“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, 2 June 2019

The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam 4 – 1903-1912: Young Sam gets religion, after a fashion… observing churchpeople from romance to fire-and-brimstone and earnest striving to rise up from poverty to respectability via fêtes and a church-hall soirées… then free piano lessons from the Vicar stir his lifelong love of music and life begins to bloom (despite the rather odd sex education sessions)…



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!).

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… On June 2, 1919, the Paris Peace Conference machinery spat out one of the unilaterally-drafted treaties it was producing quite regularly during its final weeks – this one addressed to Austria featured accepting responsibility for the war and hefty reparations (the Austro-Hungarian Empire had already dissolved). Austria resisted signing…


Otherwise, post-war unrest proceeded in every way imaginable. Actual wars featured: the Khaibalikend Massacre (June 5-7) which saw 6-700 Armenian civilians killed by Azeri and Kurdish troops and “irregulars”, the attack organised by a Nagorno-Karabakh governor-general the British military had installed earlier in the year; Finland declaring war on Bolshevik Russia (June 6), over the ownership of border territory Karelia, making official the Aunus Expedition by “volunteers” who had begun a sort of invasion on April 21;  Ukraine launching the Chortkiv Offensive against Poland in an attempt to annex Eastern Galicia (June 8-28); General Denikin’s Southern White Russian force advancing against the Bolshevik Army (8). Tenuously related perhaps, US Marines landed in Costa Rica and in due course helped overthrow the dictator – who happened to threaten US control of neighbouring Nicaragua.
The UK, involved all over the shop, sent reinforcements for the doomed Archangel venture in northern Russia (June 3), while British troops fired on and killed four of a rioting crowd in Valletta, Malta (7), who were protesting against post-war food shortages and stirring towards independence. At home, race riots occurred through the month in Liverpool and Cardiff as white and black workers clashed because of tensions caused by demobilised servicemen taking jobs (the National Archive records that the Government responded by repatriating 600 black people).

And, variously – the only “theme” would be general upheaval – a referendum in the Ålund Islands voted 95 per cent for a transfer from Finland to Sweden, but it never happened because the League Of Nations wouldn’t allow it (June 1), and in America eight mail bombs exploded and hurt no one (8) but fuelled the then current Red Scare.

[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 facto holiday 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…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
RETRO 4: With my father, Signaller Sam Sutcliffe’s a-century-ago-this-week(ish) story taking a break – because he just didn’t write enough about his late spring/early summer period of 1919 – I’m revisiting the (in-hindsight) theme of his Memoir’s opening chapters about his childhood and teens: that is, The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam, the young Tommy who got through Gallipoli, the Somme, the Spring Offensive and eight months as a POW… to peace and a normal life.

So, Retros 1 and 2 covered a) his wealthy toddlerhood in Manchester for just a couple of years after his birth (on July 6, 1898) and then, after the collapse of the family tile business, real hungry poverty in London b) his developing immersion in the tumultuous life of 1900s Edmonton, a suburb then on the northern edge of north London – streets full of horses, cattle and sheep (on the hoof to the butcher), roads thrusting out into the surrounding countryside and a market place steaming with humanity, tooth and claw.

Last week, The Making Of 3 covered his schooldays, including a gradual discovery of his own talents, despite relentlessly daunting comparisons with his older brother Ted’s sparky brilliance, and the frustration of both boys when they had to leave education at 14 for lack of money to pay for more.

Now, these excerpts illustrate his relationship with the church – which is to say various churches. He doesn’t seem to have been a particularly “religious” child/young man in the theological sense and barely mentions any kind of deity throughout the Memoir. But, around a basic faith and involvement in church activities, he drew much-observed knowledge of human life and the youthful moral standards he was to maintain throughout the war.
The children (four of them then, Ciss, Ted, Sam and Sidney; Alf arrived in 1903) had attended a church in Tottenham when they first came down from Manchester to London in 1901/2. But they had to start again when they moved to Edmonton a year or so later when Sam (born on July 6, 1898) was 5 or 6. And as soon as they settled, Sam’s mother looked for a church the children could attend…
(NB: my father wrote the early chapters in the third person, calling himself “the boy” and then “Tommy”, while he temporarily aliased Ted as “George”.)

‘Not long after the family’s arrival in this growing suburb, it had occurred to mother that church attendance would be good for the children. She probably would not have time for it herself and father would not want to do anything of that sort because the religion to which he had been slightly attached in Manchester was Unitarianism and there was no branch of that somewhat obscure sect nearby. So sister [Ciss, 10 by then] was given the job of seeking out a suitable place…

Somebody told her about a small church half a mile along the road – a “tin church”, they called it. She set off one Sunday with the other children and found it standing back from the main road, surrounded by rough grass. They were accepted immediately and, each according to their age, given a place in a Sunday school class.

The tin church had a small hall attached with, at one end, a platform bearing a small organ, its pipes brightly painted, and a couple of tables at which sat the people who were going to conduct the service. To the side of the platform stood two tall, anthracite stoves of roughcast metal, their chimneys poking out through the roof. With them alight, the place warmed up comfortably. The stoker was a Mrs Pavitt – small, thin, wispy grey hair, toothless, pale blue eyes, a sort of smile from time to time. She seldom spoke but worked very hard to keep this place warm and clean even though the odd shilling or two would be all that this poor community could afford to pay her.

At the organ for a rousing hymn, a tall, young man called Cyril Smith perched on a stool, his rather lank hair flopping down over his forehead – but a nice face with a good smile. The preacher would read aloud a verse of Rally Round The Banner or some similar lively, lilting, marching sort of hymn, then off Cyril would swing and the congregation heartily followed, singing various parts to the best of their ability. Turning the pages of the sheet music for him, if necessary, and keeping close to him, was his girlfriend… I suppose you would call her. Marjorie Peters had blue eyes, bulging somewhat, a broad nose, very prominent, front top teeth, healthy colour in her cheeks and as tall as Cyril. A well-matched pair. She too played the organ and socked out those bracing hymns.

Two men took charge of the service for the whole congregation. Two very different types. Mr Reardon, rather flat of foot, average height, a good head of hair and a droopy moustache, much given to smiling. When he preached a sermon or composed a prayer there was gaiety to it, happiness, and he played a very sweet euphonium when they went out to sing their hymns in the street. Mr Reardon worked as an insurance agent, collecting local people’s pennies and halfpennies door to door.

His opposite number, Gillette, had a deep bass voice, splendidly underpinning the hymns… When they sang, Gillette’s face was white, but his eyes burned. Young, with a blue chin and a big Adam’s apple, when he preached it was with all the depths of sincerity he could muster. His strong speaking voice was just the vehicle to transport the brimstone and fire which would be slopped over the people should they stray from the narrow, straight path. Yet, while he stood on that small platform, his eyes would stray to follow Marjorie Peters’s every movement, and when he sang solos to her organ accompaniment his loud voice became harsh with emotion, his face more lugubrious every time he looked her way.

The children in the choir and congregation noticed every detail. “Cor, look at his dial now!” they’d mutter. They felt that his unrequited love for her was a little local tragedy in which they were all, to some extent, concerned… All this lent a little colour to those parts of the service which might otherwise have seemed dull.

On Sunday afternoons the children went to Sunday school and sat at benches arranged in groups around the teacher’s chair. Tommy’s group had a Mr Blackhead, a little man, ashen of face, a bluish, shaved-but-still-visible beard, black, wavy hair, small, dark eyes, 45 perhaps. Certainly, he wasn’t an open-air type and one could assume that he worked in a foundry…  If you happened to sit near him his sourish breath would come floating over… His class was useful in that it helped to pass the time…

One sunny Sunday evening, the smiling and happy Reardon stood on the platform, euphonium under arm, and called upon the brothers to sally forth into the streets and take the message to the people. With Cyril and Marjorie carrying a small harmonium between them, the whole congregation set off. In a side street, they formed a circle, the harmonium in the middle. All had their hymn books with them and, led by the two instruments, they sang heartily. “Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away/He taught me how to watch and pray.” If the little bag passed around at one of these street meetings realised two or three shillings, that would be a very good evening.

Over the year or so during which the children attended that chapel, they put the odd ha’pennies and pennies they’d saved into the annual outing fund – a trip to the sea, the crowning day of the year for the children. When it arrived, their excitement was intense. The Sunday-school teachers took them to the nearest railway station where they boarded a specially chartered train. The cost per head must have been very small.

Tommy paid no attention to the name of their destination, but the thing he did remember was the tea. Lots of women bustling about ushered them into a big hall, hustling them towards trestle tables. Enamel mugs full of lovely tea. Bread and butter. Butter! What a treat. And cake. Plenty of cake. The cake did smell lovely, it really thrilled Tommy.’

Despite that pleasant interlude, after a few months, Sam/”Tommy” and siblings found they had to change their place of worship again – reaping accidental benefits for their beleaguered father:

‘After all that, mother suddenly discovered they had gone to the wrong church! Had sister taken them just a little further along and to the right side of the main road they would have found a Church of England. Another tin church – corrugated iron, that is.

As mother reminded them, they had been christened into the C of E** shortly after their arrival in London. At that time a lady had called and given them some little silvery sweets which they had relished. She chatted with mother, told her she was a visitor from a nearby church, and learned of the family’s circumstances. So she sent along some very useful things: a sack of coal and a few items of food.

Mother could do no less than take the children along to that church and have them christened… they had joined the C of E fold and now the discovery of the correct tin church began a better and very interesting phase in the life of the family.

This was a mission church.*** A large church in the wealthy part of the West End of London had set aside a fund to establish a mission among the poor people living in these semi-developed outer-London suburbs. There was no real hint of snobbery or class in this. The clergyman received a very small salary.

He turned out to be a very likeable man. Glanfield Rowe was his name… As was the custom, soon after the children joined his congregation, he visited their home. He met mother and later father also. Mr Rowe being a reasonably well-educated man, father felt that here was somebody to whom he could talk freely.

The two met on several occasions, on one of which father was persuaded to change his faith and be baptised into the Church of England… The collapse of the family business in Manchester had dealt a severe blow to father. Ever since he had become rather timid and fearful. But his association with the rector in this small church seemed to stiffen his morale a bit. He got a slightly better job as an under-manager in the shipping firm for which he was working and this meant a small rise in salary.’

** Records for the parish of St. Olave, Woodberry Down, Middlesex, show four children baptised on September 17, 1902: Dorothy (“Ciss”), Philip Broughton (“Ted”), Charles Samuel, and Frank Sidney. Woodberry Down is just south of Tottenham where the family first lived on coming to London.

*** The mission church movement within London began about 1880; maybe the “tin church” was what one web source describes as the “iron room” (as in “corrugated iron”?) put up in 1904 on the northern side of Malden Road, Edmonton, but there seem to have been several others in the district.

Here, looking back from his 70s when he wrote the Memoir, Sam notes how church society eased some of poverty’s oppressions – but not all by any means:

‘…many did survive on the tiniest of incomes, like Tommy’s family, keeping at least an outward appearance of what was called respectability. They frequently suffered deprivations in their home. But even in those circumstances, they could still find energy and time to do a little to help others, as with church work. But the toll on nerves, the irritation, the bitterness, the feeling of instability and fear of even worse overtaking them often blighted the lives of people who were doing their best to keep things going under difficult circumstances. And of course, the children often suffered the lash of the tongue or the slap of the hand, not always deserved.’

Still, “Tommy”/Sam’s father felt uplifted by the contribution he could make, with Glanfield Rowe’s encouragement:

‘In due course, Mr Rowe persuaded father and, to some extent, mother to play a more active part in church events. Father became secretary of the men’s club – its purpose to provide an hour or two’s friendly entertainment to the members of the congregation.

The parson’s ambitions soared and he organised a committee to draw up the plans for a garden fête. One of the more wealthy local residents was persuaded to permit the use of his fairly extensive grounds. Of course, the committee took several months to organise the day. Various people were voted into taking care of specific tasks. Father was voted treasurer. Mother undertook to be in charge of the food and drink side. From its original small concept onwards, it had begun to grow into quite a large affair.
     
Tommy and his brother were to take their turn selling ice cream – made by a local shopkeeper – in cornets and wafers. With no bulk manufacturer then, each trader made his own in a small machine and supplied it in cylinders… They set them up on a stand constructed by a carpenter member of the congregation.
The aim was to raise as much money as possible for a fund dedicated to building a new church hall. Since this was a mission church, for every £100 raised the mother church would certainly contribute at least another £100. Everybody worked to that end. The parishioners were poor, but it looked as though the women had been working very hard to make clothes to wear on the day, sewing their own dresses and decorating hats… Their appearance on the day did them credit. The men couldn’t afford new suits, but those they had were clean, the trousers pressed, and they all looked fine. A feeling of brotherhood and endeavour prevailed.

You see here the beginnings of a change in the life of the family. Formerly prosperous and then down to the depths of poverty and despair, they were now getting integrated into a community at times. The parents became known by the people in that district and, although very poor, seemed the better for it – especially father, through his part in the church men’s club.

Soon after the fête, the new church hall was built and the club had the good fortune to be given the use of a large room with a full-size billiard table and equipment for other games. The wives provided light refreshments and Tommy remembered his mother sewing the heavy leather cloth together for the cover to spread over the billiard table at close of play. A nice, social atmosphere developed and when the boy was allowed into the club room for a few moments, he noticed the difference in his father. That normally quiet, sometimes morose man became quite affable among other men, smiling, chatting away in a manner which Tommy had thought impossible.

… mother and father took part in more social events there. They organised dances – the music, the catering. They would plague the local shopkeepers for assistance, donations in kind. Tea, sugar, anything of that sort, lemonade, ice cream – generally members of the congregation, of course, the shopkeepers must have suffered a sort of sweet blackmail at times to get them to part with stock they could hardly afford to give away. But commerce and religion were closely linked; the tradesmen did tend to join the church they thought would bring them the most customers.

The dances gave amateur musicians the chance to show their skill. At first, the band consisted of violins, mandolins, a cello, a bass, kettle and bass drums. They gave a swing to it. Old-time dances. Valetas and other waltzes. Humble though the company, a mantle of great decorum, restraint and respectability descended on them when they took to the floor, partly because they had a professional MC. As was the custom, dressed in tails, with a large buttonhole and white gloves, he occupied the centre of the dance floor and took strict control. During each dance, he would take a lady round and demonstrate the steps, beating time, and talking to each couple in turn, ensuring that they followed his instruction.


The price of admission included the purchase of a dance card for each lady, a booklet really, printed on stiff board with a pencil attached on a silky cord. When approached for a dance, the lady would note the name of the applicant against the numbered dance of her choice.
You couldn’t be glum on such occasions, each helping as much as he could. They were all learning to conduct themselves in a nice, happy way with their fellows, the ordinary poor people and those few with a little more money joining together…’

Happy as he was at this tin church, the lad was to undertake one further ecclesiastical transfer. It came about through Mr Frusher, already his Scoutmaster. “Tommy”/Sam must have been ten or eleven by then, because the Scouts didn’t establish themselves as a national organisation until May, 1908, two years after Baden Powell’s “Brownsea experiment”. This change was significant for Sam because it opened the door to his lifelong delight in playing piano and in music generally:

‘Suddenly a change occurred for Tommy. In charge of the Scout Troop was a cultured man, whose name I’ve mentioned in passing – Mr Frusher, who was also the vicar, the organist and choirmaster at the parish church. He had private means, being a member of the family which owned and controlled the three local newspapers (he took no active part in the business, concerning himself with the church and the Scout movement). He approached Tommy at one of the Scout gatherings and said, “I’d like you to join the church choir. Ask your parents if they will be agreeable. It will mean you changing your church.” The full C of E church – as opposed to their familiar “tin” mission – was a mile and a half further away from Tommy’s house****. But the parents agreed to the move.

Tommy joined the choir having only just passed the vocal test, which proved pretty strict… Mr Frusher’s eventual approval surprised him – as did the small payments to be had from singing with the choir. Four times a year the Sunday collection would be shared among the members – a fair amount, for the congregation filled the building.

The vicar, an MA, was a Cambridge graduate and a fellow of Trinity College, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Royal College of Organists too…  with his dome of a head, his powerful voice and perfect diction, he had the gift of making people believe that all was well in this best of all worlds; after his sermons, they would leave the church feeling secure, strong, fortified, ready to meet the trials of the coming week…

[For choir practice] at the very large organ, controlling all the musical proceedings from the height of his stool, sat Mr Frusher, whom Tommy liked and respected so well. A mirror above the keyboards gave him a complete view of the choir and the younger members were well aware of that so no misbehaviour ever occurred during the service.

The usual Sunday evening saw this grand church, almost a cathedral, completely filled with people and everybody enjoying the singing. None more heartily, I fear, than Figgy Avverdate – extremely tall, ragged clothes, a pot hat on the back of his head, a face of extreme ugliness with bloodshot, bulging eyes, beetling brows and a high forehead, a fattened nose, his mouth surly when closed and displaying blackened fangs when open, a dirty rag round his long, scrawny neck, a discarded long, black gent’s morning coat worn and torn, trousers of indescribable filth, and on his feet big, club-soled boots, the toes cut away to reveal corny toes and bunions. On the street, he would usually stand leaning against a wall, a figure of dread to all children.

So a new world opened up: music. Tommy’s training was strict and very detailed and he felt his life becoming quite full… Mr Frusher had a big house, much too big you might say for one man and his housekeeper – she and her family occupied the basement. But the whole place was well used. He had two music rooms, one at the front on the ground floor, the other on the first floor, and each contained a Bechstein piano. He used the breakfast room, at the rear on the ground floor, for choir or Scouts meetings and a large back room on the second floor for church committee meetings and the Sunday afternoon class.

Picture Mr Frusher of medium height, well-built, wearing a beard, pointed, and the then fashionable pince-nez. Most days he wore a frock coat with a silk hat and striped trousers. Tommy used to love looking at the boots he wore; without toecaps, of fine soft leather, kept in good condition by his housekeeper. He was one of those cold-bath-in-the-morning men. He would sometimes describe with relish how he had broken the ice. The water was poured out the night before into his hip bath in his bedroom where there was no heating (it was not customary except in case of sickness). His working day, training people to play the piano, started at 9.30am and went through to maybe 6pm. Comfortably off, he varied his terms according to each pupil’s financial position.

Around that time, Tommy heard how this good man had been engaged to be married some years previously, but the girl died of consumption. He had been very broken up and went to live in Switzerland. Some regarded this as a selfish thing. But there was the possibility of him having contracted this highly contagious disease and Switzerland was the recognised place for curing, or at least alleviating the condition. He came back to this life and devoted all his waking hours to church, music and the Scouts. Many boys were the better for these activities and the older ones maintained contact with him even if they went abroad.

All that left two evenings vacant for Tommy, but before long he joined the vicar’s class to learn music. The children could afford to buy only one type of instrument, the flageolet, big brother of the tin whistle. The vicar gave them sheets of music in staff notation and Tommy had no difficulty in playing the tunes as soon as he mastered the simple technique of covering half the hole to play the half-note. The two- and three-part arrangements provided by Mr Frusher sounded very good – rather like the recorders children play nowadays.’

**** All Saints, on Church Street, Edmonton, still occupies the site of a church built in the early 12th century and a few fragments of the Norman original remain in the west wall.

Aside from the choir repertoire and the flageolet tunes, “Tommy”/Sam had already developed a liking for the pop music of the day through the church dances and the cylinders of music hall songs one of the family’s lodgers used to play on his phonograph – Sam recalled ‘… When Father Painted The Parlour, along with other more sentimental numbers’ and ‘the little group sitting round listening, the comfort and companionship of the room’. He was about to develop his natural gift via setting himself a very tricky challenge:

‘At home, Tommy’s parents made an important addition to the furniture in the front room – the parlour, as they called it. A friend of Tommy’s sister told her that, her father having died and her mother being compelled to let half of the house, an old piano had to go. It was completely out of tune and very old, but when it was mentioned to mother she agreed to have it. She paid only a few shillings, just for carriage. The piano looked extraordinary; very tall – almost three times the height of modern pianos – with ornamental woodwork, candlesticks and red silk curtains covering the front part of it above the old, yellowed keys.

Tommy, already much interested in music, made a wild promise to tune it. He felt sure he could do it by ear. He’d seen a man in the local piano shop doing it: the tool, the “key”, he used on the screw at the top of each string, turning it this way and that until it sounded right. Tommy discussed it with his friends and one young man said that, if Tommy took an impression of the shape of the screw at the top of each string, at his place of work he could make a tool to fit.

Tommy mentioned his intention to Mr Frusher. A rather derisive smile greeted the proposition, but he gave Tommy a tuning fork for A. With this to guide him, he used the key to get the middle note right and the rest followed from that. The complete job took a long time. Day after day, in his spare moments he’d be sitting there tapping away on the keys and turning the screws until his ear told him it was as near as he would get. The deep bass remained questionable, the ear alone could not get that correct. But he had the beginnings of a piano. Good enough to play with one finger.

When he told Mr Frusher he’d about finished the job, curiosity overcame the choirmaster and he had to call round and see it. Although, when he played a few bars on this thing, his face betrayed a degree of pain, still he complimented the lad on what he’d done and said, “If you like, I’ll give you a few lessons. You already know something of music. I’ll teach you the scales and arpeggios and so forth and we’ll see how you get on.”

Thereafter, Tommy took a half hour’s lesson every week – free, for Tommy’s parents couldn’t afford to pay, of course – all scales as promised, apart from the odd small practice piece. Scales of every key and major harmonic or melodic minor. Mr Frusher’s lessons concentrated on getting the fingers supple, in the correct position, covering the correct notes. Tommy would faithfully carry out the practice as directed by the master and then, at the end of each session, he would treat himself to a little informal tinkering about on the keys, perhaps working out a few bars of a popular tune, a music-hall ditty.

At school, generally, he was quite happy. But soon his piano studies gave him a chance for more enjoyment and to enhance his standing among his classmates – all because of the scholarly teacher’s willingness to encourage any special talent he might find among the boys. When he heard about Tommy taking lessons from Mr Frusher, he had the school piano wheeled right through from the hall into the classroom, sat Tommy down, fixed his music upon the rest, and said, “Right, well, play”. And he did. A popular piece of the day called Blake’s March and, after that, one of the simple songs he had learnt. For his age, he played very well. The class felt somehow relaxed, relief from pressure, and Tommy’s performance became a regular feature of Friday afternoons for several weeks in succession.’

“Tommy”/Sam’s busy programme of Scouts, choir, music lessons and school carried him happily through from 10 to 14, 1908-12. Then he had to leave school for lack of cash, as recounted in last week’s blog. Although, about the time he went out to work he even had to leave the choir because his voice broke, in one area of life he actually came more firmly under Mr Frusher’s mentorship, specifically his teaching of the bold yet puritanical sexual morality which was to guide (you might think “restrict” – a matter of tempora and mores…) the lad throughout the war:

‘A subtle change occurred in Mr Frusher’s treatment of these seniors, both as Scouts and members of his church. Consultation with them about the organisation of events and outings became his new approach where, previously, he had taken charge. Those who had, before their voices broke, served as choirboys under him and attended Sunday school, he now invited to separate meetings. Like the first-aid classes, these took place at his house. Usually, they took the form of a discussion, on Biblical subjects mostly, chaired by the Governor [the lads’ nickname for Frusher]. He did not repeat Sunday school’s childish views of the book’s teaching and stories, instead suggesting more earthy explanations.

On these occasions, Mr Frusher even led discussions of men-women relationships. Discouraging romantic notions without deriding them, the elderly, bachelor teacher continued where the school lessons in anatomy and physiology left off. “Frankness in these matters kills morbid curiosity,” he would say. He explained the sex organs – particularly the female genital parts always omitted from the school’s anatomical charts.

In a sensible way, he described the feelings contact between the sexes could arouse, the actions and the results that would follow: the girls in trouble, the unwanted babies; the worry, regret, fear; the difficulties which beset a young man who has fathered a bastard. He drew this picture so impressively the lads were never likely to forget. In fact, he constantly impressed upon them that sexual intercourse before marriage was wrong, a crime, it must never even be considered, let alone indulged in.

He instructed them about another aspect of sexual development too: masturbation. He told them what a habit it could develop into, assumed they had never done it – correctly in most cases, thought Tommy – and assured them that if they never started they would never be bothered by the habit. What he used to call “night losses” – about which most young men know something – would, he believed, have an ill effect on a lad. But they could be averted, he said, if you didn’t sleep on your back. This could be achieved, he recommended, by tying a cotton reel or bobbin round your waist and placing the uncomfortable object against the spine.

But, beyond such practical matters, he wished the lads to grow up as what he called “gentlemen”. The girl being so constituted that marriage and child-bearing were the most important things in her life, she would generally submit to a man’s desires – after a certain amount of caressing had taken place – in spite of any advice she may have received. Mr Frusher’s conclusion: the man – stronger, physically and mentally – had a bounden duty to accept responsibility and ensure that nothing occurred, when the girl was in his care, which he could not freely reveal to her parents. The final word had a memorable simplicity to it: chivalry.
     
Coupled with lessons in physiology and home nursing, both part of advanced training for all Boy Scouts, this early debunking of the sham romanticism so prevalent in those days did help the boys. Furthermore, the Scout Code they had sworn to included the words “To be pure in thought and word and deed”******; sticking to it became a settled part of their life and conduct. Tommy remembered all these things in the company of the girls with whom he occasionally formed friendships. Some may have thought him reticent or slow, but all realised that, at any rate, he was safe… ’

****** The tenth article of Scout Law, added in the 1911 fourth edition of Baden-Powell’s Scouting For Boys.

All the bestFSS

Next week: RETRO 5 – Young Sam and a 1900s city boy’s outdoor life. As per the jolly song of the day, the poverty-ground family find they’re happy when they’re hiking out in the nearby woods, and then he joins the Scouts and it’s all dibdib camping and dobdob… signalling and shooting(!). Also, Sam meets the costermongers and their backslang; top o’ reeb anyone?

(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.

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