“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, 29 January 2017

For Sam, Mac and the toboggan girls very proper 1910s “romances” shyly blossom – until Sam’s soldierly honour/innocence/Boy Scout morality chances on an unbearable embarrassment…

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

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

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The big switch of strategy came with Germany announcing a resumption of “unrestricted” submarine warfare (February 1, 1917) – they’d generally limited attacks to Naval and other armed ships since September, 1915, but now they said everything in the war zone was fair game including hospital ships and, crucially, neutral shipping.
    This followed the Allies’ rejection of the Kaiser’s peace proposals and is said to have been predicated on the notion that sinking 600,000 tons of Allied vessels a month would provoke a surrender before the USA could decide on declaring war. Two days later, a U-boat sank the American-owned SS Housatonic off the Scilly Isles (all hands rescued by British boats, courtesy of the German skipper’s help, towing the lifeboats towards safety) – although President Wilson’s severing of diplomatic relations with Germany that same day was probably a coincidence. Oddly, the first ever ship sunk by a submarine, during the American Civil War in 1864, bore the same name.
    On the Western Front substantial, though more subtle shifts in strategy saw both sides effectively testing the feasibility of action during that winter’s big freeze. On the Ancre, the British resisted a German attack near Beaucourt (January 31), then gained 500 yards in the same area (February 3). They also conducted a small raid (February 4-5) to take some prisoners. On the Somme, the Australians attacked on a larger scale around the Frégicourt-Le Transloy road, taking a German trench via grenade bombardment (February 1 and 4; 300 casualties). Near Grandcourt and Gueudecourt, troops fought to and back with the British taking 500 yards of German trenches (February 1-4) and further southeast, in Lorraine, the French Army made a similar small advance.
    Remarkably, given a collapsing economy and extraordinary military overextension, the Russian Army sustained its effort still, repelling repeated German attacks around the Tirul swamp, near Kalutsem (January 30-February 4; Latvia) and south of Halicz (February 1; now in Poland), while actually winning a battle for hill fortifications near Jakobeny during their last-ditch defence of Romania (January 30-31).
    Down in Mesopotamia, the British made modest progress too, moving closer to the recapture of Kut on the Tigris, abandoned in April, 1916, after a siege.

Meanwhile, my father, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, had fought on the Somme Front with his new outfit the Kensingtons from mid-May to September (FootSoldierSam’s Blogs dated May 15 to September 25, 2016)… Until he was told his age – 18 on July 6 – had been officially noticed, he was legally too young for the battlefield, and he could take a break until his 19th birthday. So he did – not without a sense of guilt. Via Harfleur and London (briefly living at home), he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and reallocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion along with a bunch of other under-age Tommies training and making their own entertainment until they severally became eligible for the trenches once more…

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, after the blizzard of mid-January, 1917, set in for one of the longest winter freezes of modern times** – experienced rather more uncomfortably on the Western Front of course – my father and his new pal “Mac” McIntyre went out one evening looking for whatever fun Harrogate might have to offer and discovered a toboggan run.
    They soon hit it off with two girls who had an enormous toboggan one of their dad’s had made. But on their first plummet down the hill, helmsman Sam lost control of the unwieldy beast and ran into a tree. Both girls suffered leg injuries in the crash, both soldiers came through unhurt – and, full of apologies, took the girls to their homes where they were surprised to receive warm welcomes. The girls took to their beds to recover and the lads promised to visit them:

‘The crash laid the girls up for a good fortnight and, duty-bound, Mac and I visited each one in turn twice a week. The sister of the smaller girl took us up to her bedroom where we found her tucked up, professing to be quite happy. I sat on the floor on one side of the fireplace, Mac on the other, and we chatted for an hour or two. Unbelievably, the girl and her sister seemed almost grateful to us for coming. We would bring one or two little gifts of sweets or chocolates.
     The other girl, bigger and stronger, showed signs of recovery first, and our visits there – the parents being present – didn’t last long. But we maintained our interest and repeated our regrets. The dad reckoned his rather crude steering device had got jammed slightly out of true by ice and snow picked up as the girls dragged it along the streets and up the hill to the top of the run.
     It was in the natural order of things I guess that, when the girls were once more up and about, we went for a walk with them. I recall one Sunday afternoon, striding along briskly in the cold air, they guided us out of town to some rather beautiful open country and, at one point, into a wood of wintry bare trees. There a daft episode caused much amusement.
     I found myself carrying the smaller girl on my shoulders while the somewhat beefier Mac was loaded with the other quite hefty wench – and a race down a wooded slope started. My partner and I travelled some distance before we raced under a low-hanging branch and, unable to duck sufficiently, she finished up with it under her armpits and dangled there, while impetus carried me forward till I fell. There was much laughter as I lowered her from her situation of suspense.
     She was an attractive little girl, very likeable, and for a while we became quite close friends, while Mac, as often as he could, called at the home of the other girl.
     But then, walking in the town one afternoon, I was amazed to see my girl’s sister on the arm of a soldier. I knew she was married and her husband serving in France. She saw me as quickly as I saw her. An awkward moment, awkward enough to prevent me from calling at their home any more***. So that brief acquaintanceship petered out.’
** It lasted for over three months in England with several further heavy snows through to mid-April.
*** Sam’s girl lived with her sister so he knew he would have to face her regularly, hence his extreme embarrassment.    

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam and pals are suddenly hit by one of the hazards of the age for soldiers living cheek by jowl – an epidemic of “spotted fever” i.e. meningitis.

* 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.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Harrogate hijinks post Somme: Sam and Mac’s lark with two girls and a toboggan ends in disaster – and a chance to see them again!

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

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

Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… It was as if the war on the Western Front shook the snow off its boots and stretched a bit to see if conditions were propitious for the slaughter to be resumed.
    On the Ancre – where the “Operations” are listed as running from January 11-March 13 – the British conducted the odd raid and “sapped forward” (digging advance trenches at night, though that got more difficult as the freeze deepened towards the end of the month). Further south on the Somme, a British attack across the Frégicourt-Le Transloy road with heavy artillery support gained 400 yards (27; British casualties 382). Northwest of Verdun, German troops took a mile of French trenches at Hill 304 and lost it again the next day (25-6).
    At sea, similar tit for tat occurred with a naval battle in the North Sea resulting in one destroyer sunk on each side (January 22) and although two German destroyers shelled Southwold and Wangford on the Sussex coast, no casualties resulted (25).
    On the Eastern Front, the Russian Army lost all its early January gains between Lake Babit and the Tirul Marsh back to the Germans (January 23-4; Latvia). But further south they showed they still supported failing ally Romania full-on by taking German positions in the northwest between Campulung and Jocobeny (27). But the Central Powers continued their advance with the Bulgarians crossing the Danube in the Dobruja region (22).
    And then, much further south where snow never troubled the strategists, the Allies chalked up clear victories at Wejh – captured by Arab allies (January 24; Saudi Arabia) – and Kut – the British attempt to capture the key city on the Tigris continuing despite opposition from Ottoman forces (25-8; Mesopotamia, now Iraq) – and Likuju – a German garrison of 289 surrendering to the British Army (24; German East Africa, now Tanzania).

Meanwhile, my father, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, had fought on the Somme Front with his new outfit the Kensingtons from mid-May to September (FootSoldierSam’s Blogs dated May 15 to September 25, 2016). About September 30 he was told his age – 18 on July 6 – had been officially noticed, he was legally too young for the battlefield, and he could take a break until his 19th birthday if he wished. He certainly did – though not without a sense of guilt. Via the Harfleur British base camp and some desultory “training” in London (living at home for a couple of weeks), he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and reallocated again, this time to the Essex Regiment 2/7th Battalion along with a bunch of other under-age Tommies variously making their own entertainment until they severally turned 19…

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, after the fizzling of their initial rebellion against joining the alleged “Lost Division” – accused by Horatio Bottomley’s yellow press of having somehow dodged all combat thus far – the underagers settled into quite enjoying a life that, pro tem, didn’t involve shot and shell, fear and death.
    They joined their new comrades in digging Harrogate’s streets out of that terrible winter’s first blizzard (around January 16, 1917), thereby scoring PR points with the townsfolk. The while, Sam struck up a new friendship with one of his fellow under-19s, a lad from Edinburgh called “Mac” McIntyre who, when living in London, had served an unusual pre-war apprenticeship – to a phrenologist, a so-called reader of the bumps on people’s heads, a then fashionable and pseudo-scientific variant on a theme of character-reading and fortune-telling.
    Together they explored whatever distractions still snowy Harrogate might have to offer:

‘Completely free agents almost every evening, we soon exhausted the obvious delights of the town – one cinema, the odd concert – and so Mac and I took to exploring the area. Despite the snow, we walked many of the outer streets bordering on open country, really just to kill time because the dark, still, winter evenings offered no great excitement – at least not until one moonlight night when we encountered quite a crowd of people at the top of a hill.
     They laughed and chattered, passed around little bottles of reviver, even cakes – and, from time to time, parties would take off on large, home-made toboggans and sledges and race off down the hill at great speed.
     Naturally, when we saw two girls standing by a rather big, but strange-looking contraption made of wood, Mac and I chatted with them and asked them about this unusual means of transport. They were friends, they told us, living in different parts of the town. The father of one of them, an employee at the local gasworks, had built this sledge some years previously.
     It looked extremely strong, the wood probably three-quarters of an inch thick, but he had fashioned it in two parts. The front rider travelled astride and steered via ropes, held in each hand – these were attached to a movable section below on which his or her feet rested; to run right, they explained, press with the left foot and pull with the right rope and vice versa. One passenger could sit behind the steersman, with two others in a side-by-side seat at the back.
     Unfortunately, the girls had never taken this thing out on their own before. Woe was me, then. As volunteer or pressed man, I can’t remember, I sat in the steersman’s position. We loaded up, Mac behind me, the girls on the back seat. We pushed off with our feet and gained a head of speed very quickly. The craft veered somewhat leftwards. Trees lined that side of the track. I tried to move the steering to the right, pressed with my left foot, pulled on the right rope, but nothing happened.
     At terrific speed we hit a tree.
     I came to, lying on my back, spread-eagled. I saw the moon shining above. I could only have been out for a second or two for, apart from myself, and Mac beginning to raise himself a couple of yards away, there seemed nobody else around. Then I heard sobs and groans. He and I looked around and found the two girls, both with leg injuries.
     Now people appeared, having raced up from the bottom of the hill. After dressing the cuts on the girls’ shins with handkerchiefs, we put them back on the sledge and the crowd helped us push the thing back to the top of the hill. Then Mac and I pressed on through the streets to one girl’s home. The awful explanations. She lived with her sister. We left her, having taken the address.
     Then our party shoved off to another area of town and the sad duty of explaining to the gas worker and his wife how his daughter’s accident had come about. With remarkable kindness, they laid no blame on me. In fact, Mac and I arranged to visit the next day.’

All the best – FSS

Next week: For Sam, Mac and the toboggan girls very proper 1910s romances blossom – until Sam’s enduring innocence/Boy Scout morality bumps into an embarrassment he can’t face…

* 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.