 22-year-old, who served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, fought in the Battle of Arras in northern France - a conflict that claimed 18,000 Scottish lives.
On the morning of May 3, 1917, Captain Samson led C Company in a daring dawn raid on two German trenches.
It was not a success and he failed to return to the British lines with the remnants of the 6th Battalion, many of whom fell that day.
Brave and gallant
An eyewitness reported seeing the brave soldier fall to the ground beside Oppy Wood not long after he led his men "over the top” to engage the enemy.
Captain Samson's body was never recovered and his family were told to expect the worst.
But his father John Samson, who was managing partner of Sanquhar and Kirkconnel Collieries, never gave up hope that his “gallant" son was somehow alive.
The family repeatedly pressed the War Office and Spanish Consul, which represented British interests in the war, for news.
Letters and telegrams were exchanged for three agonising months.
One signed by Major A Innes Browne, who commanded the 6th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, stated: “there is just a remote chance that your son might be a prisoner and wounded, but so remote we do not believe it is so”.
The family were informed on July 22, 1917 that Captain Samson had been killed.
But a few days later they finally received the joyous news they had all been praying for.
Captain Samson, who was known to his Army mates as “Sammy”, had been captured and was being held in a Prisoner of War Hospital in Karlsruhe in south-west Germany.
He had been shot in the arm and side.
The family received a letter from the soldier himself, received July 27, 1917, in which he informed them that he was being treated well in the circumstances.
Captain Samson wrote: “I hope you have received my letter and postcard sent from this camp, so you will know now that I am alive still.
“The camp itself is quite a nice one, though necessarily confined so that we do not get much exercise.
"I am living in a room with two other English captains and we endeavour to make it as comfortable as possible during our stay here.
"Though we are at the disadvantage of not knowing when we may be ordered to move.”
To the Glory of God
Captain Samson, who also served with the Cameronians, The Scottish Rifles, spent the rest of the war in a variety of POW camps in places including Freiburg.
He eventually returned to Scotland in December 1918 and took up residence at the family home, Glaisnock House in Cumnock, East Ayrshire.
To celebrate his son’s astonishing survival, John Samson made a large donation to the church to extend the building, which dates back to 1824.
The oak panelled Chancel was constructed in 1929-30 and has a stunning stained glass window.
It features a plaque on the wall which gives thanks to the Glory of God for the “preservation” of the decorated soldier’s life.
Captain Samson’s name adorns a roll of honour of all the men from the Sanquhar area who fought in the Great War, which hangs on a wall at the front of the church.
Rev Bill Hogg, minister at St Bride's Church, said: “The Chancel was built as a sign of thanksgiving, endurance and love.
"It's an inspiring story of family loyalty and hope coming to a joyful conclusion."
The Battle of Arras had the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One.
Duncan Close, Session Clerk of St Bride's Church, said: "The link between our Chancel and the dreadful struggles of WW1 has never been stronger.
"We are fortunate that we know so much of Captain Samson’s involvement during the war, and his survival and return home indicates a very brave and resolute soldier.
“From the terrible scenes from the trenches and Arras, the new Chancel took shape.
“Today, 100 years after Captain Samson’s miraculous escape from death, we have a truly magnificent memorial to one soldier’s survival, and the family faith that refused to believe he had been lost”.
It is understood that Captain Samson worked for a spell in his father's mining company before training as a stockbroker.
He was married and had two children.
During the Second World War, Captain Samson served in the Home Guard in Inverness.
He moved south of the border in later life and died in Hove, Sussex in 1971 at the age of 76.
Right Rev Dr Russell Barr, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, played a key role in the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Arras last month.
He led a church service at the Faubourg d’Amiens Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and composed a special prayer.
The story of the soldier who returned from the dead means St Bride’s Church occupies a unique place in Scottish history.
The congregation is currently raising money for a major re-roofing project, which will cost around £280,000.
An initial grant of £5,100 has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund.