Samuel Ambrose Tickner, the name has a joyful ring to it. Playful and voluptuous, yet steadfast. Surely a soldier with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. But in fact not a soldier, an aircraftman – if ambrosia is the food of the Gods, Samuel is up there with them, feasting in the clouds, guarded by angels. A lovely website called ‘From Surrey to the Somme’ details the exploits of the Tickner clan, most of whom hailed from the leafy Surrey village of Peaslake. Colin Tickner runs the site and although Samuel gets a mention on there, not very much is known about him. He is one of 67 Tickners who were killed in the First World War. The son of William and Ann Tickner from 7 Franche Court Road, the family lived in the house where Sunday School teacher William Mace was born. Originally from Cambridgeshire they came to London sometime in the 1890s. The family were living at 15 Blackshaw Road when Samuel was born on 14th January 1897. At that point William Ambrose Ticker was working as a leather dresser but somewhere along the line he became a fishmonger. His shop was literally just round the corner from Franche Court Road at 741 Garratt Lane, ‘WA Tickner & Sons’. The site is now home to Honeylight Computers, on the corner of Aldren Road. Its actually the left hand section of the premises, under the word ‘honey’ naturally enough. Samuel was 14 at the time and working as a clerk but two of his older brothers Fred, a frier and Henry, a fish cleaner worked in the shop with their Dad. Samuel joined the Royal Flying Corps on 28th January 1916 as a driver with the rank of Air Mechanic Class 2. The RFC was the air arm of the British Army during the First World War, merging with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1918 to become the Royal Air Force. He transfered to the RAF with a Class 3 ranking and was further promoted to Aircraftman 1st Class. A London Gazette record of June 1919 indicates that he was also awarded a Meritorious Service Medal. In the RAF this was intended to recognise outstanding service on the ground, so Samuel was most definitely not up in the skies. Certainly at the beginning of the war, pilots all came from quite upper-class backgrounds and there weren’t many fishmonger’s sons in their ranks. The silver medal, 36mm in diameter, has the recipient’s details on the rim. The ribbon is crimson and light blue, with white stripes at both edges and down the middle.
For a long time we thought that Samuel Ambrose Tickner was buried in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Nothing to do with the Balkans though, Belgrade Cemetery is in Belgium. Tragically he survived the war by over three months and his date of death was 28th February 1919. The parish magazine of April 1919 announced ‘We have heard with regret that Samuel Ambrose Tickner, RAF, died in Namur Casualty Station on Feb 28th.’ In the same paragraph Reverend Robinson mentioned the death of two other soldiers from influenza and it is possible that Samuel was also smitten by this epidemic. Its also possible that he may have been killed in some kind of accident, not uncommon as forces personnel struggled to clear up the mess of war. Belgrade Cemetery contains 249 graves. Most of the men buried in this cemetery died like Samuel in the Casualty Clearing Stations based in Namur after the Armistice. And he’s in good company, for also resting there is Mabel Gladstone, a nurse from Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, one of only two female First World War casualties who are buried in Belgium. David Lam, contacted through The Great War Forum, kindly supplied the photo of Samuel’s grave which he took about five years ago. It is crystal clear and appears as if the letters have only been cut yesterday. They might well have been as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission take care to replace headstones which have become too weathered or illegible.
UPDATE: On 28th February 2015, we happened to be doing one of our Summerstown182 Walks on the 96th anniversary of Samuel’s death. We were passing down Franche Court Road and paused outside his house to leave a poppy cross and remember him with a minute’s silence. It was a very special moment on a walk which was attended by three Summerstown182 families and has assumed legendary status. In August 2015, heading home from our summer holiday, we pulled into Namur determined to visit his grave. It was an exciting moment to be entering the capital of Wallonia, scenically straddling the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. Finding the city cemetery was not without its challenges, taking a few wrong turns up winding streets in our camper van on one of the hottest days of the summer. His headstone shimmered in the sun, as pristine and white as it appeared in David’s photo. I feel we haven’t heard the last of the fishmonger’s son from Franche Court Road – ‘May Angels guard thee till we meet again’.
UPDATE 2: In March 2020, Mary Groom stumbled across this post whilst researching her uncle. Her father Claude Tickner, born in 1900 was Samuel’s younger brother. She wrote to me and has very kindly allowed me to publish a photograph of ‘Soldier Sam’ and his medals as well as some of other family members. One of these is a group photo (below) taken around 1908. Sam is seated in front of his father William Ambrose Tickner with presumably his mother Ann alongside. There are seven younger males in the photo and one woman. A few years later the 1911 census records six sons with William and Ann at 741 Garratt Lane. Tom aged 32, Henry aged 30, James 26, Fred 24, Samuel 14 and Claude 11. Another photo (above) shows Sam and Claude with their Dad. Claude is standing, Sam is sitting on the right. Mary was thrilled to find out a little more about her uncle and she had never heard about the fish shop in Garratt Lane. She believes its very likely that along with her father, Samuel would have attended Smallwood School. There is only one Tickner listed in the ‘Old Smalls’ booklet produced in 1916, an F Tickner, possibly Fred in the Army Service Corps. I’m so thrilled to finally see a photo of Leading Aircraftman Samuel Tickner and his Meritorious Service Medal. When we get back on the streets again, I look forward to taking Mary on a tour of her family’s roots in Summerstown.