“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 7 July 2019
1919: As Sam’s military career concludes at the “cold and impersonal” Essex Regiment HQ he fondly recalls the boys of his first Battalion… and wonders what the hell he’s going to do next… The penultimate episode of FootSoldierSam’s five-year WW1 blog epic!
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 (next week!) 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 July 2, 2019, is £4,329.44 (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… Germany finally ratified the Treaty Of Versailles (July 8), but only after new Chancellor Gustav Bauer, President Friedrich Ebert and Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg seriously discussed resuming hostilities. That is, they believed the Allies’ threat of immediate invasion if they didn’t accept the Treaty and the politicians asked Hindenburg whether the Army could mount effective resistance. Reluctantly, he said no.
So they recommended acceptance to the Weimar National Assembly who agreed 237-138, then wired acceptance to French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau in time to beat the Allies’ deadline, before bringing it back to the Assembly for ratification. Thus, by common consent, the seeds of WW2 were sown, fed and watered… although the Allies did at last lift the Navy blockade on Germany (July 12) which had brought the population to the brink of starvation.
In the USA, however, when President Woodrow Wilson personally presented the Treaty to the Senate he met unbending and enduring resistance from those who opposed the Treaty entirely and others who wanted amendments. His pet Treaty project, the League Of Nations did become reality six months later, but his own country never joined it…
Elsewhere, the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) proceeded from its small beginning in Anatolia; General Kemal, later Atatürk, had been mustering forces there, but then found himself dismissed by Sultan Mohammed VI (July 8). In Russia, Bolshevik counterattacks interrupted the southern White Army of General Denikin’s Advance On Moscow (July 3-November 18) and the northern White forces’ Siberian leader Admiral Kolchak involved American troops in a minor sequence of actions on the east coast fighting Bolsheviks in the Suchan Valley Campaign, defending the railway (throughout July).
Otherwise, an array of uproars continued internationally, triggered by WWI’s end to varying degrees, including the demobilisation of millions of servicemen. The Moroccan Insurrection against Spanish rule began (July 11) – marking the start of an Arab resistance movement against colonial powers. In America, the latest in a “Red Summer” of race riots flared up in Longview, Texas (July 10-12). Whites attacked the black part of town in the wake of lynching a black man for having an affair with a white woman. After a lot of shooting and one further black fatality, National Guard troops and Texas Rangers restored order. Many from both sides were charged and nobody prosecuted. The (all-white) local enquiry into the whole event reached one interesting conclusion – that black people should not be allowed to write about white people in the newspapers (a story had appeared in the northern black newspaper The Chicago Defender).
Also, among a sequence of post-war travel breakthroughs the US Army sent a convoy from Washington D.C. westwards to see if they could drive all the way to the Pacific – it took months, but instigated the massive highway-building programme of the 1920s which featured Route 66, established on November 11(?), 1926… whether or not with commemorative intent I don’t know.
[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… and now it’s really here: demob!]
May, 1919, Essex and home to Edmonton: my father, Private Sam Sutcliffe – formerly Lance Corporal Signaller, but reverted to the rank he signed up to on September 10, 1914 – has spent the spring quite enjoying life as a Royal Defence Corps POW camp guard in East Preston, near Arundel, Sussex. He cast aside hatred and made friends with the former enemies, fellow frontline veterans…
But come April health problems assailed him: a resurgence of the gastric uproar and pain he’d experienced in the aftermath of Gallipoli and the Somme, then again as a malnourished POW in France and Germany for eight months of 1918 – until he apparently recovered in various hospitals post-Armistice.
Last week, a doctor recommended his release from the Army “having become physically impaired”…
‘I had to go to Warley in Essex to get my discharge from the Essex Regiment, that being the last one of the several in which I had served(2). The place was cold and impersonal, the people too – particularly the signing-off officer, who might well have had his mind on his post-war problems. So many officers had briefly enjoyed a degree of power which would not be theirs in the keenly competitive civilian market…
In truth, the only feelings of comradeship still remaining with me after all those seemingly endless years of war were for the brotherly boys of my first volunteer Battalion(3). Months of hard, slogging training in the Mediterranean sunshine(4), living under canvas before and after the inglorious campaign on that scruffy Turkish peninsula… Our total effort, both in Egypt and later in France(5), near Rouen, to so build up our efficiency that the authorities must augment our numbers and restore our depleted strength to that of a Battalion… One knew affection and friendly consideration for one’s mates in that mob, but not in any other(6).
Still, my discharge yielded quite a bit of money from back-pay, the war gratuity, Corporal’s pay credited to me but never paid over more than two years(7), and a ten shillings a week pension, plus a book of coupons, each worth 29 shillings, which I could cash at the rate of one per week until I started doing some sort of work.
So I dressed in a fine, new, wool, grey suit. I felt cool and prosperous. Not a clue, at that moment, as to what I might do for a living, but free and able to pay for my keep, and even for the occasional bottle of port wine which some of us favoured in those far-off days – a large bottle, of good quality, cost about three shillings.’
(2) Warley: a military town since the 18th century and HQ barracks to the Essex Regiment from its founding in 1881 until 1960 http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/unit-info/253/ (may prove hyperlink-resistant; if so, copy and paste into a search engine and it will work!).
(3) The 2/1 Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment.
(4) From February to August in Malta, a place Sam loved the moment he saw it, despite the marches with 90 pounds on his back (normal pack plus Signaller’s gear) – see Blogs February 22, 2015 to August 16, 2015.
(5) From January to late April in Egypt, then maybe three weeks in Rouen before their CO told them they would be disbanded rather than reinforced and restored – see Blogs January 10, 2016, to May 1, 2016.
(6) As editor, I would just add here that my father generalised this overall feeling he had, resulting from the bitter grief of his Battalion’s demise at the hands of remote Army decision-makers in France. But, despite that, everywhere he served, he did form good, trusting relationships with comrades, notably with Neston at Arras with the 2/7th Essex Regiment – see Blogs December 17, 2017 and then January 1 to March 25, 1918.
(7) The story of my father’s rank during WW1 gets confusing. Here’s a quick zigzag through it. I think of him as “Lance Corporal Signaller Sutcliffe”, which he was from spring, 1915, in Malta – until promoted to Corporal in June 1916, while his new outfit, the Kensingtons were in and out of the front line at Gommecourt on the Somme. Thereafter, ups and downs ensued. During the subsequent battle, through to September, he often served as Acting Sergeant too. But when the Army noticed he was still under-age and sent him back to Blighty. Because he detested holding any rank, en route to his new posting in Harrogate he took one stripe off his arm. So when, in Yorkshire, he was transferred to the Essex he appeared to be a Lance Corporal again… although he wasn’t according to the records. Then, strangely, in mid-summer 1917 his Company CO – whom he loathed – offered him training for a commission (the upper- and middle-classes being drained of officer material by then) – see Blog June 30, 1917. Sam refused and, either as punishment or by (genuine) choice, “reverted” to Private for the duration. Regarding the back pay for his period as a Corporal, I presume that, with it happening on the Somme front, the formal notifications didn’t reach the appropriate clerk.
All the best– FSS
Next week: Good heavens… five years on it’s Sam’s last blog. He and older brother Ted, a fellow Somme survivor but bearing the gas damage that would kill him, see the war off by attending the July 19 Peace Parade, happy onlookers applauding “the men who won the war”…
(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.