“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, 15 January 2017
Sam & underage Tommy pals dig Harrogate out of a blizzard – and he discovers the mysterious skills of a “character delineator” and his new friend Mac the phrenologist (he reads your bumps, Mrs!)…
For details of how to buy Sam’s full Memoir* in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli & Somme episode mini-e-books & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to the British Red Cross
A hundred years ago this week… Diplomacy and negotiation probably made more of the headlines than did the snow-bound fighting, especially in the wake of the Allies rejecting the German/Central Powers peace offer (which, some argued, simply represented the Kaiser saying “Let’s just stop there and agree we won”).
So while Russian, British, French and Italian leaders met in Petrograd to discuss “policy, finance, supplies and co-operation” (January 17), the German Government chanced their arm with a notorious telegram to their Ambassador in Mexico (16 or 19, say different timelines) ordering him to approach the Mexican Government with a view to alliance against the USA should President Wilson and Congress agree to a declaration of war against the Central Powers. This all went wrong because British Intelligence intercepted it, thus perhaps hastening the American war declaration in April, while Mexico decided against the German blandishment anyway.
At home, in Silvertown, east London (January 19), the Brunner Mond factory exploded killing 73 and injuring more than 400. It had been switched to TNT purification by the British Government in 1915 despite the company’s opposition on safety grounds.
On the Western Front, the Ancre battle, a British attack which ran from January 11 to March 13, cranked up gradually with the capture of German posts near Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre, daylight raids further north near Lens (16-17) and defeat of a German attack near Verdun at Bois Des Caurières (21)
The Romanians’ endlessly defiant attempt to defend their country (with much Russian support), after injudiciously starting a war on Austria-Hungary the previous autumn, saw their Army still fighting in the regions near the Black Sea coast – recapturing the heights between the Casin and Oitoz valleys and driving German forces out of Vadeni (January 16). But their advance petered out and they lost the towns of Nanesti and Fundeni (18-19).
Down in north-western Africa, scattered battles continued with the British pushing steadily towards Kut, on the Tigris, west of Baghdad, which they’d lost eight months earlier; after 10 days fighting they’d cleared all Ottoman troops from the right bank south of their objective (January 9-19).
Meanwhile, my father, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, had fought on the Somme Front with his new outfit the Kensingtons from mid-May to September (FootSoldierSam’s Blogs dated May 15 to September 25, 2016). About September 30 he was told his age – 18 on July 6 – had been officially noticed, he was legally too young for the battlefield, and he could take a break until his 19th birthday if he wished. He certainly did – though not without a sense of guilt. He spent a few weeks at the Harfleur British base camp, a few more “training” in London (and living at home), then in December the Army posted him up north to Harrogate where he was reallocated again, this time to an Essex Regiment Battalion along with a bunch of other under-age Tommies twiddling their thumbs until they severally turned 19…
Last week, Sam and his under-age pals conducted a mini-mutiny on discovering themselves apparently belonging to or at least associated with the reviled “Lost Division” who had allegedly sat out the war so far without a step in the direction of the Front. In fact, their indignation derived from an outraged yarn in the weekly magazine John Bull (edited by plausible fraudster Horatio Bottomley, see footnote **) – which itself seemed not to have referred to any Harrogate-based outfit, so (despite my father’s strong sense of its veracity) it may have become the sort of “yellow press” rumour which taints all sorts of people who have nothing to do with any truth that may have sparked it.
However, the RSM and Sergeants of the Harrogate di behave strangely when the under-agers refused to join their first morning parade, asking(!) them to go away and have a think before doing anything hasty. But said “think” persuaded hot heads to consider the pleasant setting and good grub on offer – plus the conspicuous absence of whizz-bangs, machine guns and such. So they swallowed their pride, if that’s what it was, and settled down until such time as the calendar summoned them back to war.
Here Sam gets stuck into a bit of “doing good”, making friends and enjoying the quirks of place and people around him:
‘No doubt the adverse publicity still appearing in the aforementioned weekly** and taken up by other publications caused the top brass in “Lost Division” to rethink the system of work and training and draw up a new syllabus.
We had just started on this new programme when that previously mild winter struck hard; northern areas found themselves temporarily embarrassed by a covering of up to 18 inches of snow***. Here indeed was an opportunity for the Regiment to improve its image. Out came the picks and shovels and carts and, to a well-organised plan, we set about clearing the main roads and then the side streets. It’s probable Harrogate had never seen a snow clearance completed so rapidly.
I certainly saw no evidence among townspeople of dislike, let alone contempt, for the military. The local ladies organised concerts and the occasional whist drive, in fact did many things to make life a bit more pleasant for us. Not all the turns at the amateur shows reached a high standard, but we, the audience, appreciated the will to entertain, and backed up the performers with ample applause.
A character reader occupied the ground floor of my billet… the real trade description occurs to me now: “character delineator”. He had, I heard, fitted up premises behind the shop window as a sort of studio. People actually paid the gentleman fees to encourage him to tell them about themselves. Did his opinion of the client exceed the client’s opinion of himself? This I never discovered, but I did choose to believe a strange story I heard about this man.
The yarn had it that this character delineator wrote fiction well known among readers of popular magazines. He pursued this other line of work in order to study people’s faces, general appearance and mannerisms, so that he could introduce characters resembling them into his stories. He dealt often in fictional characters of Chinese origin – the victims of these “Orientals” would, of course, be white Western people. I never met the man, but enjoyed the thought of living under the same roof as that author practising his curious trade****.
By now I had formed a fairly close relationship with a young Scot, McIntyre. Being from Edinburgh, his quiet voice had an accent which I, and doubtless many others, have always found very attractive – even and smooth. I always enjoyed Mac’s company; I estimated that his education had been superior to mine, but he had nothing of the snob about him. For me, though, he did have a touch of mystery, not unlike the alleged author. He told me that, just before the war, as a lad of 15 he’d apprenticed to a phrenologist – that is, a man whose skill consisted of “reading” the shape of bumps on the heads of, in my opinion, gullible clients. This man practiced – and trained Mac – in London, his premises on the corner where Fleet Street joins New Bridge Street.’
** John Bull – published by Horatio Bottomley, the Liberal MP for Hackney South, sentenced in 1922 to seven years in jail for fraud when it came to light that he’d embezzled £900,000 donated by readers and others to the Victory Bond Club he’d set up, supposedly, to finance the war effort.
*** A blizzard in Yorkshire on January 16, 1917, brought a fresh crescendo to a long, freezing winter across much of the country, but especially the north. Given drifting caused by the wind, Sam’s “up to 18 inches” – 55.7 centimetres – is quite credible; an online meteorological report notes 31 centimetres/12.2 inches falling on the 16th at West Witton, 50 miles northwest of Harrogate.
**** This writer of magazine serials with Chinese villains sounds a bit like Sax Rohmer, creator of Fu Manchu. And Sam was a big fan of his, probably first reading these yarns when they made their debut in a weekly called The Storyteller, October, 1912-June, 1913. But I can find no indication that Rohmer (real name Arthur Ward, born Birmingham 1983, died White Plains, New York, 1936… of Asian flu!) ever worked in Harrogate, much less in the field of character delineation; some lesser romancer then, if the tale my father heard had any basis in fact.
All the best – FSS
Next week: Sam and Mac’s lark with two girls and a toboggan ends in disaster – and romance!
* 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.