“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 War: The Somme, Part Five of this memoir)
Sunday, 26 April 2015
Foot soldier Sam, 16, in Malta visits the Red Light District – and was his face red!
For details of how to buy Sam’s full Memoir in paperback or e-book & new excerpted Gallipoli episode mini-e-book & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to British Red Cross
A hundred years ago… today 70,000-plus Allied troops struggled to establish themselves on and beyond the beaches of Gallipoli following the landings on April 25 – and the Ottoman Army fought desperately to confine them to their tactically terrible positions on a narrow strip of sand and rocks with their backs to the sea. On this day the British took the village of Seddülbahir, near V Beach, in a major battle; on the 27th Kemal’s 19th Division attacked the Australians and New Zealanders at Anzac; on the 28th, the First Battle Of Krithia saw a British advance halted after 10 hours by Ottoman forces; and on the 29th an Ottoman attempt, under German General Liman Von Sanders, to “push the Allies into the sea” foundered at Eski Hissarlik.
It’s said that this last, if successful, might have ended the Gallipoli campaign in four days – possibly to the benefit of the overall Allied effort? Instead, the campaign settled towards the sort of deadly attritional warfare already established on the Western Front… where the 2nd Battle of Ypres proceeded “normally” after the initial German poison gas attack failed to produce a breakthrough. And in Eastern Europe, on May 1 the German and Austria-Hungarian Armies launched the seven-week Gorlice-Tarnów offensive – near Kraków now in north-east Poland – which won back Galicia and cost the Russian Army barely conceivable numbers of casualties (412,000 in May only) and prisoners (750,000).
Meanwhile, in Malta, ensconced at St George's Barracks north of Valletta, my father Private Sam Sutcliffe’s 2/1st City Of London Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, his older brother Ted and their pals from Edmonton, north London, occasionally felt guilty but mostly counted their blessings that extensive training continued to defer their entry into front-line action…
In particular, Sam, still just 16 after lying about his age to enlist the previous September, explored the opportunities for new experience offered by his first foreign country, all the time striving to prove himself “a man” rather than a boy. Mind you, they didn’t always work out very well, as this Memoir episode and the next – especially when it came to sexual matters, where his Boy Scout/choirboy innocence either let him down or protected him, depending on how you view these things.
First, here’s Sam continuing with the sort of simple tourist pleasures he wrote about last week (NB, new readers, in this first part of his Memoir Sam wrote in the third person and called himself “Tommy”):
‘… Saturday excursions became a regular treat. Tommy accumulated a few shillings out of his meagre 7/- a week pay — even though he had acquired the regular smoking habit and spent a few pence a week on it (he got little pleasure out of it, but he felt that being able to offer or accept a fag made him one of the crowd). If two more men joined him and Hayson, they could share a karozzin* and could travel to Sliema at a cost of thruppence farthing each (a shilling fare and the customary penny tip for the cabby). One could stay in Sliema, but more went on in Valletta on the opposite side of Marsamuscetto** harbour, so usually they took a penny trip across on a little, steam ferry.
After disembarking, Tommy’s usual first purchase was a tall glass of a limonada – heavenly flavoured, price 1d, dispensed by a man who occupied an unusually solid, nicely ornamented, old kiosk. Tommy wondered for what purpose it had originally been built.
His friend Hayson preferred beer as a thirst-quencher and Tommy had no objection to joining him, especially when he found that half a pint, could also be had for a penny; light or dark, it had a fair strength, must have, for he felt slightly tipsy after only two glasses.’
So beer he could handle. But soon his older pal Hayson led him astray – not into “sin” as it turned out, but blushful misery anyway…
‘They rarely made any plans when visiting Valletta, but one time Hayson said, “Why don’t we look for the Strada Fontana***? They say it’s the official brothel road. Some of the older men go there for a shag, or say they do. I could never touch a bag of that sort, but no doubt the older, married men miss their regulars. It might be a bit of a lark to walk through the street.”
Tommy too felt something adventurous about the idea. Perhaps seeing how the business was conducted without apparently looking at the whores. When they found the Strada, they saw that the houses — small and terraced — were all to their right. “We’ll keep to the left side of the street along by the wall,” suggested Hayson.
This they did, talking as they walked, hoping that their guarded glances to the right passed unnoticed by women whom they could see standing on the pavement by their front doors. Rather old most of them looked to the boy. He’d seen mothers of chaps like himself standing chatting to neighbours at their front doors back home who looked no older than most of these women — and they certainly didn’t shout coarse invitations such as “Come on, darky ginger” and “Very nice, very cheap” in loud, harsh voices. After which, when the lads took no notice of their offers, came the insults: “English soldier no good, no money,” “Territorials plenty beeg preek and no money,” “Give him bottle of milk — call yourself a man!” and so on.
So the adventure lost its savour. The youngsters’ uselessness was so obvious that women way ahead of them took up the shouting. Although they continued to the end of the street, their walk almost became a run and they felt lucky to escape without injury. Probably the women could tell from long experience when they were being inspected as curiosities.
Tommy learned later — through a visit where he actually did wait for a friend without using the establishment’s services himself — that each house was controlled by an old woman who performed certain necessary duties beyond her nominal job title of “cook”. First she took out the customer’s penis and cleansed it with a swab dipped in water and then in Condy’s Fluid**** which she kept in a bucket in the corner of the room. Then, in full view of the customer — by way of guarantee, up to a point — she performed a cleansing of the whore with the same fluid. The “cook” also attended to payment: one shilling for the use of the woman and a penny for herself.’
* A karozzin is a horse-drawn carriage.
** The harbour’s Maltese name is Marsamxett.
*** Strada della Fontana is now St Christopher Street.
**** Condy’s Fluid, developed and patented in 1857 by Henry Bollman Condy, English chemist and industrialist; it could be taken internally or externally, although its advertised uses included “to purify cattle dog” and “to deprive night-chairs of offensive odours”.
All the best – FSS
Next week: “Tommy/Sam” meets a girl… and doesn’t know whether to pay or propose…