“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, 30 June 2019

1919: Sam, still a POW camp guard in lovely Sussex, suffers post-POW sickness and general war aftermath/pre-demob depression … so now he’s saying fond farewells to all his new German friends!

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 June 1, 2019, is £4,228.17 (I can't update it in the Donations box below because the "edit" tool has vanished!).

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week, in the aftermath of the Armistice… The Treaty Of Versailles led to widespread celebration in Europe and much anger from those who thought it sowed the seeds of future conflict by being too hard or too soft (really!) on Germany.
    In fact, French Marshall Foch opined, with apparent prescience: “This [treaty] is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years". But he said that believing it left Germany with far too much territory and power – he’d wanted the Rhineland annexed.
    One of the earliest adverse reactions to the conquering Allies’ carve-up came from Syria. Amid internal conflict, political and religious, the national congress, which had lately replaced a monarchy, rejected the French Mandate awarded under the treaty and declared they wanted full independence (July 2) – or a British or American Mandate. (The Franco-Syrian War ensued the following year.)
    In Turkish Anatolia, the developing Greco-Turkish War saw the Battle Of Aydin conclude (July 4) when the Greeks reoccupied Aydin, destroying most of what was left of the city – even though 40 per cent of the populace was Greek (and they were acting in contravention of Versailles agreements regarding Smyrna and the surrounding territory).
    Meanwhile, the Russian Civil War took a turn against the Bolsheviks as the White Russian leader in the south, General Anton Denikin, issued a directive to launch the Advance On Moscow (July 3-November 18). It began successfully because the Bolshevik Red Terror had turned the region against them.
    And in the USA, Arizona’s Bisbee Riots (July 3) forewarned of more to follow in what became known as the Red Summer. The combatants were returning black Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry and that small town’s police force, following a controversial arrest.
    But the UK had more to celebrate than peace: when the R-34 airship touched down(?) in New York it became the first to cross the Atlantic. The flight took 106 hours…

[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 then, something completely different… through the spring, Sam and others ex-POWs guard German POWs at a camp in Sussex, while making various attempts to get back to “normal” life…]

Back to April-May, 1919, Sussex: we left Sam quite enjoying life as a Royal Defence Corps POW camp (but really a country house) guard in East Preston, five miles southeast of Arundel. He’d cast aside residual hatred from his own spell as a prisoner of the Germans, decided fraternising with the enemy was the way forward, and befriended many of his charges, mostly former front-line men themselves.
    With the war over, though waiting on the final treaties, they all worked together amiably enough as the Germans did their hard labour reinforcing the banks of the River Arun. On his days off he had one of his series of inept flings with a local woman and then ended it in confusion and embarrassment.
    But now health problems, which had assailed him from time to time because of his war’s assorted severe privations, have returned:

‘In Sussex, the fat – even a burgeoning dewlap – which happiness and good living had prematurely bestowed on me in the months after my return to England gradually disappeared. In fact, my face partially reverted to its prisoner-of-war gauntness; food had seemed so wonderful after previous deprivations, but in time my voracious appetite waned, abdominal pains returned and irked me and, despite my efforts to bear in mind all the blessings now available, a dullness settled like a blight upon me.
     I resisted it constantly, pressed it down inside me. I attempted normal conversation and persevered with laughter, but it was all difficult. The officer who regularly inspected the prisoners and premises, granted my request for an interview and was understanding when I told him about these things. He sent me to see an RAMC doctor at the local Headquarters and the results of his tests led to an appointment with a Medical Board. Doctors there probed my abdomen thoroughly and somewhat painfully, then recommended my release from the Service “having become physically impaired”.
     I told George(2) everything I knew about Lotty the hotty(3) and suggested that he might enjoy brief dalliance with her. To help things along I prepared a careful letter of introduction to her. George said he would have a go at the proposition and that concluded my mild affair.
     I had a fortnight’s leave due before demob, during which I was to attend a further Medical Board in Chelsea, for examination and assessment relating to pension rights(4). 

While the handwriting is hard to read, you can see that he was diagnosed with gastritis and, less technically, “stomach trouble” – blamed on his POW time in Germany, starting “28.3.18”. In fact, he’d had intermittent gut problems (hospitalised for a month in Sheffield in 1917) since his long stints in the trenches months of Gallipoli and the Somme – probably caused by both ill-nourishment and stress.
     So, before setting off for home, I called on my several German friends(5) to bid them farewell, starting with the Unteroffizier in his little room upstairs. The rather lonely chap was touched that I had taken the trouble and showed it; although aware that his formerly great country had fallen into horrible disarray, he spoke of his yearning to get back to the Fatherland.
     A formal handshake and heel click reflected little of our mutual understanding that uncertain futures awaited both of us. He had valuable skills, I had none. There again, he had known people of position and influence, but where were they now? Revolutions destroy such connections, and he had frankly admitted that he might need good fortune to survive what would be a period of bloody conflict between the Old Guard and those who intended to grasp control of their defeated country.
     I had described to him what I had seen around my prison camp near the Black Forest: the overnight disappearances of all commissioned officers, the substitution of black and white Iron Cross decorations and traditional Regimental cap badges with red ribbons and buttons, the red flags adorning every military vehicle(6). Like me, he doubted the turnabout was genuine. It could have been an instinctive and desperate attempt to kid the Allies that the German nation had not really wished to conquer Europe, it was just that wicked Kaiser and those terrible Prussians. Maybe, but my friend would have to find out the hard way. No “Auf wiedersehen” for us, not a chance of ever meeting again.
     Farewell to “Wie heisst du?” Hans… who, I recall, had told me I was wrong in thinking that Karl was the German equivalent of my first name, Charles(7). Farewell to smiling Willi. And farewell to short, fat, rosy-cheeked “Mitzi”, the cook, so nicknamed by me because that was his cat’s name and he was always calling out for her. Then, quick handshakes with other Jerries who had been nice to me and a general wave to our chaps who happened to be around – handshaking was not our custom, the casual touch suited us better.
     Our boozy-faced Sergeant nearly managed a smile as I made a point of calling “Goodbye” to him. So well-loved was he that I’d heard one man leave him with a promise he’d “fuckin’ do for him now I’m free”, but I had no feeling of ill will towards him. Finally a hearty handshake with George. I told him I felt I’d known him for years and waited to hear him at last remember that we had indeed known each other in pre-war days, but his very friendly smile and good wishes had to suffice.
     Forever after, Sussex remained my favourite English county, having been such a warm and pleasant place in which to resume living, after some very hard times in the Great War.’
(2) George turns up in the Blog dated April 14, 2019. Sam had known him before the war when both were teenaged juniors working as dogsbodies for tin industry companies near Liverpool Street. He roomed with Sam and never recognised him and, for his own quirky reasons, Sam never reminded him of their previous acquaintance.
(3) Lotty: the first time he’s named her, hotty or otherwise – this is the lovely lady from Littlehampton he had a walking-out with for some weeks – remaining virginal the while, despite her best efforts. She appears in Blogs dated April 14 and May 5, 2019
(4) Various documents found for me by Western Front Association Ox & Bucks stalwart (and kind researcher for passing guest speakers it turned out) Nigel Crompton include the information that Sam’s date of “Disembodiment” was May 6,1919 (see Medical History Of doc below – which doesn’t record his 1917 hospital stays; the odd term is much discussed in WW1 circles – e.g. https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/106981-discharged-or-disembodied/– but most think it meant the end of war service for a Territorial, which Sam had been in his three different Battalions). Then his final date of discharge was May 26. But… since these administrative matters seem to require their element of confusion I’ll add that the Essex Regiment Museum’s Ian Hook (who answered my queries before he left in 2017) found that my father’s full discharge from the Army came through on March 12, 1920, which suggests that, like his brother Ted, he may have been registered to Z Reserve for those final months i.e. still liable to recall in an emergency.

(5) The German POWs Sam says personal goodbyes to are introduced and described in Blogs dated March 24 and April 21, 2019. Sam gave Hans his “Wie heisst du?” nickname because that was the first thing the affable POW said to him and Sam had picked up enough German to respond “Ich heisse Sam”.
(6) See Blog November 11, 2018, for Sam’s account of the day after Armistice at his POW camp in Lorraine.
(7) Hans was wrong as far as I can tell, although my father believed him. “Karl” meant “man” in Old Norse, “peasant” in Old English, and thence became the first name “Karl/Carl” in German, then “Charles” in English says https://www.behindthename.com/name/charles.

All the best– FSS

Next week: The penultimate episode of FootSoldierSam’s blog! He goes to the “cold and impersonal” Essex Regiment HQ to conclude his discharge… reminisces about the boys of his first Battalion he loved so much… wonders what the hell he’s going to do next… and, regardless, spends some of his back-pay on a new suit and a bottle of port…

(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.

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