The parish church at Emberton, Buckinghamshire was a rich source of First World War related stories. As well as the Dead Man’s Penny for Pte Reginald West to be found in the graveyard, the parishioners had done a marvellous job of researching and recording the war records of the men from Emberton who fought in the war.
The story of one of them, Fred Sams, the `Fighting Parson’ is one tinged with excitement and tragedy.
Born in November 1881, Frederick Hulton Sams was the eldest son of Rev G.F. and Mrs Beatrice Sams of Emberton Rectory.
He was educated at Harrow School and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won the University featherweight boxing competitions in 1901, 1902 and 1904, also representing the university in successful competitions against Oxford.
Fred Sams (right) during his university days
On leaving Cambridge, Fred was ordained into the Church of England, and acted as curate in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, for three years. However Fred sought further adventure and in 1908 he travelled out to Australia to join the Bush Brotherhood in Queensland. According to local legend, Fred would ride out to conduct services in remote areas, then following his sermon, would strip off to the waist and challenge any of his parishioners to a bout.
Rev Fred Hulton Sams
The Bucks Standard of 7th August 1915 reported:
At the outbreak of war he was unable to obtain an army chaplaincy, and so immediately enlisted in the 3rd Bedfordshires, being soon promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. In November he received a commission in the 6th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and, having gone to the front in the last week of May, it was at Hooge that he fell on July 31st, his Major writing of him; “he was at the time commanding his Company and doing splendidly, and he has caused a gap that can never be filled.”
The news of his death was received with great regret in Emberton, for as ‘Mr, Fred,’ as he was affectionately known, his kindly interest in the welfare of the villagers endeared him to all. As for his work with the Bush Brotherhood, in the words of his Bishop; “they gave proof of their affection for him as a man and their appreciation of him as a priest by their numerous gifts to him and the manner of their farewells. He gave them of his best for five and a half years, and they have shown the Brothers what they have felt in return. The Church misses his personality in every way. His ever-abiding cheerfulness, his constant unselfishness, his love for men and women because they were men and women will ever be to us a memory. He touched men that other Brothers failed to reach, and brought the Church with its message of the Gospel to those who in the past have stood aloof. He was a man amongst men and “his heart was right there.”
In an edition of the Sporting Life, his association with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry would be alluded to as follows;
He was the leading sporting spirit in that battalion and whether it was football, running, swimming, or boxing, he was always ready to help in providing sport for the men in their few hours of leisure. He showed that he had not lost his skill at boxing by winning the battalion championship, and captained the cross-country team which gained third place in the Divisional Championship, showing them the way to pack and forfeiting his chance of gaining the officers’ medal – for which he was only just beaten by Lieut. R.S. Clarke – in order to keep them together.
In a later correspondence, in a letter from France a nurse would write that in her ward was a sergeant of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, who saw Lt. Sams fall, and said that “He died like a soldier and a gentleman.”
A memorial service was held at Emberton church on Sunday afternoon, August 8th, with the Union Jack at half mast on the west tower, and the church bells muffled. Every household in the village was represented in the congregation.
Miss Sams, the sister of the deceased, presided at the organ and in his address, the Reverend W. Brooke Richards, rector of Tyringham-cum-Filgrave, paid an eloquent tribute, during which, remembering also the other men from the parish who had fallen, he said of Lieutenant Sams that as A soldier-priest, he has given his life in the most glorious of all causes, for God, for King, and for country: he has died as he had lived, a fine type not only of a British officer but of a Christian man …
The Bucks Standard of 15th August carried a reference to a report in the Sporting Life
“He was the leading sporting spirit in that battalion and whether it was football, running, swimming, or boxing, he was always ready to help in providing sport for the men in their few hours of leisure. He showed that he had not lost his skill at boxing by winning the battalion championship, and captained the cross-country team which gained third place in the Divisional Championship, showing them the way to pack and forfeiting his chance of gaining the officers’ medal – for which he was only just beaten by Lieut. R.S. Clarke – in order to keep them together.”
In 1915 a book appeared, published in Longreach, Queensland, written by Theo. F. Barker, titled:
Frederick Hulton-Sams, the Fighting Parson: Impressions of his Five Years’ Ministry in the Queensland Bush, Recorded by Some Who Knew and Loved Him.
In it is quoted an “Extract from a private letter dated 2nd August, 1915”:–
“He died a glorious death, that is a British officer and a gentleman – commanding a company in an important position, and above all, sticking it where others might have failed.
“The circumstances were these.
“We were hauled out of our billets at 2 a.m. on the 30th, and had to hurry up in fighting order to where another Brigade had been driven out of their trenches with liquid fire.
“We had to go up to a part in a counter-attack.
“The counter-attack ended at the edge of a wood called Zouvave Wood.
“C Company was left with your brother [ Frederick Edward Barwick Hulton-Sams ] in command, all other officers being killed or wounded.
“We were hanging on to the edge of this wood for all we were fit, and the Germans were trying to shell us out of it.
“C Company were splendid. We all knew they would be, for they would d anything for your brother.
“All the afternoon of the 30th they were there, and all night.
“That night the Germans attacked us again, bombs and liquid fire.
“C Company still stuck to it and through that terrific shelling they never flinched, although they lost heavily.
“They were there at 10 a.m., and I crawled to and talked to your brother several times. He was magnificent and cheerful.
“His last words to me before he was hit were ‘Well, old boy, this a bit thick, but we’ll see it through, never fear.’
“I left him then to go somewhere else, and I didn’t see him again.
“His Company Sergeant (a man called Fuller) told me that about 10 a.m. your brother crawled away to see if he could get any water for the men – many of whom were wounded and very thirsty.
“He was hit by a piece of shell in the thigh and side, and killed instantly – or at any rate never regained consciousness.
“He can have suffered no pain, and he died doing a thing which makes us feel proud to have known him.
“He was a fine officer, a fine friend, and worshipped by his men.
“That is all I can tell you about him. We were relieved the night following, and we got his body and buried at the graveyard in the rear of the fighting line at Hooge.”
Canon Garland, the architect of the ANZAC Day Commemoration, referred to Fred in his address in April 1921:
Who can ever forget the story of Hulton-Sams, especially those from Queensland’s west, who looked upon him as their ideal of religion:
Moreover as God’s priest he stood –
Preached in rude camps Thy message free,
Gave of Thy Body and Thy Blood
Into rough hands held out for Thee.
And the ideal of the highest sacrifice which he thus proclaimed in administering Holy Communion he fulfilled in his own death.
The men with whom he had shared the fighting lay wounded out in No Man’s Land. They were dying and craving for water.
He brought them water; he had to crawl on his face to do so, and, taking to them the cup of cold water in Christ’s name, like Him, whose priest and soldier he was, he was wounded in the side and died.
Today Fred Sams is commemorated with a brass plaque in the church where his father served as Rector, and his name appears on the striking church war memorial, carved in the style of the angel which sits on top of the Royal Albert Hall.
(c) Dawn Broom 2016
The inscription reads:
`AND GOD SHALL WIPE AWAY ALL TEARS FROM THEIR EYES AND THERE SHALL BE NO MORE DEATH, NEITHERS SORROW NOR CRYING, NEITHER SHALL THERE BE ANY MORE PAIN FOR THE FORMER THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY’ (Revelations 21:4)
(c) Dawn Broom 2016
In addition, a fine clock tower memorial sits in the village square, containing the names of those who fell in both world wars, including Fred.
Frederick Hulton-Sams strikes me as a larger than life character who was driven by a duty to his men, but also to the faith with which he had been brought up, and which led him to his tragic fate.
If you are interested in further exploration the links between warfare and Christianity, my two books can be ordered from the publisher, or directly from me signed and personally inscribed, making a lovely gift. The cost is £20 including p+p for one book, or £32 including p+p for two. Email email@example.com for further details
Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War
Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War