“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, 29 April 2018

Sam and POW comrades move to another makeshift camp; they sleep 10 to a wooden shelf, their latrine open to the world – Sam sticks with his Essex Sergeant and Tommies and carves a Regimental scroll on the wall listing all his fellows in case a victorious British Army ever passed that way…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli&Somme episodemini-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 scope of the war declared itself again at a point when the Western Front concluded one vast, slaughterous action sequence and took a momentary quietish break.
    The Battle Of The Scherpenburg (April 29; in Belgium, southwest of Ypres) saw a German attack capture this hill from the French, but get no further. Thus, it brought the second phase of the Spring Offensive, dubbed Operation Georgette or the Battle Of The Lys, to a close as the Germans acknowledged failure to achieve any of their major objectives, especially driving the British back to the Channel ports and taking the railway hub at Hazebrouck.
    Not that deadly scrapping ceased altogether – other action during the week included a substantial German attack between Meteren and Voormezelle repulsed by the British (April 29; Flanders, southwest of Ypres), the French retaking and defending Locre (29; also Flanders), fighting around Noyon (30; Oise department, southeast of Amiens), and French gains in the Avre valley between Hailles and Castel (May 2; also southeast of Amiens, Somme department).
    On the former Eastern Front, German enforcement manoeuvres continued: with the Finnish White Guards (anti-socialist Civil Guard), they captured Viborg (April 30; 250 miles east of Helsinki – then Finland’s second city, now in Russia) and defeated the Red Guards in the southwest (May 3); they took Sevastopol on the Black Sea, seized part of the Russian fleet there, occupied Odessa too (also on the coast, 550 miles northwest of Sevastopol), and quashed Ukraine’s independence ambitions by establishing a German military dictatorship (all on May 1 according to various timelines!).
    Meanwhile, down in Palestine, the British/Indian/Anzac Second Attack On Transjordan failed much like the first, in early April, as Ottoman troops under German command beat back their early advances at Shumet Nimrin and Es Salt, intended as staging posts to take Amman (April 30-May 4; Allied casualties 1,700, Ottoman 2,000). And in Iraq, steady British progress continued with the taking of Tuz Khurmati (April 30; 55 miles south of Kirkuk).
    Finally, in East Africa, the long conflict saw another heavy defeat for the German colonial power as British forces beat them at Nanungu (May 5; now in Tanzania, about 440 miles southwest of Dar es Salaam) and drove them northeast.

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016),had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He took up the offer, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion.An interesting year ensued – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations andprepare for more of the same (he was 19 while in hospital). During that period, his Company Officer told him he’d been offered the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; one immediate-post-war pension form suggests this defiance may have brought about his “reversion” to Private, but perhaps he actually requested it, given his feelings on the subject of rank. Come November/December, he enjoyed what proved to be the final home leave of his military career – and assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January 1917/8, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and knocking about Brigade HQ in Arras, dogsbodying where he could – though he was soon out at the front line, just a few miles away. But by mid-March he found his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras, on March 19… just in time, it turned out, 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 OK out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, taken prisoner.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Sam Sutcliffe, a 2/7th Essex Regiment Signaller taken prisoner at Fampoux outside Arras at the tail-end of the German Spring Offensive on March 28, wrote mostly about food – lack of, every POW’s obsession towards the end of WW1.
    He’d been shuffled into a POW group for whom the Germans planned no fixed abode, just endless shifting from one place to another where manual work needed doing (because their labour force had been conscripted, of course), so the succession of POW “camps” were all makeshift. At Denain, his first, for an unspecified few weeks, they lodged in an abandoned factory with nothing to do bar watch their self-respect drain away via hunger and general neglect.
    His consolation was that he attached himself to a remarkably spick-and-span Sergeant of his own Regiment and a group of Essex men around him. And when a squad was assembled to move elsewhere, they stuck together – though mingled with some northerners who became their instant rivals for every scraping of nourishment.
    Now they arrive and examine their new lodgings:

‘We stopped in a village which looked remarkably like one I’d known in Northumberland(2) – several rows of small, terrace houses near a coal pithead. Called Marchiennes(3), it looked a poor sort of place. A row of terrace dwellings on one side of the main street had been enclosed behind barbed-wire fencing. Through a gate we entered the enclosure and found there were no gardens behind the houses, just a long, open space inside the wire fence. There stood the primitive sanitation, comprising a long pole suspended over a trench by means of a crude tripod at each end. So, in full view of all, you and others squatted on the pole and got rid of your always-watery faeces.
     Everything calculated to reduce a man to the lowest level of self-respect was provided.
     About 60 of us were allotted to each dwelling: two rooms upstairs, two down, all small and furnished with two shelves, six feet wide and running wall to wall, one a foot off the floor, the other three feet higher. On each of these wooden shelves eight or ten men must lie and sleep – so, 16 or more prisoners in a space normally occupied by two people at most.
     Unfortunately, I found myself in a room mainly occupied by strangers. I soon got into the habit of leaving it and them quite early in the morning to call on the Sergeant and others of the Essex Regiment. Then I stayed among them as long as I possibly could.
     I eventually justified myself in spending several hours daily in the Sergeant’s room by starting to carve into one of the plaster walls a large-scale copy of the Regimental badge. Below this, with a pencil lent by the Sergeant, I drew a sort of scroll. Having collected the names and numbers of all Essex men in the prison, I spent hours writing them into the scroll – my idea being that, as the British beat back the Germans when the tide of war changed in our favour, British troops could note our names and numbers and tell the War Office and relatives we were alive, though prisoners in enemy hands.
     Up to that point, our captors had made no attempt to record our names and details, so our people would not know what had become of us. Correct procedure would have ensured that this information was passed on through the Red Cross organisation in a neutral country but, in my case and in many others, this did not happen(4).
     Discomfort caused by lack of nourishment spoilt all our waking hours. The morning piece of black bread and the evening can of stewed vegetables hardly filled the belly and the can of hot water with coffee substitute was warming but lacked milk and sugar. The only dietary variant at Marchiennes I recall: for several days, Sauerkraut replaced stew as our main meal – nothing with it, no meat, just sour cabbage. Shitting being one of our main occupations, much discussion concerned which meal made you go oftenest, the stew or the sauerkraut, but we had no measurable means of deciding the question.
     The mental effect of such deficient nutrition depended on the individual; I concluded that the men who had lived rough, hard lives before enlisting fought the hardest to grab anything which could possibly be eaten – such as cabbage stumps or potato peelings which the Landsturm(5)or their cooks might throw on the ground outside their kitchen.
     Despite the guards’ vigilance, I heard that a woman passing outside the barbed wire at one end of the enclosure exchanged some food for a piece of cloth a Scotsman tore from his kilt. I also learned that he might as well have kept his uniform intact for little of the food passed his lips after the ravenous ones had pounced; lucky for the Scotsman they didn’t devour him too, although some of them had begun to display animal looks and tendencies.
     No one smiled any more; the effort required was just too much, even for the nicest fellows.’
(2) Cramlington, probably, winter 1916-17; see Blogs 142-3 March 26 and April 2, 2017.
(3) Marchiennes: in the Nord department, 32.5 miles east of Arras, known for it’s 7th-century Benedictine abbey; over the centuries it passed back and forth between Flanders, France and Holland; the town and the mine feature extensively, aliased, in Émile Zola’s Germinal.
(4) I’ve got one Red Cross document facsimile suggesting they were informed, but certainly no aid parcel ever reached my father – quite possibly because of the peripatetic nature of the mixed bands of POWs he passed through until Armistice.
(5) 3rd-class infantry employed on the lowlier military tasks such as guarding POWs, comprising any male aged between 17 and 42 who wasn’t in the standing Army, the Landwehr.

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam’s brought down by bunk mate’s singing, but still inspired by the Sergeant… until a sudden separation from all the Essex POWs sees him on a long march to somewhere… and seeing POW guard brutality at its murderous worst.

(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, 22 April 2018

New POW Sam swiftly succumbs to the necessary obsession with food and starts improvising with snaffled scraps; continuing his quest for comrades not yet degraded and broken, he comes upon an inspirational Sergeant from his own Essex Regiment…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli&Somme episodemini-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 German Western Front onslaught which began with the Operation Michael battles in March, continued in only slightly lower key through the later stages of Operation Georgette (April 7-29), aimed at pushing the British Army back to the channel ports via attacks starting further north in France and western Belgium, with the Allied railway hub at Hazebrouck a particular target.
    The week began with relatively smaller fights around Albert, Robecq and Wytschaete (April 22; the first two in France, the third in Belgium, but all three in a rough line of battle running southwest from Ypres). What turned out to be the final exchanges of the offensive ensued: the Second Battle Of Villers-Bretonneux (24-5; further south and due east of Amiens) saw the German Army use tanks for the first time – ergo the world’s first (small) tank battle – and take the village initially then yield it back to British and Australian troops (Allied casualties 15,500, German 8-10,000); the Second Battle Of Kemmelberg (25-6; in Belgium, about six miles southwest of Ypres) where the Germans successfully stormed French troops who’d relieved the British on Mount Kemmel, but achieved no major breakthrough.
    Meanwhile, British naval raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend in occupied Belgium (April 22) sank ships to block the exits for German submarines based in Bruges.
    On what had been the Eastern Front the rather wild mix of politics and military action unfolded further with the United Diets of Baltic Provinces “asking” the German Government to unify them as a monarchy under the King Of Prussia, namely Kaiser Wilhelm (April 22; inverted commas mine). A little further north the German and Finnish Armies combined, rather than fighting, 30 miles north of Helsinki (26), and down in the Ukraine German forces approached Sebastopol.
    The Turks took their chance – post Treaty Of Brest-Litovsk between Russia and the Axis Powers – to pick up some pieces, occupying Bayazid, Armenia (April 23), and Kars in Georgia (April 27; that same day Georgia declared its independence).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016),had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He took up the offer, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion.An interesting year ensued – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations andprepare for more of the same (he was 19 while in hospital). During that period, his Company Officer told him he’d been offered the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; one immediate-post-war pension form suggests this defiance may have brought about his “reversion” to Private, but perhaps he actually requested it, given his feelings on the subject of rank. Come November/December, he enjoyed what proved to be the final home leave of his military career – and assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January 1917/8, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and knocking about Brigade HQ in Arras, dogsbodying where he could – though he was soon out at the front line, just a few miles away. But by mid-March he found his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras, on March 19… just in time, it turned out, 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 OK out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, taken prisoner.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, taken POW at the end of the 2/7th Essex Battalion’s fight to the last bullet against the Operation Mars segment of the Spring Offensive, experienced the first of many makeshift prison camps he was to encounter before Armistice.
    This one, at Denain, introduced him to the “dirty, unshaven, stinking” condition of prisoners who’d been there for even just a few weeks – and the fear-cum-knowledge that he would inevitably slide into the same broken state. Here he starts to adapt and take any possible measure to hold on to his own character in a situation in which everyone tended to lurch towards the feral. But he does find one man who inspires him to believe that dignity might be possible to some degree:

‘Nourishment for that second day as a prisoner had consisted of a litre of coffee substitute (mainly roasted and crushed acorns) and a piece of sour, dark-brown rye bread, which yielded two slices. I was to become familiar with these items during the coming months. The only daily addition to this, now that we had entered some kind of makeshift war prisoner camp, was a litre of stewed root vegetables – swedes, turnips and mangoldwurzels(2) – doled out every evening. Some old horsemeat may have been cooked with them, but none came our way; the under-fed Germans saw to that.
     This diet just kept me alive. Now, even in these earliest days, I too started to become hollow-eyed, emaciated.
     First priority was to acquire an empty tin can in which to collect your liquid rations. I managed that quite soon and, with a penknife which had eluded the Germans who robbed me on the battlefield, I began shaping a spoon out of a piece of wood.
     Finding some potato peelings one day, I washed them at a stand-pipe in the ex-factory building, put them in my can and filled it with water, gathered wood shavings, straw and odd bits of floorboard for a fire, cadged a light and cooked them. Without any seasoning they tasted awful, but down they went.

Prisoners had no work to do there in Denain and laying about in that unsavoury, crowded place took its toll of morale as well as of physical fitness. I soon formed an opinion that death in the battlefield would have been preferable to this sub-human existence… But, meanwhile, I must somehow manage to survive, difficult though this was looking. Small possibility now of my dying of “gunshot wounds” (a favourite military description of damage caused to a soldier’s body by shot, shell or aerial bomb), but we faced new enemies: starvation, chronic diarrhoea, and weakness resulting from diet deficiency.
     Of the hundreds of men around me, no single one now looked worth an attempt on my part to form a friendship. Of course, I don’t know what I looked like, having no mirror, but my uniform had become soiled, my boots mud-encrusted; I seldom washed, never shaved. I guess I looked like the rest of them with their sunken cheeks, and purposeless shuffling hither and thither.
     Hope revived, though, when a Sergeant of the Essex Regiment, miraculously clean and robust compared to the rest of us, came along and quietly told those of us who wore the Essex shoulder badge – including me, although I had not known him before – to make our way to the entrance gates. Goldberg(3) had told him the Jerries were moving a certain number of men to another town and that the Sergeant could select them and go with them. Naturally, he gave preference to his own chaps; when we lined up, the count revealed a small deficiency in numbers and volunteers scrambled for the chance to join us.
     A small bunch of Liverpool men and a few from Brum, pushing types, made up the quota and so, after a nourishing meal(4) – a slice of bread and a can of so-called coffee – we shambled off.’
     Armed Germans, about six of them, walked on either side of us. By then we had passed from the hands of fighting soldiers and into the care of the more elderly Landsturm(5) – mostly sour, stern old codgers, steeped in anti-British dislike, and with a determination to make us suffer. These guards prevented any attempt to walk on the footpath in search of scraps of food such as discarded cabbage leaves or stumps, potatoes, or indeed anything at all which could be eaten.
     Even so, if a prisoner spotted any such trifle, and risked a beating by breaking ranks to pick it up, half a dozen starving blokes would pounce on him, hoping to grab it first, until one or more guards drove them back into line by prodding or bashing them with rifle butts. These pouncers were usually the northern group who had forced themselves on the Sergeant when he was getting his party together.’
(2) “Mangoldwurzels” might be unfamiliar word to some – also spelt “mangel/manglewurzel”, it’s a chunky root vegetable mainly cultivated for cattlefeed.
(3) Goldberg appeared last week as a Tommy who spoke German; he had ingratiated himself with the guards and, as translator, issued orders to the prisoners – his unpopularity not diminished by the era’s undercurrents of antisemitism.
(4) In case you’ve missed it, my father was a dead-pan sarcastic so-and-so at times, hence his “The Pisstaker” soubriquet in the Somme trenches a couple of years earlier.
(5) Landsturm: 3rd-class infantry, comprising any male aged between 17 and 42 who wasn’t in the standing Army, the Landwehr.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam and comrades move into a pit village called Marchiennes; they sleep 10 to a shelf, their latrine open to the world – Sam sticks with his Essex Sergeant and Tommies in hopes of clinging to vestiges of humanity for as long as possible…

(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, 15 April 2018

Sam’s first full day as a POW: his random band of captives are led to a camp of sorts, a derelict factory; looking around Sam sees how being a prisoner demoralises and dehumanises good men and starts to take steps to hold on to himself for as long as possible…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli&Somme episodemini-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 German follow-up to the Spring Offensive, Operation Georgette (April 7-29), continued to pound away at the Allied lines in northern France and Belgium to no conclusive effect.
    While the Battle Of Bailleul ended with the German Army taking the town (April 15; three kilometres from the Belgian border southwest of Ypres) and the Germans also took Passchendaele, Wytschaete and Meteren (16-17), at the First Battle Of Kemmel Ridge the British Army held the Germans at bay (17-19; between Armentieres and Ypres) as they did further southwest in the Battle Of Bethune (18-19). Consensus seems to be that the fighting on Belgian soil reflected the British General Plumer’s adroit understanding of when to withdraw and when to stand and fight. Meanwhile the French Army also repulsed German attacks in the Meuse area and in Champagne.
    Around where the Eastern Front used to be, the strange aftermath of the Brest-Litovsk peace settlement between the Axis Powers and Russia proceeded. German troops occupied Helsinki, Finland (April 15) and entered Crimea, about 1,500 miles south (19). Also down in Ukraine, the Russian Bolshevik Army was still battling the rebel General Kornilov’s volunteers, although he’d been killed by a shell on April 13.
    While the key actions on the Western Front took all the attention, the Turks carried on hoovering up territory – occupying Batum, Georgia (April 15) – and the Macedonia campaign revived with Greek troops crossing the River Struma and taking villages around Serres while the British advanced southwest of Demir Hisar (both 15; the British withdrew again four days later). 

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016),had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He took up the offer, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion.An interesting year ensued – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations andprepare for more of the same (he was 19 while in hospital). During that period, his Company Officer told him he’d been offered the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; one immediate-post-war pension form suggests this defiance may have brought about his “reversion” to Private, but perhaps he actually requested it, given his feelings on the subject of rank. Come November/December, he enjoyed what proved to be the final home leave of his military career – and assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January 1917/8, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and knocking about Brigade HQ in Arras, dogsbodying where he could – though he was soon out at the front line, just a few miles away. But by mid-March he found his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras, on March 19… just in time, it turned out, 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 OK out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, taken prisoner.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, “weary and worn” after his 2/7th Battalion Essex Regiment had, as ordered, fought to the last bullet in the defence of Arras around Fampoux, took his first steps into eight months as a POW. He and his shattered comrades from various Regiments resisted the blandishments of a smartly-clad German officer politely asking for further details of British trenches and deployments, then dossed down for the night on the hard, cold ground of a brickyard a little way outside Gavrelle (re-taken by the German Army that day, March 28, 1918; about 11 kilometres northeast of Arras).
    At dawn, he awoke – though unsure he’d slept at all – to his first full day as a prisoner of war:

‘No food available that first morning. So, with as much water inside us as we could stomach, we shambled what felt like many, many kilometres to a town called Denain(2). Soon, we entered the yard of a large factory; on our left a high building and on our right a row of small, single-storey structures which looked rather like stables. Perhaps they had been such in time of peace, but each of them now housed a British officer. Through barred apertures in the doors we could just discern some of them in the dark interiors.
     One, a handsome flying officer, stood close to his bars and, as I slowly moved past, I asked quietly, “Why are you kept in there, sir?” “It’s only temporary till I’m moved to a proper officers’ prison camp,” he replied. “Were you shot down?” I asked. “Yes, not far from here,” he said. Then I was past his hovel and saw him no more.
     A harsh voice yelled orders at the men in front of me and I saw, standing at the top of some stone steps, a swarthy chap in British uniform. In German he talked with a Jerry who stood beside him, then he shouted an English translation at the prisoners nearest to him.
     “I know that man!” yelled a chap nearby. “His name’s Goldberg!” Anti-Semitism was rife in Britain in those days and the man’s Jewish appearance, his evident mastery of the German language, the fact that he was giving orders from a position well above us, all condemned him in our eyes. Why was he directing one man to join one column of prisoners and another man to join a different line? On what did he base his assessment?
     My column headed for a huge, three-storey building some distance from the factory, but still within the same perimeter wall. We had to make our way up a formerly substantial stairway, now missing many steps and risers as well as most of the bannister rails. Each floor had numbers of large rooms, the doors gone from all of them, as were many floorboards.
     I soon realised that all this destruction had occurred simply because men need warmth. Some of the occupants of the room I was ordered into had been prisoners there for a month or more. Short of nourishment and warm clothing, they had found difficulty in just keeping alive. As they were now – dirty, unshaven, stinking in some cases, rapidly sliding towards the sub-human – so might I soon become. They hung together in groups of two or three, it appeared, eyed with suspicion all those outside their little circle, and even snarled or jeered at them.
     When I slipped quietly out of that shaming little shambles, nobody noticed my going. Out in the yard, I walked around watching out for the cleanest-looking men, believing that they would be the most recently captured and therefore the least debased in character.
     I entered the main building, tall but one floor only and obviously a factory or foundry of some sort in peacetime, given the pieces of disused machinery, boilers and so on still lying around. One could see that the upper parts of partitions separating different sections of the works had been torn down, but they still made useful barriers against which to shelter when cold winds blew. Straw, all reasonably clean, covered the floor.
     The prisoners there were newcomers, still free of that peaked, hungry look, and not yet given to constantly peering left and right, up and down, in search of something, anything, which might still the pangs in their stomachs.
     That night, I tried an experiment in bed-making. Before lying down in the straw, I removed my tunic, bunched up straw for a pillow, placed a none-too-clean hanky on top of it, laid down and pulled the tunic over my top half and thereafter dozed and wakened through the night.’
(2) Denain: 18 miles east of Douai, 38 miles east of Arras; one of the industrial/coal-mining towns which inspired Émile Zola to write Germinal(1885) – during his researches Zola went down a pit there; occupied by the German Army from summer 1914 to October 19, 1918 – three weeks later French President Raymond Poincaré visited and found “Un spectacle de désolation” according to http://www.ville-denain.fr/node/92

All the best– FSS

Last week I reproduced the German record of my father being taken POW, the form evidently filled in by some clerk at Gavrelle. This is a Red Cross document likewise recording his date of capture "28.3.18". The spelling of his surname is wrongly corrected to "Suttcliffe" with two ts, the mistake probably copied from the German form. And again he's listed as "Charles" because that was his given first name, although everyone always called him Sam, from his second name. Regarding the various numbers, 302337 was his Regimental number… and the others are a mystery to me, but I'd welcome enlightenment from anyone who knows! (Also, apologies for not knowing how to crop this so you didn't have to gaze on a tract of blank paper below the informational part of the doc.)

Next week: Sam swiftly succumbs to the POW’s necessary obsession with food and starts improvising with snaffled scraps; continuing his quest for comrades not yet demoralised and broken by their sufferings, he comes upon a Sergeant from his own Essex Regiment who seems to sustain a level of self-respect and inspire others to do likewise.

(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, 8 April 2018

Sam’s first night as a POW: a Ruritanian-uniformed, but cunning German officer interrogates him and his randomly gathered comrades – just a few details about the British trench system… the POWs dine on uncooked salt fish, then “bed down” in a freezing brickyard.

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli&Somme episodemini-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… With the Spring Offensive derailed by terrain, stubborn Allied defence and stretched German supply lines, General Ludendorff refused to back down and launched a follow-up with Operation Georgette which led to the Battle Of The Lys (April 7-29).
    Aiming to drive the British back to the Channel and cut off the Ypres salient, it became a freewheeling sequence of battles. Initially, in Flanders, the British had to fall back beyond Messines and Wyteschaete (April 10) and they withdrew a few kilometres from hard-won Passchendaele (12), but at the Battle Of Estaires British and Portuguese troops held the Germans (9-11; southwest of Armentières in France), the British and Australians did the same at the Battle Of Hazebrouck (12-15; northwest of Armentières).
    Meanwhile, the French had to yield ground at the Forest Of Coucy and Landricourt (April 8; 48 kilometres south of St Quentin), but they held the line between Hangard and Noyon (9; southeast of Amiens), and, with the Americans, at Apremont Forest (12; 47 kilometres south of Verdun).
    Elsewhere, action remained sporadic and inconclusive apart from the Turkish advance into the Transcaucasia region (in the absence of the Russian Army), taking Batum (April 13; in Georgia).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016),had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He took up the offer, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion.An interesting year ensued – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations andprepare for more of the same (he was 19 while in hospital). During that period, his Company Officer told him he’d been offered the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; one immediate-post-war pension form suggests this defiance may have brought about his “reversion” to Private, but perhaps he actually requested it, given his feelings on the subject of rank. Come November/December, he enjoyed what proved to be the final home leave of his military career – and assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January 1917/8, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and knocking about Brigade HQ in Arras, dogsbodying where he could – though he was soon out at the front line, just a few miles away. But by mid-March he found his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras, on March 19… just in time, it turned out, for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, continued his account of, I guess, the longest day of his life – he wrote so much about it I’ve run it over several weeks of the blog.
    On March 28, 1918, he and his 2/7th Essex Regiment comrades at Fampoux, outside Arras, fought to the last bullet, as ordered, against their bit of the German Spring Offensive. Officially, at the start of the day the Battalion comprised 520 men, at the end, 80. Of course, the 440 included dead, wounded and those, like my father, taken POW.
    At first, that new experience comprised wandering the battlefield in the general direction of the German artillery, helping a wounded Tommy to a Red Cross medic and getting robbed of his pay book and other minor valuables by a gang of German muggers (he knew of Brits doing similar – war…) until he found a bunch of randomly gathered fellow prisoners. Shortly, they were marched to a nearby town, Gavrelle, 11 kilometres northeast of Arras, and recaptured from the British by the German advance that very day – it’s still March 28!

‘A hundred or so British prisoners joined us there, then we straggled on along the country road in no particular formation. I found myself walking between two fairly hefty chaps and we chatted about our recent experiences. I remember telling them about my little store of canned baked beans and pork, lost beyond recall now… perhaps being eaten by appreciative Jerries(2).
     Although these men wore uniforms of rough, khaki cloth similar to mine, the cut struck me as unusual – larger side pockets, for instance. Looking at their epaulettes for some sign of their Regiment I saw officer’s pips, and, though now wondering how protocol worked under prisoner-of-war conditions, I asked about their rank. Without reticence or demanding officer standing, they talked freely, explaining that, at the battlefront – although not in my Battalion – it had become accepted practice for officers to conceal conspicuous indications of their status because the Germans knocked off those in command as quickly as possible to create confusion among the other ranks.
     We turned on to one of those absolutely straight, cobbled roads bordered by tall poplar trees which connected French country towns in those days. A signpost indicated it led to Douai. But, after a few kilometres, our guards led us into a brickworks surrounded by a high, barbed-wire fence. Kilns, rows of unfired clay-coloured bricks, stacks of finished ones — a scene familiar to me in boyhood when a similar site had been a favourite playground and setting for the mock warfare I described earlier(3) cowboys versus Red Indians and so on…
     Not having eaten for a day or more, I felt weary and worn, and more so because of reaction to the nervous strain of the battle. So when a German officer suddenly joined a small group of us, it provided me with a kind of relief from personal suffering. His beautiful uniform looked Ruritanian when compared with the simple dress of a British officer. We, dirty and soiled from the battlefield, felt like scruffy old tramps beside this military Brummel.
     His personal cleanliness, healthy complexion, friendly blue eyes behind large spectacles, perfect English speech – and enthusiasm for a little war game he proposed to play – seemed ideal distractions to help us forget our discomforts. Some chaps may even have felt that a response to his wish to complete the few details at present missing from his sketch-map of the trench system we had recently vacated might gain them some advantage, such as much-needed grub. Anyway, if their wits were still sufficiently bright, they had only to give him inaccurate information. Even if he detected a falsehood, what the heck would it matter?
     I was amazed at the detail he had already, displayed on a large sheet of paper secured to a board. Built up from aerial photos and, in parts, skilful drawings, it even named some of our trenches. He just needed to identify some Regiments, he said, oddments of that sort, perhaps the number of men at some given point… I found myself in no difficulty because I just didn’t know any of these things(4).
     The only food they gave us that day was a piece of uncooked salt fish and that induced us to fill our bellies with lots of the water they did make available.
     Our sleeping quarters that night? We had two choices — to lie on grass completely exposed to the March weather, or to bed down on brick dust. If you could lie on one side with your back against a brick stack you were lucky. If you found space in the open centre of a pile of bricks you had four walls around you, but no roof overhead – yet, in the circumstances, you were very fortunate. No blankets, no overcoats and March nights are chilly.
     Thinking back to my relatively secure quarters in the British front line and, again, with regret, to the canned food I had stored in the niches of that dugout – and abandoned only hours earlier – I spent the first of many horribly uncomfortable nights as a prisoner of war. One slept, no doubt, but seemed, as day dawned, to remember every minute of the long night.’
(2) Sam’s food cache comprised tins he’d swapped for tots of rum – which he’d never liked – and stored among the rafters of the Company’s front-line dugout (his base as a Signaller). See Blog 190 February 2, 2018: “As I surveyed my little hoard, I felt secure against the probable non-delivery of rations which must soon occur as the bombardment intensified”.
(3) The brickfields in Edmonton, north London, served as adventure playgrounds, 1900s style, as described in the Memoir’s childhood section, Chapters 3-6 and 9. Douai is 16 kilometres east of Gavrelle.
(4) It may be that this officer, or a more lowly assistant, gathered the bare details of the men taken POW listed on the German document, sourced from the Red Cross, shown in the “pictures” section of The Survivore-book (which includes the Arras/Fampoux battle). I’ll copy the page below – sorry size makes it hard to read; magnifying glasses still have their uses! – my father is listed as number 75, the last named on this page. Of course, he’s listed as Charles, his first name, although everyone called him Sam. Another illustration of how war might produce a documentary fog is the coincidence that three places above him is a Samuel Sutcliffe of the 2nd King’s Fusiliers, aged 24, from Todmorden, also detained at Gavrelle on the night of March 28.

All the best– FSS

My father is listed as Charles Suttcliffe (sic), 2nd Essex, taken at (well, near) Gavrelle 28/3/1918, and "Nicht Verw." means "not wounded" (Nicht verwundet).


Next week: Sam’s first full day as a POW: on the move again to a derelict factory converted to a camp of sorts; looking around Sam sees how being a prisoner demoralises and dehumanises good men and starts to take steps to hold on to himself for as long as possible…

(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, 1 April 2018

Still March 28: his final battle over, Sam starts his eight months as a POW… but it’s not official yet, so he helps a wounded British lad get to the German Red Cross; he’s mugged by a Jerry battlefield gang of thieves; and passes through a phalanx of artillery the likes of which he’s never seen before…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir(1) in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli&Somme episodemini-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 Spring Offensive/Kaiserschlacht reached its bloody diminuendo as Allied defences held on sufficiently to prevent the German Army gaining any of General Ludendorff’s objectives, although they recovered a lot of territory lost in 1916-17.
    The British repulsed an attack near Fampoux outside Arras (April 2; where my father became a POW on March 28; see below) and, with Australian troops, around Amiens, defended the village of Villers-Bretonneux and won the Battle Of The Avre (4; reckoned to be the first in which both sides used tanks) and the Battle Of The Ancre (5). The French successfully counterattacked southeast of Amiens at Grivesnes and Noyon (4).
    The upshot was that on April 5, Ludendorff declared Operation Michael defunct, undermined by often effective defence and their own failures in supply lines of food and equipment. Casualties were estimated as German 250,000, Allied 255,000…
    Nonetheless, the German General immediately launched a second phase of the Spring Offensive, known as Operation Georgette or the Battle Of The Lys, intended to take Ypres and push the British back through Belgium to the Channel coast. This began with an artillery bombardment on a 15-mile front between Festubert and Armentières, on the Belgian border (April 7).
    Elsewhere, far smaller actions also had the air of terminal skirmishing. Despite the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty, the Germans took Ekaterinoslav in southern Russia (April 3) and landed at Hangö in Finland despite a Russian protest (3). Over in Palestine the British attack on Amman stalled in face of Turkish resistance and they withdrew to Es Salt (2). And the Turks had a further minor success in taking Sarikamish, Russian Caucasus (4).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016),had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… untilofficialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He took up the offer, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion.An interesting year ensued – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations andprepare for more of the same (he was 19 while in hospital). During that period, his Company Officer told him he’d been offered the chance to train for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; one immediate-post-war pension form suggests this defiance may have brought about his “reversion” to Private, but perhaps he actually requested it, given his feelings on the subject of rank. Come November/December, he enjoyed what proved to be the final home leave of his military career – and assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January 1917/8, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and knocking about Brigade HQ in Arras, dogsbodying where he could – though he was soon out at the front line, just a few miles away. But by mid-March he found his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras, on March 19… just in time, it turned out, for the opening artillery bombardment of the German Spring Offensive.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, described the final minutes of his last battle – on March 28, 1918, at Fampoux, outside Arras, the British defence against the Operation Mars phase of the German Spring Offensive. His 2/7th Battalion, Essex Regiment, had moved into the front line on March 23 and taken a terrible artillery bombardment until, at midnight on the 27/8th, Sam took the coded order which meant they had to hold the line to the last man and bullet.
    The anticipated full-on infantry attack duly arrived after morning stand-to and the Battalion did did as duty-bound, despite being leaderless with its Captain withdrawn days earlier, and the three Lieutenants Sam was aware of hors de combat(two dead, one panicked and ran for it). They were reckoned to comprise 520 men at the start of the day and, when next counted, 80 remained, the rest either dead or, like Sam, taken POW. He never knew what became of his great Arras-period pal Neston, who did head rearwards when every bullet was spent and he and Sam had released the carrier pigeons with brief farewell messages attached.
    As my father related at the end of last week’s blog, he came through because when he stood exhausted and defenceless in front of the onrushing Germans, hoping for a quick, accurate bayonet thrust to end it, the two young boys facing him “smiled, swung a little aside” and were gone. “Bless the lovely lads,” he wrote…
    So now he was on the “wrong” side of the lines, although not formally “captured” as yet – and he was still in the midst of a battlefield:

‘I heard a call for help, searched a little ahead, and found a British boy lying on his back, trying to get up. “I caught a bullet through the ankle,” he gasped… With the Germans having advanced in strength between us and the British Army, we were prisoners. Glad to be still alive, I suppose, but fearful of what might now happen to us.
     “Help me to get to a German field hospital,” he said. I got him up on to his sound foot and, obeying signs from yet more advancing German troops, with arms around each other, we struggled towards the enemy lines. Soon, a man wearing an armlet of Red Cross on yellow background relieved me of my wounded mate and directed me to proceed “that way”… That way would lead me smack into a line of field guns firing non-stop – they must have been laying a terrible bombardment on our rear positions. So, the law of self-preservation still operating, I veered to the right, slid into a shell-hole and rested a while, peering over the rim to make sure no fresh danger came my way.
     As German reinforcements moved past me, up and away to support their victorious comrades, their gaze fixed straight ahead, not a glance to right or left, I learnt how we must have looked to them when we were advancing in attack. I observed in them anxiety, nervousness, ruthlessness (but rarely)… and sometimes the shifty look betokening “Not me for the chop, not if I can dodge the column”, accompanied by artful sheltering behind other men.
     But where were our captured soldiers? Assuming some had survived… I hadn’t seen a Britisher since I handed my wounded kid over to the German Red Cross man.
     The last of the German infantry vanished towards the British lines. In the following lull, I heard a few shells come over from our artillery – which surprised me, for I felt sure most of our guns had been removed some days ago to positions far in the rear, or else destroyed by the intense enemy gunfire.
     Ahead of me, I could see the German front-line trench parapet. This provided another surprise: no barbed wire lay in front of it. Both Armies usually protected their fronts with barbed-wire defences of varying density. One could only imagine the enemy command had ordered its removal to facilitate rapidity of movement for the masses of men thrown into their infantry attack.
     I tensed my muscles preparatory to scrambling out of my shell-hole, dashed across to that German trench and slid on the loose earth down its steep side. As my feet touched the bottom, three Jerries sprang towards me, one thrust a pistol at my tummy and demanded “Pay-book!” I raised my arms and let them take what they would. Vultures of the battlefield, dodgers, thieves – they cleaned me out, and when they departed my worldly goods consisted of what I stood up in, underclothes, tunic, trousers, helmet, socks and boots. I’d heard of similar types in our Army – bad Military Police in Cairo who regularly robbed drunks and would-be deserters and somehow got away with it undetected…
     Having grabbed what they wanted, the thugs indicated the direction in which I should go. Towards all the bangs and smoke puffs again… but I obeyed, realising I was being watched by people whose presence I had been unaware of until then.
     Now, when I saw German soldiers in holes or trenches they all signalled in much the same way, their thumbs pointing to the rear. As I slowly approached the field artillery position, it shocked me to realise that, unlike our deployment of batteries at intervals across country behind our front lines, here – in a wide, deep trench like a sunken road – stood guns wheel to wheel as far as I could see to right and to left.
     I had to get down into that great ditch and climb up the far side. Then I came upon 50 or so British men clustered together. Nearby, several German officers had found some concealment in a clump of trees festooned with telephones, the instruments on the ground, the headphones hanging from low tree branches.
     One obviously senior officer with a blue and red face of extreme ugliness yelled an order accompanied by hand movements indicating us. This resulted in a more junior officer forcing the British soldiers nearest to him to go down on one knee, in one row, facing our own lines. The rest of us soon complied. A strange scene, shattering from our point of view – this assembly of artillery below and in front of us, stretching endlessly into the distance. How could our Army stand up to this concentration of fire power?
     I assumed that, in making us kneel right behind his guns, the commander hoped that British artillerymen – if they could see us through the battlefield mist and smoke – would not wish to fire on their comrades. I could not but admire this officer’s devotion to his job. In that exposed position, he calmly gave orders into one phone, hung that up, then used another, receiving and sending messages, in touch with battery commanders all along the line of guns. I could discern only one group of our guns firing in response, from way back behind the original British trench positions.
     Later, a German called “Come!” and our file arose and followed him across open country much pitted with craters and cluttered with war debris.
     One sight shook me: the corpse of a horse lying by the roadside, clearly not long dead, but with its ribs and upper leg bones exposed. Its hide had been slashed and all edible parts cut away. How hungry the Germans must have been, I realised, or at least how short of meat, to have butchered the animal as soon as it fell. I had never seen that sort of thing on the British side.
     Soon we came to the remains of a village. On a wall, painted in large white capitals, was the word “Gavrelle”(2) which I assumed to be its name.’
(2) Gavrelle: six miles east-north-east of Arras, 10 miles west of Douai; the British captured it on April 23, 1917, and lost it this day, March 28, 1918, before reoccupying in August. 

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam’s first night as a POW: he and his randomly gathered comrades interrogated by a Ruritanian-uniformed but cunning German officer who just wants a few details he’s missing about the British trench system and so on; then they dine on uncooked salt fish and “bed” down in a freezing brickyard.

(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.