“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, 11 November 2018

’”There is an Armistice!” one Soldat bellowed…’ Sam’s November 11: the real Armistice Day as experienced by a Tommy in a German POW camp…

Sam’s Memoir – paperback and e-book – and the e-excerpts from it are now available in their third and final editions with added Endnotes and, in the Memoir, added documentation.

It’s war’s end at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoir concludes with the Centenary of the July, 1919, Peace parade in London…

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

All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross - and the current running donations total at November 1 is £3,644.84 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!)

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… Henry Nicholas John Gunther found a sad place in history as the averred “last soldier killed” in World War 1: at 10.59am on November 11, one minute before the legendary “11th hour”; this German-American, aged 23, a Private following demotion from Sergeant because an intercepted letter home criticised front-line conditions, was said to be trying to prove himself and regain his rank when he bayonet-charged a German machine-gun post, fired some shots despite the “enemy” soldiers trying to indicate it was all over and was killed. This happened at Chaumont-devant-Damvillers in Lorraine (the German-occupied province where, that day, my father was still a POW – see below)
    On Monday, November 11, at 5am, Allied Commander Marshall Foch signed the Armistice on a train at Rethondes station in the Compiègne forest. Bar British troops’ dawn retaking of Mons, Belgium (notoriously lost on August 24 1914), and the Allies subsequent unopposed advance into Germany (from November 16) and the German Army’s exit from France (complete by the 18th) that was more or less it for military action. But the diplomatic and political wires were buzzing.
    In Germany a clutch of dukes and kings followed the Kaiser in abdicating (November 11 and later that week), while the German Navy’s surrender was negotiated in the Firth Of Forth aboard the cruiser Königsbergby representatives of the Workmen’s And Soldiers Council Of The Fleet (15 onwards; this body had emerged from the wave of German Naval mutinies). The Emperor Of Austria abdicated and a German-Austrian Republic was proclaimed instead (13) – it promptly requested union with Germany. Then the Hungarian government concluded a separate Armistice in Belgrade (15) and declared itself independent the following day.
    Around eastern Europe, in the immediate aftermath a new national Government formed in Estonia (11), Jan Masaryk became first President of the still-hyphenated Czecho-Slovak republic (14), and Poland declared independence with Jozef Pilsudski Head Of State (16 – and a revolt began in Ukraine (15).
    Down in Africa, among the last to hear of the Armistice was General Von Lettow-Vorbeck who led his former East Africa force, which had fought for months on the run from the former German colony, to the Zambesi in then Rhodesia before the news reached him (November 14) and he surrendered the next day.

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, 16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914, fought at Gallipoli with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), then on the Somme Front with his second outfit, the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He accepted, though with an enduring sense of guilt. December, 1916, saw him posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). That summer, his Company Officer offered him training for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras and at the nearby Front until, in mid-March, he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras…  just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28 left 80 alive and “fit” out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, a POW (Blog March 25, 2018). For several months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim. There they settled into a slightly less filthy camp for the summer, tending sick German war horses, before moving on yet again, westwards to a village in Lorraine… ]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
November 11, 1918, Armistice Day in occupied Lorraine: my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, now eight months a slowly starving POW – of late in an improvised “camp” which is actually a village hall – last week stayed practical as rumours of war’s imminent end abounded by stealing a cabbage. This he shared with his Tommy pals Wally and George, partners in a snaffled-food syndicate which had helped keep them alive of late.
    Now it’s the morning of that historic day – not that, as yet, the POWs knew for sure what was going on, much less what day it was…

‘When dawn came, however, so did the Soldaten(2). But with differences. Gone were the black-and-white Iron Cross(3)ribbons, worn on the breast – decorations for bravery won by every man in their Army, it seemed to me. These they had replaced with bright red decorations, and Regimental buttons worn on their caps had given way to red ones.
     We saw no more German officers, not at any time after that sudden move to the political left. If this was the revolution – and it looked like it – then it must, we decided, be the most peaceful ever.
     The guards gave us the usual piece of bread and litre of acorn juice(4). Then we awaited events. Lorries hurried past, each displaying a large, red flag and filled with shouting troops. They all went one way – eastwards. “Fertig(5),” occurred frequently among the excited words they called out to our guards, and even the dimmest among us knew that meant “finished”.
     “There is an Armistice!” one Soldat bellowed at us as he passed by, driving a pair of horses pulling a haywain covered with rope netting under which sat many chickens. That evoked a cheer from those of us who heard the thrilling bit of news.
     Wally, George, and I found ourselves in a state of intense, excited joy, though unable to tell each other of the relief from the worry, doubt and general misery which, since becoming prisoners, had defeated most of our efforts to remain normally hopeful. Although Wally had managed to smile sometimes, I felt sure that in happier times he would have been just the cheery chappie everyone loved to have around. Now the grin, which I and my parents were to find so pleasing at a later date, began to illuminate his somewhat Punchish face – his nose was not quite so big nor quite so hookish as Punch’s, but his mug nicely suggested the puppet’s profile.
     I certainly had benefitted from my association with that young man, whose fair dealing and lack of wile and guile put new life into my ability to trust my fellow men – which had faded because of the deplorable overall standard of behaviour and of honour among those with whom I had dwelt recently. The discomforts, food shortages and absence of any of life’s pleasures had so quickly reduced them to the level of wild animals with all their snarling and violent grabbing of anything edible…
     Not so, Wally, though he was nobody’s fool and capable of protecting his own. His word, given to me and to George, really was his bond and he expected and got the same from me. From George – older, married with children, and therefore “been through the hoop” – Wally asked slightly less, reckoning George couldn’t be expected to contribute quite as much as we youngsters. That seemed reasonable to me, even gave me a feeling of some slight superiority, walking ragbag, skeleton-with-a-skin-covering though I was. Stinking pride, as my mother used to call it, can be a morale-booster at times.’

So passed Armistice Day, 1918(6), with us prisoners leaderless, but not without our well-nourished Preacher(7) sounding off in loud prayers of thanks for deliverance. Although he and his cohort sang hymns and, later on, sober songs like Will Ye No Come Back Again and Auld Lang Syne, belting them out full-strength, no reproof came from the Germans, who seemed to spend all their time in discussion, while keeping up only the appearance of maintaining a watch over us.
     Late that evening, we got the usual stewed veg dished out, not by the Jerries, but by our Preacher and several of his cronies – a further indication of our guards’ loss of interest in us.’
(2) Soldaten: soldiers.
(3) The Iron Cross: originated in Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars, says Wikipedia, it became degraded by mass awards in World War I, during which the German Army handed out at least 5.4 million, including two to Adolph Hitler.
(4) Acorn juice posed as coffee in times of shortage.
(5) Fertig: finished.
(6) The final steps towards Armistice had begun on September 29, 1918, when General Ludendorff told the Kaiser he could not guarantee holding the line for another 24 hours; he called for an immediate ceasefire, ceding to the demands of President Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points”, issued in January, 1918. Soon after that, Ludendorff changed his mind about suing for peace, but by then the German Army’s morale had collapsed and the Navy mutiny of October 29-30 (at Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea, then Kiel on the Baltic) incited a revolutionary spirit which rapidly spread across the country. The combatants agreed the Armistice on November 11, the day after the Kaiser’s abdication, and it came into force at 11am Paris time (hence “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of sonorous cliché). The German soldier whom my father heard shouting about it may have got the news a day or so later or perhaps he was echoing a false rumour in advance of the actual signing – although my father’s assumption remained that this was indeed November 11 and he may well have been right, although generally he hadn’t been able to keep track of dates. Having nothing else definite to go on, I’m tentatively dating events from here on as if the German soldier and my father were indeed correct. Under the Armistice terms, Germany agreed to complete demilitarisation and the occupation of the Rhineland by American, Belgian, British and French Armies. The parties did not agree and sign the final Peace Treaty (of Versailles) until June 28, 1919. The establishment of Germany’s Weimar Republic followed in August.
(7) See the October 28 Blog for a characterisation of the Preacher, ostentatious in his religiosity, Sam reckoned, because he had grown modestly fat while others wasted away because he took full advantage of his position as a POW “trusty” in the camp cookhouse.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam’s long walk westwards begins… the still hate-filled guard he calls “Haybag” drives the POWs past a blazing ammunition dump… and before the day is out Sam is tottering along on his own… “I felt like the last man on Earth”.

(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, 4 November 2018

Sam contemplates “freedom” – with “armed guards still lounging around outside the wire”! While wondering what next, the POWs sing their way through the night… and Sam, too near starving to get lost in euphoria, temporarily escapes to forage for food…

Sam’s Memoir– paperback and e-book – and the e-excerpts from it are now available in their third and final editions with added Endnotes and, in the Memoir, added documentation.

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

All proceeds to the British Red Cross - and the current running donations total at November 1 is £3,644.84  (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!)

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The Armistice manoeuvres continued… “apace” you might say, except that thousands on the front lines still had to suffer wounds or death in these concluding days. The main steps were: President Wilson sent a note of acceptance of Armistice proposals to Germany (November 5); the Allies’ military leader in France, Marshall Foch told the German delegates to advance towards the French front lines (7); he met them at Rethondes, near Compiègne and told them the Armistice terms, apparently negotiated already, had to be accepted or not by 11am on the 11th (8) – as everyone knows this formality was left until that last minute (next week in terms of this blog).
    Meanwhile, the German Naval mutiny spread to a battleship in Kiel (November 4), a revolution broke out in Berlin (9) and that same day the Kaiser’s imminent abdication was announced, followed by his exit to Holland (10).
    On the Western Front, the one-way, but often still fierce conflict saw the Franco-American Meuse Argonne Offensive (September 26-November 11) drive towards its conclusion as the Advance To The Meuse took Vervins, Rethel and Sedan (6), then Mézières (10). During this long campaign the Americans suffered 122,000 casualties, the French 70,000 and the Germans 70,000.
    Further north, Field Marshall Hague’s British and French Army Group encountered strong resistance at the Battle Of The Sambre and the Second Battle Of Guise, advancing beyond Valenciennes on a 30-mile front towards Maubeuge and Mons (November 4-5) – the battles included the bloody crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal where poet Wilfred Owen died. The French took Guise and Origny-de-Tiérache (5; Aisnes department), the British Maubeuge, Avesnes and Tournai (8-9;  in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments, except that the last is in Belgium).
    Elsewhere, winding-up moves occurred, politically and militarily. Poland assumed control of Galicia from Austria (November 8) and Czech forces declared national independence at Ekaterinburg (9; i.e. a very long way from Czecho-Slovakia because of their extraordinary campaign battling for the Allies along the Trans-Siberian Railway). The Italian Navy mopped up ports and islands along the Montenegran coast and further Balkan activity saw King Peter Of Serbia re-enter Belgrade (6; ousting the Austrians), the Yugo-Slav conference in Geneva decided to form a government (7), and Romania briefly and nominally rejoined the war on the Allied side after rejecting their May, 1918, treaty with Germany and ordering the invaders’ Army to leave their soil.
    However, down in Africa, the wandering German force which had been driven out of German East Africa, pressed on with its invasion of (British colony) Rhodesia, winning a fight at Kasama (9; about 600 miles north of Salisbury/Harare).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, 16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914, fought at Gallipoli with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), then on the Somme Front with his second outfit, the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. So they told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He accepted, though with an enduring sense of guilt. December, 1916, saw him posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations (he spent his 19th birthday, July 6, 1917, in a Sheffield hospital). That summer, his Company Officer offered him training for a commission, but Sam detested ordering men around so he refused; he may have requested his subsequent “reversion” to Private, or perhaps it was a “punishment”, I don’t know. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France and dogsbodied for Brigade HQ in Arras and at the nearby Front until, in mid-March, he ran into his own Essex Battalion; they moved into the trenches near Fampoux, about six miles east of Arras… just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28 left 80 alive and “fit” out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, a POW. For three to four months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups, until a train took his latest band down to a rural area between the Rhine and the Black Forest near a village called Hügelheim. There they settled into a slightly less filthy camp for the summer, tending sick German war horses, before moving on yet again, westwards to a village in Lorraine… ]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Early November, 1918, occupied Lorraine: my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, now seven months a slowly starving POW, of late in an improvised “camp” which is actually a village hall, has been observing signs of war’s impending end – and trying to stay alive in the meantime. To this end he has formed a scrounged-food partnership with fellow POWs Wally and George.
    Last time, a convoy of German soldiers and officers in cars came rolling eastwards past the camp – “Zu Österreich!” yelled one (i.e. Austria). Diligent oversight among the camp guards collapsed and the POWs took to singing – hymns and other, less reverent ditties:

Time on our hands now. Opportunities to compare opinions about what was afoot and to look at possibilities from a new angle: that of free men… What men?… Free men. Who? Us… Us… Free…
     That was a laugh. Armed guards still lounging around outside the wire. Prominent in his devotion to his Kaiser’s heaven-given superiority and rightful demands for the tireless services of his loyal, if hungry, subjects, Haybag(2) now stood out from the ordinary Soldaten. The others relaxed, stood around talking, perhaps walked around the perimeter to consult with a mate. Visibly, they shed their soldierly bearing, yielded to a mixture of hope and fear – victims, playthings of rumour and counter-rumour, like us.
     As the day dragged on, more and more groups of soldiers passed along the nearby road. Frequently, our guards hurried out to question them.
     That night, careless of what our bosses thought of it, our men sang loudly parodies of songs and hymns such as had helped them on many a route march – bawdy, filthy, derogatory to NCOs and officers, and now, to Jerries. If ever our captors were to administer the final bashing to the despised Englander, now was the justification for having a go. But nowt happened.
     Seeking a spell of relief from the noise, I went outside. Total darkness, utter silence. Where was everybody? Where were the guards? A prowled round the wire, not a Jerry to be seen or heard.
     I went in again, found Wally and George, and took them round the confines. We agreed: we had been deserted, at least temporarily, by our very dear friends. Following up a little preparation Wally and I had made in case an opportunity to recce nearby territory occurred, we went into the privy – enclosed, in this case, because of our proximity to the road and some houses. We had quietly loosened the nails on two boards in the tall, outer fence which, for its length, replaced the barbed wire and would give us access to an open field. Nobody, as far as we knew, suspected our work; we even kept it from George.
     As appointed scrounger to our group, when we moved the boards I slipped through the gap, which Wally covered once more. Difficult to describe the feeling of loneliness as I cautiously stepped along, came to the wire, and realised that, if we had made a mistake and some Germans remained on guard duty, I might be shot – particularly if Haybag spotted me. Probably the very situation he’d been praying for. But I didn’t meet him, not just then at any rate.
     In the blackness, I slowly moved away from the prison, trying to walk in a straight line so that I could turn round and return to the same place. I saw nobody, heard nothing unusual… When I came to a fence I carefully climbed over it; it was only a couple of feet high and the dim sight of a cottage ahead told me I was in a back garden. Fearful of raising an alarm, I felt around on the ground nearby, got my hands on a big, hearty cabbage, pulled it, brushed the earth off its root and stuffed it into my waist sack(3).
     The singing, now louder than ever, aided my return to the bog. I guessed it could well continue all night for all our vanished Germans cared. I told my pals I had apparently been free to walk away without hindrance. I produced the cabbage, which delighted them, and, with no means of cooking it, we pulled off the outer leaves and chewed the pale leaves from the heart. A pinch of salt would have embellished the meal, but we weren’t fussy eaters.
     The night being so dark, we all decided to wait till daylight before making any move.’
(2) My father’s nickname for a particularly obnoxious Prussian guard who (see last week) “wore a look of undying anger” and bore an enduring hatred for the prisoners.
(3) Not standard issue! A tubular bag he’d devised early in his POW period to tie around his body under his prisoner’s uniform as a repository for anything handy, especially edibles.

All the best– FSS

Next week: ‘”There is an Armistice!” one Soldat bellowed… Sam’s November 11 in a German POW camp…

(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.