“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, 20 January 2019

January, 1919: 20-year-old veteran Sam’s reunion with the third member of his POW food-scrounging syndicate, “old” George – last seen starving behind barbed wire, now comfy behind suburban privet…

Sam’s Memoir(1) – 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 the Memoir or Gallipoli Somme & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books click here plus see reader reviews here and here  and reviews from the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association here. For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

The war’s over at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoir concludes with the Centenary of the July 19, 1919, Peace parade in London…

All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of January 2, 2019, is £3,841.91 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!)

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… it was all happening in Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference.
    The preliminary jockeying, begun on January 17, saw the “Big Four” – UK, France, Italy and USA – trying to get Russia involved in a way that might overcome that country’s post-war/revolutionary politico-military turmoil. They produced the Prinkipo Proposal (January 22; the name referred to a potential meeting place on Princes Island in the Turkish inland Sea Of Marmara) calling on the Bolshevik Government and all the “local” provisional governments and their various armed forces to declare a truce for the duration of the Peace Conference – in which case they would be invited to take part in Paris. Replies for and against started to come in, but the Bolsheviks said nothing initially.
    But more significantly, the Conference quickly announced the founding of the League Of Nations (January 25), the precursor of the post-World War II United Nations. The “first worldwide intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace” (by Wikipedia’s suitably sonorous account), it aimed to address security, disarmament, dispute arbitration, labour conditions, human and drug trafficking, global health, the treatment of POWs, the protection of minorities in Europe, and more (which list may engender a current frisson of plus ça change).
    However fine the objectives, the post-war powerful vested power in themselves, creating an executive council comprising just that “Big Four”. Forty other states signed up, including Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the British Empire as a separate entity. But the founders excluded the recent defeated enemies Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey – and had to hope the USA would sign up, given President Woodrow Wilson was the leading mover behind the whole venture… but had a Congress to convince, especially a Republican-controlled Senate.
    Beyond the debating chambers, the Conference framed a Civil And Military Mission to be sent to lately independent Poland to calm a range of border disputes (January 22) exemplified by the week’s defeat by Czecho-Slovack forces in Galicia (24).
    Meanwhile, domestically, Germany skirmished on. The general election result (January 23) put the “Weimar Coalition” in power – the Social Democratic, Centre and German Democratic Parties – just before the consistently rebellious Navy sailors of the Revolutionary Communist Party took over Wilhelmshaven (26; Lower Saxony, on the North Sea) by occupying the Reichsbank – and its cash-laden vaults – and all public services.

[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. 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 Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017).During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France – reverting to Private on arrival, I don’t know why – and dogsbodied around Arras until mid-March when he ran into his own Essex 2/7th Battalion. They moved into the trenches near Fampoux just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28, 1918, 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 doing hard labour, before spending the summer in southern Germany and finally moving westwards to Lorraine – whence, the day after Armistice, his long trek towards the French Front began. He reached safety after tiptoeing through a German minefield (November 15 probably). Then began his recovery from chronic near-starvation – and a brief emotional breakdown – via the ministrations of French, British and American military doctors and nurses in Nancy and Rouen. Finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before he was allowed home and reunited with parents and siblings, especially brother Ted, home on a week’s leave…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
January, 1919, at home in Edmonton, north London: it’s reunion time. Two blogs ago my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, gave his joyful-sad account of seeing older brother Ted again for the first time in more than a year, home on a week’s special leave from Belgium and wheezing because of the gas poisoning which was to kill him three years later.
    Last week, relaxing with a walletful of back pay, Sam renewed his friendship with Wally, his POW mate in Hügelheim and Lorraine and leader of a food-scrounging-and-sharing partnership that helped keep them alive for the last four/five months of the war. Sam visited Wally in his Essex village, then Wally reciprocated, to the delight of both families.
    Now Sam seeks out the third member of the triumvirate…

‘Old George(2), what about him? He lived only a tram ride away, so one evening I called at his home on one of the earliest of London County Council estates(3). It comprised streets and cross-streets of similar privet-hedge-surrounded houses, well-built from good materials, much red brick, some of it pebble-dashed.
     George greeted me warmly and had me shaking hands with his blushing wife, and two daughters, aged 10 and 12, in an atmosphere of much excitement. His house-proud wife commenced a tour very soon after I turned up. On the ground floor, they had a front sitting room off the narrow entrance hall, behind that a smallish living room, and behind that a scullery – that is, the kitchen cum washhouse. One slipped outside and round the corner to the privy. Upstairs, she showed me two roomy bedrooms and one small.
     No new furnishings, everything bought when they wed no doubt, but so well cared for, so spotless – worthy of the pride with which they were shown to me, the friend of good old George. Here I saw a complete, compact family household, the absolute opposite of the sort of place George and I had lived in until recently.
     During the evening, he revealed himself to me as a man restored to all the things he loved and valued. His cheeks had filled out and taken on a rosy bloom, his stoop had almost gone, and he smiled easily, whereas, in Kriegsgefangene(4) days, he had been the saddest of our sad mutual-help threesome. His good fortune extended beyond home life too, for the firm which had employed him since boyhood had already backed up his request for speedy discharge from the Army – his future assured, then.
     Before I left, his almost reborn-through-joy wife declared she just had to meet my mother. So that was arranged for a few days later, and the two women had much to talk about, while George and I shared a bottle of ale. This Pa thoughtfully provided; much like George in temperament, he was content to listen and occasionally interject the odd remark.
     We wartime pals intended to retain our friendship. Yet, after the merry party with Wally’s family in Essex and that warm and friendly evening at my parents’ house with George and his wife, I never saw them again – and, indeed, they were fitting conclusions, avoiding what must have been anticlimax at a time when so much had to be done to cope with our restoration to a civilised way of life in difficult post-war circumstances. We took so long to achieve this – certainly I did – that we left it too late and the resolve to get together eventually faded(5).’
(2) When they were based in a prison camp outside Hügelheim (in Baden-Württemberg, a village two miles north of Müllheim, near the Black Forest). George and Wally co-founded the food-scrounging partnership which Sam joined after he came by a saucepanful of boiled potatoes while doing some agricultural labour in summer, 1918. This is how it happened (leading into a detailed description of George): “I still had a few potatoes hidden under my tunic when we got back to our hut, and Wally asked if I would agree to give a couple of them to George, a friend of longer standing than I was. I can’t say I felt keen on going shares with this stranger, as he was to me; but you couldn’t look into Wal’s open mug and big, blue eyes and refuse even such a costly request. Where the next bit of extra food would come from I had no notion, but old George got his spuds.
     “Let me describe George as best I can: aged about 40, although he looked rather older, black-with-some-grey hair; a face which had never been full, I’d say, but, at the moment, merely skin stretched over bone; eyes brown and bloodshot; body thin and bent forward from the waist, legs bent, feet flat – the last not a result of war’s ravages, but due to long hours spent on his feet as a warehouse salesman in a well-known St Paul’s Churchyard firm of merchants. One of the few chaps who had managed to retain his issued cutthroat razor, he shaved when water was available and still cultivated a thin black moustache. A manly man, as I always considered those with enough courage to maintain facial adornments – men who, in contact with their fellows, feared no criticism of their efforts to augment Nature’s handiwork.
     “At that point, we three made a pact that all extras would be split three ways, and Wally and I, at any rate, honoured that pledge. If, as I noticed, old George slipped from strict observance once or twice, no mention was made of the matter.”
 (3) Sam doesn’t specify the location of George’s home, but it may well have been the White Hart Lane “cottage” estate (now Tower Gardens Estate and a conservation area) in North Tottenham, built between 1904 and 1928 – see http://ow.ly/7uZr30nlQUB . It’s about two miles from the Sutcliffes’ then home in Fore Street, Edmonton. The context was the Housing Of The Working Classes Act 1890 – the Housing Act 1919 followed, pursuing the theme “Homes fit for heroes” which encouraged London County Council to build eight more “cottage” “council” estates between the wars, as well as tenements.
(4) Kriegsgefangene: prisoner of war.
(5) Fallen together as POWs they didn’t even have Battalion reunions to put them in the same room once a year (my father attended reunions of his first outfit, the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment, until 1963, when his revered Gallipoli CO Lord – formerly Major – Harry Nathan died).

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam, back in the old neighbourhood, sees that “with the war to end all wars ended and all this relief from tensions breaking down people’s normal reserves, everybody was smiling at everybody else, greeting people they scarcely knew, and inviting new friends into their home” – so it’s post-war party time! “I recall being surrounded by half a dozen women…”

(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, 13 January 2019

January, 1919: Sam’s rolling in it – heaps of back-pay for his eight months as a POW – and he and his prisoner pal and food-snaffling partner Wally have a wonderful reunion, “a rejoining of threads broken” on that long trek back from Germany…

Sam’s Memoir(1) – 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 the Memoir or Gallipoli Somme & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books click here plus see reader reviews here and here  and reviews from the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association here.
For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

The war’s over at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoirconcludes with the Centenary of the July 19, 1919, Peace parade in London…

All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of January 2, 2019, is £3,841.91 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!)

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… On January 17, the Allies gathered in Versailles and extended the ceasefire with Germany for the second time, again for just a month through to February 16. The following day, the Versailles Peace Conference began. It promptly elected Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau as president, then allocated the representatives of the 32 Allied nations present to 52 commissions which were to hold 1,646 sessions to prepare reports informing the five subsequent treaties later agreed through to August 10, 1920 – but the real decisions were taken in 145 “informal” meetings between the “Big Four”, France, Great Britain, Italy and USA (with Japan, engaged only nominally).
    The “enemy” nations merely awaited instructions.
    But in Berlin the German Government, via it’s semi-official Freikorps force of so-called old soldiers, concluded the crushing of the Spartacist rebellion (January 13) with the torture and summary murder of its leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg two days later. A general election followed (19).
    In Russia, the prodigiously scattered Bolshevik endeavour to defeat the Allies’ piecemeal incursions proceeded with a setback way down in Merv, modern Turkmenistan (January 16; 2,150 miles southeast of Moscow) and a 50-mile advance against British and US troops at Shenkursk, in Archangel province (19; 550 miles northeast of Moscow).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914, fought at Gallipoli with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), then on the Somme Front with his second outfit, the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. 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 Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France – reverting to Private on arrival, I don’t know why – and dogsbodied around Arras until, in mid-March, he ran into his own Essex 2/7th Battalion. They moved into the trenches near Fampoux just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28, 1918, 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 doing hard labour, before spending the summer in southern Germany and finally moving westwards to Lorraine – whence, the day after Armistice, his long trek towards the French Front began. He reached safety after tiptoeing through a German minefield (November 15 probably) and then started his recovery from chronic near-starvation – and a brief emotional breakdown – via the ministrations of French, British and American military doctors and nurses in Nancy and Rouen… despite being nearly killed by overfeeding a couple of times. Finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before he was allowed home and reunited with parents and siblings, especially brother Ted, home on a week’s leave…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
January, 1919, at home in Edmonton, north London: after last week’s joyful-sad reunion with brother Ted, home for a week on special leave from Belgium and wheezing from the gas poisoning which was to kill him three years later, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, is taking his ease with a walletful of back pay and the hope of renewing a POW friendship or two… 

‘During my first few days at home, I had visited an Army office where they handed me a form entitling me to one whole month’s leave of absence, and several pounds in pay to be getting on with(2). So, in that sense, all seemed grand. Most days I passed in looking around and chatting with the odd acquaintance I met. Then a letter came from Wally, my provider in bad times back in Deutschland(3)– they’d already begun to seem like distant days. He would visit us at any time convenient to my parents, he said, and on their invitation I asked him – in a long letter telling him about my travels since we had been so strangely separated(4).
     He brought pleasure to all our family with his simple enjoyment of everything, including the specially prepared meals – although not costly, they contrasted marvellously with those bits of black bread and burnt-acorn ersatz coffee which barely kept us alive for much of 1918. His speech – a touch of the Essex country – and his big, blue eyes and cheery grin played their part, along with his expressive words and gestures. He described to my family the great differences between the sweetness of his life since returning home and the horrible existence from which he had recently escaped.
     When I took him walking along the main road, he gazed this way and that because, seen through the eyes of a man so newly freed from a prisoner-of-war environment, ordinary houses and shops looked like marvels of architecture. I was even able to treat him to what had been a boyhood Saturday-night indulgence – a raspberry-flavoured hot drink and a French pastry taken in a little shop still run by an elderly Scot and his wife. He really liked that and, to me, it represented a rejoining of threads broken, it seemed, many years ago. So it went on, with small things of no significance to others looming large at that time.
     Wally was too fond of his family to stay away for long and soon he left us, greatly to everyone’s regret, but with my return visit to his home already arranged.
     So, shortly, I travelled over to the small Essex town where his family lived in what had been the village store in bygone days. The wide, front window was draped with lace curtains and, when I pushed at the door, the old shop bell tinkled and brought forth a rush of young people who needed no introduction to me, nor I to them: a girl of about 19, a boy two years younger, and two more girls probably 15 and 13.
     I was their brother, apparently, because I’d lived with Wally “over there”. Generous must have been his account of my conduct during that mutual-help period, and I felt a bit of a fraud when they sat me at the table, plied me with a vast amount of lovely grub and, chattering happily, asked questions and repeated things Wally had told them about our ordeal. They expressed sympathy, but in a comical sort of way and had me and Wally laughing and beginning to feel it had all been a bit of a lark after all.
     Fresh, bright, unsophisticated, they soon taught the pair of us the importance of enjoying the pleasures to hand. What the heck – we played with the children, or talked about our war prisoner days as if in memory of sunny happiness. Just the sort of tonic one needed when the odd moment of depression could raise doubts about one’s future.’
(2) Normal procedure would mean that Sam was almost certainly listed as dead a month after he went “missing in action” at Fampoux, March 28, 1918. But then in August the German field card declaring he was a POW, posted some while earlier by a German soldier who passed by one of the camps he was detained in, reached his home and his brother Ted passed it to the War Office (see the handwritten note towards the top of the page below, indicating he was at Parchim POW camp – which he never was in fact, but the card probably passed through the postal system there). This probably meant the Army back-paid hium for the entire period of his incarceration and post-Armistice recovery. He noted much earlier that he started the war on one shilling a day, and then he earned a little more as a Signaller, but I can’t find any figures on British soldiers’ pay in 1918. One inflation calculator reckons a 103% increase over the four years in UK. Does anyone know whether Tommies’ wages increased accordingly?
(3) My father had formed a food scrounging partnership with Wally, an Essex lad, and his older pal George during their stint tending sick German war horses in a small POW camp outside the village of Hügelheim (in Baden-Württemberg, two miles north of Müllheim, near the Black Forest). The idea arose after they’d done some farm work nearby and a passing German couple – the man a front-line soldier on leave – had given them a saucepanful of boiled potatoes: “We two then ate spuds until, as they say, fit to bust. I now had a pal to think of, a generous soul; the months of near-starvation, of frequently being robbed of bits of food he had procured with difficulty, these souring experiences had not removed the grin from Wally’s face nor the kindness of his nature… I still had a few potatoes hidden under my tunic when we got back to our hut, and Wally asked if I would agree to give a couple of them to George, a friend of longer standing than I was. I can’t say I felt keen on going shares with this stranger, as he was to me; but you couldn’t look into Wal’s open mug and big, blue eyes and refuse even such a costly request.” (See Blog August 9, 2018, and beyond.)
(4) The day after Armistice, the half-starved POWs at their final camp in a Lorraine village my father never named started marching/tottering westwards. At first, the group included Sam, Wally and George, but my father had been a POW for longer than the others (eight months) so, even more malnourished than most, “… because of hunger, weakness and general ill health, this more strenuous pace made me feel light in the head. I responded to the odd remark from Wally, but felt increasingly detached from everything and everybody around me. Worse, with great alarm, I suddenly realised I had left my rolled blanket at our stopping place. I must have turned around and, without a word to anybody, tottered back along the road.” (See Blog November 18, 2018.)



All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam completes a circle by visiting the third member of his POW food-scrounging syndicate, “old” George – last seen when they were worn-out skin and bone, now comfy behind a suburban privet hedge. “We wartime pals intended to retain our friendship. Yet…”

(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, 6 January 2019

Returned POW Sam’s “wonderfully happy days” back home reach a climax when beloved older brother Ted returns on a week’s leave and they yarn away about the war... but inwardly Sam’s grieving already as he listens to Ted wheeze and gasp for breath…

Sam’s Memoir(1) – 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 the Memoir or Gallipoli Somme & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books click here plus see reader reviews here and here  and reviews from the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association here.
For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

The war’s over at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoir concludes with the Centenary of the July 19, 1919, Peace parade in London…

All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoirwill always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of January 2, 2019, is £3,841.91 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!)

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… The twin plotlines of local fighting and moves towards “global” peace continued.
    In Berlin, the armed battle between Socialist-Democratic Government-led paramilitaries, the mainly ex-Army Freikorps, and civilian pro-Soviet Spartacists (January 6 onwards) saw 173 die – mostly on the revolutionary side. Martial law was declared in the city on January 9.
    In Paris, after US President Wilson’s arrival (January 7), representatives gathered for the Peace Conference from a number of countries… it’s hard to be exact about how many as sources vary and appear to mix or confuse official participants and others, such as Palestine and Tonga, who showed up regardless. They included the major Allied powers and a range of states which had supported them in one way or another – but none of their erstwhile enemies: my incomplete list of participants shows UK, France, USA, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Romania, Portugal, Greece, China, the Korean Provisional Government, Canada, Newfoundland, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Russian Provincial Council (not the Bolshevik Government), Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, the Mountainous Republic Of The Northern Caucasus, San Marino, Montenegro, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Liberia, Siam, The Hejaz.
    In fact, the conference began only a couple of days after World War I’s final(?) white flag – Fahreddin Pasha, surrendered Medina (January 10) to end a siege by Allied-supporting Arab forces which had lasted since October 1916. With a Turkish force, he had led the defence of the city and protection of its only supply route via the Hejaz railway to Damascus way beyond the October 30, 1918, Armistice Of Mudros, which purported to end hostilities between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire. He wouldn’t accept it until the population of Medina reached the brink of starvation. Then 8,000 Turkish soldiers evacuated and the besieging troops went on a looting spree.

[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. 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 Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France – reverting to Private on arrival, I don’t know why – and dogsbodied around Arras until, in mid-March, he ran into his own Essex 2/7th Battalion. They moved into the trenches near Fampoux just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28, 1918, 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 doing hard labour, before spending the summer in southern Germany near a village called Hügelheim and finally moving westwards to Lorraine where they remained until Armistice – at which his long trek towards the French Front began. He finally reached safety after tiptoeing through a German minefield (November 15 probably) and then started his recovery from chronic near-starvation – and a brief emotional breakdown – through the ministrations of French, British and American military doctors and nurses in Nancy and Rouen… despite the less well-conceived efforts of several people who nearly killed him with overfeeding. Finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before he was allowed home…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Returning from his WW1 Christmas recollections to the 100-years-ago-this-week (give or take)…
    December or January, 1918/9, at home in Edmonton, north London: in the December 23 Blog, my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, ferried back across the Channel (that was on December 10, 1918) and spent some days recovering at Lewisham Hospital before returning to his family and that “first Ma-made cuppa” for a full year… over which he learned how the German field card he’d filled in as a POW and passed through the wire to a passing Soldat, with little hope of it arriving, did actually make it and give his family hope that he might return.
    Now a joyful-sad reunion with older brother Ted:

‘Those were wonderfully happy days, and my joy reached a climax when, out of the blue, Ted walked through the open front door. After our affectionate reunion, he said he had been granted seven days special leave when the message arranged by our father had reached his Field Survey Company (then billeted in local people’s homes in Coyghem(2)).
     For hours, we sat and swapped stories about our lives in recent months. His real concern about my hard times was unexpected and soul-warming, but I found cause to feel very concerned about his health and encouraged him to tell me in detail where he had been working and how he had fared in the final German attack.
     Earlier in this book(3) I gave some account of how, after an examination to test his ability in English, simple maths, and general knowledge, he had been moved out of the infantry into a new Field Survey Company which – often from the top of metal towers they constructed themselves – pinpointed enemy artillery positions to bring accurate fire to bear on them. At times, those towers would be spotted by Jerry and attract gunfire. But, provided our chaps made correct calculations, the troublesome battery would be knocked out before it found the range for the observers’ tower.
     Hills or trees sometimes saved Ted’s group from having to build any observation post. On one occasion, he said, while working at ground level, fog obscured everybody’s vision and advancing German troops bypassed them. Training for such an emergency enabled them to act quickly. With hammer and axe, they smashed their cameras and other equipment and threw the fragments into shell-holes. Then began a slow, cautious retreat to the British lines. With some skill and a lot of luck, they avoided capture and returned to their own trenches in less than 24 hours…
     But, all the while Ted spoke of these things, I felt a growing ache in my heart. That quick, shallow breathing… So I told him about my experience of gas shells – one in five sent over by Jerry in that last big attack when I became a war prisoner – and how the poison had affected me. This lead elicited from him a tale of one very prolonged gas shelling he’d endured, shortly before his transfer to the Field Survey Company. It had knocked him out temporarily, but afterwards he’d professed himself well enough to attend the surveyors’ school way back behind the lines, and the gas trouble was forgotten, though not by Ted.
     And now, at home, there he sat, panting after each sentence, but swearing he was all right… With a pre-vision of what might happen at some future time, I was inwardly shaking. I felt as if I was the older one and ought to protect him, but neither then, nor later on, would he admit he had been seriously damaged.
     During that leave of his, we shared the back bedroom on the top floor. Often I awoke in the night and listened to his quick, light breathing, and heard his occasional, dry cough and felt the sadness of the situation. He had survived all through the Somme campaign, which had brought death or serious injury to tens of thousands of Britishers, and had exposed himself to frequent risks when earning, without knowing it, a Military Medal(4) and mention in dispatches. And now, the fighting over, he was to be killed by the delayed effects of poison gas(5).
     Perhaps our parents had similar fears, but none of us discussed them. Surely a doctor would notice his condition when he rejoined his unit. There would anyway be a medical examination before he was released from the Army…
     All too soon the seven days drew to an end. Thinking ahead, Ted said he was going to ask his pre-war employer to request his early release from the Service(6), and he certainly hoped to avoid being made to serve in the proposed Army of Occupation. So we saw him off on his journey back to Belgium, at least feeling certain he would soon and finally come back to us.’
(2) Coyghem: a small village in West-Vlaanderen province, Belgium, a few miles from the French border, 25 miles southeast of Ypres.
(3) See Blog November 27, 2016. Ted trained for his new line of work in Saint-Omer, a small canal-side town, 30 miles southeast of Calais, close to the North Sea and the Belgian border. The British Army established its “maps GHQ” there in 1915, forming three Field Survey Companies of the Royal Engineers in 1916, with more soon added. In early 1918, the Ordnance Survey, the British national mapping authority, set up an overseas branch in Saint-Omer – see http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-corps-of-royal-engineers-in-the-first-world-war/the-field-survey-companies-of-the-royal-engineers/and http://www.defencesurveyors.org.uk/Images/Historical/WWI/4th Field Survey Battalion.pdf  (NB this link works for me only if pasted into a search engine, rather than when clicked on). 
(4)The Military Medal: established in March, 1916, as the “other ranks” equivalent to the officers’ Military Cross, awarded for bravery in battle on land. I can’t imagine my father’s wonderful memory would have been wrong about his brother winning it, but I haven’t found any official record of Ted’s award. In the following passage, excerpted in Blog November 20, 2016, my father recalled hearing about an incident which might have led to an MM – this was during his stay at the British Army camp at Harfleur, after he left the Somme Front because his age had been discovered – 18, still too young for the battlefield: “I eagerly asked [a passing London Regiment Tommy] and he told me how, in a pretty sharp action, one of our Sergeants from the original Battalion, Billy Wale, had been severely wounded in a very much damaged advanced trench well ahead of the front line. This soldier had heard my brother say, ‘We can’t leave old Billy Wale out there. I’m going to get him.’ But this soldier didn’t know what happened after that, because he was already wounded himself and stretcher-bearers carried him away. So I still didn’t know what had happened to dear old Ted in that very dangerous situation… How I wished I’d been there to help him. Knowing how tough and self-reliant he was, I had good reason to hope that he and the wounded Sergeant eventually came out of it alive.” (Unfortunately, my father didn’t write down the outcome of this story, though I imagine, expressing this story as he did, he must have known that Billy Wale too did survive.)
(5) Ted died on January 26, 1922, aged 25, of TB – against which his damaged lungs stood no chance. The family nursed him at home and he died with his mother and Sam at his bedside. You may recall that “Ted” was a family nickname, his real name was Philip and my father named me for him when I was born in 1947.
(6) Pre-war, after leaving school at 14, Ted worked for a paper company for three to four years and so impressed them that the boss guaranteed he’d get his job back after the war – even though he may not have bargained on a four and a half year hiatus, he stuck to it.

All the best– FSS

Next week: Sam rolling in it – back-pay since March, 1918, when he was taken POW. And then he and his POW pal and food-snaffling partner Wally have a wonderful reunion, “a rejoining of threads broken” when they got separated on that long trek back from Germany… 

(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.