“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, 10 February 2019
Sam and new ex-POW pals enjoy Dad’s Armying around Brighton, from promenading to What The Butler Saw on the Palace Pier to… a shock sighting of his revered Gallipoli CO, last heard of “presumed dead” at Vimy Ridge…
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 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… The Paris Peace Conference made conspicuous public progress while the negotiators felt caught up in chaos and worried about what they were doing, given lack of advance planning and the absence of German involvement in their decisions. Beyond the politicians’ formal deliberations conflict continued in many corners of Europe.
The Conference produced the preamble to the Constitution Of The League of Nations (February 14) expressing general commitments to “international co-operation… peace and security” – proposed as a starting point towards more detailed agreements.
In the course of the widespread striving for post-war order, in Germany they published a provisional Constitution of their own and elected a new President, Friedrich Ebert of the Social Democratic Party (February 11), while Austria and Georgia too elected their first republican democratic assemblies and reached the same conclusion – Social Democratic governments.
Meanwhile, Russian Bolshevik forces continued fighting the Allied invaders around Archangel (February 10), suffered a defeat in their incursion in newly independent Ukraine (12), began an attack on Estonia and lost a small skirmish with Polish troops at Bereza Kartuska (14; current Belarus) seen as a precursor of the Russo-Polish War which began months later.
On the side, so to speak, in Ukraine Haidamaka Cossack paramilitaries massacred 1,500 Jewish villagers at Proskurov (February 15) and, in Albania, Yugoslavian troops slaughtered 432 in Rugova (16).
The while, the US Senate rejected votes for women by a single vote (February 10).
[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 continued to offer Sam a warm welcome… until, in February, 1919, the Army called him back…]
February, 1919, Brighton: after January’s meetings with two old POW pals and a brief workers’-and-soldiers’-playtime party season when, in his Edmonton, north London neighbourhood anyway, “everybody was smiling at everybody else” my father Private Sam Sutcliffe got the call to return to the colours… after a fashion.
To his surprise as 20-year-old veteran of Gallipoli, the Somme and such, the Army transferred him to the Royal Defence Corps – which Sam also called the Home Forces and regarded as a Dad’s Army. With his new comrades, he settled into elegant digs in posh Palmeira Square – albeit furnished only with mattresses on low trestles… “luxury sleeping compared to POW conditions,” as my father noted:
‘I found myself among men all new to me, but that proved no hindrance to friendly exchanges of experiences. Returned prisoners like myself, they cared little for having to join the ranks of the defenders of home and beauty. Still, the war hadn’t officially finished yet, as some of them pointed out, and our soldiers could still be sent abroad if fighting broke out on one of the Eastern Fronts – but ole-timers like us, defenders of Merry England, could sleep soundly with no fears of being thrown again into a horrid battle in which somebody would be sure to get hurt.
A month spent by the sea with nothing to do but polish our boots and buttons, and promenade along the front, or walk out on the Palace Pier and spend pennies on “What The Butler Saw” machines(2), did me a power of good. In fact, I began to really appreciate the wisdom of the men at the War Office who decreed that some special care should be taken of chaps like us. So… I devoted quite some time to inspecting the structure of the Pier, trying to guess its age and concluding that, in 1919, it and its amusements looked very old-fashioned and would, doubtless, soon be replaced by an up-to-date structure representing the Great New World(2) promised by some of our more reckless politicians(3).
One great surprise encountered there made me extra happy; walking in the centre of Brighton, I caught sight of our revered Major, the last commander of my first Battalion before it was disbanded at Rouen in 1916. I had, some time previously, been told that he was last seen at Vimy Ridge suffering from a bullet wound in his head and presumed dead(3); but here he was, before my very eyes, driving an open car through the streets of this busy town.
I could not safely try to attract his attention, so I watched him pass and disappear up the crowded street. (When, in later years, he became a Lord, he still preferred that we few, his “old boys”, address him as “Major”.)(4)
(2) For younger readers and older ones never exposed to the low entertainments of piers and arcades: What The Butler Saw was a film played on a hand-cranked mutoscope machine. The makers shot the original in the early 1900s, but I saw it in the early ’60s, slightly weathered but, I guess, still “erotic” as advertised. Apparently the “story” derived from a scandalous divorce case in the 1880s when a butler gave evidence that he’d looked through the dining-room keyhole and seen his mistress (in the other sense!) “Lady Campbell in flagrante with Captain Shaw of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade”. I think you needed to know that.
(3) Although my father capitalised “Great New World”, it doesn’t seem to have been “a phrase”, so to speak. No doubt he cross-wired it with “Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel. The title had no specific connection with WWI but Huxley did. When aged 21, Huxley volunteered to join the Army in January, 1916, but was rejected because he remained half-blind in one eye from a disease he contracted in 1911. Prime Minister Lloyd George apparently made the actual political promise which has resounded ever since when, in a General Election speech at Wolverhampton on November 23, 1918 (quoted in The Times two days later), he said, “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in” – of course, this gained eternal life adjusted to “A land fit for heroes”.
(4) My father added one of his own Endnotes here: “Actually, some 57 years later, as I write in 1976, they have just removed the ‘What the butler saw’ and similar machines and sold them at fantastic profit at auction… and that old pier… is still earning money”; Palace Pier, Brighton’s third pier, opened in 1899, and remains in operation now (or as of Friday a week ago when, coincidentally, I was gazing at it from the prom).
(5) In December, 1916, at the start of Sam’s “year out” when he was found to be underage for the battlefield, i.e. still 18 – after Gallipoli and the Somme – back in London he talked with some recovering wounded soldiers from the Western Front who told him that ‘dear old Major Booth, of whom I’ve said so much – a comparatively young man really, of course – had been wounded in the head; it was assumed that he too had died’ (Chapter 42 of the Memoir, Blog December 11, 2016). “Booth” was his alias for Major Harry Nathan, just 30 in February, 1919, CO of the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers in Gallipoli and until their disbandment on the Western Front in May, 1916.
In Strong For Service, Nathan’s biographer, H. Montgomery Hyde, reports the Major’s own account of his wounding – in mid-July, 1916, a while after the initial Somme onslaught and massacre, a sniper shot him, his steel helmet saving his life, Nathan thought, although the bullet ‘went clean through the base of his head’. On July 24, 1916, from hospital, he dictated a letter home saying that ‘very considerable pain’ was decreasing. He convalesced – very slowly – at Palace Green Hospital For Officers, Kensington, and another hospital in Bournemouth, before being sent for additional psychiatric treatment for ‘melancholia’ at Craiglockhart War Hospital, Edinburgh, under the renowned trauma treatment pioneer Dr William Rivers (while there, Nathan met another Rivers patient, the war poet and decorated hero of the Somme, Siegfried Sassoon who was officially under treatment for shell shock/neurasthenia after writing a public letter to his commanding officer titled Finished With The War: A Soldier’s Declaration; Sassoon eventually returned to the Front, was promoted to Captain, then wounded near Arras in July, 1918, and returned to England; Dr Rivers is still renowned because of his portrayal in the Regenerationtrilogy of novels by Pat Barker (1991-5) and the film adaptation of the same name (1997)).
After 18 months convalescence, Nathan was invalided out of the Army with the permanent rank of Major. Still often in pain, but – says Hyde – more personally confident because of his treatment by Rivers, he proceeded to a career in public life (although always a working solicitor to some degree). A Liberal MP for Bethnal Green North East from 1929, he switched to Labour in 1934 and returned to Parliament for Wandsworth Central in 1937, before stepping down to make way for Ernest Bevin (then General Secretary of the Transport & General Workers’ Union, shortly Minister Of Labour under PM Winston Churchill in the wartime coalition) – by way of consolation, being ennobled as Lord Nathan of Churt, and serving in the post-World War II Labour Government as Under-Secretary Of State For War and Minister For Civil Aviation; a Privy Counsellor from 1946; Hansard at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/people/colonel-harry-nathan/ (may prove hyperlink-resistant) shows how he contributed in Parliament constantly down the years, until his death on July 31, 1963 (why he’s ranked “Colonel” in Parliamentary records I don’t know); his wife, Eleanor (née Stettauer, 1892-1972, MA economics and maths Girton College, Cambridge), was a member of London County Council for many years – initially a Liberal, like her husband she switched to Labour (and became LCC Chairman in 1947).
All the best– FSS
Next week: While Sam enjoys that “month spent by the sea with nothing to do but polish our boots and buttons”, the Blog goes Retro in a thematic vein – first, Sam on how a frontline Tommy felt and dealt with his fears…
(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.