“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, 16 April 2017

Sam, concluding the super-rifle course, reflects – guiltily still – on horrors he’s missing post Somme, but savours the “heaven on Earth” of ordinary, kind people around him…

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

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

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… German submarines sank two British hospital ships en route from Le Havre to Southampton, SS Lanfranc and SS Donegal  (April 17; the combined loss of 81 people included 18 wounded German POWs on the Lanfranc).
    On the Western Front, the major action initiated by the Allies the previous week continued, though inauspiciously. Under a plan devised by the French Général Robert Nivelle, British and Canadian troops had attacked throughout the previous week and taken high ground at Vimy, Monchy and Croisailles. Then, while they concentrated on holding their gains, the French, supported by Russians and Moroccans, launched the Second Battle Of The Aisne (April 16-May 9) and The Battle Of The Hills (17-20; in Champagne). At first, this went well enough, but German artillery and machine-gun power soon proved intractable – for instance, destroying many French tanks before they’d advanced beyond their own lines.
    Down in Serbia, winter skirmishing turned to full-throttle conflict with the Second Battle Of Doiran (April 22-May 8) beginning with a massive artillery exchange between British and Bulgarian forces.
    The First Battle Of Gaza in March having proved a near miss for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force – British, Indian and Anzac troops – after three weeks they decided to have another go at defeating what turned out to be a much reinforced Ottoman garrison. The Second Battle (April 17-19) involved complicated attacks with infantry, cavalry, tanks and naval bombardment, but never looked like succeeding (Allied casualties 6,444, Ottoman 2,000). The Ottoman Army held the line at Gaza more or less unchallenged for six months thereafter.
    Still, over in Mesopotamia, the Samarrah Offensive continued to press the Ottoman Army northwards from Baghdad with remarkable steadiness, barely interrupted by minor flare-ups including the night the British Army crossed the Shatt-al-Adaim (April 17-18) and the Action Of Istabulat (22; 12 miles southeast of Samarah) – which seems ill-named given the Ottomans actually evacuated before they were attacked.

[Memoir background: my father, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (FootSoldierSam’s Blogs dated September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016) Lance Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs dated May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his age – 18 on July 6, legally too young for the battlefield – and told him he could take a break from the fighting until his 19th birthday. He did so, not without an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion, along with a bunch of other under-age Tommies training/marking time until they severally became eligible for the trenches once more…]

Last week, on a sojourn up in Cramlington, Northumberland, studying to become an instructor in the workings of the Army’s new super-rifle, to his great surprise Sam finds his pal Mac McIntyre turning on him. Mac, an apprentice phrenologist pre-war, entertains their hut-mates with an evening’s bump-reading then finishes with Sam and tells him what a selfish swine he is – for going out with a girl he fancied as his true love back in Harrogate Sam later discovers.
    Now, though it’s back to rifle business and a move further south to conclude their training – “they” being the quintet who’d travelled up from Harrogate, Sam, Mac and the three newly enlisted Cambridge students, Metriam, Naylor and Rutven:

‘Our training completed, we moved down to Clipstone Ranges**, near Mansfield. There we commenced firing practice with the new rifle. I found it easy to handle and received a certificate stating I had qualified as a first-class shot and instructor in its use.
     However, I did note the omission from the course of the usual 15-rounds-per-minute firing test***. Later, I was to learn the reason why.
     Mansfield, a small, friendly town, still welcomed soldiers, and a few pleasant evenings at a cinema and at concerts gave relaxation from the drabness of Army routine and living quarters. Always present in my thoughts was the knowledge that great good fortune had lately spared me from all those dangers and discomforts I endured earlier in the war and which millions of soldiers were still coping with. I was inwardly grateful for this respite, but sometimes a feeling of guilt caused passing worry about the men I had left behind to face the risks and wearing strain. Again, at such moments, I found some consolation in the probability that not one of them had noticed my absence…
     A memorable experience arose from attending a Saturday afternoon garden party at Sutton-in-Ashfield, a few miles west of Mansfield. It was not obvious to me why such an event should be held so early in the year – I could recall church fetes in July which had been heavily rained on. But brisk, sunny weather favoured this occasion.
     As usual, ladies did most valuable work; their enjoyment came from giving pleasure to others and it was contagious. War restrictions must have made provision of food and drink most difficult, but they offered delicacies at low prices, organised competitions and mild gambles, all accompanied by smiles, friendly persuasion, and good will. Here, though briefly, the terrors of war, the agonies and deaths, could be relegated to the back of the mind; and who should be punished for trying to forget those things briefly, or for helping others to do so?
     For me, the air I breathed smelt sweeter, ordinary people seemed to have become more attractive, their kind thoughts and unselfish actions had created a temporary heaven on Earth in a small field. The affair, a modest event really, left a life-lasting impression on my memory, an inexplicable sense of temporary, very close communion with fellow humans – strangers, but real friends during the two or three hours I spent with them.’
** Clipstone: in north Nottinghamshire, east of Mansfield, near Sherwood Forest, it was then a massive encampment of huts housing 20-30,000 men – 20 Battalions – created in 1915 on Clipstone Heath, its first occupants Royal Fusiliers. It later gained a certain notoriety because in 1918 soldiers of the Queens Royal West Surrey 4th/5th Reserve Battalion and the Yorks and Lincs Regiment rioted there over delays in their demobilisation. After the camp’s closure in 1920, the village of New Clipstone established itself on part of the site, around a new coal mine.
*** My father is referring to his original training with the old Lee Enfield in Malta, spring to summer, 1915, before Gallipoli, whereof he wrote: ‘The trickiest lesson of all demanded that we try to emulate the renowned 15 rounds a minute fired by the soldiers of our standing Army… Each shot must still be carefully aimed, our instructors insisted. Normally you loaded five bullets in the magazine, but for rapid fire you inserted 10… and fired them, then dealt with five more, all in the space of 60 seconds… I failed time after time, as did many others…’ But, by the time of their final test, he did get there: ‘… surprisingly, when the instructor totted up the figures, they showed I was a “first-class” shot, only a few points below the top level of marksmen qualified to work as snipers when on active service.’

All the best – FSS

Next week: The super rifle exposed! Another Great British Army cock-up! Still, Sam enjoys some high-life highbrow socialising with his Cambridge student comrades – and helps them get a feel for the terrible frontline officer responsibilities which await them…

* 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment