b. 07/01/1889 Carnoustie, Scotland. d. 28/02/1923 on SS Strombus
George McKenzie Samson (1889-1923) was born on 7th January 1889 in Carnoustie, Fife, Scotland, the second son of David Samson, a shoemaker, and Helen (nee Lawson). One of nine children, he grew up at 63 Dundee Street, Carnoustie, and was an irregular pupil at the public school, where his classmates included Charles Alfred Jarvis, who was to earn the VC at Mons. An habitual truant, Samson was forever getting into scrapes, as he once commented “I am of a roving disposition, I can’t settle anywhere very long.”
His first job was working on an uncle’s farm near Arbroath, where he drove a milk cart for seven months. Bored by what he thought was a stale life, he attempted to run away to sea as a cabin boy in a sailing schooner, but was rejected as being too young. His chance came when, aged 17, he was engaged by a Forfarshire dealer to take thirty prize bulls to Buenos Aires. Having completed the contract, he ventured inland and found work on a cattle ranch as a cowboy. After a year in Argentina, he returned home and enlisted in the Army, joining the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. He completed the basic training, but bought himself out a year later.
He decided to sign up in Dundee to go whaling off the coast of Greenland, after which he sailed and travelled widely. In about 1910, while serving in the Merchant Navy, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve. In 1912, seeking a fresh challenge, he worked his passage from Leith to the Turkish port of Smyrna, where he was employed for six months in a gas works. He then volunteered to work on the Turkish railway locomotives, becoming a driver. He was working as a mail train driver when war broke out in 1914, and immediately quit his post, and took passage to Port Said, where he unsuccessfully tried to join one of the warships. Reaching Malta in early August, he was taken on and sent to HMS Hussar, then being fitted out as a communications ship.
Hussar was then sent as part of the Mediterranean Squadron to patrol the entrance to the Dardanelles and guard against any attempted breakout by the former German cruisers Goeben and Breslau. On 25th April 1915 during the landing at V Beach, Cape Helles, Gallipoli, Turkey, Seaman Samson, with three other men (George Leslie Drewry, Wilfred St. Aubyn Malleson, and William Charles Williams) was assisting the commander (Edward Unwin) of their ship HMS River Clyde, at the work of securing the lighters. He worked all day under very heavy fire, attending wounded and getting out lines. He was eventually dangerously wounded by Maxim fire.
Samson’s wounds were so severe that he was not expected to live. Evacuated by hospital ship, he spent three months in Port Said undergoing treatment before being shipped home. After four days in Haslar Naval Hospital, he was declared fit to return to Carnoustie, even though surgeons had only managed to extract four of the seventeen bullets from his body. He was recuperating in Aboyne when news reached his family that he had been awarded the VC. He then received a civic reception, before on the 5th October 1915 he went to Buckingham Palace to receive the VC. He was then promoted to chief petty officer and was a guest at the 110th anniversary celebrations marking Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. In a bizarre incident, whilst out of uniform, he was even presented with a white feather!
He married Charlotte Glass, a farmer’s daughter, at the Huntly Arms Hotel, Aboyne, on 31st December 1915, and they went on to have two sons and a daughter. His wounds, however, continued to cause him problems and in June 1916 he was given a years’ sick leave. He returned to Aboyne but his health didn’t improve and he was officially discharged from the navy, and he took a government appointment in Aberdeen. While he was on the sick list at Invergordon, he was presented with the French Medaille Militaire, in recognition of his actions at Cape Helles. Despite his painful injuries, he tried in vain to join the service in North Russia in the spring of 1919, arriving at a recruiting office in Dundee in full uniform with his VC and Medaille Militaire ribbons attached.
He eventually found his way back into the Merchant Navy, sailing out of Dundee as quartermaster aboard the new Caledon-built oil tanker Dosina in February 1922. Sadly, a year later, he began to feel unwell, and if they encountered another ship it was likely he would be transported home. Shortly afterwards, he was put aboard the SS Strombus and taken to Bermuda. Tragically, it was too late. He succumbed to double pneumonia in St George’s Hospital on 23rd February 1923, and was buried with full military honours in the Methodist Cemetery, St George’s, Bermuda. His medals which included the VC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and the Medaille Militaire were purchased at auction by Lord Ashcroft for the sum of £210,000.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: METHODIST CEMETERY, ST GEORGE'S, BERMUDA.
George Samson's medals including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
Carnoustie War Memorial
War Illustrated, 25th August 1917
Carnoustie Golf Club (Thomas Stewart)
Carnoustie (Thomas Stewart)