“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, 16 September 2018

September ’18: Sam forms “a sort of family” with POWs Wally and George. They agree to share everything – and he scores more spuds for the partnership with the help of Soldaten, friendly to their fellow front-liners, even though they’re enemy prisoners…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli Somme episode & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to the British Red Cross
For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The Americans called a halt on their advance after winning the Battle Of St Mihiel (September 16; casualties US 7,000, German 7,500 plus 15,000 taken prisoner) in order to ready themselves for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive then being readied by Supreme Allied Commander Marshal Foch.
    But the Allies’ terminal campaign picked up again with the Battle Of The Hindenburg Line (September 18-October 17). The first move, the Battle Of Epéhy, saw British, French and Australian troops attack on a 16-mile front and take the village that gave it a name (18; 14 miles northwest of St Quentin) – successes now being measured in POW numbers, they chalked up 11,700. Over the following days, the French did well around Moeuvres (18-20; 17 miles southeast of Arras), holding off a German counterattack, then pushing on to recapture Benay (21) and Vendeul (22); further south they took Vailly, Mont des Singes, and made progress east of Essigny le Grand (20; 65 miles south of Arras).
    In Russia, the extraordinarily widespread post-German victory/Bolshevik Revolution mayhem continued with Japanese (Allied) troops occupying Blagovyeschensk on the Pacific side of Siberia (September 18), while in northern Russia Karelian Finns defeated a German-led Finnish force at Ukhtinskaya (18), and the Czecho-Slovak legions who had scored such a strange skein of conquests along the Trans-Siberian railway at last lost out to Bolshevik and German troops at Volsk, Simbirsk and Kazan (20; from 500 to 580 miles east of Moscow).
    Elsewhere, the Allies’ emulated their dominance on the Western Front as the Serbian/Greek/French/British collaboration in the Balkans prospered; the Vardar Offensive (September 15-29) drove the Bulgarian Army to retreat on a 100-mile front from Monastir to Lake Doiran in Serbia, which they had occupied since 1915. Meanwhile, in Palestine a wonderfully diverse Allied coalition – the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, itself British, Indian, Anzac, French, Egyptian and Gurkha, augmented by South Africans and Ruwalla and Howeitat tribesmen – initiated the Battles Of Meggido (19-25) and took the Ottoman defenders apart as they crossed the Plain Of Sharon to the Esdralon Plain. 

[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)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. So 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 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017).He passed many weeks in various hospitals because of a meningitis scare, German Measles, and recovery from the effects of trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). During that summer, his Company Officer offered him the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. In December, probably, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras and at the Front. In mid-March he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras… just in time for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive and a last stand by the Battalion on March 28 which 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. Then, for three or four months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim. There they settled into a slightly less uncomfortable/filthy camp for the summer, mainly working on sick and wounded German war horses.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
September, 1918: my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe – now 20 years old and six months a slowly starving POW often brutalised by the guards – nonetheless feels his spirits lifted a little because he keeps on running into moments of kindness from his captor-enemies – as well as his new pal, Essex country boy Wally. 
    Last week, working in a hay barn outside the nearby town of Müllheim-in-Baden (two miles south of Hügelheim), Sam sort of escaped out the back and encountered a young German soldier, on leave from the Front, walking with his sister. They had a broken English-German conversation and then the two fetched him a bucket of boiled potatoes! He and Wally ate “fit to bust”. Now the story continues and gets a little complicated regarding friendship, comradeship, even partnership… and food!

‘I now had a pal to think of, a generous soul; the months of near-starvation, of frequently being robbed of bits of food he had procured with difficulty(2), these souring experiences had not removed the grin from Wally’s face nor the kindness of his nature. You can therefore appreciate the pleasure I had from being able to give something to him by way of a change.
    I still had a few potatoes hidden under my tunic when we got back to our hut, and Wally asked if I would agree to give a couple of them to George, a friend of longer standing than I was. I can’t say I felt keen on going shares with this stranger, as he was to me; but you couldn’t look into Wal’s open mug and big, blue eyes and refuse even such a costly request. Where the next bit of extra food would come from I had no notion, but old George got his spuds.
    Let me describe George as best I can: aged about 40, although he looked rather older, black-with-some-grey hair; a face which had never been full, I’d say, but, at the moment, merely skin stretched over bone; eyes brown and bloodshot; body thin and bent forward from the waist, legs bent, feet flat – the last not a result of war’s ravages, but due to long hours spent on his feet as a warehouse salesman in a well-known St Paul’s Churchyard firm of merchants. One of the few chaps who had managed to retain his issued cutthroat razor, he shaved when water was available and still cultivated a thin black moustache. A manly man, as I always considered those with enough courage to maintain facial adornments – men who, in contact with their fellows, feared no criticism of their efforts to augment Nature’s handiwork.
    At that point, we three made a pact that all extras would be split three ways, and Wally and I, at any rate, honoured that pledge. If, as I noticed, old George slipped from strict observance once or twice, no mention was made of the matter.

But something here to be surprised about: having established a sort of family, I didn’t feel so much the loner with every man’s hand against me. Though not entirely sure the triple partnership would work to my benefit, I found that its existence added purpose to each day’s beginning. To the issued piece of black bread(3) I must try to add something for all to share, no matter how small.
    On one occasion, a guard put me to work with a small gang just outside our camp’s barbed-wire fence, filling holes in the dirt track – you couldn’t call it a road. We tipped in a mixture of stones and earth and punned them down with a lump of concrete on the end of a long handle; it was so heavy it took two of us to lift the implement and let it fall. But, ever on the lookout for opportunities to secure something for our threesome, I noticed two Soldaten(4) some hundred yards away off to one side of the road. They were digging and, when they noticed me watching them, they waved.
    I decided I was being invited to join them – I felt sure it would be safe to obey soldiers in uniform. And they had a small pile of potatoes beside them… One handed me a garden fork and indicated that I should dig. Setting to with high hopes, I found the soil dry and light and, although they had clearly gone through it quite thoroughly, I still came up with some small, but acceptable, spuds.
    On leave from the Front, I discovered, those lads, who must have risked a reprimand, at least, for aiding an enemy prisoner. Once again, they demonstrated the respect many of the fighting men on both sides felt for each other in that war.
    At that late stage, most of the front-line fighters were young men. On the German side, the bitter, still-filled-with-hatred, old Kaiser-lovers had moved on to duties far behind the battlefield – such as guarding us. I encountered an occasional exception, such as the tubby Posten who succumbed to the aroma of frying bacon at Hügelheim(5)… And now I recall I later saw him standing at the door of his hut, looking quite ill, with many sores around his face – I wondered if his undoing perhaps resulted from those very days of visiting the good lady and eating rich farm produce when he should really have been making sure we didn’t escape… “Sores all over my body,” he told me, with his hands more than words, and I felt sorry for him because he was rare and fair.’
(2) Robbed by fellow POWs is what my father means, judging by previous blogs – that’s what hunger can do.
(3) One small piece per day per POW.
(4) Soldaten: soldiers.
(5) The Posten/guard had treated Sam kindly at the Hügelheim POW camp/war-horse hospital – he’d found said “good lady” by following his nose to the smell of her frying bacon.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam witnesses a Biblical display of flailing wheat by hand – and then becomes the protagonist in another primitive agricultural practice which leads to his collapse, a guard punching him… and a strange, maybe redemptive drama playing out! 

(1) In his 70s, Sam Sutcliffe wrote Nobody Of Any Importance, a Memoirof his life from childhood through Gallipoli, the Somme, Arras 1918 and eight months as a POW to the 1919 Peace parade.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

September, 1918: POW Sam runs into more surprising kindness – this time from a German soldier and his girlfriend. Over hard work and shared spuds he finds a good pal in a lad called Wally…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli Somme episode & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to the British Red Cross
For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The Battles Of The Hindenburg Line (September 12-October 12) began with the British, supported by New Zealanders, coming down off high ground to attack and take Havrincourt (September 12-16; Aisne department, southeast of Cambrai) and the Americans leading the Battle Of St Mihiel (12-13; Meuse department, 22 miles south of Verdun) under General Pershing, supported by French tanks and 1,500 Allied aircraft – catching German troops already on the retreat they took 15,000 prisoners in two days before pulling up short of their initial objective, Metz, as Pershing needed to put his force at the disposal of a French attack further north.
    The French had already won the Battle Of Savy-Dallon (September 10; Aisne department), approaching the Hindenburg Line near St Quentin as they took Hinacourt, Travecy and Savy, and then advanced again via the Battle Of Vauxaillon (14).
    No surprise then that, backstage, Austria-Hungary wrote to President Wilson (September 15) seeking an “unofficial” peace conference – whatever that might have been, the President rejected it the following day – and the German Government made a peace offer to Belgium (15) just as the Belgian Army was advancing strongly around Ypres.
    Action continued on the periphery of the European conflict. Way up north in the Murman region of Russia around the Barents Sea, Allied forces began an advance after American troops arrived in Archangel (September 11). Down in Azerbaijan, the confusing battle for Baku saw a British evacuation when an attempted collaboration with the Armenian defenders against the Turks failed. And in Serbia – territory now in Macedonia – combined Serbian, French and Greek regiments initiated the Battle Of Dobro Pole (September 15-18) against the occupying Bulgars.

[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)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. So 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 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). He passed many weeks in various hospitals because of a meningitis scare, German Measles, and recovery from the effects of trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). During that summer, his Company Officer offered him the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. In December, probably, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras and at the Front. In mid-March he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras… just in time for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive and a last stand by the Battalion on March 28 which 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. Then, for three or four months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim where they settled into a slightly less uncomfortable/filthy camp for the summer, mainly working on sick and wounded German war horses.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
August/September, 1918: my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, now 20 years old and five months a slowly starving POW, is on a run of (relative) good fortune – all food-connected stories, naturally. First it was the tubby Posten (guard) buying him a Gasthaus lunch, then a few days’ hard work in a vineyard rewarded by stew and cream cheese and even wine, and now this week a further encounter with the kindness of the enemy… 
    (By the way, if my father’s food obsession seems trivial in the light of the historic events noted in the “hundred years ago this week” section of the blog, please consider that a) he hadn’t a clue what was going on at the Front and b) hunger concentrates the mind wonderfully.)

‘However, after only three days, we were all sent off on different jobs. Grievously disappointed, I found some compensation because, in a group of 10 or so, I was taken into the nearby town of Müllheim-in-Baden(2), and thence to a big farm on the outskirts. Our job was to store away a recently cut crop of hay on the second floor of a large barn. In good dry condition, the hay proved easy to handle. Like all well-planned barns – I remembered from boyhood camping days(3) – it had an open area in the middle with two spacious floors at each end and we forked the hay from ground to first floor, then up again to the top floor.
    I had no experience with a pitchfork, but had the good luck to be paired with my friend Wally. A country boy, height about 66 inches, broad of shoulder and strong of limb with admirable stamina from his former open-air life and good feeding, he had withstood the privations of these months better than most of us. And he soon showed me the knack of driving the fork in with a twist, which secured a good load, then using the handle as a lever to lift the weight in one deft movement, making easy work of it even to a weakling like me.
    Awaiting another load from the fields, we had a break. We’d been working on the top deck of the barn, and when I explored I found a small door at the back. Carefully opening it, I saw down below a narrow lane. I thought what you have just thought – about possible escape. But where to? Food? And so on… Meanwhile, I scrambled out anyway, finding grips in gaps in the woodwork and finally landing in grass and weeds…
    And there I was, alone in the lane. But only for a moment. Coming towards me were a girl and a young soldier – and that, it appeared, would be the end of my brief freedom.
    They came close, both smiled. No screams or cries of alarm. So, nothing unusual about finding a British prisoner unguarded and alone, it seemed. “Ich arbeit darein,”(4) I said and pointed hopefully at the barn. They talked a while and he said, “Bleiben sie da”. All smiles, so I trusted them completely and waited, perhaps for 20 minutes. My mate Wally’s head appeared above and I gave him a reassuring nod and grin; I felt sure he would alert me if necessary. When my young friends reappeared the soldier carried a pail which he offered to me – nearly full of hot potatoes boiled in their jackets.
    Again, a kindly girl had risked possible arrest to help an enemy prisoner. The lad had taken an even greater risk, being in the Army. I packed the spuds into my under-tunic sack and became fuller of figure and even fuller of gratitude to these lovely, young people.
    War… to hell with it — this lad who seemed so much younger than me, would probably be in the slaughter shambles on the Western Front any day now, and what might happen to his dear sister? (I had understood one word among the several he said to me, “Schwester”.)
    Sincere thanks were all I could offer. As they disappeared round a bend in the lane, I wished to heaven I could have gone with them.
    A soft whistle from me brought Wally to the door above. To help me back up, he lowered his pitchfork and lay down on the deck up there, holding it, while I hauled myself up part of the way, then I completed the rest of the climb unaided.
    We two then ate spuds until, as they say, fit to bust.’
(2) Müllheim: in Baden-Württemberg, 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometres) south of Hügelheim (and their POW camp/horse hospital), between the Black Forest and the Rhine.
(3) With the Edmonton Boy Scouts in Epping Forest or some other tract of (then) nearby countryside.
(4) “Ich arbeit darein”: “I work in there”. Then“Bleiben sie da”: “Stay there”.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam establishes “a sort of family” with POWs Wally and George as they agree to share everything – and he scores more spuds for the partnership with the help of friendly Soldaten, full of empathy for their fellow front-liners, even as enemy prisoners…

(1) In his 70s, Sam Sutcliffe wrote Nobody Of Any Importance, a Memoirof his life from childhood through Gallipoli, the Somme, Arras 1918 and eight months as a POW to the 1919 Peace parade.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

September, 1918: Sam and starving POW pals find blessed relief through working in a vineyard… where the boss seems to be American and the main customer for the products of their (forced) labour is British!?

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli Somme episode & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to the British Red Cross
For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… A cluster of battles in the Amiens Offensive (August 21-September 3) phase of the Allies’ conclusive summer push reached their official conclusions (although fighting continued between set pieces, of course). 
    The Allies shared their successes all around. The New Zealanders earned most of the credit for the Second Battle Of Bapaume (August 21-September 3), concluded when they saw German troops out of positions overlooking Haplincourt (September 2), then regrouped. Australians won the Battle Of San Quentin, taking Sailly-Sallisel, St Pierre-Vaast Wood and Péronne (1-2; 3,000 casualties), in what one British General described as “the greatest military achievement of the war”. The British led the Second Battles Of Arras, occupying Lens as the German Army retreated (3). Finally, the Canadians fronted the Battle Of Drocourt-Quéant (2-3), seizing the western end of the Hindenburg Line to which the Germans had initially retreated (the launch pad for the Spring Offensive six months earlier), before Ludendorff decided to make the Canal du Nord their new defensive line (it runs from Pont-l’Éveque, Oise department, to Arleux, Nord department).
    Meanwhile, the French, with American support, pushed forward north of Soisson (September 2-7; 50 miles south of St Quentin), crossing the Somme Canal to take Ham, Pithon and Dury (6-7; Somme and Aisne departments).
    Around Russia, the Battle Of Baku (August 26-September 14; Azerbaijan) stalled as Ottoman forces gathered to attack the forces of the Centrocaspian Dictatorship, abetted by the 1000-man British “Dunsterforce”. Over in Murmansk, Italian troops joined the Anglo-French Allied Expeditionary Force (2; 1200 miles north of Moscow) and at Bobzerskaya (4) the Allied troops who’d entered Archangel (765 miles north of Moscow) in early August defeated a German-led Russian force. A little more remotely, Japanese soldiers, who’d lately joined the British and Czechs in Pacific Siberia, occupied Khabarovsk (5; 5210 miles east of Moscow).

[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)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. So 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 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). He passed many weeks in various hospitals because of a meningitis scare, German Measles, and recovery from the effects of trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). During that summer, his Company Officer offered him the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. In December, probably, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras and at the Front. In mid-March he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras… just in time for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive and a last stand by the Battalion on March 28 which 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. Then, for three or four months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim where they settled into a slightly less uncomfortable/filthy camp for the summer, mainly working on sick and wounded German war horses.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
My father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, now 20 years old and five months a slowly starving POW, has lately had a bit of luck with less grinding work and the guards going easy on the brutality – last week a friendly Posten actually bought him a pub lunch. The unexpected trend continues now as he moves on to another new workplace:

‘I didn’t know it, but that [see last week’s blog re a day taking horses from one village to another via that Gasthauswas to be my last day of work in Hügelheim. Next came a three-day stint of hoeing in a vineyard. How I wished it could have been much longer…
    They marched about a dozen of us up into the hills until we came to the entrance to a farm. We were handed hoes and led across fields to a vast area of rows of vines. Then our guards handed us over to a man who, although wearing military uniform, left most of his tunic buttons undone, wore his cap sort of sideways, and addressed us in fluent American. Apparently the foreman, he showed one man how he wished the work to be done while the rest of us watched and learned. When his demonstrator had done about three yards, our boss set the next man on to the row to his right, and then the next, and the next, and so on, until we were all at it, forming a diagonal line across the vineyard.
    The Yankee took the lane at the head of the operation himself. We all had to keep pace with him, preserving the diagonal line. If anyone slacked, he yelled at him in a voice which put fear into the culprit, so the weakest of us still slaved as if his life depended on it – as maybe it did. You’ve got to work under such a gaffer to know real fear; the rasping voice, the promises of agony by pitchfork, boot, or battery, the scowls convincing one of serious intent behind the threats.
    Of course, put it like that and I realise I’m not portraying a good place to work; but at mid-morning they called us all to the end of the field; we dropped our hoes, followed the Yankee and sat near a hedge, while a girl handed out pieces of black bread bearing dabs of cream cheese along with bottles of white wine – each bottle to be shared by two men. Luxurious feeding, and I could now appreciate that, in return for such generosity, our Yankee German felt entitled to extract the maximum amount of work from us because they were treating us as they would their own men.
    After some months of enforced abstinence, the wine had an exhilarating effect on me. I resumed work light of head and heart, wandering ahead of the gang, I purposely took the position in the row next to the gaffer. I wanted to know more about him and the vinery. Backs bent, he and we set to with a will; I felt no end of a fellow as the alcohol-laden blood got at my brain and I kept up with the boss without pausing, as I’d had to do earlier.
    When he straightened up for a short rest, I did likewise and asked him where he had learned his American. He’d lived in the States for some years, he said, but, when the war started, he had been on a homeland visit and was called to serve in the Army before he could return to the USA. When next he paused, he told me that an English-based firm named Margetts(2) owned the farm and vineyard – jams and preserves their main lines. I remember hoping that, if I survived, I might sample Margetts jam at the family table back home and tell them about the kindness of the company’s German employees.
    We’d started work early, of course, and at Mittag, as the gaffer called midday even when talking to us in English, we were actually taken into the farm kitchen, which served as a small canteen. The Yankee foreman’s family sat us at long tables and gave us large basins of almost black stew – on the surface floated blobs of cream! I concluded that the stew consisted of blood sausage with potatoes and swedes. Bread to mop up completed a fine meal and we returned to our toil in good spirits. The whole experience did me a lot of good.
    Work, when resumed for the afternoon, still had to be done correctly and without pause. Our Yankee watched us over his shoulder and now a bearded civilian constantly scrutinised us too. He moved from row to row between the vines, checking that our hoeing was sufficiently deep and that we laid uprooted weeds on the surface (so the sun would dry and kill them).
    Back-breaking work, especially for weakened men, but I felt – and I was sure that most of the men did too – that, if only we could remain in this job and consume the kind of food we’d had this day, strength would return and our work would better satisfy the good farm folk. It seemed so important, I remember, that their humane treatment of enemy prisoners would be paid for in the only currency we could offer – good work.’
(2) According to http://ow.ly/pzvY30kUrrd Margetts was based in Dalston, London, from 1869, its founder James Margetts of Hackney. I don’t know the ins and outs, financial and otherwise, of a British firm operating in Germany during the war. Margetts is now part of Metrow Foods, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam runs into more surprising kindness – from a German soldier and his girlfriend; over hard work and shared spuds he finds a good pal in a lad called Wally…

(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.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Sam, five months a starving and battered POW, encounters more startling acts of kindness – a guard even buys him a Gasthaus lunch – along with a couple of bitterweet reminders of home. (August, 1918)

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli Somme episode & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to the British Red Cross
For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The Allies ultimately war-concluding push proceeded on an ever-widening stretch of the Western Front under the overall banners of the Amiens Offensive and the Second Battles Of The Somme.
    The French won the Second Battle Of Noyon (August 17-29) when they took the town, then went on to capture Leury, Juvigny and Coucy (September 1; Coucy about 18 miles east of Noyon). The Second Battle Of Bapaume (August 21-September 3) approached its quietus too when, after two attempts came up short, New Zealand troops, supported by the British, occupied their objective after German forces retreated overnight (August 30) – the Kiwis pressed on to take Frémicourt as the Germans established a temporary stronghold overlooking Haplincourt (four miles east of Bapaume).
    In the Second Battles Of Arras (August 26-September 3), the British widened the attack around Noyon by seven miles, but within that action it was the Canadians who led the way in the Battle Of The Scarpe river (August 26-30), immediately capturing Monchy-le-Preux and Wancourt (six miles southeast of Arras) and advancing to Fresnes Rouvroy (30; 5,800 Canadian casualties).
    Australian troops began one of their greatest campaigns by crossing the Somme at night (August 31) to break German lines at Mont St-Quentin and followed up the next day by ousting the German Army from Péronne (which, like many of the French towns now being recovered, had been occupied since the Spring Offensive – March 24 in the case of Péronne; 3,000 Australian casualties in three days).
    Other deadly actions continued elsewhere, though looking relatively trivial in the perspective of Western Front developments. Around Russia, the ever confusing picture saw Ottoman forces attack the Bolsheviks and Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan (August 26; 200 British casualties arising too – I haven’t seen an explanation for their presence!), while British troops occupied Krasnodovsk (27; across the Caspian, now in Turkmenistan) and defeated Bolshvik forces 75 miles south of Archangel (31; on the White Sea about 740 miles north of Moscow), and Bolshvik soldiers raided the British Embassy in Petrograd (29).
    Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian Army won their last victory of the war when they retook Berat, Albania, from French and Italian troops (August 26), and down in Portuguese East Africa the German guerilla force so durably on the run from the British survived another cornering at the Battle Of Lioma (30-31), slipping away despite 200 casualties to remain on the loose until the end of the war.

[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. So 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 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). He passed many weeks in various hospitals because of a meningitis scare, German Measles, and recovery from the effects of trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). During that summer, his Company Officer offered him the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. Come November/December, 1917, during his final home leave, he assured his parents that he would survive (irrationally, he knew). In December, probably, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras – including excursions to the Front. In mid-March he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras… just in time for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive and a last stand by the Battalion on March 28 which 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. Then, for three or four months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim where they settled into a slightly less uncomfortable/filthy camp for the summer, mainly working on sick and wounded German war horses.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
My father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, now five months a slowly starving POW, is apparently settled for a while in southern Germany – he and his comrades entirely unaware of promising developments on the Western front, of course. Although the weather and sanitation are better than in the POW camps of occupied France where his ever-changing itinerant band had previously been detained, his preoccupations remain seeking food and avoiding brutal treatment by the guards.
    The last two weeks have gone well, mostly, yielding a shower, clean though flimsy POW uniforms, the surprise provision of some Gutschein voucher “money”, and at least part of an apple pie. Now he encounters further kindnesses… and a couple of odd English connections:

A well-dressed, young Unteroffizier(2), apparently on leave from his unit, came over to the stables from his house across the road and chatted with the several German workers at our prison camp who wore the ordinary grey uniforms – the while, he slapped his fine, leather riding boots with a short horsewhip.
     I saw him again later as I was being escorted – on my own for some reason – along a road through the village. This immaculate, non-commissioned officer, pale of face and rather scholarly looking, proved more kindly than his aloof manner had led me to suppose. He spoke to my tubby guard, then turned to me and told me in fair English, pointing to a cottage, that an English lady lived there.
     When he walked off, I looked hopefully at my keeper. Had he understood what the Unteroffizier had said, and would he permit me to approach the cottage? Cut off for so long from contact with civilians, I imagined this would have been a lovely experience, merely to hear the voice of an English lady… I had no thought of involving her in anything so hopeless as an attempt to escape, just a few words, perhaps about her life in Baden before the war…
     No luck, although the lad didn’t hurry me off to work, and showed friendly interest when, above a small shop, I spotted an enamel advertisement which read “Thompson’s Seifenpulver(3). This must surely refer to a soap powder of English manufacture, famous enough to be sold in even remote parts of Germany. Just this slight proof that some things British had once been acceptable in this now hostile country somehow provided a little reassurance. But I would dearly have prized a few words with that fellow countrywoman.
     I was to spend several more hours with that ruddy, dumpy, humane chap. No soldier he, no Kaiser Wilhelm moustache with long up-pointing ends for my little Posten(4). I saw him blush more than once and wondered if bigger comrades took the mickey because he was shorter than most.
     One morning, arriving at Hügelheim after our walk from the prison camp, he called me from the ranks and led me to a line of ponies tethered to a rail. He detached six of them and gave me their reins, indicating I should hold three in each hand. I’d handled four horses at a time, but six seemed a bit much. He took six himself, though, said “Komm(5), and we left the gang and set off along a lovely country road – he gave me no idea where to or why. My arms threaded through the reins, my ponies following his, we moved along at a pace I could never have maintained had not the animals almost carried me.
     Looking ahead at possible hazards, I hoped that if anything scared them and they bolted, I would be able to raise my arms and allow the reins to slip off. Past farms and vineyards we proceeded. I felt the weakness of near-starvation dragging at me, but determined that my well-fed companion should see no sign of my plight for I hoped he would choose me for other such outings. To be away from the eyes and curses of the more hate-laden Soldaten(6), to feel that I was worthy of being given responsibility, if only for a few animals…
     All went well. At a village en route, my boss tied up our horses in the yard of the Gasthaus(7) and, to my amazement and delight, took me into the inn and sat me at a well-scrubbed deal table. A couple of minutes later, he called me over to the counter to collect a basin of stew and a hunk of rye bread. I wanted to let him know how I really appreciated this kind treatment and the fact that he paid for the food out of his own pocket but, from my limited vocabulary, I could only manage a “Danke schön”. I believed I knew the meaning of many words, but I felt reluctant to use them, concerned about the risk of offending one whom I wished to please.
     Despite this kindness, the Posten remained correct in his treatment of me, and this I understood, for undue chumminess might have brought rebuke from the several soldiers in the dining room.
     But what particularly added to the pleasure of that day was the fact that nobody commented on my appearance or jeered at me, so obviously an enemy prisoner. They were country folk, compassionate perhaps, or maybe they simply accepted the judgment of the man in charge of me.
     Yet when some of our chaps broke out of the Lager one night and made for nearby Switzerland, landworkers spotted them and men and women armed with pitchforks chased and eventually surrounded them. When some struggled to break away the landworkers beat them. They handed the escapees over to the military. On return to our Gefangenenlager(8), they were punished by solitary confinement and a diet of bread once a day and nothing to drink but cold water.
(2) Unteroffizier: can mean either “Corporal”, or serve as a generic for non-commissioned officers.
(3) Thompson’s Seifenpulver: “soap powder”; the company, founded by Dr Richard Thompson in Bradford, had long since moved to Düsseldorf.
(4) Posten: guards – though the literal translation is something like “functionary”. This chubby, friendly Posten features often during Sam’s Hügelheim sojourn (since Blog July 15), although he’s never named.
(5) “Komm”: “Come”.
(6) Soldaten: soldier.
(7) Gasthaus: inn or guest house.
(8) Gefangenenlager: prison camp.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam and starving POW pals find blessed relief through working in a vineyard… where the fair-minded boss seems to be American, the main customer for the product of their (forced) labour is British and… oh joy, the boss feeds them as he did his “own men”! 

(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.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Sam spends his first POW Gutschein vouchers on soap and fags then, stirred by daydreams of some sweet kind girls he encounters, sneaks off to see what he might buy at the local Gasthaus…

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Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The Western Front’s long and conclusive eruption continued. The Amiens Offensive phase (August 8-September 3) produced serial Allied successes on a scale unprecedented. In the Battle Of Noyon (August 17-29), the French captured Le Hamel and Morsain (19; north of the Oise) and reached Quierzy (22; south of the river). On the Lys front, British forces took Merville (19; Nord department, close to the Belgian border).
    But the major strategic action developed in what was later tagged the Second Battles (sic) Of The Somme 1918. Initially, this comprised the Third Battle Of Albert (August 21-3) – British and New Zealand troops recaptured a town lost to the German Army in 1914, taken by Australians in 1917, recovered by Germany in the 1918 Spring Offensive and finally…
    That victory moved on into the Second Battle Of Bapaume (August 21-September 3; 12 miles northeast of Albert): a British attack on a 10-mile front north of the river Ancre between Beaucourt-sur-Ancre and Moyenneville began their advance to the Bray-Albert road (22), taking Bray and Miraumont (24), while the New Zealanders occupied Loupart Wood and Grévillers (24) and then started a combined attack on Bapaume with the British (25).
    Post-revolutionary Russia’s turmoils showed no signs of disentangling, even though it seemed the German Army had eased off any kind of post-victory aggression. Bolshevik forces advanced a little on the Ussuri front (August 19; Khabarovsk, 470 miles north of Vladivostok), but lost ground to the Allies a few days later (24). Again on the Pacific side, the Japanese Army made a rare contribution to the Allied effort, playing a part in winning the Battle Of Dukhovskaya (23-4; eastern Siberia). Meanwhile, the Czecho-Slovak Legion, which had done all the heavy lifting to give the Allies an inroad to Bolshevik power took Kazan (25; on the River Volga, 500 miles west of Moscow on the Legion-controlled Trans-Siberian Railway).
    Good news for the Central Powers? Austria had some success with a counterattack on the French and Italians, retaking Fieri and Berat (August 22).

[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)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. So 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 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). He passed many weeks in various hospitals because of a meningitis scare, German Measles, and recovery from the effects of trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). During that summer, his Company Officer offered him the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. Come November/December, 1917, during his final home leave, he assured his parents that he would survive (irrationally, he knew). In December, probably, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras – including excursions to the Front. In mid-March he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras… just in time for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive and a last stand by the Battalion on March 28 which 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. Then, for three or four months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim where they settled into a slightly less uncomfortable/filthy camp for the summer, mainly working on sick and wounded German war horses.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
My father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, five months a POW now and his starving pals, apparently settled for a while in southern Germany, are just concluding an uplifting train trip to Mühlhausen/Mulhouse (in Alsace, 18 miles east of Hügelheim and their prison camp) – for a shower and delousing it turned out.
    A blessing for Sam who hadn’t been clean in months… they got new clothes too, albeit orange-striped prisoner uniform and some vouchers they could spend like money. Less welcome for Sam was the loss of his boots to a sneak thief, German or British he didn’t know, and their replacement with a pair of wooden clogs. Still, the change was good – and more to follow:

‘After all that, though, some of us still had to wait for others to have the cleansing treatment so we spent our Gutschein(2) cards at a small stand in a corner of the large hall. I secured a tablet of Seife(3) as I believe it was labelled, and a packet of cigarettes. These comprised cardboard tubes with a short cigarette attached – a long holder and a short smoke, in fact. I cadged a light from the man in charge of the counter. After all those months of enforced abstinence, the first puff made me dizzy. I just smoked the one and hoped to exchange the rest for some sort of food.
    One more bonus came my way as a result of that visit to Mühlhausen. Back in camp, I walked past the Postens’(4) hut, sniffing at my tablet of imitation soap, and one of them called me over and asked where I had procured the stuff. I told him about the Bade(5) in Mühlhausen and he showed me the first bit of German currency I had seen, a note for Ein Mark. This I accepted, because I felt my hunger more urgently than my need to wash.
    The following morning, when we arrived at Hügelheim(6), I saw the great yard at the rear of the Gasthaus(7) was full of hay-loaded wagons – packed in so tightly I couldn’t imagine how they could possibly have done it.
    But the sight set me a-thinking… A few days earlier, as we started on the evening walk back to the prison camp, I saw, some distance ahead, three girls lying in the long grass of the verge. In all the months of prisoner life I had never seen girls behaving so naturally and, forgetting for a moment my disgusting state and appearance, as we drew level, I ventured to look at them. First one, then all three, waved to us – risking serious trouble if our guards objected to this kindly act. Pleased beyond words, and thankful that our sad plight had not sickened them, I waved back. I had to content myself with that for, short of breaking ranks, there was no way of talking to those lovely people who, just by humane action, had given deep joy and revived some self-respect in one, or maybe more of us – captive enemies, as their fathers and brothers would rightly describe us.
    Well, I don’t know why, but this wagon-filled yard made me wonder whether one of those sweet young girls worked at the Gasthaus. This, and even some daft romantic notions, occupied my mind as we passed the inn and covered the 300 yards or so to the Pferde Lazerette(8). I decided to take a risk which might, if things went wrong, land me in solitary confinement or worse.
    I waited until our supervisor, Kayser, took his lunch break, then walked boldly down the lane, dived under a wagon in the Gasthaus yard, crept towards the rear of the inn and… reaching up, I tapped on a window, dropped back under the nearest wagon and waited to see whether one of the charming lasses who had lain in the long grass by the roadside might appear. In a few moments, thrillingly, a girl looked out and I felt certain she was one of the three!
    I showed myself carefully and said, “Bitte, Gelt, essen”(9). I held up my one-mark note. She might have screamed and that would have been my lot. But she didn’t. I handed the note to her, slid under the wagon and waited. Presently, she looked out again, holding in one hand a large fruit pie and in the other a roll of cured tobacco leaf. These she delivered with the loveliest smile I’d seen in many a day, then she quietly closed the window.
    I still recall the excitement I felt at having made slight contact with a non-military, private, human being – one, in particular, who had taken a grave risk in order to do a good turn for a stranger with little to commend him. On several later occasions, I found it was women who would risk punishment to do something mutually helpful – even those with reason to feel hatred for their country’s enemies (the British, I mean).
    Casually enough, I hoped, to disarm suspicion that I was attempting to escape, I walked back to the Lazerette. Kayser stood just inside the first stable I came to, so I was thankful that I’d stuffed the goods away in the sack round my waist under my tunic. Even so, I feared I might once more feel his jackboot connect with my crutch and the awful pain resulting. But no. Either he hadn’t noticed I’d gone missing or, perhaps, a benign after-lunch mood prevailed.
    Hiding between horses in the next stall, I started to wolf the pie, but my luck ran out at that point. The face of one of those earlier-mentioned Glaswegians(10) appeared between the horses and I was caught with the remaining hunk of pie in my mouth. “Come on, shares,” demanded the unwelcome Jock and, knowing his merciless ways, I gave him a chunk – for which he didn’t even have the decency to thank me.’
(2) Gutschein: voucher – a wartime cash equivalent.
(3) Seife: soap.
(4) Posten: guards – though the literal translation is something like “functionary”.
(5) Bade: baths (public in this case).
(6) Hügelheim, in the Baden-Württemberg area known as Markgräflerland, 18.4 miles (29.6 kilometres) west of Mühlhausen/Mulhouse.
(7) Gasthaus: inn – guest house.
(8) Pferde Lazerette: horse hospital.
(9) “Bitte, Gelt, essen”: “Please, money, eat.”
(10) A rough lot with the conscripts’ lack of comradely spirit, in Sam’s view. Apologies to Glaswegian readers, it's just what he experienced at the time.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam, still a starving and battered POW, encounters more startling acts of kindness – a Posten even buys him a Gasthaus lunch – along with a couple of sweet reminders of home.

(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.