“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 May 2017
The Making Of Foot Solider Sam, 1902-1905 Uprooted 3 – London: a great consolation for the new lad in the big city – animals everywhere! Horses, sheep, cattle …
For details of how to buy Sam’s 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
A hundred years ago this week… To say it was a quiet seven days in WW1 will always be wrong: people fought and died. But the major engagements of the spring had subsided. So it might be worth noting the hubbub of political subplots I rarely mention: for instance, Britain and France discussing how/when to depose King Constantine of Greece and occupy Athens and Thessaly (May 28; London), and Brazil revoking its neutrality and seizing German shipping in its territorial waters (June 2), and Italy declaring Albania its Protectorate (June 3).
Among the continuing U-boat toll at sea, French liner/troopship SS Yarra was torpedoed northwest of Crete en route from Madagascar to Marseilles (May 29; 56 died), and British transport SS Cameronian was sunk off Alexandria, Egypt (June 2; 63 dead, plus 877 mules).
On the Western Front static attrition proceeded with the British Army repulsing a German attack at Hurtebise, southwest Belgium (May 28), heavy British-German artillery exchanges continuing for days on end around Ypres and Wytschaete (May 31- June 3), and the British advancing south of the Souchez river then losing the same ground the following day (June 2-3). Similarly, the French and German Armies conducted artillery battles in Champagne and around St Quentin (May 29), while the fiercest fighting growled on at Moronvilliers, near Rheims (May 30-31; this village was destroyed and never rebuilt) and on the Chemin des Dames ridge, Aisne department, where the Germans gained a little ground (June 1) but then found their follow-up attacks beaten back (June 3).
In the 10th Battle Of The Isonzo (May 10-June 8), the Italians pressed on to within 10 miles of Trieste and advanced well into Slovenia (south of Konstanjevica), taking 24,000 prisoners, but on June 3 the Austro-Hungarians suddenly launched a powerful counterattack…
Down in Africa, where British and South African forces had driven the Germans out of most of their East Africa colony, the remnants of the German Army there made a break south from Rufiji (May 30; now in Tanzania) towards Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).
[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran [Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016] had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield – and told him he could take a break from the fighting until he was 19. He did so, though with 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 – and in Sam’s case dicing with meningitis and other battle-fatigue enhanced ailments – until such time as they severally became eligible for the trenches once more… But for now the blog continues with themed childhood and teens material from the Memoir under the title The Making Of FootSoldierSam – because my father didn’t write enough about his year “off” in England to cover 1917 in weekly chunks (I can hardly blame him; writing in the 1970 he wasn’t really thinking about blog requirements)]
Last week, ‘The Making Of Foot Soldier Sam, 1900-1905 Uprooted 2’ blog told the story of my father Sam’s painful new beginnings in London (when aged four to seven) after the family fell from prosperity to ruin in their hometown, Manchester. As, at first, they only grew poorer and more hungry, Sam struggled with schoolmates mocking his accent, his own self-consciousness about his obviously home-made clothes and – when they move from Tottenham to Edmonton – the hostility of the neighbours’ children.
But this child’s view took in far more than the details of his own problems. Young Sam noted the sights, sounds and smells all around him and remembered them for the rest of his life – he wrote his Memoir in the 1970s. Here he describes the way animals thronged the streets and lives of city kids in the early 1900s – bringing them the sort of entertainment and education later available only to country children.
For this first glimpse, we’re back in 1902 when the family arrived in London and, momentarily, four-year-old Sam felt things weren’t so bad after all (NB: my father wrote the early chapters in the third person, calling himself “the boy” and then “Tommy”):
‘They all climbed into a horse-drawn cab at the terminus, their bags piled up beside them, and off through the busy streets – seeing all these carriages and big wagons drawn by numbers of horses. Horses everywhere. Splendid sight. Temporarily at least, life seemed to be on quite a prosperous plane. It wasn’t so really, of course. They just had no other means of transporting the family and baggage across London.
They went into a big building, a hotel right down in the East End, a district called the Minories**. They were shown to a room with only two beds in it for the five of them. A temporary arrangement mother had made. She said she had rented a flat on the outskirts of the city, but they couldn’t move in for two or three days. The excitement of watching the comings and goings occupied the time they remained there. Then once more to a horse-drawn cab – their last ride in such a vehicle for many a day. The journey took an hour or so — the children peering about all the way, everything around them of interest***.’
** The Minories: a district (former parish) and street near the Tower of London.
*** Their destination and new address was 24 Vale Side, Eade Road, Tottenham, as evidenced by Sam’s brother Alf’s birth certificate
Settled in Tottenham and soon starting school, my father really began to encounter and learn about urban livestock of various kinds, whether draft animals, meat on the hoof, or even on one occasion a wildish and rather menacing herd of horses:
‘To children, the distance from house to school felt considerable. Down the road, round a corner, round another corner, and they came to a busy main road, the traffic all horse-drawn – horses everywhere, horses pulling small carts, great wagons. Milkmen used them, bakers used them delivering house to house. But the boy took a particular interest in horse-drawn trams. He had never seen anything like them. The horses weren’t big really — large ponies you’d call them. Two of them pulled each tram along on its rails, the driver seated at the front, the reins in one hand, a light whip in the other. A conductor on the back collected the fares. The lower deck was glazed, the upper deck open to the sky.
Strange that coming to live in this busy town brought him into contact with animals; not nature in the raw, but nature anyway. Manure constantly cluttered the roads. A deal of urine lay around. The boy and thousands of children like him watched the normal processes of what you might call intake and output and very soon clearly understood what was going on.
These tram drivers, for instance, would be observed closely by the children, especially when they came to a terminus. Our boy would stand there and, if there happened to be a fairly long wait between arrival and departure, watch the driver put the bag of corn or chaff under the horse’s nose, pass the strap over its head, and adjust it so that the animal could eat comfortably. He’d see the horse’s jaws champing away. Every now and then it would blow hard when the dust got in its nostrils. To see a bucket of water placed in front of one of these ponies, that was worth watching. In went the horse’s mouth, a sucking and pumping operation followed, the speed at which the water vanished from the bucket unbelievable.
That was the front end of the animal. The rear held his interest equally. Some horses, he noticed, had one opening just under the tail and some had two. One can’t say that the reasons for this were clear to him at first. He knew that if the tail went up and the animal was of the type which had one opening, dollops of manure would issue forth, landing on the road with a series of thuds and what, to him, was quite a pleasant smell. If the animal had two of these openings, if he saw the lower one moving he knew that a jet of water would presently shoot out. It was advisable to step back because, although the water had no bad odour, if one arrived home with shoes and socks soaked with the stuff there would certainly be trouble from mother.
He was learning, all the time learning.
It soon became obvious to him that the animal with only one of these openings must have an outlet elsewhere for the water. On the first occasion it became apparent to him, he watched, with wide-eyed amazement, the emergence from immediately in front of the horse’s hind legs a big, long thing from which poured forth a stream of liquid splashing into the road and flowing away along the gutter.
So that explained how the two types of animal urinated and he thought no more about it. But sometimes a horse some distance away would put up his head and neigh loudly, perhaps start to jump about, even lash out with his hind legs, his hooves cracking against the bodywork of the tram or cart. The boy didn’t quite understand the reason for this behaviour, although he realised it was connected with some other animal in the vicinity. But it wasn’t for him to know that the noisy, frisky animal was disturbed by one of the opposite sex.
It wasn’t just horses. One could see cattle driven along a busy road to market, a flock of sheep – just one old man with his stick and a dog controlling them. Butchers bought sheep live at the nearest market and had them driven to their own slaughterhouses.
The lad came into further contact with ponies because his road ended in a low, large field. You went down an embankment and there horses were put to graze. A free feed. Quite a consideration for the owners, no doubt.
Well, one day the children were playing in that field and the horses all gathered into a mob. When that happened, usually there was fighting — they bit each other or, more often, presented their rear ends to their foe and shot out their back legs to catch him a whack in the ribs with their hooves. The children would watch, excited.
But, on this occasion, when the children turned to leave, the mob of horses all followed them from the field up the embankment on to the road. Why they did it, I don’t know – unless they thought the children were leading them to food or water — but the children got rather scared. So the sister led them up the pathway to an unoccupied house, thinking the horses would go straight on. But they didn’t, they followed the children to the front door. So now you had the children cowering against the door with several of the horses crowded in between the house and the front-yard railings while others waited on the pavement.
How fortunate then that, after a while, their father came home, carrying his customary walking stick. You can picture his astonishment when he saw the children’s predicament. In wealthier times, he had owned a fashionable trap drawn by a smart pony – he had aspired to teach it to trot, an ambition of many well-to-do men. So, used to horses and unafraid, he edged his way into the yard and beat the horses off with his stick. Quite a feat. He took the children home.
As winter came on, the poorly surfaced roads frequently became slippery and, on several occasions, the boy saw horses fall down and become tangled in their harness. When this occurred, the driver would climb down as quickly as possible and sit on its head. The first time the boy saw this happen, the horse lay quite still so he thought, “He’s finished, he’s dead”. But he soon realised this was the accepted method of controlling a fallen horse and preventing it from trying to get up while tangled in harness, which might loosen or break the shafts.
At this point, while the driver remained seated on the horse’s head, almost any man in the neighbourhood would help to free the beast. Then, with much slipping and sliding on the ice, the poor thing would scramble up — the forelegs first, they’d straighten out, then the hind legs would get a grip on the road and up would come the rear half, and there it would stand, usually quite placid.’
And then there was Daisy, the friendly cow… and a small equine mystery that aroused Sam’s compassion:
‘… our boy would always go to the rail of yet another field where he’d hope to see Daisy, a young cow. Often, she would come over and allow herself to be stroked; he would smell the sweet, grassy breath of her and watch the flies that gathered around her eyes and sometimes beat them off. On one occasion, with no Daisy in sight, there was a horse instead. But what had happened to the poor beast? The lad was shocked when he saw, at the base of the neck where it is broadest, its coat almost in shreds, obviously torn on barbed wire. Mercifully, the owner had already dressed it with some ointment, so this area of torn flesh was a mass of yellow. Something else for him to think about.’
The move to Edmonton (1903/4) – because the family couldn’t afford the rent in Tottenham any more – saw the children once again viewing a new locale from a horse-drawn vehicle (a tram, not a cab this time):
‘But suddenly a jolt. Father appeared one day and said, “You must say goodbye to your mother for the moment and come along with me. We’re off to a different home.”
So they set off and walked the quarter of a mile to the end of the road on which they were living – the unbuilt part with fields on either side – and came to the main road where they boarded a horse tram and climbed to the upper deck. For the children, an exciting journey followed. New buildings, new sights. It lasted nearly an hour. Twice the ponies pulling the tram had to be taken out of the shafts and fresh ones installed. It was the custom to change them quite frequently.
The journey finished in what seemed to be a very far away place, a developed suburb eight miles to the north of Central London****.’
**** Edmonton, probably at the address shown in the 1911 census, 26, Lowden Road, Edmonton (now N9).
Their new address, on one edge of the rapidly expanding city, enabled Sam to get close to another bunch of horses – those used by the builder/developer of their unfinished street – and also led him to make his debut as a very small-scale tradesman, an inclination which served him well at times during World War 1 and, thereafter, for the rest of his working life:
‘The builder had a large number of horses to pull the carts his men used and he stabled them at the end of the road. Again, Tommy was able to get close to these animals. As a special favour, the builder sometimes allowed him to go into the stable’s central cobbled area, sometimes even to clean out the stalls — rake out straw and manure while the horses were out at work, hose down the floors and walls, and refill their mangers with hay or chaff or grain.
That introduced him to an activity which sometimes produced a few pennies. Men who worked their gardens for food or flowers needed manure and sometimes Tommy was able to get a few buckets from the stable. On occasion, the dahlia-loving German next door would purchase their wares. Often, though, it had all been sold to a market gardener on contract, so Tommy and his brother took to scouring the neighbourhood streets to find what their customers wanted. With a bucket and a small shovel they’d set off in the early hours of the morning. A large bucketful of horse manure fetched one penny. A valuable coin.‘
All the best – FSS
Next week: The making of Foot Soldier Sam, 1904-1912 – growing up amid the Edmonton hurlyburly: Dickensian colour alongside London’s crazy modern-world expansion…
* 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.