“I feel one can say with some conviction that no man should willingly leave his home to fight, wound, maim or kill other men about whom he knows little and whom he certainly does not hate. When all men refuse to commit such follies the foundations of a true civilisation will have only just started to be laid.”
- Sam Sutcliffe, circa 1974 (extracted from his Memoir)
Sunday, 14 April 2019
Sam, an ex-POW Gallipoli/Somme veteran guarding German POWs in Sussex, discovers the previously hidden (romantic!) promise of Littlehampton…
Sam’s Memoir(1) – paperback and e-book – and the e-excerpts from it are now available in their third and final editions with added Endnotes and, in the Memoir, added documentation.
For details of how to buy the Memoir or Gallipoli & Somme & Arras 1918/POWetc mini-e-books click here plus see reader reviews here and here and reviews from the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association here.For AUDIO excerpts click Here Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here
The war’s over at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoir concludes with the Centenary of the July 19, 1919, Peace parade in London…
All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of April 3, 2019, is £4,078.85 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!).
A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… While not much detail was emerging from the Paris Peace Conference, French PM Georges Clemenceau wrote to one of his generals (April 15) that everything was turning out well from his point of view: “In the last three days, we have worked well. All the great issues of concern to France are almost settled. Yesterday, as well as the two treaties giving us the military support of Britain and the United States in case of a German attack, I obtained the occupation of the Rhineland for 15 years, with partial evacuation after five years. If Germany does not fulfil the treaty, there will be no evacuation either partial or definitive. At last I am no longer anxious. I have obtained almost everything I wanted.”
Years later, UK PM Lloyd George observed of his more-or-less ally against US President Woodrow Wilson’s more moderate approach to punishing Germany’s: “It was part of the real joy of these Conferences to observe Clemenceau's attitude towards Wilson… He listened with eyes and ears lest Wilson should by a phrase commit the Conference to some proposition which weakened the settlement from the French standpoint. If Wilson ended his allocution without doing any perceptible harm, Clemenceau's stern face temporarily relaxed, and he expressed his relief with a deep sigh. But if the President took a flight beyond the azure main, as he was occasionally inclined to do without regard to relevance, Clemenceau would open his great eyes in twinkling wonder, and turn them on me as much as to say: ‘Here he is, off again!’”
Apart from the jaw-jaw, war-war still proceeded in eastern Europe. While the Red and White Russians’ conflict in the Urals stalled for a few days, Bolshevik forces took a heavy loss in the Battle Of Lida April 16-17), part of the Polish-Soviet War (February 14, 1919-March 18, 1921). Having camped outside the town (in present-day Belarus) since mid-March, the Polish Army attacked the Russians – who’d lately taken it after German occupation – and drove them out, pursuing them eastwards with cavalry. This signalled a strategic shift by the newly independent Poles who decided to stop fighting the Ukrainians and concentrate on their Russian border.
Much further east, in the Punjab, five days of rioting followed the Massacre Of Amritsar (April 13) – connected to World War I because the Punjab had been the main source of recruitment for the Indian Army which fought at Gallipoli, in the Middle East and on the Western Front.
[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, 16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914, fought at Gallipoli with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), then on the Somme Front with his second outfit, the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. They told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He accepted, though with an enduring sense of guilt. December, 1916, saw him posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated to the Essex Regiment Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France – reverting to Private on arrival, I don’t know why – and dogsbodied around Arras until mid-March when he ran into his own Essex 2/7th Battalion. They moved into the trenches near Fampoux just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28, 1918, left 80 alive and “fit” out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, a POW (Blog March 25, 2018). For several months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups doing hard labour, before spending the summer in southern Germany and finally moving westwards to Lorraine – whence, the day after Armistice, his long trek towards the French Front began. He reached safety after tiptoeing through a German minefield (November 15 probably). Then began his recovery from chronic near-starvation – and a brief emotional breakdown – until, finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before reuniting with parents and siblings, especially brother Ted, home on a week’s leave but suffering badly from gas damage. Civilian life offered Sam a warm welcome… until, in February, 1919, the Army called him back - though only to a “Dad’s Army” unit. Meaning, at first, a few weeks de factoholiday in Brighton. But then, something completely different…Sam as ex-POW guards German POWs…]
April, 1919, Sussex: Sam is continuing with his final Army job, guarding German POWs detained at a run-down near-stately home in the village of East Preston, five miles southeast of Arundel(2). His fellow guards, like my father, are all ex-POWs transferred from their fighting Regiments to the Royal Defence Corps. They’d been told Winston Churchill conceived this set-up in the belief that it would do them good…
Last week, Sam ventured into a failed attempt at romance with one of the village schoolteachers – and also took to weekend walks across the fields to Littlehampton, 2.5 miles west. There he enjoyed the usually deserted YMCA – missing its departed GI clientele – for big lunches served up by the underemployed ladies in the café.
But now the small seaside resort offers him a different kind of attraction…
‘More than once, when I wandered into Littlehampton, I found myself walking behind a girl quietly dressed in a calf-length, Navy-blue overcoat. She usually turned right, as I did, into the High Street, at the far end of which stood the YMCA. Then, every time, she would walk straight past the building and I would climb the steps… beginning to feel curious about her and where she was going.
Everything about her suggested a degree of respectability which would preclude interruptions to her progress from a poor soldier such as myself. As she walked, her bearing regal, she looked neither right nor left. Her right arm swung sort of diagonally, finishing behind her back. Her left hand held a large handbag carried with arm fully extended and rigid. A Captain maybe could make an advance of some kind, or even a Lieutenant, but me, no. Till late one afternoon…
She must have despaired of anything coming of the haughty act and this time when I followed her along the High Street – by chance as ever – she stopped in her tracks, turned round, confronted me and smiled. “You’re not going to duck into that dump again, are you?” she asked. Of course, I quickly adjusted my thinking and promised never again to do that if she was likely to be available.
Nothing exciting came of it, but we met often, walked around the district and usually called at a country inn for a couple of drinks… Something different, then, to make the fairly long walk to Littlehampton worthwhile.
I treated her with the respect due to one of her obviously high moral standards. But when, on one of our pub visits, she told me she enjoyed my company best when I’d got a couple of whiskies under my belt, I wondered if I was perhaps overdoing the gallantry(3).
Resting one day on my mattress in my little room just below the roof of the old mansion, I heard a knock on the door and in came our Sergeant – a boozy-faced old twit, I thought – accompanied by a tall lad. “Hope you won’t mind sharing with this young man,” said the gaffer and, of course, I made him welcome. I said, “Come in, George, very glad to have you for a mate after all these years!” – expecting, as I did so, a sign of recognition from him… Marvelling at the strange coincidence of it all, I was staggered when he said it was great I called him by his proper name before he’d introduced himself; at which, I realised this was a stock joke of his – he thought I’d called him George because, in the Army, everyone called you George if they didn’t know your proper name.
It shook me for, as a pre-war youngster, this lad had worked, just over Southwark Bridge from Lake & Currie’s offices, in the laboratory which assayed mineral samples sent in by our firm’s mining engineers. General dogsbody George(4) trotted over to the City with the results and took back anything that needed testing. I often chatted with him while he waited in the outer office I occupied with the old “Sergeant” commissionaire; I knew him well, even knew about a kidney complaint which caused him to become drowsy and fall asleep regardless of where he happened to be. He had told me he lived in a block of flats and had to climb several flights of stairs and sometimes sat down on a step and dozed off. Unusual for a boy of 15 or so, but that was about the only result of his complaint that bothered him.
I knew all this, yet he didn’t appear to remember me. Feeling sure he would suddenly recall our earlier acquaintance, I waited with pleasant anticipation for his day of awakening. It never came. At meals, we often sat together and, when duties permitted, we’d withdraw to the small room up top and chat before dozing off. Most days, I tried to say things which should have made him question me. But it just didn’t happen. Quiet, kindly George would occasionally talk about his boyhood times, but I had no place in them.’
(2) Area map at https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-0.5158142,13z
(3) While Sam here seems to be struggling with the girl’s apparent propriety, I’ll note again that he’d emerged from the war still a virgin and carrying his own burden(?) of restraint inculcated by the mentor of his early teens back in Edmonton, the Rev Mr Frusher, who instructed the lads in his charge, as choir- and scoutmaster, that they “had a bounden duty to accept responsibility and ensure that nothing occurred, when the girl was in his care, which he could not freely reveal to her parents. The final word had a memorable simplicity to it: chivalry.”
(4) I can’t give you a back-reference here because George didn’t get a mention in the section about Sam’s two years working for Lake & Currie. Even allowing for my father’s appearance having changed somewhat between 1912-14 and 1919, ages 14 to 20, with added impact from his war experience, no doubt this odd episode mostly reflects my father’s extraordinary memory encountering a very bad one.
All the best– FSS
Next week: Sam “fraternises with the enemy” again; the mandolin-playing Unteroffizier and – while rebuilding the Arundel river bank – fellow former front-liners Willi and Hans… “too young to hate anybody who did them now harm”.
(1) In his 70s, Sam Sutcliffe wrote Nobody Of Any Importance, a Memoir of his life from childhood through Gallipoli, the Somme, Arras 1918 and eight months as a POW to the 1919 Peace parade.