“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 War: The Somme, Part Five of this memoir)

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sam & pals encamp on the edge of the Sahara – it’s all a bit Lawrence Of Arabia, but the food’s no better than in Gallipoli… and they’re issued with lime juice “to cool the blood and subdue men’s natural lusts”…

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir in paperback or e-book & new excerpted Gallipoli episode mini-e-book & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to British Red Cross

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Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… on the Western Front the deadly, desultory stage of grinding continued with the German Army shelling Loos, northeastern France  (February 3), the Allies responding in kind by bombarding nearby German-held Lille (February 6). Also an alarming Zeppelin raid on East Anglia and the Midlands killed 70 and injured 113 (January 31).
    Russia continued to be the most aggressive of the Allies, attacking Riga, Latvia (February 1), and in the Bukovina region of modern Romania/Ukraine (3), on the Eastern Front. Further south, in the Caucasus (between the Black and Caspian Seas) they pressed the Ottomans back towards the conclusion of their Erzerum Campaign, begun on January 10, while launching a follow-up action in the two-month Trebizond Campaign (February 5) pressing into territory where, in 1915, the Ottomans had massacred or deported 30,000 Armenians.
    Down in the Balkans, though, the Austrian and Bulgarian Armies emphasised an Allied failure; having conquered Serbia, they pressed on through Albania and even launched a Zeppelin raid on Salonika, where – following their Gallipoli defeat – French and British forces had installed themselves to prevent any attempt at invading Greece.
    However, down in Africa the Battle For Lake Tanganyika apparently reached a somewhat African Queen-style conclusion when two cutely named, though armed, British motor boats, the Mimi and the Toutou, captured the German gunboat Kingani.
    Meanwhile, the 200-odd 2/1st City Of London Battalion Royal Fusiliers comrades who remained after four months fighting at Suvla Bay and V Beach, Gallipoli, found their brief R&R (and de-lousing) respite in Alexandria swiftly concluded – the Army still having neglected both to pay them since they shipped into Gallipoli and to replace their tattered clothes. For my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London (still under-age at 17), and his mates there followed a spell in a rural location on the banks of the Nile and the edge of the Sahara doing… well, as usual, nobody told them what the plan was…

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS

Last week, my father’s vestigial Battalion travelled in the usual PBI “cattle-truck” discomfort to a place called Beni Salama, 30 miles north-west of Cairo. Given that a bare patch of ground, rather than any pre-arranged accommodations awaited them, they had to sort themselves out pdq. Sam recalls:

‘We hauled the tent bags some distance away from the railway; officers measured out spaces and minions laid out ropes to mark the lines where the tents were to stand. We had earlier learnt the drill for erecting tents without wasting a single move and a camp sprang up quickly. The marquees proved tricky, but we managed and, before nightfall, we had settled into our own allotted canvas homes. With two blankets apiece, being really tired, we soon slept – all except the poor devils who had to mount guard and scare off intruders if any, or, more likely, the jackals which scrounged around desert habitations.
     We spent the next couple of weeks toiling for long periods each day on a diet of hard biscuits, corned beef and dried, shredded veg, with a little jam and a small amount of cheese once or twice a week. The corned beef, basis of the main meal, would be served cold one day and warm the next, as a hash with the shredded vegetables. An unusual addition to this diet was a daily measure of lime juice, compulsory drinking. The official reason for this latter treat never reached my ears – men who professed to know said it was to cool the blood and subdue men’s natural lusts (though they used less churchy words). Like a clever little ex-Boy Scout, I preferred the anti-scurvy theory.
     Each day a train brought in a fresh load of tents. These we loaded on to some splendid horse-drawn wagons manned by really fine Australians, big, powerful fellows. They had brought in their own equipment and set up a camp where, looking on from the outskirts, I could see that everything worked on a better and more generous scale than ours ever had. I believe they were the Australian Light Horse*, probably some of the first volunteers from Down Under.
     The camp grew, each day’s work providing accommodation for one more Battalion**.’

So there they were, settled in a tented encampment between the Sahara and the Nile… when a romantic-looking figure came into view, riding a camel. Was it a Sheikh, was it a Pasha, was it Lawrence Of Arabia? No, it was Ted Sutcliffe from Edmonton:

‘My brother Ted reappeared one day***, to my joy and my amazement, for he was riding high on a camel led by an Arab. An arrangement of rope netting slung over the beast’s back provided, on each flank, a container, one filled with loaves, the other with large clumps of dates. A sort of cavalcade followed Ted, some animals carrying similar loads, others with tins of bully beef or special provisions for the officers. “We’re what’s left of the old Transport Section and eventually we shall be with the Battalion permanently,” he told me. Good news indeed.
     Once we got talking, I told brother Ted – himself, unpaid for weeks – how I longed for something luxurious to eat after the long period of small, poor rations which had been my lot. I knew complete replacement of all apparel and equipment lost in the recent campaign would soon occur, and we decided that my heavy, wool, long pants might yield a harvest of a few piastres if offered to the local fellaheen****.
     We didn’t know how to go about it though…’
* The five Australian Light Horse Brigades served at Gallipoli and throughout the war.
** Up to 1,000 men.
*** Sam last saw Ted  in Lemnos on Boxing Day, before the Battalion suddenly got the order to sail back to Gallipoli to help with the evacuation at V Beach (immediately after they had themselves evacuated Suvla Bay). Ted, two years older than Sam, so 19 at this point, was an original 2/1st member, but he  got separated from his comrades in September, 1915, when he had his front teeth knocked out in a fist fight. See Blogs 62 13-09-15 and 77 27-12-15.
**** Arabic word meaning peasant, farmer, agricultural labourer – “effendi”, I read, are the land-owning class.

All the best – FSS

Next week: International trade agreement – despite hot-blooded Ted cutting up rough, natural negotiator Sam sells his old underpants to a villager…

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Sam and comrades enjoy a blazing hot rail journey in open trucks with Egyptian farmers flashing them – perhaps not complimentarily – to build a new camp on the banks of the Nile… and the edge of the Sahara!

For details of how to buy Sams full Memoir in paperback or e-book & new excerpted Gallipoli episode mini-e-book & reader reviews see right-hand column
All proceeds to British Red Cross

For AUDIO excerpts click Here  Join Foot Soldier Sam on Facebook Here

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… in the UK, the big news was less the fighting than the implications of the Military Service Act, passed on January 27. It introduced conscription into the Army for men aged 18 to 41 unless married, widowered with children, already serving in the RN (remember the air force then still came under the Army), a minster of religion, a worker in a reserved occupation… or, a whole new legal concept, a genuine conscientious objector.
    Elsewhere, pell-mell mutual destruction continued, though not in battles retaining grand historical resonance: the Allies repulsed restive German Western Front offensives at Nieuport (January 24), Arras (25), Neuville and Loos (27), Carnoy (28) and Dompierre (29/30) though they did make small advances at Frise and Givenchy (28); the Russians fought their way ever closer to taking Erzurum in the Causcasus (24) while losing ground to the Austrian Army in Bukovina (29; around the current Ukraine/Romania border); the Austrians also concluded their conquest of Montenegro (25) and took more Albanian territory (28) while toing and froing against the Italian Army near Gorizia (24) and on the Upper Isonzo (27; both in northern Italy).
    Further south, the Allies occupied Kara Burun, Salonika (28), against protests from the Greek Government, still apparently striving for some kind of neutrality. Down in Mesopotamia the Ottoman siege of the British/Indian garrison at Kut proceeded, as did the rather small scale, though months-long Battle For Lake Tanganyika, where British and German motor boats and gunboats slugged it out (through to February or July according to diverse accounts).
    Meanwhile, the 200-odd 2/1st City Of London Battalion Royal Fusiliers comrades who remained after three months fighting at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, and a further couple of weeks at V Beach began to enjoy R&R of a sort in Egypt. Among them, my father, Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London (still under-age at 17), like many others, tried to get over “the habit off the habit of being constantly alert, ready to run, fall or take a dive” and move back into something like the tourist attitude he’d developed when exploring the environs of Cairo a few months earlier – before he’d ever been shot at, shelled or had bombs and darts lobbed at him from those new-fangled aeroplanes…

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS

Last week, briefly encamped outside Alexandria, Sam and a friend – both in many ways still innocents abroad despite their terrible experience of battle – explored the city and ended up both embarrassed and horrified as they realised an apparently friendly encounter with some Russian children in their early teens was actually about a boy pimping his two sisters.
    In a few days, though, the Battalion has to move on once again, out into a desolate area where temptation, along with much else, is at a premium:

‘Still without money or new clothing, one day we filthy few marched to a railhead where we loaded on to trucks a great many heavy, canvas bags containing tents, along with several marquees, quantities of shovels and picks, and provisions including packages of tinned bully beef, large tins of “julien” (a shredded potato and vegetable preparation), and boxes of hard biscuits – far from appetising fare, but precluders of starvation. We were ordered to fill our water bottles in readiness for a long, dry rail journey. Some lucky devils travelled in roofed wagons, most of us in open trucks*, while a coach with proper seating housed the officers and senior NCOs.
     At times the sun irked those of us in trucks, but our troubles eased when we took a long break in the vicinity of Cairo. With biscuits, bully beef and unlimited drinking water available there, we had little cause for complaint.
     Offering us frequent views of the Nile, at times the railway passed through large plantations. The workers in these places usually paused in their labours to look at us and, if they were males, generally honoured us by raising their gowns and displaying their genitals. Although the exact significance of these gestures remained obscure to us, as soldiers we doubted that they intended respectful salutes, and suspected the Egyptians were not exactly swooning with love at the sight of us.
     After some hours, we detrained at a railway halt with several small buildings and a short wooden platform. Immediately, the work of unloading commenced – much easier than heaving the stuff on-board and a couple more hours saw the end of that chore. Then, hard biscuits and individual tins of corned beef were handed out, large dixies full of strong tea appeared and we took stock of our surroundings.
     There was the river, reeds and greenery along its banks, and on its far side a cultivated area – irrigated by a piece of machinery which could well have been hundreds of years old. An ox turned a large, wooden wheel by walking in interminable circles; wooden cogs on the wheel’s underside rotated a shaft (a smoothed tree trunk) which dragged a chain of leather buckets into and out of the river; these buckets spilled their contents into a large, earthenware container whose overflow poured into a wooden duct and supplied the irrigation system of channels throughout the plantation.
     Nearby, we could see a village called Beni Salama*– or at least that was the name of the railway halt. It mainly comprised small mud huts, the homes of poor folk who worked the plantations. The flat roofs of these hovels bore piles of ox dung, the round cakes used as fuel to heat the workers’ cook pots, we guessed.
     On our side of the river lay the desert – sand and more sand, on and on forever, it appeared.’
* A repeated motif of the Battalion’s travels in Egypt - “cattle-class” as the PBI called it.
** Beni Salama: in the state of Al Jizah, 30 miles northwest of Cairo; later, when excavated, provided evidence of the earliest known settlement in the Nile Valley.

All the best – FSS

Next week: Roasting on the edge of the desert the battered Battalion are issued with lime juice “to cool the blood and subdue men’s natural lusts”... and Sam’s brother Ted, left behind on Lemnos, emerges from the desert like David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia…