“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, 28 April 2019
April/May 1919: Sam contemplates leaving the Army soonish – and finds his self-confidence vanishing… Brother Ted‘s back in his old job, but Sam’s pre-war employer’s bust…
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.
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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…
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A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… One early direct result of agreements at the Paris Peace Conference was rioting in Peking (as was) where 3,000 students were incensed by the news that Germany’s former territories in Shantung on the east coast had been handed over willynilly to Japan; the students sought out the warlord believed to have sold out his country and beat him to death in his home, thereby founding the May The 4th Movement which soon spread to Shanghai and elsewhere (China recovered its lost land three years later).
In Germany, left-right fighting continued as 9,000 Weimar Republic troops and Freikorps irregulars took control of Munich, where socialists had set up a Bavarian Soviet (May 2) – the Freikorps executed 700 to reinforce their message.
To the east, however, the Russian civil war took a turn to the Red, when Bolshevik forces, recovering from their defeat at Orenburg, crushed two White Russian Divisions at Buguruslan, Orenburg Oblast (April 28; 1,220 miles southeast of Moscow), capturing the town six days later and forcing the Whites to retreat 73 miles north to Bugulma, Tatarstan.
Other post-World War eruptions ranged widely. The new Emir of Afghanistan, Amanoellah Khan, apparently under Russian influence, declared war on Great Britain (May 3).
In America a wave of anarchist bombings began (April 30) with 36 bombs mailed to politicians and businessmen, although the only people they injured were servants and a Georgia Senator’s wife. And in Cleveland, Ohio, the May Day Riots saw a trade union and socialist protest against the jailing in April of Eugene V. Debs, already a four-time Socialist Party candidate for the Presidency (he ran again in 1920 from the Atlanta pen); the demonstrators fought police and soldiers in three locations and the riots, noted as the most violent incident of the USA’s first “Red Scare”, left two dead, 40 injured and 116 arrests.
Finally, way down in Western Australia, the Freemantle Wharf Riot pitted the Waterside Workers’ Federation against the National Waterside Workers Union, noted as strikebreakers during the war and thus preferred for all the work going on the docks. One WWF man died after being clubbed by police.
[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 – until, finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before reuniting with parents and siblings, especially brother Ted, home on a week’s leave but suffering badly from gas damage. Civilian life offered Sam a warm welcome… until, in February, 1919, the Army called him back - though only to a “Dad’s Army” unit. Meaning, at first, a few weeks de factoholiday in Brighton. But then, something completely different… through the spring, Sam and others ex-POWs guard German POWs at a camp in Sussex…]
April-May, 1919, Sussex: Sam continues with his final Army job, in a squad of fellow ex-POWs guarding German war prisoners still detained at a run-down near-stately home in the village of East Preston, five miles southeast of Arundel. Transferred to Home Guard forerunner, the Royal Defence Corps, he’s emerged from a short-lived lust for revenge and come to enjoy fraternising with (most of) the enemy – they don’t share much language, but they do have a lot of WW1 front-line experience in common…
But while that job trundles on through the spring, he’s starting to think of the life to come, the life aborted by the war in 1914 when he was 16 – and stuck in an unpromising office-boy position anyway. His brother Ted looks well set, mind (bar the terrible gas damage to his lungs, of course)…
‘Weeks and months passed until June(2) arrived with warm sunshine and news that a Peace Treaty was soon to be signed. My brother had been demobbed(3); on the first day after he left the Army, he’d started work back in his old job with a City of London paper company, determined to forget all about the recent wasted years and bring himself up to date in everything concerning his chosen trade – which company manufactured every type of paper, where it was warehoused, who the mills’ agents were and where to find them… All the information he’d had at his fingertips before the war, as he described to me in many talks before we went to war and then, lately, whenever I came home on leave from Sussex.
But Ted’s return to work did bring one difficulty. His boss still thought of him as the lad of five years ago and hoped to pay him accordingly – which meant merely doubling his pre-war salary(4). Ted could just have flown off the handle and told him to stuff the job, yet no such reckless action followed; fuming inwardly, he worked politely and industriously to relearn his trade so that, at the appropriate time, he could demand a reward commensurate with his worth to the firm – eating humble pie, he told me, for a strictly limited period.
Meanwhile, I felt that, compared with Ted, I had a life of ease. Although I realised some of us must do the necessary chores aimed at winding up the Great War(5) (as it was beginning to be called, for reasons elusive to me), I itched to shed the uniform which five years earlier had so attracted me.
However, when I faced my situation as it would look from the moment the Army handed me my notice of discharge, the shock was sufficient to destroy all the self-confidence slowly restored since my release from the degradation of living as a war prisoner. The boy who had, without much serious thought for his long-term prospects, gone along to enlist with his brother and two somewhat older fellows and struggled so hard to stay with them when that nasty Quartermaster Sergeant had thrust him aside because he suspected the lad was too young… age-wise, five years on, that kid was about to become a Man…
After posing as one for so long, I suddenly had to understand that a wartime man and a peacetime man had quite dissimilar problems to cope with… although survival remained the eventual aim of both, I reflected. These realisations shook me. So, while I guarded the prison “camp” and accompanied parties of Germans to their compulsory labours, my thoughts often wandered far from them and their activities.
Back in the City with his old firm and, therefore, close to the offices of my former employer, Lake & Currie, Ted said he would telephone or call on them to find out about my prospects, if any. But he had become so busy picking up former threads and contacts that I felt too much time was being lost. With thousands of men released from the Forces daily, I might well miss my opportunity.
So I wrote to the man who, in those far-off days just after I had joined the Army, had treated me so generously with his gold half-sovereigns and the kindly good wishes: Company Secretary F.C. Bull – brusque at times, I recalled, but only when under pressure from one of the partners, particularly the Squire of what-d’you-call-it in Suffolk. Sad to say, though, he did not now work at that address and someone at that building forwarded my letter to a different part of the City, whence I received a reply which killed off all hope of rejoining the old firm.
Signed by, of all people, the pre-war junior typist, it informed me that Lake & Currie no longer existed; she and the former senior partner (the Squire bloke(6)) now worked in a small office in Broad Street and required no staff. So war had put the skids under such a big and prosperous business. Like many a good soldier, it had gone over the top and vanished.’
(2) June must be a misremembering because my father was “disembodied” (demobilised, but for Territorials I gather) on May 6 and discharged on May 30 according to records including the “Casualty Form – Active Service” (page 2) right here, if you can wiggle your way through the scrawl about two-thirds of the way down on the left:
(3) Ted Sutcliffe’s Medal Rolls index card, below, suggests his effective demob date was April 1, 1919, though it’s expressed as transfer to “‘Z’ Res” (see on the right, under "Remarks"); Wikipedia says Class Z Reserve was a contingent “consisting of previously enlisted soldiers, now discharged”, created by Army Order on December 3, 1918, pending potential post-Armistice resumption of hostilities; after post-war treaties secured the peace, the Army disbanded Z Reserve on March 31, 1920. Ian Hook, when curating the Essex Regiment Museum (he moved to the Imperial War Museum), told me he found a record of my father’s ultimate discharge as being on March 12, 1920, so it could well be he too got a final admin. transfer to Z Reserve but barely noticed.
(4) According to UK inflation calculator http://safalra.com/other/historical-uk-inflation-price-conversion/(may prove hyperlink-resistant)prices exactly doubled between 1914 and 1919, year on year increases being 12.5% 1914-15, 18.1% 1915-16, 25.2% 1916-17, 22% 1917-18, 10.1% 1918-19 – its source credited as a 2004 paper “Consumer Price Inflation Since 1750” (Economic Trends NO. 604) by Jim O’Donoghue, Louise Goulding, and Grahame Allen. Ted’s firm honoured a promise (in writing, mind you) to give him his old job back when (if) he returned from the war, as noted in Chapter 14 of Sam’s Memoir.
(5) One early source of the title was the Canadian magazine, Maclean’s, of October, 1914: “Some wars name themselves. This is the Great War.” It remained so named until World War II came along and demanded a predecessor – I know that doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s commonly offered as the explanation so… feel free to raise an eyebrow and say, Huh? Or… note original “TV historian” AJP Taylor recording that Charles à Court Repington (1858-1925), a former Lieutenant-Colonel who turned war correspondent (for The Times during WW1), named it World War 1 in order to remind future generations that “the history of the world is the history of war” – Taylor says this was in the aftermath of Armistice, and that may be when it gained a certain currency, but his Wikipedia biog reckons he used it first in writing in his personal diary for September 10, 1918.
(6) The “squire bloke” was Lake – subject, in Chapter 11 of the Memoir, of one of Sam’s remarkably detailed descriptions “A big man indeed. The squire of quite a large village up in Norfolk and the possessor of a dwelling in the fashionable Boltons area of Kensington and a flat in one of those small streets at the back of Trafalgar Square.… Unforgettable too, the appearance, manner and behaviour of the senior partner, Mr Lake; he had this tough, grey hair with a military cut, fairly short back, sides and on top, no parting – a style that became generally popular some years later – and a wide forehead above bushy black eyebrows above small eyes set unusually close, and yet between them stood the very high bridge of a thin, pointed nose; below that, the then fashionable, clipped, grey moustache, and small, petulant lips; the jawbones narrowed to a small, pointed chin; bright red cheeks blazed out from an otherwise pale skin.” The far more amiable and less conspicuous partner, Currie, lived in Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire.
All the best– FSS
Next week: Sam’s first post-war romance – with the little lady from Littlehampton – fizzles via a mixture of old-fashioned morality, a still virginal lad’s overwhelming capacity for embarrassment and awkwardness – and a soupçon of period racism…
(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.