“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, 27 January 2019
January, 1919: Sam, back in the old neighbourhood, sees that “with the war to end all wars ended everybody was smiling at everybody else and inviting new friends into their home” – so… post-war party time!
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.
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!)
A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… The initial excitements of the Paris Peace Conference (opened on January 18; League Of Nations announced 25) had faded as the nuts and bolts of reorganising the world on the basis of conquest and defeat started rattling towards conclusions which still bear on the way we are.
But skirmishing – and worse – proceeded in many parts of Europe. After the German election on January 23 brought the Weimar Coalition to power, fighting between government forces and the Navy-sailor-led wing of the Revolutionary Communist Party continued through the week in North Sea port Wilhelmshaven (January 27-9).
The extraordinary Czechoslovak Legion maintained its control of much of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Novonikolaevsk to Irkutsk (respectively 2,090 and 3,230 miles east of Moscow) to defend the supply lines for the “White” (as opposed to “Red”) government of Admiral Alexander Kolchak – then recognised internationally as leader of Russia, although what he held was the (massive) enclave of Siberia – against Bolshevik forces.
Meanwhile, under Bolshevik pressure, Allied forces, including British, retreated further towards Archangel (January 29; 765 miles north of Moscow, on the Dvina estuary to the White Sea – which had become a temporary political pun).
Because of these ongoing conflicts and hazards, the British government announced bonuses for any men who would re-enlist to continue their service in the Army (January 29). These ranged from £20-50 for Privates, plus an initial two months’ paid leave with a weekly wage of £1 1s (£1 10p in today’s money or, inflation-adjusted, £53.19 – and inflation was revving at 10.05 per cent in 1919; that year average weekly wages in other lines of work included coal-mining 8s 5d, engine drivers up to £4 3s, dockers up to 7/-, bakers up to £3 10s).
[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 but suffering badly from gas damage. Still, civilian life continues to offer Sam a warm welcome…]
January, 1919, at home in Edmonton, north London: after the last two weeks’ reunions and, unintendedly, final meetings with old POW pals Wally and George, my father Signaller Sam Sutcliffe deploys his period of post-war/imprisonment R&R to widen his social horizons and exploit – up to a restrained point – the romantic allure of the homecoming 20-year-old veteran. In sum, it’s party time!
‘We discovered our next-door neighbours around that time. I believe they and my mother had already established nodding and speaking terms, but now, 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 homes. Given jobs for all and everyone better off, as generally predicted(2), we could all relax, freely spend money saved against imagined disaster, let the future take care of itself, drink and be merry…
Accordingly, those neighbours put on a party and invited us. They had thrown open the doors dividing their front dining room and rear breakfast room to make quite a large space. But it was jammed with people.
I quickly became friendly with the husband and wife, Charlie and Hester, aged about 35, I guessed. Together, they had run the catering department at a huge Government factory throughout the war. Now, already, they planned to leave their jobs and open their own restaurant in the City of London.
They knew many of their party guests – mostly female, plus two or three foremen and tool-setters – from serving them as factory canteen customers. Fine by me in my happy state, and I recall being surrounded by half a dozen women, older than me by a few years; they questioned me closely about rumours that soldiers in France used to line up outside brothels in places like Bethune and Calais. Really, I’d never seen such goings-on but – unwilling to change their looks of randy anticipation by revealing my ignorance – with meaningful looks, nods and winks, I encouraged them to tell me more.
They’d all been earning wages many times higher than pre-war, the beer and spirits flowed freely, and I enjoyed my first, naughtily titillating contact with young women who, I learned, had often obliged hard-working men on night shifts with a bit on the side. In the early hours, during warm weather, they giggled, the factory floors stood almost deserted while the surrounding fields were both well-populated and, ultimately, productive…
Inwardly, I was shocked, and for some reason resentful, but I did my utmost to play the role of a man of the world(3).
The succession of parties we attended following that first gay effort made it necessary for my mother to invite lots of people to something similar at our home. In advance, she baked cakes and, on the day, prepared ample dishes of sandwiches.
I felt my part could be to provide the drinks. The ladies liked port wine, I was told, so I bought three bottles. Along with a four-quart crate of pale ale, one of brown, and about six pints of mineral water, it didn’t cost the Earth. In addition, my father produced two bottles of whiskey, and on the day several guests brought bottles of mixed cocktails, adorned with beautiful labels, but recipes unknown – plenty for all, regardless.
About a hundred years old, our house had a lot of very solid woodwork, including folding shutters on all ground-floor windows and, as in next-door’s place, fold-away doors separating the two ground-floor rooms. With them tucked away, Ma could bring in extra chairs from the kitchen and bedrooms, along with a small table, cushions chucked down in odd corners… and still find space for the piano she hired for the occasion.
I could see this first-time entertaining involved a deal of personal prestige for her, and I did my utmost to help things go with a swing. More used to such occasions, our new friends from next door pitched in too; Charlie played the piano and Hester sang songs popular at the time with a fair voice and a style which called for slurring from a low note to a higher one… That took a bit of getting used to.
Because of long absence, I didn’t recognise much of their repertoire, but I gathered that, by then, song sheets at sixpence each brought the latest London music hall tunes to the suburbs at the height of their popularity. Bang up to date with one called Deep In The Heart Of A Rose(4), Hester put it over with great feeling and appropriate eye-play. I prolonged my handclapping beyond the general applause and won a luminous smile for myself… and a full repeat performance, which I hoped the others would enjoy. The clapping that time was not too prolonged, but next day Hester called, as was the custom, to thank Ma for “a lovely evening” and left for me – because I had evidently so enjoyed her rendering of that beautiful song – a card adorned with roses and the words of that heart-shattering number: “Deep in the heart of a rose/I’ll fashion a new world for you/With only your smile for the sunshine/Your lips for the morning dew/No hope for me but your smile/No…” But I’d better give it a rest there.
After the lady had gone, Ma read it all to me and laughed long and loud, opining that Hester had fallen for me. That made me inwardly resolve to do nothing more that might challenge Charlie’s position. Great stuff though the song may have been in Hester’s estimation, I never heard it again(5).’
(2) Annual average unemployment rates for the war period went 1913 3.6 per cent; 1914 4.2; 1915 1.2; 1916 0.6; 1917 0.7; 1918 0.8; 1919 6.0; 1920 3.9; 1921 16.9 – and thence onwards in double digits almost every year until World War II. After 1940 it was single figures and not a single year above 4 per cent until 1975 with a run of years over 10 per cent returning only in 1981-7 (comparisons aren’t strict as counting methods changed repeatedly, but I guess the stats tell part of an interesting story reflecting on the land-fit-for-heroes aspiration and… contrasting delivery thereof in the extended aftermaths of the two great wars.
(3) Anything but a “man of the world” in that sense… For new or sporadic readers, I’ll mention that Sam managed to emerge from the war his virginity still intact – mainly because of his Scoutmaster/music teacher/vicar/mentor the Rev Frusher’s influence from his early teens (sanctity of sex within marriage, chivalry too). Sam satisfactorily adjusted his view and conduct fairly soon after the war as he reached 21 and the slackened disciplines of peace persuasively prevailed.
(4) Deep In The Heart Of A Rose (1900) written by Sir Landon Ronald (1873-1938), Principal of the Guildhall School Of Music from 1910 and composer for London West End shows, and American-born lyricist Edward Teschemacher (aka Lockton, 1876-1940).
(5) Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth did revive Deep In The Heart Of A Rose in 1949 according to http://ow.ly/UCo230kUzQo But maybe my father wasn't a fan.
All the best – FSS
Next week: Sam’s getting used to the civilian’s life – even though he isn’t one yet! He looks neat, talk about a treat, he looks dapper from his napper to his feet. And he strides about the neighbourhood with “intense joy in just being alive in that peace-conscious period”. But then… the uniform calls again…
(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.