“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, 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.
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!)
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…]
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.