Magda Russell: "I began Nobody of Any Importance two nights ago and have had virtually no sleep since. Because of its length, I'm resigned to the life of an insomniac for another few nights. It's everything a memoir should be - honest and true. He's such a compelling, natural, writer and that is so unusual.”
Anna Wagstaff: "Hugely enjoyed your book… Great story. Can't believe there is much else out there that can compare. I was completely absorbed for a week. What a good guy eh?"
Nico Brown: "I've just put down 'Nobody Of Any Importance' and just want to thank you for bringing it out. I thought I'd read every kind of narrative about that war. I was always interested in the poetry, and when I was at UEA I did a whole module on the literature, across national and genre boundaries. When I put on my Theatre-in-Education piece 'A Blighty One' I dug it all up again, and tried particularly to get close to the experience of ordinary working people, searching out journals and memoirs - but I never read anything like this. There can't be anything like it. Your father explores his past on so many levels, from the broadly political to the intensely personal. His non-fratricidal moral stance, which you rightly give prominence to in the presentation of the memoir, puts him up there with Sassoon. His frankness about sex and bodily matters in general is amazing if all you've come across (in English - of course the Europeans are more broadminded) is the typical memoir or fictionalisation coming from the period. But his account is infused with a 60's and 70's sensibility - he was there, in 1914, but he addresses a posterity that can hear what he couldn't have written then. That distance is one of the miraculous things, and the pair of you have cheated Chronos to produce something great that ought to be recognised and valued."
Sarah Watson: "… of the hundreds of diaries and accounts I’ve read Sam’s is my favourite. I even think of him on first name terms as you feel you know him by the end…. The way that he describes the spirit, the ways you had to behave, it’s all so human and real…. amazing insight. I honestly couldn’t put it down."
Martin Levin: "What an excellent and poignant read."
Sean McPartlin: "Such a fascinating and informative read… My uncle Joe fought in the Great War (Post Office Rifles>London Rifle Brigade after the Somme). He was wounded and captured between Gavrelle [near where my father was captured, Sean points out] and Oppy on March 28th 1916 and was a PoW at Fredrichfeld, returning home to Edinburgh in 1919. My dad idolised his big brother and I have always wondered about him - especially as my dad died in 1957, when I was 5, so long conversations were never to happen. Eventually, in retirement (as you do!) I set about research and ended up on the 100th anniversary of uncle Joe's wounding and capture standing on the spot in the mud and driving rain (pathetic fallacy??) where he was wounded and captured near Gavrelle - you'll appreciate that was very moving. I guess we reach out to the past through information… I discovered "Nobody of any importance" while seeking accounts of the war and was delighted that context was provided by it telling your dad's life from the beginning and somewhat after the war. I always think "War Memoirs" are diminished if we have no understanding of the person outside of the soldier years. So your dad's Memoir was perfect… thank you for a most satisfying and gripping reading experience."
John Lenton: "Just dropping you a line to say how much i enjoyed reading NOOAI. To read of your father's war time experiences was a privilege. His powers of recall truly astonishing … Important historical events described from the perspective of those directly involved provide invaluable insights about what took place. Your Dad's experiences were nothing sort of incredible. I only wish that he and all the others could have lead more peaceful lives."
Karl Jacobsen: “I just completed my reading of your father's fantastic story. So many horrible moments interspersed with inspirational happenings truly inflate the importance of this "most ordinary individual" who actually was not. This book joins the coveted ranks of historical incidents that I have always found inspirational and exceedingly helpful to my outlook on life. One of my ten precepts for life is: "You only grow through adversity".Your father's story exemplifies this many times over! Thank you for your diligence in providing this fabulous book for others to enjoy. I certainly did!”
Ali Smith: "It really held me from start to finish – and your father is a kind of benchmark of a thoroughly decent and intelligent bloke reflecting on war and sometimes on its pointlessness…"
Martin Spafford: "Just over a year ago I gave a talk to the Walthamstow Western Front Association about a project bringing descendants of German and British WW1 combatants together. After the talk you kindly gave me a copy of Nobody of Any Importance. I’ll be honest: I wondered if I would ever get round to reading it, especially given its size, as well as the knowledge that living through extraordinary events doesn’t make someone any good at writing about them. A couple of months ago I started reading, fully expecting to put it aside after a few chapters. From the very start I was absolutely hooked – long before the start of the war – and drawn into your dad’s childhood, the move to Edmonton and the world so vividly recalled with – as so many have commented – the extraordinary attention to detail. That opening section is key to the power of the book: by the time he lies about his age and starts army training, we already really know Sam and care about him. The ability to recall and, crucially, describe people, places and events with such clarity and vividness means this is as much outstanding writing as it is historical record – and it’s the quality of the writing that makes it so powerful. I found it a page turner not so much because I wanted to know about Gallipoli (where my great uncle was killed), the Somme or life as a POW, but because I wanted to know how it was for you dad, what he felt about it, how he coped with it. Your dad’s achievement is also how much he lives in the book and how therefore we feel war in such a personal way. The narrative builds up and up with all the craziness and noise of soldiering to that extraordinary moment of almost stillness when he kills, is behind German lines and is about to be captured. And then there’s another kind of horror – but also some tender moments with French civilians and occasional German guards. What’s also key to the power of the book, I feel, is how we experience through the book Sam’s growing sense of how wrong it all is and how it shapes his own values from then on. I loved the book. I read a few chapters a day over breakfast for a couple of months, enjoying your wonderful notes too which were notable not only for the exhaustive research but also some fascinating questions raised about first- and second-person narrative, the process of writing and editing, and when memory is stronger or weaker. For so long I found myself wondering what happened to Ted, especially as he isn’t in the later photos. Such a relief to know that he survived the war... and then sadness. I think this is a towering book and your collaborative work – father and son – is a monumental achievement. Thank you so much for the gift: I’m sending the £10 market price (plus another £10 in appreciation) as a donation to the British Red Cross. No need to reply: just wanted you to know that I fully agree with all the five star reviews on Amazon, and to thank you for the opportunity to read a book I now cherish."
Helen McMahon (also part-way through at time of writing to Phil): "I continue to be absorbed… We have just retreated from Gallipoli with doubtless worse to come. It's striking that the majority of suffering isn't inflicted by the enemy, but by incompetent and thoughtless 'managers' who clearly don't consider footsoldiers to be human. Utterly shocking - and hearing Sam tell it it's as though I had never heard anything of this before. It's a real-time movie that should be more widely known about…"
Peter Agius (not far in, but kindly dropped an email anyway): "I have just started to read your excellent 'Nobody of Any Importance' (recently purchased by my wife to add to our extensive WW1 library) and had to write to congratulate you (and your father) on a remarkable memoir."
Tony Barnard: "I want to express how rewarding it was to read: well-written and authentic, all the better for its honest and candid views.”
Kelsey Thornton, of the Ivor Gurney Society http://www.ivorgurney.org.uk/ which celebrates the World War 1 front-line-soldier poet, reviewed my father's Memoir for the Society's 2014 journal (fans call it "The Gurnal"). Here are some edited excerpts of what he wrote:
"The first sentence of the book provides the title: 'May I say straight away he became nobody of any importance'. And that is the importance of this book. It is the voice of those thousands – perhaps millions – of nobodies who volunteered and were pushed through so much suffering in the first world war, many of whom did not live through it. And of those who did return to England, how many were there who simply refused or found themselves unable to speak of it at all?… Sam Sutcliffe (1898-1987) in his seventies finally found himself able, or perhaps even compelled, to speak… There is a quiet ferocity at the stupidity of it all, which comes out not in diatribes against the system but in a continuous resilient determination not to let his humanity and his principles get crushed and blunted. But he has no doubt that the whole thing is a monumental waste and folly, and his son, in editing the book, rightly selected for its epigraph one of the few paragraphs where he comments on it: '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.' He is worth listening to."
Roy Phillips (from Australia): "a fantastic book and great testament to your father."
Margaret Taylor (a self-styled Gallipoli "obsessive"): "Having just finished the book I felt I must write to you to say how much I enjoyed It. Your father obviously had a fantastic memory and a great way with words. I am very interested in the First World War and found it fascinating to read the first hand account of what the "ordinary" soldier went through. Your father's amazing strength of character shines through on every page. You must be very proud of him and of the book you worked so hard to put together."