“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, 31 January 2016

Sam & pals encamp on the edge of the Sahara – it’s all a bit Lawrence Of Arabia, but the food’s no better than in Gallipoli… and they’re issued with lime juice “to cool the blood and subdue men’s natural lusts”…

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Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… on the Western Front the deadly, desultory stage of grinding continued with the German Army shelling Loos, northeastern France  (February 3), the Allies responding in kind by bombarding nearby German-held Lille (February 6). Also an alarming Zeppelin raid on East Anglia and the Midlands killed 70 and injured 113 (January 31).
    Russia continued to be the most aggressive of the Allies, attacking Riga, Latvia (February 1), and in the Bukovina region of modern Romania/Ukraine (3), on the Eastern Front. Further south, in the Caucasus (between the Black and Caspian Seas) they pressed the Ottomans back towards the conclusion of their Erzerum Campaign, begun on January 10, while launching a follow-up action in the two-month Trebizond Campaign (February 5) pressing into territory where, in 1915, the Ottomans had massacred or deported 30,000 Armenians.
    Down in the Balkans, though, the Austrian and Bulgarian Armies emphasised an Allied failure; having conquered Serbia, they pressed on through Albania and even launched a Zeppelin raid on Salonika, where – following their Gallipoli defeat – French and British forces had installed themselves to prevent any attempt at invading Greece.
    However, down in Africa the Battle For Lake Tanganyika apparently reached a somewhat African Queen-style conclusion when two cutely named, though armed, British motor boats, the Mimi and the Toutou, captured the German gunboat Kingani.
    Meanwhile, the 200-odd 2/1st City Of London Battalion Royal Fusiliers comrades who remained after four months fighting at Suvla Bay and V Beach, Gallipoli, found their brief R&R (and de-lousing) respite in Alexandria swiftly concluded – the Army still having neglected both to pay them since they shipped into Gallipoli and to replace their tattered clothes. For my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London (still under-age at 17), and his mates there followed a spell in a rural location on the banks of the Nile and the edge of the Sahara doing… well, as usual, nobody told them what the plan was…


Last week, my father’s vestigial Battalion travelled in the usual PBI “cattle-truck” discomfort to a place called Beni Salama, 30 miles north-west of Cairo. Given that a bare patch of ground, rather than any pre-arranged accommodations awaited them, they had to sort themselves out pdq. Sam recalls:

‘We hauled the tent bags some distance away from the railway; officers measured out spaces and minions laid out ropes to mark the lines where the tents were to stand. We had earlier learnt the drill for erecting tents without wasting a single move and a camp sprang up quickly. The marquees proved tricky, but we managed and, before nightfall, we had settled into our own allotted canvas homes. With two blankets apiece, being really tired, we soon slept – all except the poor devils who had to mount guard and scare off intruders if any, or, more likely, the jackals which scrounged around desert habitations.
     We spent the next couple of weeks toiling for long periods each day on a diet of hard biscuits, corned beef and dried, shredded veg, with a little jam and a small amount of cheese once or twice a week. The corned beef, basis of the main meal, would be served cold one day and warm the next, as a hash with the shredded vegetables. An unusual addition to this diet was a daily measure of lime juice, compulsory drinking. The official reason for this latter treat never reached my ears – men who professed to know said it was to cool the blood and subdue men’s natural lusts (though they used less churchy words). Like a clever little ex-Boy Scout, I preferred the anti-scurvy theory.
     Each day a train brought in a fresh load of tents. These we loaded on to some splendid horse-drawn wagons manned by really fine Australians, big, powerful fellows. They had brought in their own equipment and set up a camp where, looking on from the outskirts, I could see that everything worked on a better and more generous scale than ours ever had. I believe they were the Australian Light Horse*, probably some of the first volunteers from Down Under.
     The camp grew, each day’s work providing accommodation for one more Battalion**.’

So there they were, settled in a tented encampment between the Sahara and the Nile… when a romantic-looking figure came into view, riding a camel. Was it a Sheikh, was it a Pasha, was it Lawrence Of Arabia? No, it was Ted Sutcliffe from Edmonton:

‘My brother Ted reappeared one day***, to my joy and my amazement, for he was riding high on a camel led by an Arab. An arrangement of rope netting slung over the beast’s back provided, on each flank, a container, one filled with loaves, the other with large clumps of dates. A sort of cavalcade followed Ted, some animals carrying similar loads, others with tins of bully beef or special provisions for the officers. “We’re what’s left of the old Transport Section and eventually we shall be with the Battalion permanently,” he told me. Good news indeed.
     Once we got talking, I told brother Ted – himself, unpaid for weeks – how I longed for something luxurious to eat after the long period of small, poor rations which had been my lot. I knew complete replacement of all apparel and equipment lost in the recent campaign would soon occur, and we decided that my heavy, wool, long pants might yield a harvest of a few piastres if offered to the local fellaheen****.
     We didn’t know how to go about it though…’
* The five Australian Light Horse Brigades served at Gallipoli and throughout the war.
** Up to 1,000 men.
*** Sam last saw Ted  in Lemnos on Boxing Day, before the Battalion suddenly got the order to sail back to Gallipoli to help with the evacuation at V Beach (immediately after they had themselves evacuated Suvla Bay). Ted, two years older than Sam, so 19 at this point, was an original 2/1st member, but he  got separated from his comrades in September, 1915, when he had his front teeth knocked out in a fist fight. See Blogs 62 13-09-15 and 77 27-12-15.
**** Arabic word meaning peasant, farmer, agricultural labourer – “effendi”, I read, are the land-owning class.

All the best – FSS

Next week: International trade agreement – despite hot-blooded Ted cutting up rough, natural negotiator Sam sells his old underpants to a villager…

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