“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, 9 August 2015

Sam’s Battalion say goodbye to their Malta paradise – and he realises that, strangely enough, he’s only been homesick in his dreams…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir in paperback or e-book & new excerpted Gallipoli episode mini-e-book & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to British Red Cross

For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

Dear all

A hundred years ago… on the static Western Front the Allies advanced a little at Hooge (Flanders, August 10) and repulsed a German attack in Argonne (north-west France, 13), while on the Eastern, the Russian Army continued its massive retreat across Poland throughout the week, evacuating Sokolov, Syedlets, Lukow…
    Further south, the Second Battle Of the Isonzo ended inconclusively when both sides ran out of ammunition – though not until the Italians had suffered 43,000 casualties, the Austro-Hungarians 45,000.
    And down in Gallipoli the Allies’ August Offensive reached its conclusion. The so-called diversionary Krithia Vineyard attack in the Helles sector got nowhere and ended (August 13) with 4,100 British casualties, 1,500 Ottoman. At Lone Pine, the Australian forces breaking out of the Anzac Cove area, achieved their objective, taking and defending Turkish trenches until counterattacks ceased (10), at a cost of 2,277 Australian casualties, 5-7,000 Ottoman. The parallel Anzac and Gurkha attacks at Sari Bair and Chunuk Bair similarly lacked overall direction and any advances achieved came at terrible cost (to both sides).
    At Suvla Bay, where British troops had landed (6) to establish a new beachhead, plans and battlefield command went so wrong that war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett wrote that “no firm hand appeared to control this mass of men suddenly dumped on an unknown shore”; the chaos enabled heavily outnumbered Turkish troops to be reinforced and the status quo which was to last until the end of the campaign soon set in (15; casualty figures for Chunuk Bair, Sari Bair and Suvla Bay differ widely and I couldn’t guess which are correct).
    Meanwhile... in Malta, the thousand men of the 2/1st City Of London Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, among them, my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, his brother Ted (17 and 18 then, underage volunteers), had no idea that Suvla Bay would quite soon introduce them to war’s realities…

Last week, Sam and Ted, poor boys from Edmonton, north London, feeling rather well-heeled on their respective 8/9 (44p) and 7/- (35p) a week (the difference because of Sam’s loathed promotion to Lance Corporal) – availed themselves of a scheme to each send 2/6 a week home to their mother, which the Government would more than double. They still had enough to spare for beer and fags.
    But the bad news was their realisation that the Fusiliers’ idyll camping at the paradise beach of Ghajn Tuffieha must shortly come to an end – which could surely mean only that they would soon find themselves on a battlefield. No more target practice at the butts by the sea. Instead… whatever the real thing turned out to be.
    Sam had just said goodbye to “Mossy” Mossgrove, a good Signaller friend transferred to the Navy…

‘Subsequently, blows to my hopes of spending the rest of the war by that heavenly beach at Ghajn Tuffieha fell thick and fast.
     One day, I spent much time lining up outside the Medical Officer’s hut with hundreds of others, being dismissed when meal-times came, then resuming my place in the long line until I eventually got inside. “Shirt off!” said somebody. Right. A medical orderly wiped my left upper arm with spirit, and a Corporal held a very thin sort of blade in the flame of a Bunsen burner, withdrew it and made scratches on my arm. Then, the Medical Officer painted the scratches with fluid from a bottle. Those three men did that hour after hour, to hundreds of men.
     Next morning, I knew that I had been well and truly vaccinated and was glad to rest whenever possible. Urgent activity everywhere now, though, much packing of stores and, finally, down came the little homes we had become so used to. Headed by our now very proficient drum and fife band, our long procession headed for Valletta where we spent a couple of days confined in a children’s school — no passes to leave the building were issued. Medics examined our vaccinations and applied new dressings. The old, long rifles were withdrawn and, once more, we became weaponless warriors. We Signallers had to hand in all our instruments and, thank goodness, those weird, clumsy, oil signal lamps — surely the Quartermaster placed them back in the museum from which they had been borrowed…
     A short march from the school, there we were again at the Grand Harbour and I was one of a line of men moving up a gangway to embark on, this time, a fine, big liner turned troopship, the Ivernia* – spacious enough to accommodate our thousand or so men without looking crowded.’

The Battalion left Malta on August 27, 1915 so we’re moving a little ahead of the story in terms of the 100-years-on centenary paralleling I try to adhere to on the FootSoldierSam blog. However, my father’s about to move into a passage of restrospection about his some ways glorious, all ways formative months in Malta – so, as he moves on in the general direction of the battlefield consider time and chronology on pause for a week or so…

‘Excitement concerning future events did not smother my sadness at leaving an island which, though small, still had many features I had not been able to view. I recalled that, oddly, my natural boy’s homesickness had shown itself only during sleep, in the form of dreams wherein I once again lived my daily routine from the time before I enlisted. This occurred frequently and, discussing the subject with young pals, I summed it up by saying that, by day, I lived in Malta and by night in dear old England, all quite happily.’

* SS Ivernia was a Cunard liner, launched in 1899, her 60-foot funnel the tallest ever fitted to a ship, says Wikipedia (but there are other contenders!); she was sunk by a German submarine south of Greece, on January 1, 1917, with the loss of 120 troops and crew, when under the command of Captain William Turner, previously skipper of the Cunard liner Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk off southern Ireland in May, 1915, with the loss of 1,195 lives. Captain Turner suffered much criticism over the circumstances of the Lusitania sinking, not least for not being the last person to leave the ship – although, surviving by clinging to an oar, he averred he believed he had been; in the case of the Ivernia he was definitely the last person to leave, swimming off as the ship sank. Cunard retired him to a desk job after the Ivernia sinking.

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam, 17, looks back ashore and fondly reminisces about his blessed six months in Malta, the sweetest place he was ever to experience in a long lifetime…

No comments:

Post a Comment