“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, 26 February 2017

Sam and his nurse find themselves in the grip of powerful forces – he strives to remember the instructions of his old vicar/mentor regarding gentlemanliness, chivalry… and the pudding club!

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All proceeds to the British Red Cross

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Dear all

A hundred years ago this week… The action hardly ceased in all theatres – deaths and woundings at the heart of every movement – and yet nothing of overwhelming significance occurred. Strange, if not uncommon, disjunction between the perspectives of individual life and historic event…
    While America edged a little closer to entering the war (President Wilson’s move to arm merchant ships held back by the Senate, though), on the Western Front the British and French advanced on the Ancre (February 26-March 4 taking various villages in the region of Bapaume, including Gommecourt where my father had fought on July 1, 1916) and on the Somme (March 4, near Bouchavesnes), and the Aisne and the Oise (March 4, near Mouvron).
    But offsetting this seeming triumphant progress was the growing awareness that the German Army had begun working to a more or less orchestrated plan (February 23-April 5) to retreat to the Hindenburg Line of defences constructed since the previous autumn, and hold their ground thereafter, having left a tract of scorched earth behind them.
    On the Eastern Front, the faltering Russian Army responded to German advances near Riga, Latvia, and the Narajowka river, now Ukraine (both March 2) with gas attacks north of Lake Naroch (3), and Krevo (4), both now in Belarussia. Further south, in Romania the Russians lost positions near Jakobeny to Germany (February 27). But another wing of the desperately scattered Russian forces recaptured Hamadan in eastern Persia (March 2).
    Italy too proved its enduring resilience, by holding off a renewed Austrian attack on the Asiago Plateau (February 28) and leading the Allies’ defence of hard-won Monastir, Serbia (March 3).

Meanwhile, my father, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (FootSoldierSam’s Blogs dated September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016) Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs dated May 15 to September 25, 2016)… Until officialdom told him they had noticed his age – 18 on July 6, legally too young for the battlefield – and that he could take a break from the fighting until his 19th birthday. So he did, though not without a sense of guilt. Via Harfleur and London, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated 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. However, for some, including Sam, all military activity is halted by a substantial spell in a hospital isolation unit because of a meningitis outbreak. There, his health goes from bad to worse…

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father’s physical decline continued – according to his veteran doctor, caused more by the hardships of war than the meningitis bacteria and German measles viruses he was wrestling with. He triggered a crisis himself by deliriously wandering out into the Harrogate snow for a walk “because I was so hot”. Result: a swollen groin, boils, sores.
    But, while irrationally hiding what he’d done from the medics, he did some self-healing with some ointment which had cured his prickly heat in Egypt(!) plus the good food, hot baths and increasingly fond care provided by his regular night nurse. This week, their relationship reaches a predictable – and then rather surprising – crescendo:

‘She liked to sit by my bed early in her shift and talk or listen – more of the latter than the former, I now suspect, since most young men think they know it all. Then when duty demanded that she move on, she would bestow a hearty “goodnight” kiss on me and depart till around 4am when, in those post-Florence Nightingale days, the round of washings and bed-makings had to begin – and, no doubt as part of her therapy, a well-delivered kiss would rouse me and have me heading for my bath while she attended to sheets and pillows.
     While the thought of going beyond these little embraces never reached anything pertaining to what is today called sex, this little nurse, Flo, certainly became a very effective part of the super treatment I received; lithe, petite, and with almost tiny, rabbit teeth showing below her shapely upper lip. From the first, she was, in my book, just the type my dear old mentor Frusher** would have me protect from her own generous weaknesses. I recalled anew his instruction that a gentleman would not permit a lady to do anything she would be reluctant to talk about with her mother.
     His influence had to control and hold me back one morning in particular. Before any apparent activity began in the corridors outside my room, Nurse Flo came in, kissed me even more warmly than usual and stood looking down at me as I lay there. So I sat up in bed, put my feet down on the floor, and looked at her, trying to read her thoughts, fears, intentions. Her face paled, she stepped back from the bed and threw open the doors of the large cupboard behind her. She stood there concealed, she must have hoped, from observation, pale-faced and trembling. “No, no, don’t,” she said, as I stepped towards her. And I had no intention of taking advantage of her reaction to natural forces. Certainly, I had the feeling of a needle irresistibly drawn to her magnet. I believe I got the correct message, I believe I thought quickly around the situation, perhaps guessed what was happening to her; I returned her kiss, grabbed my bath towel and went for my morning splash.
     The moment passed, I had my bath, and we were good friends. So much so that she gave me her address near Sheffield, with the hope that we might meet there sometime. With hindsight I can see that she must have thought me a dull dog, but the very fact that I was so safe in sometimes extremely intimate circumstances may have offered some compensating features for her – although, now, I suspect that repeated consummation blots out all fears during the early stages of an affair, until the pudding-club indications appear, and then you have two really scared people.’
** The Vicar/choirmaster/scoutmaster/music teacher Mr Frusher was a key formative influence on my father – as this week’s excerpt suggests, perhaps the strongest reason for his remaining a virgin throughout the war (albeit not for long afterwards, I gather; he did have some oats to sow). Here’s Sam’s pen-portrait of his mentor (from the early part of the Memoir where he wrote in the third person and called himself “Tommy”): ‘of medium height, well-built, wearing a beard, pointed, and the then fashionable pince-nez. Most days he wore a frock coat with a silk hat and striped trousers. Tommy used to love looking at the boots he wore; without toecaps, of fine soft leather, kept in good condition by his housekeeper. He was one of those cold-bath-in-the-morning men. He would sometimes describe with relish how he had broken the ice.’ Apart from music, religion and outdoor activities, Mr Frusher also decided to fill the vacuum left by a total lack of sex education in school – even anatomical diagrams left a blank where the sex organs ought to have been. Naturally, his teaching of a teenaged boys church group came predicated with his own variant on the period’s and the CofE’s morality: ‘“Frankness in these matters kills morbid curiosity,” he would say… In a sensible way, he described the feelings contact between the sexes could arouse, the actions and the results that would follow: the girls in trouble, the unwanted babies; the worry, regret, fear; the difficulties which beset a young man who has fathered a bastard. He drew this picture so impressively the lads were never likely to forget. In fact, he constantly impressed upon them that sexual intercourse before marriage was wrong, a crime, it must never even be considered, let alone indulged in… he wished the lads to grow up as what he called “gentlemen”. The girl being so constituted that marriage and child-bearing were the most important things in her life, she would generally submit to a man’s desires – after a certain amount of caressing had taken place – in spite of any advice she may have received. Mr Frusher’s conclusion: the man – stronger, physically and mentally – had a bounden duty to accept responsibility and ensure that nothing occurred, when the girl was in his care, which he could not freely reveal to her parents. The final word had a memorable simplicity to it: chivalry.’

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam, still in the isolation unit, resists the Siren calls of an “old” Army nurse, continues his friendship with Flo and has a farewell talk with the sagacious doctor who’d diagnosed him as, basically, sick from the war and decided to build him up with some decent food and care.

* 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, 19 February 2017

Sam in hospital goes delirious and takes a walk in the snow – until his nuts swell up! One health horror leads to another… but also to the kind attentions of the night nurse…

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… Germany’s recent declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare moved America an important step closer to joining the Allies when a U-boat torpedoed Cunard passenger liner SS Laconia seven miles west of Fastnet (February 25; off Cornwall) – because two of the 12 fatalities, a woman and her daughter, were American so President Wilson, not to mention US public opinion, could deem it an “overt act” of hostility.
    Less bruited, though indicative of the submarine onslaught’s scale, were the sinkings of four Dutch ships sailing out of Falmouth (February 22; Cornwall) and the French liner SS Athos 150 miles southeast of Malta (February 17) – although the latter resulted in 754 killed out of 1,950 on board, many of them were Chinese labourers and Senegalese troops, which may explain any lower-key international reaction.
    On the Western Front, while the usual to and fro continued – for instance, on February 19 a British attack east of Ypres and a German flamethrower raid south of Le Transloy – a major strategic shift by the German Army became apparent. From February 23 to April 5, 1917, they conducted a planned retreat to the Hindenburg Line, under construction since September, 1916, and now ready to form the substantial defence system – their front line both strengthened and shortened – they needed after the huge strains imposed by Verdun, Somme and, on the Eastern Front, the Russians’ Brusilov Offensive, exacerbated by the Romanian campaign.
    This became conspicuous to the British when, advancing cautiously, they found the villages of Miraumont, Serre, Pys and Warlencourt evacuated. The German Army’s widespread use of a “scorched-earth” policy while retreating – not just smashing bridges and roads, but burning houses and  removing the French civilian population – is said to have added to neutral countries’ inclinations to support the Allies.
    In the week’s only other major development, the British/Indian Army in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) won the Second Battle Of Kut (February 23) to recapture the city on the Tigris they’d lost after a siege from December, 1915, to April, 1916. The Ottoman forces avoided such encirclement and beat an orderly retreat westward, pursued for 60 miles by British boats. But the British intention remained to push on to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, my father, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (FootSoldierSam’s Blogs dated September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016) Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons from mid-May to September (Blogs dated May 15 to September 25, 2016)… Until officialdom told him they had noticed his age – 18 on July 6, legally too young for the battlefield – and that he could take a break from the fighting until his 19th birthday. So he did, though not without a sense of guilt. Via Harfleur and London, he ended up posted to Harrogate, Yorkshire, and re-allocated 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, caught up in a meningitis outbreak which threatened his group of under-age comrades, my father found himself in two different isolation wards – the first because tests showed he carried the meningitis bacteria in his throat, the second because he did fall ill… but with German measles.
    Then the veteran doctor who had oversight of him in this second, large hospital, on hearing that he’d fought for months at both Gallipoli and the Somme offered a convincing diagnosis of his underlying health problem – that the war itself, the terrible physical conditions and relentless nervous strain of the front line, had made him ill. So feeding him up became part of the therapeutic regime… in part, of course, to get him ready for the battlefield again by the time his 19th birthday rendered him legally eligible for fighting abroad.
    But for now, a hundred years ago this week, his much abused body and mind had yet more problems to throw at him:

‘My temperature went up and down and, at one point, I certainly became delirious. I do recall waking quite early one morning with the idea fixed in my head that I must go for a walk because I was so hot. Apparently, I found just my uniform tunic and trousers in my locker, put them on, opened the French windows – which gave on to the hospital grounds – and walked out. It had snowed fairly heavily**. It seems I wandered for some time. Finally, I remember being pulled up by awful pains in my groin. I turned round and went back to bed. The cold had brought me back to sanity.
     Swellings came up in each groin quite painfully. I told nobody what I’d done. Instead, being young and tough, every morning I took hot baths and managed to put up with the painful results of my silly escapade.
     Shortly after that, I was moved to a single room, lucky bloke. I had all the care and attention of one very kind nurse. Dinner came from the hospital’s catering department, but the nurse prepared my lighter meals with eggs – poached, scrambled and so on – in a smaller kitchen near the ward. Regarding food, the head doctor’s instructions were most carefully followed and it was all excellent.
     I guess a blood chill*** followed that ridiculous excursion into the snow-covered grounds. My arms and legs erupted into spots, boils and sores. Feeling that I’d broken faith with the dear old doctor and could have caused trouble for my little nurse, I decided to treat this new, self-inflicted scourge myself. I told nobody about it, except a ward maid. A nice, quiet girl, she cleaned my room once each day. I explained to her exactly what had happened and, remembering the French chemist in Cairo who mixed up a sulphur ointment which cured prickly heat rash on my hands and belly, I gave her some money and asked her to get some of this stuff from her chemist. This she did.
     I further prescribed for myself a second hot bath daily — during the hour or two I’d be left to my own devices I could slip undetected in and out of a bathroom adjoining the ward. This I followed with a liberal application of the ointment.
     Soon the spots had nearly gone and when, one morning, the night nurse caught me actually in the bath, I was able to plead I had been feeling so sticky and hot that I had taken the liberty of cooling off. Thereafter, she prepared a bath for me every morning, an hour before she was due to go off duty. She had other patients to see, but she spent as much time with me as she could without, as she said, risking a complaint from the women in the ward next door.’
** 1916-17 was one of the coldest winters ever in the UK - as on the Western Front, of course – with much of the country snowbound through to late April, the drifts regularly replenished by blizzards throughout.
*** Obviously a phrase of the day/old wives’ diagnosis, but I can’t find any reference to it or what it was taken to mean. Perhaps some kind of blood poisoning, given the outcome? Clues welcome…

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam and his nurse find themselves in the grip of irresistible(?) forces – and he strives to focus his mind on the instructions of his old vicar/Scoutmaster regarding gentlemanliness (and the pudding club)…

* 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.