“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, 7 April 2019
Sam, the 14-18 front-line survivor, now ex-POW guarding POWs, takes a hesitant step back in the direction of romance, but… no go. Speaking of which, he finds himself in Littlehampton…
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 Memoiror 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 April 3, 2019, is £4,078.85 (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 produced one if its earliest and most substantial creations, the International Labour Organisation/ILO (founded April 11 and still going, with 187 nation members currently). The previous day, the Inter-Allied Women’s Conference, which had run in parallel to the Peace Conference since February 10, delivered its final resolutions concentrating on the trafficking and sale of women, voting rights, inclusion in education and human rights generally. Much of this was initially set aside by the Peace Conference participants, but it is reckoned to be the first time women (aside from the odd monarch, I presume) took part in an international treaty negotiation – officially recognised, albeit meeting away from the main chambers of debate and decision-making.
Away from the Peace Conference, the other stories of the week largely involved fighting. In Russia, the Bolshevik forces had good and bad days. In the White v Red battles in the Urals – the Armies numbering about 100,000 on each side – the Whites took Belebey (April 7; 800 miles east of Moscow in Bashkortostan) and Bugulma (10; 80 miles northwest of Belebey) forcing the Reds to withdraw and regroup. But down south, Bolshevik troops entered the Crimea (8) and occupied Yalta (12; 925 miles due south of Moscow). Meanwhile, the dire situation of the White-supporting Allied forces around Archangel (765 miles north of Moscow) provoked the British to send a relief force (9).
Territorial and political disputes and skirmishes continued in many parts of Europe, but the historic event for Great Britain and for India, whose troops had so recently fought alongside one another on the Western Front and elsewhere, was the notorious Massacre Of Amritsar (April 13). In the northern Punjab, heart of Indian recruitment for WW1, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered 50 British and Gurkha troops to open fire on unarmed 20,000 people – apparently a mixture of religious pilgrims and political protesters – gathered in Amritsar’s main square. In 10 minutes deaths totalled between 379 (British account) and 1,000 (the figure from an enquiry initiated by Matama Gandhi). Initially lauded, Dyer was was forced to quit the Army the following year by vote in the House Of Commons. The Massacre fuelled the burgeoning Indian independence movement, especially Gandhi’s campaign of non-violent protest.
[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 now, something completely different… Sam as ex-POW guards German POWs, while taking tentative steps back into "normal" life… ]
April, 1919, Sussex: Sam and his group of fellow ex-POWs had been sent to a small village called East Preston, about five miles southeast of Arundel where, to their considerable surprise, they were deployed to guard German POWs detained in Preston Place, the local sometime semi-stately home.
This Winston Churchill wheeze – as Secretary Of State For War at the time – was intended to defuse any vestigial lust for vengeance on their recent enemies and jailors. In Sam’s case it only just worked (see Blog March 17, 2019), but in a few days he recovered his equilibrium.
Last week, he found himself an onlooker to a terrible post-war story as two newly arrived ex-POW/guards, who had suffered not just the usual privations but vilely cruel torture, went berserk and attacked the German prisoners. They did little actual harm, but both had to return to the psychiatric hospital whence they had lately been released, allegedly “cured”.
Now, what Sam did at the weekends in rural Sussex. Romance?! Hijinks?! Well… he tried…
‘On the railway platform one morning(2), I awaited a train which took my party to Arundel for one of our regular jobs, repairing the banks of the River Arun. A lady, whom I guessed to be my senior by several years, smiled at me. Thus encouraged, I wished her “Good morning” and learned that she was a schoolteacher. Soon she offered me a ticket, price sixpence, which would admit me to a whist drive in the village hall; she took my tanner(3) and hoped we would meet there on Saturday.
That convivial affair made me several civilian friends and paved the way to several people inviting me into their homes. My teacher friend proved a happy person, though strictly correct in behaviour. She asked me to bring a pal, and call at the house next to the Roman Catholic village school around teatime the following Saturday. We didn’t take out prisoner working parties at the weekend, so I could easily arrange to be free.
I found a chap of the right sort, as I judged, and he did, in fact, get on extremely well with the teacher. She taught at a Church of England school, but shared the house with a Roman Catholic colleague. As you might guess, the Catholic teacher was Irish and I’ve usually found Irish eyes off-putting… But a good tea preceded settling down to some general conversation, the girls having insisted that we males occupy the armchairs.
Lumbered, as I felt, with the one I assumed – being RC – was strictly religious, I applied a degree of restraint in my manner which forbade any kind of fun and games. But, surprisingly, the girls seated themselves on the arms of our large chairs. So, to converse with my Irish beauty, I had to put my head back and look upwards – thus acquiring a crick in the neck. All in all, I wasn’t enjoying myself, and a tentative arm placed round her waist when she appeared to be slipping off her perch brought forth a lack of response which reminded me of her calling.
More conversation rounded off that exhilarating evening.
When free of guard duties, I began to enjoy walking along lanes and across fields. Usually, I found myself in Littlehampton(4) and making a beeline for the YMCA – opened a couple of years previously, the staff told me, to cater for the growing number of troops in the area. But the Armistice had quickly reduced the number of Servicemen using the place, especially the Americans, who seemed to vanish overnight, they said.
The good ladies who gave their time freely to run the canteen had grown noticeably cool about everything coming to a halt so suddenly. So, when the occasional Tommy like me turned up, their enthusiasm revived, they lavished much smashing grub on us – and Britishers once more became of some account, the wealthy Yanks having deserted the local birds without warning. By way of earning my corn I would sit at the piano and tinkle a two- or maybe three-fingered rendering of The Long, Long Trail or some such tearjerker, the notes of which would echo through the now deserted building and, I hoped, bring back memories of livelier, happier days, when war kept things going at a rattling good pace.’
(2) That’s Angmering station (a short walk from East Preston) whence they’d travel to Arundel (five miles northwest of East Preston). Area map at https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-0.5158142,13z
(3) Does anyone under 50 know what a “tanner”/sixpence was? So, six old pre-decimalisation pennies in one little silver-coloured coin which, I just learned, became a “tanner” in nationwide slang because John Sigismund Tanner designed it for the Royal Mint during George II’s reign (1727-1760).
(4) Littlehampton: perhaps 2.5 miles west of East Preston via the lanes and fields route; a seaside resort in Arun district of Sussex, the settlement dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086. Its repute and population grew through the 19th century as poets and artists took a shine to it (Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Constable) and then the railway with linking cross-channel ferry to Honfleur brought other holidaymakers. Also, despite its location, it became a Cockney rhyming slang rude joke deriving from the original deployment of Hampton Wick – ergo “Hampton” = “prick” so… You get the picture I’m sure.
All the best– FSS
Next week: Sam recovers from the schoolteacher fiasco and discovers the previously hidden promise of Littlehampton… and acquires a new roommate who turns out to be an old pre-war workmate, except he doesn’t recognise Sam at all… very strange.
(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.