“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 August 2015

Sam and soldier’s pay: the Sutcliffe boys learn how to stretch a pittance to allow for beer and cigs – and still send some home to Mum…

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Dear all

A hundred years ago… while deadly attrition continued on the Western Front (routine in broad retrospective, not to the individuals involved), on the Eastern the German Army’s Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive (May-October) designed to relieve Russian pressure on Austria-Hungary reached one of its periodic crescendos with the occupation of Warsaw (August 5) as the Russian Army continued the Great Retreat which was to take it way behind its own national borders.
    But equally significant for the Allies grand strategy was the launch at Gallipoli of the August Offensive – their second major attempt to overwhelm the Ottoman forces, and just as tragic as the original invasion attempt in April.
    The onslaught revolved around establishing a new British Army beachhead (and more) at Suvla Bay, to the north of Anzac Cove. With a British attack in the Helles sector to the west planned as a diversion (Battle Of Krithia Vineyard, Aug 6-13), and all-out Anzac and Gurkha attacks (Battle Of Lone Pine and Battle Of Sari Bair Aug 6-10, Battle Of The Nek, Aug 7, Battle Of Chunuk Bair – where British Battalions joined in as reinforcements – Aug 7-19) it was a huge effort, but terribly costly and largely unsuccessful because the British commanders who strategised in advance and “on the ground” botched the Suvla Bay centrepiece.
    There, in the dark, the landing craft ended up crucially out of position so soldiers carrying maybe 80 pounds of equipment had to jump into water up to their necks and nothing went right from then on. Although the British had assembled 20,000 troops and the Ottoman Army, unsure of where the expected second invasion attempt would land, had only 1,500 on the spot, lack of coherent leadership meant that the official history notes that, by daylight, “the situation… was verging on chaos” while a German officer reported “the enemy is advancing timidly” (because that’s the impression incoherent leadership created).
    Notoriously, British C-in-C Lieutenant-General Frederick Stopford remained some way offshore on his sloop throughout, having apparently gone to bed just as the landings began… Details next week on the conclusion of this new Gallipoli action.
    Meanwhile... in Malta, the thousand men of the 2/1st City Of London Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, still had no idea that Suvla Bay would shortly become their introduction to the reality of war. Among them, my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, his brother Ted (both underage volunteers, 17 and 18 respectively), and their pals from Edmonton, north London, carried on training and counting their blessings – given they’d expected to be on the Western Front within 24 hours of sailing from Southampton that February. Camped by a beautiful beach at Ghajn Tuffieha, on the north-west coast, they had become used to thinking of more mundane matters than wounds, deaths and other horrors…

Last week, Sam recalled his promotion to the loathed and loathsome rank of Lance Corporal, the lowest non-commissioned officer in every sense, living and sleeping alongside the men over whom he had a degree of power (that he didn’t want, especially as most of the Signallers were older than him).
    Still, he found this misbegotten eminence did offer one perk:

‘The only practical advantage of this most minor of promotions proved to be monetary. A Lance Corporal’s stripe should shortly bring a small increase in pay, I’d heard, albeit for administratively tortuous reasons. Normally, it was an unpaid rank. However, it appeared that our qualification as Signallers entitled us all to a small rise as specialists. There again, the paymaster had been unable to secure this increase for us – we didn’t know why. But the four of us who had been awarded the petty promotion then received a bonus of threepence a day for performing “extra duties”. Today that sum would not induce you to hold out your hand to receive it, but the 1/9* a week addition bought many good things back then.
     Despite this, in the following weeks I had little spending money. This had not mattered to me because I was too young to have any substantial addictions, such as to alcohol or tobacco – although I’d enjoyed smoking now and then, and certainly found renewed strength and wellbeing in drinking a glass or two of beer after a hot, heavy day. But my sudden relative poverty came about after brother Ted and I had betaken ourselves to a quiet spot for one of our periodic chats and he had called my attention to an item on the Battalion noticeboard.
     It stated that if any soldier wished to allot part of his pay to a next-of-kin relative, the Government would add to that sum. In our case, if we allotted 2/6 a week each to our family out of our seven-shillings basic wages, 3/6 would be added making a weekly payment of 6/-* each, to be collected from a local Post Office. So our mother could be 12/- a week better off. This we arranged to do, leaving ourselves with the derisory – as it appears nowadays – weekly wage of 4/6 each (plus that extra 1/9 in my case).’

And yet these modest sums – see the asterisked footnote for a current perspective on “value” – could actually allow Sam, Ted and their comrades a little leeway for luxury (at least, so it seemed to a now 17-year-old boy from a poor family – I now realise my father didn’t mention and I failed to note his birthday on July 6):

‘Most of this I spent on eatables to supplement the filling, but unattractive rations. I had also been able to afford a few cigars at a penny each and cigarettes – small Virginia – at 7d a hundred, tall glasses of lemonade at a penny a time, or half a pint of good beer for a penny halfpenny. Whiskey was available at 1/6 a bottle, but I never touched it though wine at 2d a good glass was an occasional indulgence.’

It must have been comforting to get their soldierly and family finances in good order before anything “happened”… but soon came the first indication of change in their Mediterranean near-idyll, the extended pre-battle hiatus which remained so unexpected and baffling – as well as a great relief – to the Battalion. A farewell to a friend…

‘A flutter of excitement arose in our section when our young Lieutenant sent for Mossgrove**, who, like me, had suffered “promotion”. He was missing for some time and then only rejoined us for long enough to pack his kitbag, ask us to return his equipment to the Quartermaster’s store, and briefly explain to his fellow Lance Corporals what his future job might be.
     You may recall he had obviously been educated to a higher standard than most of us, had lived well, and must surely have enlisted under the influence of patriotic impulses of great depth. Why else had he done so? One didn’t ask such a question of a mate and, among soldiers, patriotism was never mentioned so we never knew the answer to that one. He extracted promises of secrecy from the three of us, then told us he was being temporarily attached to the Navy. They would give him training in those aspects of signalling work which differed from Army practice. After that, he would join a ship. So, goodbye Mossy.’
* For under-50s baffled by the old money: 1/9 meant one shilling and ninepence = about 8.75p and 6/- meant six shillings = 30p; put my father’s arithmetic together and his total weekly wage as a Lance Corporal Signaller was 8/9 (43.75p) and his brother Ted’s as an infantry Private 7/- (35p), but the “literal” calculations don’t deal with inflation of course; my father wrote his Memoir in the ’70s, but the www.thismoney.co.uk inflation calculator shows that today (August, 2015) a 1915 £1 would be worth £103.05, so for instance 1/9 translates to £9.02, 6/- to £30.92, my father’s wage of 8/9 to £45.08 , Ted’s 7/- to £36.07, and the 2/6 a week they each sent home to their mother to £12.88… that is, a pittance from either end of the telescope (and Sam mentions elsewhere that, even so, his Army pay excelled his teenage pay as an office boy in London up to September, 1914, when he lied about his age and enlisted) – yet, as he illustrates, not too bad in the circumstances of a soldier in barracks abroad at the time (the battlefield, as you’ll see when the Battalion gets to Gallipoli, the opportunities to both spend and be paid generally proved rather limited).
** Mossgrove was among the newly formed Signaller squad Sam introduced in Blog 45 on 17/5/2015: ‘about 20, tall, slightly pigeon-toed, fair, wavy hair compulsorily short at sides and back where it showed below the cap, unruly otherwise; he would overcome ill humour or garrulous chumminess with his never-failing courtesy and friendly smile… a well-educated fellow. He never patronised people, not even the occasional fawning type.’ (“Mossgrove” may have been an alias as my father regularly changed names to avoid any pain or offence to living comrades or their families.)

All the best – FSS

Next week: Vaccinations, breaking camp, marching down to the docks… the Battalion’s about to set sail again.

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