Bedales 1898-1904, Royal Fusiliers, Durham Light Infantry, Royal Engineers

Samuel Roland Daniel Tyssen, known at Bedales as Sammy, was born on 18 January 1886, in Hampstead. His family lived at 59 Priory Road, in a comfortable upper-middle class household with three servants. Sammy was the middle of three children, but neither his elder sister nor his younger brother attended Bedales.1

Sammy Tyssen at work on the Cricket Pavilion, Summer Term 1904

Sammy’s father, Amherst Daniel Tyssen (1843 -1930) was a successful barrister and legal scholar. He was educated at Winchester and Merton, Oxford, and called to the bar by the Inner Temple. His legal publications include textbooks on charitable bequests2, and on real estate3 as well as his Elementary Law for the General Public4. He was awarded the Doctorate of Civil Laws by Oxford University — a very distinguished accolade.5

Amherst was also interested in social and religious questions. Like many early Bedales parents, he was a Nonconformist. Indeed he seems to have been a frequent preacher at a number of Unitarian chapels, and was trustee of a chapel in Banbury. For example, on 21 April 1918 he preached in Banbury on “The Education Question”.6  In the absence of any record, one can only speculate how much his ideas on this question may have resembled, or been influenced by, those current at Bedales. Other sermons discussed marriage reform and religious tolerance.7 In his will he directed that his body should be disposed of as his executor thought fit, “to be used for research or instruction”8  It is perhaps dangerous to try to derive a rounded portrait from these few fragments of evidence, but the overall impression is of a man with generous liberal ideals, and perhaps a certain appetite for defying conventions.

A number of sources describe Amherst as a convert to Islam.9 There’s no doubt that he was very interested in, and sympathetic to Islam. He published a number of poems and hymns drawing heavily on the Islamic tradition, which evidently are still cherished by some British Muslims today.10 However, his debt to Islamic thinking didn’t prevent his remaining an active member of the Unitarian church. He left money in his will to the Banbury Unitarian Church, and directed that his funeral service should take place there.11

Bedales was chosen as suitable environment for Sammy, and he joined the school in 1898 aged 12. The pages of the Bedales Record give evidence of a variety of interests, including boxing, swimming and entomology, but it is clear that Sammy found himself most at home in the Workshop and in the nascent Bedales Scientific Society.

Sammy was a founder member of the Scientific Society, and during Autumn 1903 and Spring 1904 he delivered no fewer than three of its first nine lectures – the only student to address the Society more than once

 

Sammy was a founder member of the Scientific Society, and during Autumn 1903 and Spring 1904 he delivered no fewer than three of its first nine lectures – the only student to address the Society more than once. His chosen subjects were “Iron and its Uses”, “Water” and “Electricity”. In his report for the Bedales Record Basil Gimson notes that “Tyssen deserves special praise. His three lectures have all been based on his own personal experience in the physical laboratory, workshop and smithy.” His lectures stood out for the many practical demonstrations, using artefacts and apparatus that Sammy had made himself.12

Sammy was evidently a versatile craftsman and engineer. The long list of the things he made at school includes blacksmithing tools, an inclined-plane machine for calculating coefficients of friction, a dynamo, a table for the (old) library and another special folding table for the sanatorium, a bellows for the laboratory furnace, a conductor’s platform, and a portable fire grate for the camping expeditions. T.W. Grubb (Bedales staff 1895-1908) commented that these things “were good in themselves, but they were all the better from the fact that they were things needed by the School”.13

Above all, Sammy left a lasting memorial of his schooldays in two substantial structures that he designed and built himself. The first was the new Bee House which he built in 1903. The student beekeepers were very pleased with the design, and reported with approval that they collected well over 50lbs of honey in the first year of its use.14

The Bee-House has, alas, not survived up to the present, but Sammy’s other great contribution to the Bedales estate is with us still. Indeed, it appears to have changed little since the day Sammy finished work on it. Mr Badley is proved to have been a true prophet when, writing in the 1904 Record, he predicted a long life for “the pavilion that has been rising all the Term through the devotion of time and energy on the part of its three faithful builders, Tyssen, designer and foreman, and his two henchmen, Livens and Brooke. Early and late they have toiled at it, giving up all their free time and even their whole holiday to the work; and they may well be proud that from the concrete below the foundations to the top of the roof, it is all their unaided work,—all that is, but the thatch; even at Bedales it is true, non omnia possumus omnes! It will be long before a better piece of work is done here, though I hope it will challenge many a generation of Bedales boys to emulation.”15

Wake and Denton confirm that Tyssen’s pavilion was later seen as the acme of Bedalian spirit, and the standard against which his successors were judged: “‘the spirit that built the Pav’ lived on as a lofty exhortation to later generations who might be accused of wanting in the pioneer spirit”.16

It wasn’t only through his hands that Sammy expressed himself at school. Besides his lectures to the Scientific Society, already discussed, he was also a keen participant in the Senior Debating Society. He was the principle Opposer to the motion in at least two debates. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that on both occasions the motion had some bearing on science or engineering.17

It seems likely that Sammy was happy at Bedales. Certainly he kept in touch with his old school, writing news of his current occupations for the Bedales Chronicle and attending OB summer reunions. He also returned to the Scientific Society as an OB, lecturing on ‘The Motorcycle’18. We can be sure that his interest in this type of vehicle was more than merely academic, because two years later he was prosecuted for “Furious Motor Cycle Driving” near his home in Hampstead. More precisely, it was alleged that he drove his motorcycle at a speed exceeding 20mph.19

After Bedales, Sammy’s education was continued with a three year course in electrical engineering at the Central Technical College in South Kensington, which was later absorbed into Imperial College.20 During the same period, he gained his first military experience as a part time Sapper with the Electrical Engineers, Royal Engineers (Volunteers).21 This purpose of this volunteer unit was to train civilian engineers and engineering students to operate electrical installations at the defended ports in time of war.

After completing his qualification, Sammy spent six months working in a motor repair shop and five months at the Vickers and Maxims works in Sheffield. Perhaps he found life as an employee uncongenial, because his next move was to set up as a private teacher of carpentry and metal work. Writing in the April 1909 Bedales Chronicle, he describes a large workshop established at the family home in Hampstead, where he says he can accommodate nine students. He adds that, “In the garden I have built a small shop and fitted it up as a forge and motor cycle house.” The following academic year, in addition to his private pupils, he expects “to take classes for four schools”.22

In December 2015, Sammy embarked for France... the following summer, he was finally granted his wish to become a Royal Engineers Officer

 

Sammy was one of the half a million men who volunteered during the initial two months of the War. On 15 August 1914 he applied for a temporary commission in the regular army, stating a preference for serving in the Engineers or Infantry. Presumably this first application to become an Officer was unsuccessful, because on 3rd September he enlisted as a Private in the 18th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (1st Public Schools). He spent the next few months training with his Battalion at Epsom.23

In January 1915 he applied once again for a commission. Again he said that service with the Engineers would be “greatly preferred”. This second application gives a slightly fuller account of his service with the Volunteers, stressing that he resigned only in order to take up employment with Vickers. He also provided more information about his education, stressing that the entrance examination for the Central Technical College was equivalent to the London University Matriculation. Perhaps this explains why his second application was successful. He was gazetted Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the 12th Service Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, with effect 16 January 1915.24

During 1915, the 12th D.L.I. moved between various camps in in South-East England. In the summer, they were based at Bramshott in Hampshire, which allowed Sammy to make what was probably his final visit to Bedales.25

In December 1915, Sammy embarked for France, and was attached to the 13th Battalion D.L.I. The following summer, he was finally granted his wish to become a Royal Engineers Officer. He was appointed to 102nd Field Company, Royal Engineers, attached to the 23rd Division. He retained the rank of Temporary 2nd Lieutenant.26

The RE Field Companies were comparatively small units, typically comprising around 200 men, including five officers. Each Company was divided into (usually) three Sections, each commanded by a Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant. Sammy was one such Section Commander. Two or three Field Companies were attached to each fighting Division, providing whatever kind of engineering support was required. In the rear area, this might include building accommodation for troops, or infrastructure for storing and distributing supplies and ammunition. In the front line, duties might include making and repairing fortifications, wiring and mining.27

The Field Companies shared the same dangers and deprivations as the troops they supported, and suffered many casualties. During July and August, Sammy was working in the front line at the Battle of the Somme. The unit’s War Diary records his Section spending seven days working on the defences at Contalmaison, which had very recently been captured by the British at a cost of 12,000 killed or wounded. During these seven days, 102nd Field Company suffered six casualties.28

However, when Sammy was admitted to hospital a few weeks later, on 28 August 1916, he wasn’t wounded but suffering a serious gastric illness. By 9th September he was back in England, and on 16th a Medical Board declared him unfit for any kind of service for one month.

His next Medical Board on 14th October found him sufficiently recovered for Home Service, and he was ordered to report for duty at the Engineer Training Centre, Newark. On 6 November, he was declared once again fit for general service and he rejoined his unit in France on 29 November.29 

By this time, the 102nd Field Company was carrying out duties in a reserve area, near Ypres.  Throughout December, Sammy’s Section was engaged in building accommodation huts, stables and workshops. During January and early February, they were underpinning and strengthening cellars in the nearby town of Kruisstraat, before going on to build a new Divisional Ammunition Refilling Point near Vlamertinghe. On 15 February, Sammy once again had to leave his unit because of ill health. He was able to rejoin the Company from hospital on 3 March, but this time he lasted little more than a week. Clearly, something was seriously wrong.30

Sammy is commemorated in the Memorial Library: a building which of course he never saw but of which, one feels confident, he would have approved

 

Having been returned to England, and passed through a number of different hospitals, in April Sammy underwent a major operation at Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital, Milbank. The surgeon reported that “A number of small hard calcareous tubercular nodules were found in the mesenteric folds. It was impossible to remove them.” This suggests that Sammy was suffering from abdominal tuberculosis — a serious illness which can now be treated with antibiotics but for which, at the time, there was no effective treatment.31

On 21 May, a Medical Board deemed that Sammy would be fit for light duties after a further three weeks leave. At the end of the month, Sammy wrote to the War Office, from his home in Hampstead requesting re-examination by a Medical Board and noting that “The Doctor informed me that I shall be on permanent light duty, so I am applying for a transfer to munition work, where my technical knowledge will be of use.” It seems that Sammy was determined to continue helping the war effort to the best of his ability, and recognised that an administrative post was not the best match for his skills.32

At intervals, over the next few months, medical examinations re-confirmed Sammy as fit only for office work, until on 1st September a Medical Board reported him permanently unfit for duty. On 23 October, the War Office directed that “there is no alternative but to gazette him as relinquishing his commission on account of ill health ... He will be granted the honorary rank of 2nd Lt. Should his health improve sufficiently … an application for re-appointment to a commission will receive consideration.”33

At some point during the next few months, Sammy fulfilled his wish for a new outlet for his technical skills, by finding employment in an aircraft factory. No further details have been found. He also designed a new bed-table, for use by hospital patients. One wonders whether this invention owed anything to the folding table he made for the Bedales Sanatorium while a pupil, some 15 years earlier. He had returned to live at the family home in Priory Road, Hampstead, where before the war he had built his workshop, forge and motorcycle garage. It may have been during this time that he became engaged to Miss Gladys Seymour Hawkins, of Apton Hall, Rochford, Essex.34

On 31 July 1918, Miss Hawkins made a dreadful discovery. Having been unable to attract his attention by knocking, and fearing he was seriously ill, she entered his room at Priory Road. She found him dead in bed, with a strong smell of gas in the room. The inquest heard that Sammy liked to take warm milk first thing in the morning, and had installed a gas ring where he could reach it from his bed. A pan of milk was on the ring, but the gas was not lit. A verdict of “Death by Misadventure” was recorded.35

Sammy is commemorated in the Memorial Library: a building which of course he never saw but of which, one feels confident, he would have approved. It is surely a fitting place of commemoration for one who the Bedales Chronicle said would “be remembered as a clever and devoted carpenter, who left his mark on the fabric of the school”.36

Gladys Hawkins later married John H. Gotch, another Old Bedalian who had studied engineering before his war service. Like Sammy, John Gotch served initially in the Royal Fusiliers’ University and Public Schools Brigade, although in his case he later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. The two men even shared an interest in motor vehicles, and John was for a time proprietor of a garage. Perhaps this is all pure coincidence, but it seems more likely that all three were part the same network of friends. It is pure speculation, but perhaps one may imagine John and Gladys being drawn closer together during the two years following Sammy’s death by their shared grief.37

By Ian Douglas


1. Bedales School Roll: Biographical Summary: Centenary Edition, ed. Anne Archer and Dennis Archer (Petersfield: The Bedales Association, 1993); 1901 Census — The National Archives (TNA): RG13/125, folio 30, page 52.
2. The Law of Charitable Bequests (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1888).
3. The Real Representative Law, 1897: being Part I of the Land Transfer Act, 1897: and a discussion on administration thereunder (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1898).
4. London: William Clowes and Sons, 1898.
5. ‘Obituary’, Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 4:4 (1930), pp.466-467.
6. ‘Local Intelligence’, The Banbury Advertiser, 18 April 1918, p.5.
7. ‘”Mail” Mems’, The Hull Daily Mail, 24 August 1909, p.4; ‘Dr Tyssen at the Unitarian Church’, The Banbury Guardian, 14 August 1924, p.8.
8. ‘Body for Science’, The Sheffield Daily Independent, 12 May 1930, p.4
9. For example The Convert's Passion: An Anthology of Islamic Poetry from Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain ed. by Brent D. Singlton (Rockville: The Borgo Press, 2009) p.164.
10. See, for example, Muslim Songs of the British Isles arranged by Abdal Hakim Murad (London: Quilliam Press, 2005); ‘Muhammad in the Cave’, Muslims Hymns.com: Sacred Songs and Poetry of Islam (http://muslimhymns.com/muhammad-in-the-cave) [accessed 1 July 2018].
11. Sheffield Daily Independent, loc. cit.
12. The Bedales Record, No.16, 1903-1904, pp.61-63.
13. The Bedales Record, No.14, 1901-1902, pp.70-71; No.15, 1902-1903, pp.9-10; No.16, 1903-1904, pp.62-63.
14. The Bedales Record, No.15, 1902-1903, p.76; No.16, 1903-1904, p.80.
15. The Bedales Record, No.16, 1903-1904, p.3.
16. Roy Wake and Pennie Denton, Bedales School: The First Hundred Years (London: Haggerston Press, 1993) p.55.
17. The Bedales Record, No.15, 1902-1903, p.57; No.16, 1903-1904, p.65
18. The Bedales Record, No.18, 1905-1906, p. 73; No.21,1908-1909, p. 27; Bedales Chronicle, 2(8), 3 April 1909, p.93.
19. ‘Hampstead Petty Sessions’, Hampstead and Highgate Express, 6 April 1907, p.3.
20. Bedales Chronicle, 2(8), 3 April 1909, p.93.
21. Officer’s Service Record —The National Archives (TNA): WO 339/32048, ‘Application for Appointment to a Temporary Commission …’ signed 3 January 1915.
22. Bedales Chronicle, 2(8), 3 April 1909, p.93.
23. TNA: WO 339/32048; Bedales Chronicle, 8(1) 25 October 1914, p. 5; 8(2) 15 November 1914, p.16.
24. TNA: WO 339/32048, ‘Application for Appointment to a Temporary Commission …’ signed 3 January 1915; London Gazette, No. 29044, 19 January 1915, p.611
25. Bedales Chronicle, 8(8), 13 June 1915, p.88
26. TNA: WO 339/32048; Supplement to the London Gazette, No. 29787, 18 October 1916, p.10027. Note that although the transfer was gazetted as with effect from 28 July 1916, the 102 Field Company War Diary (TNA: WO 95/2177/2) reveals that Tyssen was already serving with the Company by 9 July at the latest.
27. ‘Composition of a Royal Engineers’ Field Company’, The Long, Long Trail: The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918 < http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/definitions-of-units/composition-roy... [Accessed 9 July 2018]
28. 102 Field Company Royal Engineers, War Diary, TNA: WO 95/2177/2, 31 July - 6 August 1916
29. TNA: WO 339/32048
30. TNA: WO 95/2177/2, 29 November 1916 – 15 February 1917
31. TNA: WO 339/32048
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid.
34. ‘A Girl’s Discovery: Inventor Found Poisoned’, Hampstead and Highgate Express, 10 August 1918, p.6
35. Ibid.
36. Bedales Chronicle, XI(6), January 1919, p.64
37. Bedales School Roll: Biographical Summary and Analysis, ed. Basil L. Gimson (Petersfield: The Bedales Society, 1952); Bedales Memorial Library, Bedales School: 1914-1918 (unpublished memorial book).