“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, 28 February 2016
Sam and the 2/1st get paid at last! But the pain-in-the-rear new Colonel just carries on giving them gyp – even when he praises them!
For details of how to buy Sam’s full Memoir in paperback or e-book & excerpted Gallipoli episode & Somme episode mini-e-books reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to British Red Cross
A hundred years ago this week… the first phase of the German Army’s Verdun onslaught, begun on February 21, petered out around Douamont, held up by snow and the French 33rd Infantry Regiment (27-9). This allowed the French to bring up 90,000 men and a lot more guns and ammunition, enabling their artillery to repulse the German second phase attack at Poivre Hill (March 4) and east of Vacherauville (5) – casualties in the tens of thousands already.
In the North Sea, German raider Greif and British cruiser Alcantara sank each other (February 29). Of wider strategic significance, especially to America, the German Navy declared the extension of its submarine campaign – according to different sources, this was either just to include “defensively armed merchantmen” or, in fact, everything that sailed, no limits (March 1).
Further south, the Russian Army developed its push toward Trebizond on the Ottoman Black Sea coast by landing fresh troops at Atna (March 4) and, separately, occupied Bitlis, eastern Turkey, mainly through its 1st Battalion of Armenian volunteers (avenging the 1915 genocidal attack).
And in Africa the Allies had two successes when the German Government of Cameroon surrendered to the British and French (February 28) and the British began an advance towards Mount Kilimanjaro in German East Africa (March 5; now partly in Tanzania, plus Rwanda and Burundi).
Meanwhile, the 200-odd 2/1st City Of London Battalion Royal Fusiliers comrades who’d come through Gallipoli, had constructed a tented town, shared with other Battalions, adjacent to a village called Beni Salama, on the banks of the Nile and the edge of the Sahara 30 miles north-west of Cairo. After that terrible campaign – for them, featuring two evacuations, Suvla Bay and then V Beach – this wasn’t such a bad life for my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London (still under-age at 17), his older brother Ted (19, lately converted from foot-slogging to horse wrangling), and their mates – not for long, though…
Last week, Sam wrote about the general sense of comradeship the 2/1st’s remnants shared in the aftermath of Gallipoli – and the threat to it immediately perceived in the appearance, straight from London, of a new Colonel who soon elbowed aside the beloved CO who had led them through their first months of war, Major “Booth” (my father’s alias for Major Harry Nathan, see details in footnote last week).
Now my father recalls how the Colonel turned their worries to bitterness with a series of tactless missteps:
‘We drew our first pay for a long time*, followed shortly by our first ration of fresh meat (tough, probably camel, but a step in the right direction). In fact, we had started to achieve something towards becoming cleaner and healthier… when along comes this Colonel** to take over and humiliate our guvnor.
A parade – us, mind you, ordered to fall in, stand to attention, at ease, and all that stuff! – was ordered. Groups representing former Companies*** lined up, an officer standing in front of each. We Signallers stood together and found, for the first time, that we too had an officer, a slick, young man in light breeches, soft cap tilted a little to one side, a cane under his arm. Our gallant Major did indeed stand before us all, called us to attention and then turned and waited as, on the lovely Black Bess****, the new, unwanted Colonel rode forward.
The final degradation came when our Major saluted the Colonel, then strode away out of our sight. All this seemed unreal… taking place on a flat, sandy waste under a hot, African sun, like a scene from a Foreign Legion yarn in one of the weeklies I’d read before I enlisted.
Formalities over, astride the big, black horse, the Colonel addressed us. The Battalion had acquitted itself well on active service, he knew, but now the time had come for reorganisation, for training in up-to-date skills of warfare. He had been deputed to originate and carry out the new programme and felt sure that all would co-operate… And so on and on while the resentment boiling up among those glaring at him must have been almost visible like a green cloud ascending from the tops of our heads.
He crowned his unpopularity and poisoned the minds of all except us, the Signals Section, when he turned in our direction and proclaimed, “And I expect special attention to the details of your work from you, the Signals Section. You are the cream of the Battalion and will be expected to set the pace in this new effort.”
That blackballed our little group to the rest of the men – ensured that our name stank among them for good and always. Had the Major made such a statement we could have strutted around with haloes illuminating our bonces but, coming from the unwanted Colonel, it infected us like some dirty plague and separated us from all but the most generous among our former good friends.
And, of course, down there in the Transport lines was my brother Ted who groomed, polished and trained the horse between the new man’s beefy thighs. Wouldn’t Ted be the popular one now it had been revealed for whom he was labouring!’
* Their first pay since before Gallipoli (September, 1915).
** Almost certainly Lieutenant Colonel A.C.H. Kennard, as detailed in a footnote to last week’s Blog (No. 85, February 21).
*** Meaning that when recruited in September, 1914, the Battalion’s eight Companies comprised around 125 men each. After Gallipoli, with numbers reduced erratically across the Companies, they averaged 31/32 men each.
**** A stallion! No, nobody ever heard an explanation for the misnomer, but no doubt Kennard got the blame and the mockery (as well as Ted).
All the best – FSS
Next week: Sam’s Signallers, now officially the “cream of the Battalion” get the jammy jobs to go with it – arousing the ire of their detested RSM who vows to “make the sods sweat!”...