“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, 12 May 2019
The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam 1 – 1900-1905: in Manchester, a small boy sees his family fall from considerable wealth into ruin… then new beginnings in London – the wrong accent, the wrong clothes – not to mention poverty and hunger…
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 May 1, 2019, is £4,178.05 (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, which started to sow last week, began a bit of reaping, though a mere hint of what was to come in the medium term…
Following the announcement that Italy had failed to secure Smyrna, in Anatolian Turkey, one of its favoured territorial benefits from fighting Austria-Hungary throughout WW1, Greece received strenuous Allied backing to move in sharpish (not least, because disappointed Italy was suddenly said to be scheming with the Turks!). Greek troops, conveyed by British Navy ships, landed at Smyrna (May 15; now Izmir) and quickly progressed inland. This started the four-year Greco-Turkish War or Turkish War Of Independence. Atatürk began a measured response by landing at Samsun on the Black Sea coast and taking time to build communications and support.
In the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks’ new initiative retained momentum with the defeat of the White Army at Bugulma (May 13; Tatarstan, 720 miles east of Moscow). In the Anglo-Afghan War, begun on May 6 by an Afghan incursion through the Khyber Pass (now linking Afghanistan with Pakistan), the British and Indian Armies broke back through to the Afghan side (May 13 onwards).
And in the latest civil unrest in one of the victorious Allied nations, a major strike broke out in Winnipeg, Canada, involving electricity, water and fire service workers disputing edicts by the city council – discontent exacerbated by lack of jobs and the return of thousands of demobilising forces men.
[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, while making various attempts to get back to “normal” life… At which point, for the time being, the story breaks off as explained below…]
RETRO 1: As per last week’s “next week” paragraph – if you get my drift – my father Sam Sutcliffe’s a-century-ago-this-was-happening story has to take a break because he just didn’t write enough about his late spring/early summer period of 1919. It’s almost as if he’d never heard of blogs! But the weeks between the freeze-frame as he bade farewell to his Littlehampton ladyfriend, towards the end of his ex-POW of the Germans guarding German POWs in Sussex period, and the final run down the finishing straight of his Memoir towards the July 1919 Peace parade he attended will not be wasted.
I decided the necessary retrospective could best be deployed by revisiting the de facto theme of the opening chapters: The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam. In his Memoir he wrote a substantial section about his childhood from dawn of “consciousness”, aged about two in his case, to 16 when war loomed. Not that he knew he was going to be a soldier, but as it turned out this is what delineated the character of the young Tommy (and the rock-like old man I knew – I was born when he was 49): to sum up, on the battlefield he was always afraid and never ran away; he frequently doubted his officers’ strategies – especially the grandiose ones coming from HQ Generals etc – but he never disobeyed an order… and he survived it all to live a “normal”, which is to say “ordinary”, life.
So I’ll start the Memoir’s opening paragraphs, when the Sutcliffes lived in Manchester – well, Salford initially – at the time of Sam’s birth on July 6, 1898. [My father wrote the early chapters in the third person, calling himself “the boy” and then “Tommy” – you’ll get used to it, honest!]:
‘May I say straight away he became nobody of any importance(2)…
The child, the boy, the youth, the man whose life I am going to talk about, think about, write about… his earliest recollections are of several incidents which occurred in a northern town – a dull, damp, depressing place.
He remembers sitting on the floor of a kitchen with a lady – Mrs Rowbottom he called her – giving him titbits as she proceeded with her cooking. Little sweet pastries. He blesses the memory of Mrs Rowbottom.
He remembers too a shop full of toys, particularly a drum — he was allowed to tap away on this drum… He gathered that his mother owned this toyshop and life at the toyshop went on happily for him…
Except for one strange memory. As he learned how to feed himself and draw crudely with crayons his mother noticed he was left-handed – “cack-handed” she called it. She didn’t like it, the boy didn’t understand why, but she forced him to change, nagging him, slapping his left hand away from the knife or the jam pot when his mistakes had particularly annoyed her. Of course, he obeyed; he learned to live right-handed. But, for a long time, it felt wrong.’
(2) I remember how that first sentence delighted me when I first read it – as if Dad was handing me the title to the Memoir, a phrase both noting his own “ordinariness” and, accidentally or not, commenting on the way World War 1’s trench warfare diminished millions of individual men, rendering them down into cannonfodder.
Sam experienced only a little of the family’s security and wealth before their fortunes changed and they plummeted towards what used to be called “ruin”…
‘So, 1900 it must have been(3). The boy aged two, living in Manchester with two brothers, one a couple of years older than him, the other younger, a sister five years older, a mother and father(4) an apparently happy, comfortable home.
He remembers a very pleasant outing, a visit to Belle Vue. Belle Vue – he didn’t know what it meant or what it was, but he saw animals there, pretty things called deer. He looked through the railings into their green enclosure… And fireworks, the great firework display… bursting rockets, humming rockets, whistling rockets, a lovely picture in the night. Such little things… they remain with him always.
Then experiences of that sort became all too rare. It would have been a treat to see a smile on mother’s face. He seldom saw that these days. He remembered her going round the place singing and generally enjoying life. But all that was fading, replaced by a heaviness, a constant worry and depression — resulting in perhaps rather harsh treatment of the children at times.’
(3) My father dated this period of his childhood memories a full four years later, but I corrected it in the text to avoid confusion; information from the 1901 census and 1902 baptism records prove his memory at fault, for once, by showing the family had moved to London by then – I guess he made this mistake because he just couldn’t believe he could remember anything with such clarity from the age of two… but he did!
(4) My father was born on July 6, 1898, at 53, Great Cheetham Street, Broughton, Manchester. In this Memoir, he hardly used his siblings names (except for Philip/”Ted”/”George”, of whom more later), but, as of 1900, they were: Dorothy (always known as “Ciss”), born December 3, 1894, at 49, Great Cheetham Street; Philip Broughton, born October 15, 1896, at 53 Great Cheetham Street (I don’t know why the street number differs for Ciss’s birth – perhaps the family owned two adjacent properties in their financial heyday); Frank Sidney (or Sydney, spellings vary on official documents), born June 5, 1900, at 5, Vernon Place, West Gorton, Manchester. Their parents were Charles Philip, born April 29, 1864, at 132, Elizabeth Street, Cheetham, Manchester, and Lily Emma, née Fleetwood, born August 18, 1872, in Lincolnshire (though one record shows this as her baptism, not birth date; birth certificate not retrievable) – they married on May 2, 1894, so Dorothy/Ciss must have been born prematurely, er, maybe. Broughton was a prosperous part of Salford; I never heard it mentioned that my Uncle Philip’s name came from his birthplace, I understood it was a “family name”, but either could be true.
The family firm, which made and dealt in decorative tiles (see pic below) went bust – “Ruined!” as they used to wail – because Sam’s father inherited the business and couldn’t handle it, while at the same time freeloading relatives bled it dry.
The move to Gorton may have represented their first small step in the process of “coming down in the world” – to a proper working-class back-to-back terrace with shared privy in the yard:
‘The people were kindly to him and his brothers and sister. But worry and anxiety hung over all. Each day seemed dark and drab and dull in a heavy way, which only the weather in a Northern industrial town can contrive(5). So oppressive to a child.’
(5) The census of March 31, 1901, shows they then lived in Albert Place, Longsight, Manchester.
But family life really approached the “falling-apart” stage when Sam’s father suddenly vanished (1901/2), without farewell that the boy recalled. His mother told the children he had gone to London to look for work:
‘Sad news, this, for the boy because he really loved his father, even though he’d only seen him at bedtimes. Sometimes father would join the children as they were prepared for bed and the boy remembered a cot in which he had slept in earlier days, made of ironwork, though similar in design to the wooden cots of today. For some reason the boy recalled standing up in it, calling out, “Father! Father!” And father came. Said the things that fathers said to their children and laid him down, comforted. Off to sleep the boy went.’
However, soon the family followed father into the unknown – London. A “flit”. A train journey, not enough tickets, but the inspector smiled on them, he understood…
‘The boy remembers the clothes he wore that day. He heard later that it was called a Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit. Nice, green material. Green velvet. A long jacket, a belt, knickers to the knee and a hat – a sort of Tam O’Shanter – all of the same cloth. He particularly remembered arriving at the London station and looking at this suit of his and feeling quite proud of it.
They all climbed into a horse-drawn cab at the terminus, their bags piled up beside them, and off through the busy streets – seeing all these carriages and big wagons drawn by numbers of horses. Horses everywhere. Splendid sight. Temporarily at least, life seemed to be on quite a prosperous plane. It wasn’t so really, of course. They just had no other means of transporting the family and baggage across London.’
They stayed briefly in an East End hotel, five of them to two beds, before their mother moved them to a place father had found and mother approved, a rented three-bedroom house – the address crops up in a baptism record: 24 Vale Side, Eade Road, Tottenham.
Their father said he’d got some work representing a German firm, but they hadn’t paid him yet… Mother started to sell items of their old good china and furniture she’d had sent down. She began the process of getting their lives in some kind of order despite straitened circumstances. One of her first considerations: getting the kids to school. This is when Sam really learned he was a stranger in a strange land:
‘The older brother and sister had, of course, been sent to school in Manchester, but under slightly better circumstances because the parents had been able to pay for their education. In London they attended an ordinary council school – quite a good school, but utterly strange to the boy…
Within a few days, as the other children grew bolder, whenever Miss Tasket or another teacher called on him to answer a question his accent started to attract adverse attention because it was so different from what all the Cockney kids around him were used to. The trouble really started when, for some reason, he had to say “photograph”. With his Mancunian vowels, it came out “phawtawgraph”, with a short, hard “a” in the final syllable. They all laughed – many, it seemed to him, with that mean, harsh, forced laugh children produce when they want to wound one of their fellows. “It’s ‘phoetoegraaph’!” one of them yelled and in a trice the whole class was chanting “Phoetoegraaph! Phoetoegraaph! Phoetoegraaph!” until Miss Tasket exerted her rather languid authority and quietened them, though saying only that the noise must stop without explaining that their mockery was wrong and cruel.
Over the following days, similar derisive eruptions occurred when he’d say “coom” – “Cum! Cum! Cum!” – or “glass” with that short “a” – “Glarss! Glarss! Glarss!” The boy cringed with shame and embarrassment.
At once, and desperately, he tried to change the way he spoke. With his first, momentary, new friend – a forgotten name – he spent an afternoon’s play, as it might have been, under a table; he couldn’t remember where, but he had a clear picture of it, the thick table legs, the dark shadows, the other lad’s Cockney quack, exasperated yet persistent and somehow kind as he repeated time after time “T’ain’t plànt, it’s plarnt! Plarnt!” and ”T’ain’t bàth, it’s barth! Barth!” The boy copied him diligently and found he had a good ear. Impelled by raw fear of ridicule, within a couple of weeks – if he measured his words carefully – he could speak with a fairly anonymous middling English accent which, at least, did not provoke mass mockery. At which, mercifully, the other children forgot about him and he returned to the obscurity he craved.’
With father still unpaid, “Tommy”/Sam’s mother earned a bit of money – apart from the china sales – by working as an auxiliary nurse… at the same time as all the children went through scarlet fever. Their fifth child, Alf, was born in 1903 and she certainly felt bitter about “coming down in the world” – to the extent that her children often went underfed.
‘… when one day our boy saw a lad younger than himself sitting on the ground tearing up paper and eating bits of it, he asked him, “Why are you eating paper?” “Because I’m hungry,” said the boy. Our lad thought, “Perhaps it would help if I could do the same”. He tore up some paper and chewed it, but, oh, it tasted horrible. He never resorted to that again and he didn’t hear what became of the little boy who had been eating quite a lot of it.’
But not carrying any grief about their social decline, Sam did actually start to enjoy life to a degree. However, more disruption ensued:
‘… suddenly a jolt. Father appeared one day and said, “You must say goodbye to your mother for the moment and come along with me. We’re off to a different home.”
So they set off and walked the quarter of a mile to the end of the road on which they were living and came to the main road where they boarded a horse tram and climbed to the upper deck. For the children, an exciting journey followed. New buildings, new sights. It lasted nearly an hour. Twice the ponies pulling the tram had to be taken out of the shafts and fresh ones installed. It was the custom to change them quite frequently.
The journey finished in what seemed to be a very far away place, a developed suburb eight miles to the north of Central London(6). Streets of small houses. They walked along until father turned off and led them to a front door at one end of a terraced row. The house was completely empty. At that point, father said, ”I shall have to leave you here for a time. I have to see to something. You amuse yourselves.”
So now we have three children in an empty house, no food, no warmth, but still the excitement of the new surroundings kept them occupied for some time.
They went to the bedroom at the back and looked out over a small garden. They saw a group of children playing a few doors away and called out to them. By way of response, a boy swung his arm back and threw a stone which hit Tommy on the forehead. A howl of pain, down came the window. Above the pain, fear of the new place and what these children might do. A swelling came up. His brother applied a wet hankie, but the loneliness and anxiety, that wasn’t so easily got rid of.
Father didn’t reappear and the children felt hungry. No food in the house and no money. They started searching the garden – overgrown with weeds and dumped rubbish. They did discover something that might have been eatable. A piece of bread, green with mould. The boy nibbled at this, but it tasted too horrible.
As darkness fell, the children huddled together in the corner of a room. After what seemed like many hours, a bang on the front door. They rushed down and it was father, in the road behind him a small, horse-drawn van. The driver and father began to unload bedding and a few bits of furniture. Beds were set up: a double bed, a smaller bed, and a cot. Mattresses, sheets, two blankets per bed and a cotton cover, pillows. So, a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep in. But no food still. Cold, sad, nevertheless grateful for their father’s presence, they tucked themselves in, quite warm, and went to sleep.’
(6) This was Edmonton, now in the borough of Enfield, probably at the address shown in the 1911 census, 26, Lowden Road (N9 its modern postal district).
Next day, father had to leave them again:
‘Hungry, fearful, miserable, the children huddled together in one of the beds until, after some hours, father returned. He brought some cheap meat, potatoes and carrots. Although no cook, no handyman at all, he put all these things into a saucepan, boiled them up and shared them out so the children had their first meal. Not a very good one, not a very palatable one, but at least it filled them and warmed them and, with night coming along, they went to bed and forgot all their troubles in sleep.’
As Sam wrote, “It was a bleak experience in a bleak house”. But soon after this alarming house move (1903/4), their father at last got a steady job, albeit low-paid – especially when six-days-a-week train fares from Edmonton to Liverpool Street had to be covered (the normal working week back then was five and a half days, including the Saturday morning).
‘That week when Dad received his first pay packet was long remembered because on the Sunday, very unusually, their mother lit a coal fire in the grate of the kitchen range and they baked rather more potatoes than usual and boiled a small number of haricot beans (hard when bought, they had to be soaked for 24 hours or so before cooking). For this occasion dishes they hadn’t used for some time were set out on the table. One for the potatoes, another for the beans, and a larger one for the joint. Mother placed it at the end of the table where father sat. He carved it most carefully, small portions for the children, of course, but the taste of that meat in addition to the beans and the potatoes was a treat.’
In Edmonton, my father moved up to the junior mixed school (probably Eldon Road, in 1905, when he was seven). The teachers placed him in the top stream – and he started to feel self-conscious about his home-made clothes:
‘Finding himself among that top group, Tommy wondered why. He was clean, which was something to a teacher in charge of perhaps 40 small boys but, looking around, he saw that most of them were better dressed than him.
He wore completely home-made clothes. For the first time since they moved to London he had the luxury of a vest, a woollen vest. To make it, mother had cut down an old men’s vest. A cotton shirt over that, a white celluloid collar – quite deep and easily washed under the tap, it cost thruppence farthing, no more than that, and no laundry… In addition a sort of jacket; blue, thick, wool cloth, strong and warm – because Tommy’s family’s next-door neighbour had a son in the Navy. He came home once and gave Tommy’s mother a complete uniform, a flannel vest, jacket and baggy trousers, in good condition although he’d worn it for some while. Quite a lot of cloth there for her to work on and produce a jacket and knee-length trousers. Of course, the cut wasn’t marvellous. The most obvious thing about it was that it was home-made.’
All the best– FSS
Next week: RETRO 2 – how neighbourhood churches, from “tin” missions to the grand parish edifice, helped to carry “Tommy”/Sam through poverty and other miseries at least into his early teens… (featuring: love birds Marjorie and Cyril… ‘Butter! What a treat!’… ‘You couldn’t be glum on such occasions’… fetes, dances, the choir, Scouts, learning the piano and new life opening, for a while at least…)
(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.