“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, 17 March 2019
Sam finds himself and fellow ex-POWs in charge of… German POWs. A message from Winston Churchill, no less, advises that this will help them cast aside past grievances. But Sam’s thoughts turn to deadly revenge…
Sam’s Memoir(1) – paperback and e-book – and the e-excerpts from it are now available in their third and final editions with added Endnotes and, in the Memoir, added documentation.
For details of how to buy the Memoir or Gallipoli & Somme & Arras 1918/POW etc mini-e-books click here plus see reader reviews here and here and reviews from the Western Front Association and the Gallipoli Association here. For AUDIO excerpts click Here Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here
The war’s over at last – but Sam’s blog, Facebook page and tweets will continue until his Memoir concludes with the Centenary of the July 19, 1919, Peace parade in London…
All proceeds from all versions of Sam’s Memoir will always go to the British Red Cross – and the current running donations total as of March 9, 2019, is £4,011.41 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!).
A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… It was all politics in Paris at the Peace Conference with 58 sub-committees cudgelling their brains while the dominant Council Of Ten nations had already met 70-odd times since January and got nowhere that impressed the ultimate big cheeses from UK (Lloyd George), France (Clemenceau), Italy (Orlando) and USA (Wilson) who now formed themselves into a Council Of Four and carried on arguing about how tough they should make it for Germany. And on March 19 one decision emerged, namely, that the German Navy should be limited to 36 ships…
Elsewhere, aside from the unrest in many countries – from strikes to street fighting – in the only substantial shooting wars still proceeding, White Russian, French and Greek troops evacuated Odessa, Ukraine, as Bolshevik forces advanced (March 17), while in Russia itself the conflict between Red and White Armies in the Urals (begun on March 4) showed no significant movements.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, the Parliament declared a Soviet Republic (March 21) following an alliance between the Bolsheviks and the Social Democrats. This lasted two days, apparently, before Lenin ordered the Communists to purge their “partners” and they set about it with a will.
[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London,16-year-old underage volunteer in September, 1914, fought at Gallipoli with the 2/1st Royal Fusiliers (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), then on the Somme Front with his second outfit, the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18, legally too young for the battlefield. They told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He accepted, though with an enduring sense of guilt. December, 1916, saw him posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated to the Essex Regiment Battalion (Blogs November 27, 2016, to November 11, 2017). During this interlude he suffered various illnesses while recovering from trench warfare’s privations. In December, probably, solo, he returned to France – reverting to Private on arrival, I don’t know why – and dogsbodied around Arras until mid-March when he ran into his own Essex 2/7th Battalion. They moved into the trenches near Fampoux just in time for the German Spring Offensive. A last stand by the Battalion on March 28, 1918, left 80 alive and “fit” out of the 520 who started the day – the 440 in between being dead, wounded or, like Sam, “missing” and, in his case, a POW (Blog March 25, 2018). For several months he wandered occupied France in randomly-assembled half-starved POW groups doing hard labour, before spending the summer in southern Germany and finally moving westwards to Lorraine – whence, the day after Armistice, his long trek towards the French Front began. He reached safety after tiptoeing through a German minefield (November 15 probably). Then began his recovery from chronic near-starvation – and a brief emotional breakdown – until, finally, on December 10, 1918, he returned to England and another few days in hospital before reuniting with parents and siblings, especially brother Ted, home on a week’s leave but suffering badly from gas damage. Civilian life offered Sam a warm welcome… until, in February, 1919, the Army called him back - though only to a “Dad’s Army” unit. Meaning, at first, a few weeks de factoholiday in Brighton. But now, something completely different…]
March, 1919, Sussex: after the my father, Private Sam Sutcliffe’s “month by the sea with nothing to do” – whence I left him to it and compiled themed-excerpt blogs on fear/courage, sex/romance, front-line food and comradeship – we can now resume the “one-hundred-years-ago-this-week” sequencing I’ve adhered to as much as possible since July, 2014.
We left the Gallipoli, Somme, Spring Offensive veteran and ex-POW – aged 20 – in Brighton, billeted in a Spartan dormitory near the top of a grand Palmeira Square mansion. He’d been transferred from his last Battalion, the 2/7 Essex Regiment, to the Royal Defence Corps. Sam called it the “Old Man’s Brigade”. It originally comprised men deemed “too old or medically unfit for battle field service abroad”. However, significantly as it transpired in mid-March, his group parked in Brighton were all former POWs.
Well, as usual in any sector of the Army, the easy life came to an end. Shaken out of his lethargy, Sam embarked on a most peculiar week, which might have been his undoing to put it mildly… and he could have held Winston Churchill responsible:
‘Soon, our small party moved on from its enjoyable sojourn in Palmeira Square to a Sussex village. Our job there at first appeared to be not really right for us: guarding about 80 German prisoners. For one thing, we thought it strange that they should still be kept away from their homeland while we had been back in England for some weeks.
A coastal railway took us along to the village station. From there a short walk brought us to the gates of a big house(2); the outside gave no indication of its present usage. Once inside those tall wooden gates, we saw that even the extensive outhouses had been turned into living quarters.
Strange to see the field grey uniforms and peakless caps again. As the Jerries trolled from one building to another they showed no interest in our presence. We were shown to our allocated rooms – mine, a small one high up in the old house, no doubt occupied by servants in former days. The furnishings comprised two mattresses on raised boards, but for a time I slept there alone.
We new arrivals lined up next morning on parade and the Sergeant in charge called us to attention when a Sergeant Major approached. This Warrant Officer had a special message for us, delivery of which had been ordered by Mr Winston Churchill(3). It welcomed us on our return to the old country and said that we, with our recent experiences, should make good caretakers of ex-enemy prisoners until they could be sent back to their homes. He knew that some of us might be feeling bitter about treatment endured while in enemy hands(4), but we must put all that out of our minds and do our duty fairly and with no malice while in charge of Germans. He believed that, if we carried out this request, we would benefit personally because in “turning the other cheek” we would be doing a good thing and our characters would be the better for it.
The SM added his hopes and the orders to back them up. We recognised the rightness of all this and I, at any rate, hoped I would be able to forgive and forget.
Yet, later that day, a man who had been there several days told me the old Home Defence(5) men, who had previously run the place, had allowed the Germans to slip through a gap in the barbed wire on one side of the grounds and meet girls from the village – and this immediately seemed all wrong to me and I planned to put a stop to it.
So, that evening, during my stint on guard duty, when I found the carelessly repaired breaks in the wire and disentangled them, hoping to tempt some unlucky Jerry to make his exit while I awaited him with my loaded rifle, hidden nearby among some bushes.
I spent three nights there, from dusk until late, without sight of a would-be love-seeker, until my hatred or maybe sour-grapes mood vanished…’
(2) My father didn’t name this grand house, nor the village where it was located and it’s strangely difficult to trace places in England used as WW1 Prisoner Of War camps. For a while – and until after I’d published the third edition of the paperback – I thought the house may have been at Slindon, aka Eartham, four miles (6.4 kilometres) east of Arundel. But in autumn, 2018, my friend Paul Day, who lives in Arundel, came up with a couple of online sources I hadn’t hit on, particularly http://ow.ly/HLM130n4Kss, which carries some information and a few murky photos of what was surely the very place, a building called Preston Place (now Preston Hall), The Street, East Preston, about five miles southeast of Arundel where the POWs did their hard labour. The “village station” was Angmering, whence Sam and his Germans would have either changed for Arundel at the next stop, Ford, or walked it from there. Pardon me for geeking about such details – nuts and bolts of history, you know, and nice to (probably) get to the bottom of them.
(3) In January, 1919, the Liberal/Conservative coalition Government moved Churchill from Minister For Munitions to Secretary Of State For War And Air, so he probably composed this (evidently high-risk) message for ex-POW POW guards in the latter role.
(4) In Sam’s case, a good deal of brutality from guards and a lot of deprivation. See blogs from March 25 to November 11, 2018.
(5) Home Defence: “Home Forces” seems to have been the official title, probably just misremembered by my father. They were launched in January, 1916. A web page no longer available described them as comprising “men and boys who had not yet completed even a basic military training” – somewhat different to the Royal Defence Corps then, and replaced by the newer outfit on this job of guarding German POWs still detained in the UK.
All the best– FSS
Next week: After deciding against murder, Sam reckons “fraternising with the enemy” is all right – as intended by Churchill – and discovers they’re a mixed bunch of blokes from Hans with the merry grin to the mandolin-playing Unteroffizier… and the one who hates Sam’s guts even though the “ruddy war” is over…
(1) 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.