|My father's "Pension Sheet – Casualty Form" from 1919|
– see footnote (3) above for relevant details.
“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, 3 February 2019
February, 1919: Gallipoli, Somme, POW veteran Sam, getting used to the civilian’s life, strides about the neighbourhood with “intense joy in just being alive in that peace-conscious period”. But then… the uniform calls again…
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 Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of February 1, 2019, is £3,979.66 (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… while the power-and-land brokers at the Paris Peace Conference continued their deliberations/jockeying, post-war unrest “at home” grew hotter in many countries, defeated and victorious both.
British Prime Minister Lloyd George found himself suddenly returning to London on February 8 on a day when 3,000 soldiers marched on Whitehall in protest at poor food and billets. The fixed bayonets of the Grenadier Guards turned them back. But this was only the latest eruption of discontent after the January Army mutiny at Folkestone and the heavy-industries strike in Glasgow which culminated with six tanks appearing in St George’s Square (February 3). The Scottish events were precipitated a) by an industrial dispute wherein the workers wanted their hours cut to 40 a week, from 47, at least in part to allow job opportunities for returning soldiers (they lost) b) by racist conflict on the docks where one seamen’s union wanted black Africans excluded from work.
Winston Churchill, by then Secretary For War, was charged with sorting out a problem generated by Lord Derby’s initial demobilisation scheme which meant men from key industries would be released first – but they had generally been the last conscripted, so long-serving volunteer veterans felt aggrieved.
Meanwhile, the newly elected German National Assembly opened in Weimar (February 6) while street fighting continued in Berlin (8; broadly, government forces versus Spartacists, their ideals fuelled by the effects of famine which had killed more than 750,000 Germans by December, 1918).
In the Russian Civil War, the “southern Whites”, led by General Anton Denikin routed a Bolshevik force in the Northern Caucasus; taking 31,000 prisoners, they initiated a push towards Moscow. They had taken control of the area between the Caspian and Black Seas, conducting the “White Terror” pogroms en route because they saw the Bolshevik revolution as a Jewish conspiracy.
[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… for a while.]
February, 1919, at home in Edmonton, north London (at first): after January’s meetings with two old POW pals and a brief workers’-and-soldiers’-playtime party season when “everybody was smiling at everybody else… given jobs for all and everyone better off, as generally predicted… let the future take care of itself, drink and be merry…” (and flirt a good deal in his case, even with the married woman next door!).
Now, untroubled by the social uproar emerging elsewhere, his personal celebration of freedom from war continues. Though not for long…
‘Wonderful days with never a care for the morrow… I put on weight and felt better every day, sleeping as long as I cared to… Sometimes, when I went out around Edmonton, I even wore a black jacket and grey trousers instead of my uniform. These civilian garments I had found in a cupboard and, since no one seemed to know who they belonged to and they fitted me well enough, I adopted them and Pa lent me a white shirt too, one with a stiff collar and a bright tie he had been shy of wearing.
Strictly, as I well knew, it was wrong of me to wear civilian gear, but Military Police did not patrol the outer areas of London, so risk of detection was negligible. Totally ignorant of fashionable, or even reasonable wear, I strode through well-remembered streets with a confidence born of intense joy in just being alive in that peace-conscious period, not at all bothered that some people stared at me more in civvies than when I wore my khaki uniform… Perhaps they still felt all young men should wear a Service uniform.
So quickly had I become used to the life of freedom that, shortly after Christmas, it came as a heavy blow, to receive a letter ordering me to use “the enclosed travel warrant” and proceed to an Army depot at Preston Park(2), Sussex. Of course, I had to go.
On arrival, I was told I had been transferred to one of the Home Defence Army Regiments(3)– manned during the war by older men and those otherwise unfit for service abroad. I had thus, in the course of my youth, aged 16 to 20, run the whole gamut from too-young-to-fight to senility. They gave me a Regimental badge to prove I had been relegated to the Old Man’s Brigade – as they sang after the Boer War, “Where are the boys of the Old Brigade?”
Still, after the transfer formalities at Preston Park, we were sent to Hove and quartered in one of those fine Regency houses in Palmeira Square(4). Everything constructed during that period still looked so strong, solid and reliable, habitable and useful – although our dormitory, of course, was unfurnished, the Spartan accommodation customary for rankers in those days. But we had mattresses on low trestles, three warm blankets and a pillow – luxury sleeping compared to POW conditions.
Wealthy folk with servants still occupied adjacent houses; we waved to white-capped girls when they leant out of back windows to shake dusters… or their pretty heads when invited to “Come over here, love” or something similar.’
(2) Preston Park is indeed a park, 63 acres of it, within the city of Brighton. Formerly Preston Manor, it was bought for £50,000 by Brighton Corporation from owner, William Bennett-Stanford, in 1883, using a bequest from bookie William Edmund Davies. Before WW1 it housed a polo club and still does boast “the oldest working velodrome in the world”, opened 1877.
(3) “Home Forces” seems to have been one official title; they were launched in January, 1916; a web page no longer available described them as comprising “men and boys who had not yet completed even a basic military training”; however, Ian Hook, of the Essex Regiment Museum specifies from their records that, during his last Army months, my father transferred to the Royal Defence Corps (see below the document Mr Hook was probably looking at – it’s a screenshot from the second page of his “Pension Sheet – Casualty Form” and, towards the bottom, notes Sam as “Posted 100th Coy RDC” on February 15, 1919). Formed August, 1917, with much the same functions as the Home Forces, the RDC comprised men too old or medically unfit for battlefield service abroad. My father certainly wasn’t too old, but he would have been deemed medically unfit because of all the recurring gastric trouble he experienced while recovering from his POW months – which had, in fact, begun and caused another hospital stint back in 1917 when he did his year out (of the battlefield) because he was then too young (so trench life at Gallipoli and on the Somme probably initiated his physical vulnerabilities). In old age, he did sometimes wonder to me whether all this privation in his teens triggered the near-fatal rectal cancer he suffered in his 50s which left him with post-surgical pain for the rest of his long life (he died at 88). No saying on that, of course…
(4) Still handsome Palmeira Square (pix at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmeira_Square was built in 1855-70 by the financier landowner, Sir Isaac Goldsmid – titled Baron de Goldsmid e de Palmeira by the Queen Of Portugal (Maria II, known as “the Educator” or “the Good Mother”) in 1846 for his role in “settling a monetary dispute between Portugal and Brazil”, but more importantly a campaigner for Jewish emancipation in England and the first British Jew to be awarded a hereditary title (1841). To slightly correct my father’s architectural memory, the square’s style is officially “post-Regency Victorian/Italian”.
All the best– FSS
Next week: Sam and new ex-POW pals relish the pleasures of Sussex by the sea from promenading on the prom to What The Butler Saw on the Palace Pier to… a startling encounter with his revered Gallipoli CO, last heard of “presumed dead” on Vimy Ridge…
(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.