“I feel one can say with some conviction that no man should willingly leave his home to fight, wound, maim or kill other men about whom he knows little and whom he certainly does not hate. When all men refuse to commit such follies the foundations of a true civilisation will have only just started to be laid.”
- Sam Sutcliffe, circa 1974 (extracted from his Memoir)

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Sam and POW pals get a rude awakening from a bully with a bayonet. But their new hard labour – tending sick war horses – feels worthwhile and… it’s farming country so he can steal spuds from the animals’ feed!

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 last substantial German offensive on the Western Front began: the Second Battle Of The Marne (July 15-August 5). Launched on a front running from Château-Thierry (58 kilometres/36 miles southwest of Reims) to La Main de Massiges (about 60 kilometres/37 miles east of Reims), its objective was to cross the Marne and pull Allied troops away from Flanders where Ludendorff intended an even bigger attack.
    While the German advance (July 15) made inroads west of Reims between Dormans and Fossoy, using all sorts of boats and a few skeleton bridges they erected, the French defended well to the east, good intelligence having allowed them to prepare for the intended surprise onslaught. Then British, American and Italian reinforcements arrived and a major counterattack (18) featuring 350 tanks pushed the Germans back on at least half of this front between Fontenoy and Belleau. Within two days (20), German troops had retreated across the Marne, with the Allies progressing in the Ardre valley and the Allies took Meteren (19; Nord department) and Bois de Courton (20; a forest south of Reims). The Italians’ losses on one day alone (19) – 9,334 casualties out of a 24,000-strong force – indicated the scale of the action.
    The only other seismic event of the week was the “mysterious” massacre of ex-Tsar Nicholas II and his family at Ekaterinburg (the night of July 16-17; Sverdlovsk province, east of the Urals) – “believed shot by Bolsheviks” seems to be the now accepted account. 
    Otherwise, a pre-war “celebrity” liner, the Carpathia, was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat (July 17) shortly before she would have reached Boston. Five of her crew were lost. She had gained fame in 1912 for rescuing more than 700 Titanicpassengers from the sea. She was the fifth Cunard liner sunk in five weeks, leaving the company with only five ships afloat.

[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. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion (many Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017).An interesting year ensued – weeks of it passed in various northern 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, at Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield). During that summer, 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; 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 that he would survive. In December/January, 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 found 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 OK 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.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe – taken prisoner outside Arras to become part of randomly-assembled, half-starved and often battered bands of POWs wandering around occupied France, then down into southern Germany – arrived late in the day at a camp outside “a pleasant country town” just east of the Rhine and close to the Black Forest.
    Although they were to reside in Army huts, he found that, as in previous POW accommodations, they had to kip down on wooden shelves, each sleeping ten men. However, always suffering degrees of dysentery, Sam appeciated undercover toilets instead of the usual stinking pole-over-trench al fresco facilities. His narrative resumes the following morning:

At daybreak, a Jerry guard shoved the hut door open, banged on the floorboards with his rifle butt, and prodded men with his bayonet, yelling, “Los! Raus! Aufmachen du Schlavina!(2) – or that’s how it sounded. An evil-looking swine, with a yellowish complexion, dark, beady eyes, he had a face that never had and never would smile. This part of his work was evidently his pleasure and his delight.
     I had known such wretched sorts in England, but they had not had power over me like this specimen did – backed by a loaded rifle. Give your dear old working man some authority over his fellows and usually he will relish the job of asserting it; the non-commissioned officer, the bobby on the beat, the factory foreman, the traffic warden, all at times lean more heavily on their victims than is, to say the least, appropriate. Give a born bossy type like that authority over prisoners captured on the battlefield and he may swell into a bullying tyrant…
     So we tumbled off those wooden sleep benches, hoping to avoid a jab from his bayonet. I was lucky.
     After the black bread and coffee substitute, we were divided into working parties. I found myself in the largest group and guarded by two Soldaten and one Gefreiter(3). A couple or so kilometres brought us near to that small town we had passed through the previous day and into a big field with several long, wooden sheds. The guards split us up three or four per shed.
     I was glad to find myself in a stable housing some 40 horses of various sizes and colours on either side of a gangway. By each horse’s stall hung a board giving the animal’s identification number, colour, and, in large letters, its disease or injury. One word frequently occurred: Rhaude(4).
     A man with rolled-up shirtsleeves – the groom I suppose – instructed me; he took a handful of straw, dipped it into a bucket of paraffin oil, then rubbed the horse’s coat vigorously. When I took my turn, as I rubbed the oil in, I saw why treatment was needed; among the tough horsehair was a thick layer of what we had always known as scurf – dried, flaked-off skin. Hopefully, the oil would soften the unhealthy stuff and the harsh straw disperse it. That did not happen at first go; I passed on to the next stall and treated another horse, which my teacher then inspected. This one wasn’t so bad and the groom handed me a currycomb – something I had seen in childhood when visiting the stable at the end of our road… I remembered the whistling noise the groom in Edmonton made as his right arm arced long sweeps through the animal’s coat. And, as I went at it, I blew through my teeth with each swipe.
     This German groom then gave me a brush and showed me I should hold it in my right hand, while still using the comb with my left. So, a sweep along and down with the comb, then a follow-up with the brush.
     And each day thereafter, that was my main chore. Physical weakness spoilt my performance, no doubt, but I gave the job all I’d got, knowing it was worthwhile. Passing from horse to horse, I found each one different in temperament. I learned to avoid standing behind them, just in case – especially the restless horse I treated most days which had a hole in the centre of its forehead, a wound from bullet or shell fragment. Sometimes it lashed out, but I made sure I stayed alongside and, fortunately, it didn’t bite me. I thought it would have been put down in England, but there must have been hopes for its recovery.
     At feeding time, we led horses out, one at a time, to the water trough until all had been served. Then, back in their stalls, we tipped a bucketful of mixed hay, chaff and potatoes into their wooden mangers. Most of the horses were suffering from poor diet and neglect sustained when working around the battle area, but I must confess that out of each bucket I filched a few spuds and pushed them into that sack wrapped around my waist under my tunic – for prisoners, working in a farming area had its benefits.’
(2) Los! Raus! Aufmachen du Schlavina!”: would translate as something like “Come on! Out!” From checking dictionaries I thought “Schlavina” might be my father’s misremembering of “Sklaven” or possibly the feminine “Sklavinnen” as an extra (uncomprehended) insult – so “Get up, you slaves!” But e-book reader Stephanie M. McDuff, a teacher who lives and works in the Black Forest, wrote to me with a convincing account of the real explanation; she reckons the guard used a local word, “Schlawiener”, meaning “rascal” or, sometimes, “trickster”. So it wasn’t quite the insult my father intuited from the tone of voice.
(3) Soldaten: soldiers. Gefreiter: the equivalent of a Private First Class.
(4) Rhaude: probably my father misremembering the word, but maybe a local spelling for “Räude”, meaning mange.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam picking up more German, but he’s observant enough to note the hazards and conflicts of becoming a translator to the POWs – then he’s offered the job himself! On a different linguistic note, a German guard asks him what is this “fick” word the English soldiers are always saying?

(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 July 2018

Kindly guard “Heligoland” conducts Sam and his POW comrades on a long journey south to the Black Forest… and a new, rural POW camp with better bogs – and perhaps the possibility of snaring a rabbit…

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… Looking back, we know the final confrontation was being marshalled, but in early July, 1918, did they know that? From the outside, the events of this seven days seem like the movement of pawns on a chess board, any endgame strategies hardly to be guessed at.
    The striking developments all occurred east of what had been the Eastern Front, as the Russian Revolution and Germany’s invasive war entwined and threw up strange, albeit temporary outcomes. In southwest Russia, the Bolsheviks extended their reach, taking control of Sirzan and Bulgulma in Tatarstan (July 8). Yet, 330 kilometres northwest, still in Tatarstan, the marauding White-Russian-supporting Czechoslovak Legion, whose “revolt” is dated May-August, captured the Volga city of Kazan from the Bolsheviks. This was another stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway which had enabled them to run a line of substantial outposts all the way to Vladivostok – where their General Horvath now declared a provisional government and Allied protectorate (10). They also occupied Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal, Siberia (8 or 13 say different sources); to put the Legion’s reach in geographic perspective, Irkutsk is 3,880 kilometres west of Vladivostok and 4,375 east of Kazan (they had numbered 100,000 at one point, but this improbable revolt must have spread them pretty thin).
    On the Western Front, the French made modest gains northwest of Longpont, Aisne department (July 8), and Courcy, Calvados (10), and the Australian Flying Corps bombed Merris, in occupied Nord department (11).
    Otherwise, in southern Albania Italian troops took Berat from the Austrians while the French advanced on both banks of the Devoli river (July 10 and 12), and in Palestine the Battle Of El Tellul (July 14; 11 kilometres north of Jericho) saw combined British, Indian and Australian forces beat back what turned out to be the final German/Ottoman attack of the war in that region (casualties: German 1,000, Allies 189).

[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. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion (many Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017).An interesting year ensued – weeks of it passed in various northern 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, at Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield). During that summer, 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; either this defiance brought about his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or he actually requested it, I don’t know. Come November/December, 1917, during his final home leave, he assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January, 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 found 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 OK 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.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe – taken prisoner outside Arras and then part of randomly-assembled half-starved and often battered bands of POWs wandering occupied France east of the Front – found himself on a long train journey south, as ever with no idea where he was going (the Tommy’s usual condition whether with the British Army or a POW).
    En route, an old, kindly guard nicknamed “Heligoland”, a former front-line soldier himself, befriended him in one of Sam’s usual broken English/broken German exchanges. But then came a display of some of the British POWs’ demoralisation by hunger that disgusted Sam – a terrible fight for unusually generous rations provided by the Germans on a station platform.
    But now their change of scene is starting to look promising as they travel deeper into the countryside of southwest Germany:

That journey, which could have been so pleasant, so different from the pauperish existence of prisoners behind bars or barbed wire, ended for me and about a dozen others when we stopped at a station – I forget where – and Heligoland told us to follow him off the train.
     Outside the station, we climbed into two low-slung wagons, each drawn by a pair of horses. Time slipped away as we trotted off along a beautiful country road; memory hauled me back to 1916, the end of that year, when I had been sent to the huge base at Harfleur(2) – leaving a Battalion much reduced in numbers and in spirit by Somme battles, but slowly being reinforced in preparation for further General Haig attempts to win the war by nibbling away (the tactics which cost so many lives to achieve so little).
     I digress – that wagon set me reminiscing simply because it had no springs and a similar one at Harfleur had shaken my innards then as this one did, making frequent micturation necessary. Which further recalls Egypt in 1915 where one of our wits nicknamed a bloke who had to pee frequently Mustapha Piss…
     When good old Heligoland gestured at the ascending forest rising to great heights on either side of the road and shouted “Schwarzwald!” I knew what the first part of the word meant, “black”, so I guessed we were in the Black Forest(3). The sun shining, the air sweet — all I then required to make life heavenly was a good meal and a return to normal strength. With neither forthcoming, the lovely surroundings nonetheless raised my hopes of better times to come.
     A certain vagueness about where we went thereafter bothers me(4), but I know we eventually left the wagons, started walking and, feeling flaked out, were allowed to rest awhile by the roadside, and observe what must have been at that time a proud monument to German success in the 19th Century — a huge, grey, stone arch above the spotlessly maintained highway along which we had marched. The massive figures in the centre of the edifice hit one right in the eyeballs: “1870”. A blow to French pride and a sort of threat that history might repeat itself in 1918 if the Americans didn’t add the necessary punch to the Allied counter-offensive.
     Grass-lined, graced by grand, towering trees on both sides, this highway at that point with that arch marked the entrance to territory known to us as Alsace-Lorraine(5), but which I later gathered the Germans regarded as two separate provinces, Elsass and Lothringen.
     A short walk from there brought us to a large, ancient fort and barracks, where we spent some time and were given a drink of the familiar ersatz coffee, memorable because sweetened, albeit with sugar substitute. Our guards permitted us to rest in the cool shelter of a paved area, fronted by arches and looking out into a large, sanded parade ground… where, unexpectedly, an American soldier appeared. Immaculately dressed, he walked up and down, presumably for exercise, without any visible supervision. He took no notice of us.
     What had secured this preferential treatment for him? Mystery indeed! If this American had been captured during a front-line battle, how come his uniform remained spotless? I had plenty of time to speculate about this point as I sprawled in the shade. Back and forth he strolled, looking neither to left nor right, so perhaps he had the same worries about survival prospects as some of us.

A further rail journey of several hours gave me a view of much attractive countryside with prosperous farms and villages and occasionally a town such as Freiburg(6) certainly a place of some architectural worth; even from the train I reckoned it the sort of town I would like to explore in time of peace.
     I always felt that inward ache when I looked at a beautiful town or village which had so far avoided damage by the opposing armies, and so carried on some sort of fairly steady existence which might, with luck, continue until a treaty relieved its people of the fears caused by war.
     A town of considerable size called, at that time, Mühlhausen(7) loomed up, but we stayed on the train. Ahead we saw a wide river and soon we crossed it by way of a bridge, which seemed endless. This, I guessed, must be the Rhine, though its width surprised me, considering how far south we had travelled.
     Soon after that, we detrained and our guards conducted us through a very pleasant country town and a little way beyond it until they marched about 40 of us into a barbed-wire enclosure containing several Army huts. This turned out to be our base for two or three months. A wooden shelf sleeping ten men, with a similar shelf below it, comprised the war-prisoner accommodation we had come to expect.
     As first priority, I had to seek out the latrine because the after-effects of dysentery made several night visits to that usually stinking place unavoidable. But in this small Gefangenenlager(8), instead of the standard pole-over-trench open-air outfit, we had an enclosed bog. This superior sanitary convenience gave me a sense of things looking up, that perhaps, in this lovely area, life might become more easily bearable — might there be even some hope of supplementing our meagre vegetable diet by catching a bird or a rabbit?’
(2) This was after he was revealed to be still underage for battlefield service.
(3) The Black Forest: wooded mountains, 159 kilometres (99 miles) long, 59 kilometres (37 miles) wide, in Baden-Württemberg state, southwestern Germany, source of the Danube.
(4) Oddly, the “vagueness” my father refers to in this paragraph seems to embrace lacking any recollection of his group of prisoners parting company with Heligoland, “the kindliest German” as Sam called him in last week’s blog.
(5) Alsace-Lorraine: annexed by the German Empire in 1871 as one of the spoils of the Franco-Prussian War; in July, 1915, the German Government banned the French language from the region; the Allies annexed Alsace back to France in December, 1918, and, in the early ’20s, deported the Germans remaining there and banned their language; Hitler re-annexed Alsace in 1940-45, then lost it again.
(6) Freiburg: in the Breisgau region of Baden-Württemberg on the western edge of the Black Forest, 611 kilometres (380 miles) southeast of Arras.
(7) Mühlhausen or Mulhouse: in Alsace, 637 kilometres (396 miles) south-east of Arras; formerly known as “the French Manchester” because of its textile industry; part of the Holy Roman Empire until it joined the Swiss Confederation, 1515-1798, then transferred to France during the Revolution, until annexed by the German Empire 1870-1918, after which it returned to France until 1940-45; hometown of Alfred Dreyfus and also of Dr Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician and chief administrator of the “action T4” programme which exterminated 275,000 German and Austrian citizens deemed incurably ill.
(8) Prison camp.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam and POW pals get a rude awakening from a bully with a bayonet. But their new work – tending war horses sick from the battlefield – feels worthwhile and it’s farming country so there’s always food to be scrounged, scavenged… or stolen from horses!

(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 July 2018

Sam, on a train to who-knows-where again, is shocked to encounter an affable Landsturm guard – then shocked and shamed by his fellow POWs fighting over food.

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… In the aftermath of the German Army’s Spring Offensive and its lesser successors, the Allies continued the early, minor phases of the push back that was to win the war a few months later. A notable success of early July (4) was the Battle Of Le Hamel, a Somme village taken via Australian Lieutenant General Monash’s “combined arms” strategem – deploying his own plus American infantry and British tanks along with creeping-barrage artillery (no, it doesn’t sound too radical, but military people rated it) to take a modest target. Notably, he reckoned this modestly conceived objective would take 90 minutes to achieve and the battle concluded successfully in 93, so whatever the trick of it, it certainly worked.
    Otherwise on the Western Front, the French captured St-Pierre-Aigle, Aisne department (July 1), and advanced in the same region near Moulin sous Touvent (2-3), the British air-raided Mannheim, in Baden-Württemberg, southwest Germany, Koblenz, at the junction of the Rhine and the Moselle, and Thionville in the Moselle department of occupied France (all 1), while the Germans regained some ground northwest of Albert, Somme department (2).
    The aftermath of the Russian Revolution continued to go off as randomly as a firecracker: the occupying Germans prepared to combat the British incursion on the Murman railway from Murmansk to Saint Petersburg (July 3), the renegade Czechoslovak Legion had another triumph way out east in defeating Bolshevik forces at Nikolaievsk, 50 miles north of Vladivostok (4) and Chita, east of Irkutsk, Siberia (also 4), the renegade Cossacks beat the Bolsheviks northwest of Nikolsk, in Vologda Oblast, 776 kilometres from Moscow (6)… where Left-Socialist Revolutionaries took a shot at fomenting renewed war by assassinating the German Ambassador Count Mirbach (also 6). Meanwhile, the Siberian Council declared independence from Russia on July 4 and rescinded it two days later.
    Elsewhere, Allied momentum seemed to be picking up too. The Italian Army began to push the Austrians out of the Piave delta, north of Venice (July 2-6), and attacked them northwest of Monte Grappa, while British planes bombed the Austro-Hungarian Navy base at Cattaro/Kotor, Montenegro (4). The Italians also combined with the French to launch an offensive in southern Albania around the River Vjosa.
    And down in Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique, British and Portuguese forces drove the ever-resilient troops led by German Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck to the southernmost point of their eternal strategic retreat from German East Africa – numbering about 150 Germans, 1,100 Askaris (local troops in European employ employ) and 3,500 porters, they paused at Namkura to replenish arms and ammunition (July 1-3) before moving on again.

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914 with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers fought at Gallipoli veteran (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. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion (many Blogs November 27, 2016 to November 11, 2017).An interesting year ensued –weeks of it passed in various northern 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, at Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield). During that summer, 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; either this defiance brought about his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or he actually requested it. Come November/December, 1917, he enjoyed the final home leave of his military career – and assured his family of his firm conviction that he would survive. In December/January, he returned to France, unattached to any specific Battalion pro tem, and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras – including excursions to the front line, just a few miles away. In mid-March he found 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 OK 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.]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, taken prisoner outside Arras and then part of randomly-assembled half-starved and often battered bands of POWs – wandering from Denain to Marchiennes to Sancourt to Bapaume – moved again… from building a railway in the wilds to short-term solo confinement in an empty corner shop, of all places, in Saargemund/Sarreguemines (in Lorraine, now back in France, then German since the 1871 Franco-Prussian War).
    A couple of days later, they’re off again, back into (newly) occupied France – and into a dismal episode, shameful and demeaning to his fellow POW Tommies from Sam’s point of view… and illustrative of the often harsh divide between veteran volunteers like him (albeit he was still only 19) and many of the post-1916 pressed men, the conscripts:

‘We left that town in style, seated not in wagons, but in saloon-style railway carriages, nicely upholstered, seemingly much too posh for soiled, scruffy prisoners – but appreciated by me, anyway, although I found myself among a new lot of strangers; they looked quite young, their accents suggesting they mainly came from the Midlands and Scotland.
     I’d secured a seat next to an exit and was surprised when an armed German, a Landsturm guard I hadn’t seen before, took the seat next to me. Bearded, he looked like a nice old granddad, and gave no indication of dislike for me, nor did he shout orders or demands as they usually did.
     In some comfort, we settled down for the journey — as ever with no clue as to our destination. Place names I recall passing through, though not in order I think, were Charleville, Sedan, Metz(2) the many others don’t come readily to mind. The first night we dozed through many stops and starts; the guards gave out black bread and coffee substitute during one of several long pauses in various sidings. But our train made quite a good run the following morning.
     During this journey, aided by imaginative hand movements I conversed with the elderly guard. He spoke a dialect I found easier to partially understand than others I’d encountered. I gathered his home was in Heligoland(3). Remembering that the place had belonged formerly to Britain, I thought I’d discovered a possible reason for the rapport which made me prefer his company to that of any prisoner comrade in that carriage.
     However, around midday our train stopped in a large station and what happened there made me feel deeply ashamed of being a member of that gang of war prisoners. As our train moved slowly alongside the platform, we could see, placed at intervals, large containers full of steaming food. By each of these, ready with his ladle, stood a German soldier – a marvellous prospect, the quantity of hot food obviously generous indeed compared to any previous experience of mine as a prisoner.
     All our chaps needed to do was queue in orderly fashion and be served. I remained seated, observing some men already pushing and shoving quite unnecessarily. When the first of them reached the container nearest to me and held out their cans, those behind did not wait, but surrounded the large, round boiler and thrust their cans, even their hands, into the steaming stew. Those behind, fearful of getting little or none, pushed and scrambled and reached over those in front who now could not get away and were pressed downwards. All in that area soon became daubed with food, thrusting hands into it, struggling to get some into their mouths, while those behind yelled and shrieked like demented baboons and tore at the clothing of the men in front of them.
     The resulting filthy outcome of this shameful lack of control was that few secured any worthwhile quantity of food. Most of it finished up on the ground or on their clothes.
     Looking on, the friendly face of the Heligolander guard turned to rage. He shouted at me “Bleiben sie da!” and sprang to the platform, battering the nearest men with his rifle butt. Other guards set upon the mob with whatever came to hand and drove them back to the carriages, some bleeding, many smeared with good-food-wasted. The scum of Birmingham, Northern England and Scotland, the conscripted scrapings of the barrel after four years of terrible warfare… Compared with the volunteers of 1914 and their close comradeship — crap.
     Heligoland reappeared, took my mess-can (souvenir of Adamski’s hospital tent(4)) and returned later, my can and his own filled to the brim with delicious macaroni stew. No one dared grab mine, as I’m sure they would have done if Granddad hadn’t sat beside me.
     He was the kindliest German I had met – and, of course, it had to be in front of him that this disgusting behaviour occurred. His epithet, “Schweinereien”(5), whatever it meant, sounded well deserved by that selfish mob.’
(2) Metz: in Lorraine now, 228 miles southwest of Arras, held by Germany 1871-1918 and again during World War II. Sedan: six miles from the Belgian border in Ardennes department, occupied by Germany throughout World War I. Charleville: birthplace of poet Arthur Rimbaud, occupied from 1914 onwards and recovered during one of the last major battles of the war, around November 1, 1918. My father and his fellow POWs probably travelled 47 miles due west from Saargemund to Metz, then 114 miles northwest to Sedan, and 11 miles northwest to Charleville.
(3) Heligoland: an archipelago in the German Bight area of the North Sea off the Elbe estuary; held by Denmark or Schleswig or Hamburg from the 12th century until 1714, then Denmark from 1714 to 1807, then Britain until 1890, and Germany thereafter, though evacuated during World War I and again in 1945-1952, after which it became a German holiday resort.
(4) The Adamski story ran in Blogs May 27 and June 3.
(5) Schweinereien: apparently archaic, means “rascalities” or “digusting people”, according to different online dictionaries. In our long school-holiday conversations at home in London during my teens, my father told me another story about the German guard “Heligoland” which has always stayed with me, although he forgot to write it here (I don’t think he would have deliberately decided to omit it). As that train rolled along and they talked in broken German/broken English about the war – and Heligoland’s experiences in past wars – they reached a point where they were struggling to say something conclusive to one another – “Wir müssen”, “We must, ja?”, “Jede andere,” “Each? Each other? Go on…” – and my father gradually realised Heligoland intended something like, “Wir müssen niemals dies zu jedem anderen nochmals tun”, “We must never do this to each other again.”

All the best– FSS

Next week: “Heligoland” conducts Sam and his remaining few POW comrades on a long journey south to the Black Forest, via an ancient fort, a mysterious American… then a new rural POW camp with better bogs – and perhaps the possibility of snaring a rabbit…

(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.