“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, 30 July 2017

Sam’s detested Captain startles him by offering direct promotion from Lance Corporal to commissioned rank! What should he do? Meanwhile, medical checks carry the threat of imminent posting to the Front…

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 Battle Of Passchendaele (July 31-November 10) began, its importance as an iconic passage of World War 1 accurately reflected by all the current remembrance events and programmes. Clearly, it was controversial from conception to conclusion with British PM Lloyd George and French Chief Of General Staff Foch among its opponents till late in the day and Field Marshall getting the go-ahead from the Cabinet only fours days in advance it seems.
    Prepared by 10 days of artillery bombardment expending 4.25 million shells, the attack by British, Anzac, New Zealand, Canadian and French infantry was initiated via the subsection of the grand plan known as the Battle Of Pilckem (July 31-August 2). The infantry advance, led by a “creeping barrage” south and east of Ypres started early in the morning and gained 2,500-4,000 yards along a 15-mile front, although near Ypres itself the German Army drove the British back – until halted in part by mud, already a torment to all even though the day’s downpour had only started during the afternoon. Hague reported to the Cabinet that British casualties for the three days were low compared to the first day of the Somme at 31,850 – German estimated at about 30,000.
    On the Eastern Front, the Russian decline continued. In what is now western Ukraine, then a region known as Bukovina, German and Austrian forces took Zaleszczycki and Sniatin (July 30; western Ukraine now), crossed the river Zbrucz on a 30-mile front (July 31) – resisting a later Russia counterattack (August 4), and reoccupied Czernowitz (3), and Vama (4).
    Meanwhile, down in German East Africa, the Allies pressed on with their effort to push the established colonial power out of this vast territory, driving them back from the River Lugungu (July 30) and setting out towards victory in the unusually extended Battle Of Rumbo (August 2-10; British/Portuguese deaths 386, German 1,500).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield – and told him he could take a break from the fighting until he turned 19. He took up the offer, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, 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 until such time as they severally became eligible for the trenches again… An interesting year ensued – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week (100 years ago), Sam’s Battalion, on a route march which lasted several weeks, enjoyed the unanticipated luxury of a stint encamped at a “ducal estate” (I think my father got the wrong rank and it was an Earl’s pad, actually, but not sure). Musical evenings, even!
    Now, however, a change of tone as my father has to deal direct with his “unfavourite Captain” and fresh threats emerge to continuation of the formerly underage Tommies’ peaceful sojourn back home:

‘“Report to Company office!” This order, sudden and unexpected, increased the heartbeats and set me thinking about my recent behaviour… But I couldn’t come up with anything calling for reports or punishment.
     My unfavourite Captain** sat at a table in his tent, something between a smirk and a sneer on his unattractive face. Instead of the undeserved rebuke I expected, he rapidly read from a paper before him a statement that the Army required more officers than were coming forward, that promotion to commissioned rank should be offered to men considered suitable***. Whether the Captain intended it or not, cynical amusement at the very idea seemed to show in his face as he spoke.
     Perhaps I fell into an intended trap, but at that moment the thought of having to work with such as he appalled me; I took a snap decision. I refused the offer. And then I refused his suggestion that I take time to consider the matter. I seem to recall feeling some sort of satisfaction from being able to refuse to abandon my hoi polloi status. I see now that such feelings were childish, though gratifying at the time****.
     Next surprise, an announcement that every member of the Battalion would be medically examined the following day and re-graded. This must have shaken many a conviction that this lot were reserved for better things than warfare or, perhaps, that soldiering in the homeland was a necessary guarantee of the nation’s security. Everyone could think of a million reasons why “The Lost Division”***** should not have to board one of those wretched troopships and finish up among all the horrible bang-bangs.
     A cruel streak in those few of us who had already soldiered “over there” put smug grins on our faces when we observed the grim looks of some of the hitherto gallant defenders of the homeland. In fact, we had no justification for harbouring feelings of superiority. To imply that we were not willing to spend the remainder of our military service here, rather than there, would have made liars of us.
     I had no opinion for or against submitting to a medical examination and, thus, no interest in its taking place. I was, however, taken aback by an order to present myself at the medical marquee at 9am to act as clerk to the medical officer. I was scared, but asked no questions; obviously the 1914 lie about “Occupation: clerk” had caught up with me. Funny that — although now aware I had lied about my age******, it appeared they still accepted the occupational tag as correct. A moment’s thought by some administrator would surely have revealed that, at age 16, I could not possibly have been a full-blown clerk.
     But, of course, in the earlier case at Harfleur when Archie Barker had stated that I was a grocer*******, the Quartermaster should have realised how unlikely that was, given I was sent down from the Front because of my youth. Mine not to reason why, better to have a try, and so forth. But I did fear making an ass of myself.’
** The man my father aliased as “Captain Tarquin”, first encountered in Harrogate: “A weird type, reputedly the son of a wealthy family, he had expensive uniforms, yet he brought with him an aura of poverty – mental poverty, probably…  The Captain had ‘avoiding’ eyes and no valid claims to beauty with his red nose against a background of pale skin and surly mouth whence his harsh voice barked orders none too clearly. An almost childish, short temper completes my picture of one officer, perhaps the only officer, to whom I felt superior. What a gift he had for spreading gloom and despondency where all had been coarse gaiety before his bleary-eyed mug fouled the scene…” (See Blog 140, March 12, 2017) for background.)
*** I haven’t been able to find any information about what my father understood to be a new Army policy on commissioning the non-commissioned. Ring any bells, dear readers?
**** “Childish” perhaps, but my father really did detest the idea of gaining rank. How far it was a matter of principle, how far a quirk of character, readers of the Memoir may decide. But his “previous” included requesting demotion from Lance Corporal to Private on the Somme (refused, and temporary promotion to Sergeant in the field ensued), and tearing off a Corporal’s stripe during his December, 1916, transition from the Kensingtons to the Essex Regiment – amid admin confusion this stuck, and he remained a Lance Corporal Signaller thereafter.
***** As per last week’s reference… See Blog 131, January 8, 2017, for Sam’s strange account of the alleged/rumoured/maligned “Lost Division” – whose entry into the battlefield seemed to be forever deferred – to which his Essex Regiment Battalion, or at least stray, under-age members like himself, had been attached in Harrogate.
****** When he enlisted in September, 1914, he falsified his birth date by three years to make himself 19.
******* See Blogs 117, October 2, 2016, and 118, October 9, for that story.

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam does his clerkly duty at the Battalion medicals, recording near-Catch 22 verdicts of A1 – fit, so ready for return to the frontline slaughter – or C3 – unfit, so likely to survive safe at home. During the day, he learns a dodgy use for cordite… and eventually gets a good/bad diagnosis of his own condition.

* 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, 23 July 2017

Sam’s Battalion’s route-march wanderings conclude at a stately home where their naive trainers prepare them for their return to the Front with drill, polishing buttons “and similar harmless pastimes”…

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… In the days before Passchendaele began, heavy artillery battles raged in Flanders (July 24 and 29), and the French had a successful time regaining lost ground north of the Aisne (24) and then repelling German counterattacks (25-7) and a further attack at Mont Haut, Champagne (26-7). In one of the war’s many necessary organisational steps to recognise new weaponry, the British Army founded the Tank Corps (28).
    But the most decisive action of the week saw the revived Romanian Army, supported by Russian Divisions, follow up an artillery bombardment along a 36-kilometre front at Marasti with an infantry onslaught which steadily drove the previously omnipotent German/Austro-Hungarian invaders back 20 kilometres, the most rapid rate of advance achieved in any 1917 battle (July 22-August 1; Romanian/Russian casualties 4,879, German/Austro-Hungarians 9,600).
    However, on the Eastern Front, the Battle Of Galicia (July 19-29) continued to run briskly against the Russian Army as Austrian and German forces retook Stanislau and Tarnopol (24; now in Ukraine), advanced in the Carpathians (25), crossed the Rover Sereth to take Kolomea (26), and reached the Russian frontier (28).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Sam Sutcliffe from Edmonton, north London, under-age 2/1st Royal Fusiliers volunteer and Gallipoli veteran (Blogs September 20, 2015, to January 3, 2016), had fought on the Somme Front with his second outfit the Kensingtons (Blogs May 15 to September 25, 2016)… until officialdom spotted his real age – 18 on July 6, 1916, legally too young for the battlefield – and told him he could take a break from the fighting until he was 19. He did so, though with an enduring sense of guilt. By December, 1916, 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 until such time as they severally became eligible for the trenches again… It was an interesting year all right – four months of blizzards, a meningitis scare, special training in various northern locations – but my father didn’t write enough about his eventual 13 months “off” to cover 1917 in weekly chunks (I can hardly blame him; writing his Memoir in the 1970s he wasn’t really thinking about his son and editor’s self-publishing blog requirements come 2017). So, the blog broke away from current narrative and, May 14-July 9, looked back at his childhood and early teens – his formative years – under the title The Making Of FootSoldierSam. Now, though, we’ve returned to my father’s (approx.) 100 years-ago-this-week stories from summer 1917…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father recalled  the start of the Battalion’s (probably) July route march and a terrible thunderstorm that broke over them when they camped outside Tadcaster – his young/old-hand experience ensuring his tentmates remained dry simply because he’d bought a ball of string and cunningly deployed it to raise the edges of the canvas a crucial couple of inches.
    Now he continues the story of their wanderings with an extended stint to a location of almost hotel-like comfort:

‘In fact, after my months of exposure to all sorts of weather, particularly in the Middle East, I quite enjoyed this soldiering in the homeland. I was aware that, during service on two Fronts, spells of over-exertion on poor diets had done me no good. My skinny body and limbs proved that. These months in England must build me up to better physical condition**, so that when the time came, as it would, when I must once more endure the front line, I should be the better able to cope.
     Some days of marching and nights of bivouacking terminated when we passed through the entrance to a huge ducal estate***. There, according to a careful plan, we erected the many Army bell tents which awaited us.
     Each day, supervised by trained officers, we had many jobs to do, all concerned with building a camp complete with efficient arrangements for cooking, feeding, ablutions, drainage and sanitation. Nothing must be wasted, we were told. We even installed filters to recover fat from waste water. It was required for explosives manufacture, along with all large bones – glycerine extracted became an important part of a compound which would cause havoc among our enemies (whereas I had thought of it as a sweet, sticky fluid which relieved sore throats). Whatever the nature of the work to be done, its purpose was explained.
     Eventually, we’d made the large camp as nearly perfect as possible. Then, the study and practice of warlike skills filled many of our waking hours – though our activities bore little resemblance to the training for trench warfare I had done at the base camp near Rouen when we arrived there from Egypt. In France, the officers and NCOs who operated the Battle Training Schools had all served at the Front, so they confined their methods to showing the troops how best to tackle the enemy, their slogan being “Kill! Kill! Kill!” But the so far home-based Division**** with whom I now served set great store by well-polished equipment and boots, correct drilling and marching, and similar harmless pastimes.
     They had, of course, heard that a great war had been raging for three years, but many of them must have hoped that it would not disturb the quiet, orderly existence secured for them by good luck and a little influence. One Company Captain had notices displayed summoning musicians to assemble in a marquee when the day’s work was done, bringing their instruments. Soon after that we had a musical Sunday afternoon, provided by a competent orchestra and several accomplished singers, al fresco, on an improvised stage.
     Our musical fame thus established, soon all ranks were invited to a Sunday afternoon concert held in the Duke’s riding school, a spacious and lofty building. Rows of chairs and forms occupied most of the floor space and faced a small stage. In front of this sat our orchestra, and to one side of them, almost facing us, the party from the Duke’s mansion, headed by the Duchess. I recall the pleasure I felt, sitting there in the front row and able to observe these people from a world apart from mine. The music was nice enough, most of the singing very good, and appreciative applause gave confidence to the hastily formed ensemble and their conductor.
     The elite clapped heartily and beamed their smiles on the performers and on us in the audience as well, not appearing stiff-necked and haughty as some of our cheap magazine stories had led us to believe they might be.
     Inevitably, the sweet elegance of the occasion gave me a pang of regret that my brother was not here to share my enjoyment*****. In such situations, I usually stifled reflections on how I had taken advantage of recurring opportunities to prolong this period of safety. I knew it must end ere long. One day I would be savouring these advantages, pursuing my role – encouraged by my tentmates and other acquaintances – of dry humourist and general “Pisstaker”******, when suddenly my name would be called and that would be the end of this peaceful existence.’
** However, “these months in England” already numbered eight since he left the Somme and an interim cushy number at the great British Army camp in Harfleur, near Le Havre – his physical problems were clearly more deep-seated than could be dealt with by three square (Army) meals a day, as will emerge in a forthcoming episode.
*** You may be able to put me right on this, dear reader – I hope so – but I can’t find any “ducal” estates in Yorkshire. The main stately-home possibilities owned by lesser noble ranks at the time seem to be Harewood House (11 miles west of Tadcaster, their march’s first destination), seat of the Lascelles family and a succession of Earl Harewoods, and Castle Howard (26 miles northeast of Tadcaster), then seat of the Howard Earls and, more recently, impassive star of the Brideshead Revisited movie. My guess is the former, although I can find no positive evidence for it. But the latter is pretty much eliminated by www.yorkpress.co.uk’s noting that, in 1914, ‘When the Lord Lieutenant wanted to requisition Castle Howard for his Divisional HQ, she [the 9th Countess] went through the roof. “I don't want them swarming about the house and park,” Rosalind wrote. “Let them go to the Fevershams or the Middletons or to Hovingham”’– so WW1 was all very well, but definitely not in her backyard.
**** See Blog 131, January 8, 2017, for Sam’s strange account of the alleged/rumoured/maligned “Lost Division” – whose entry into the battlefield seemed to be forever deferred – to which his Essex Regiment Battalion, or at least some stray, under-age members, had been attached in Harrogate.
***** Ted, aged 21, remained somewhere on the Western Front.
****** My father earned this nickname – hence the cap. P – on the Somme with the Kensingtons in the bitter aftermath of his original Gallipoli-bonded 2/1st Royal Fusiliers being disbanded by the Army. As he wrote: “with pleasant fellows in my platoon, on the whole, and a new mood now upon me – occasioned by living among strangers – I could behave in a relaxed manner, laugh without restraint at even the corniest joke, and make a few cheeky comments about people around me (usually taken in good part). The underlying bitterness remained in me, though, and stoked up the fire of reckless humour which ruled out thoughts of a serious nature and ensured that nobody would wish to attempt serious conversation with me – while roughly the opposite of my style in the old Battalion, this resulted in a sort of coarse popularity which pleased me. Consequently, I quickly earned for myself a soubriquet I liked, to wit, The Pisstaker.” (See Blog 98, May 22, 2016, to read this story in context. And I can avouch that, for all his finer qualities, he remained a sarcy so-and-so to the end!)

All the best – FSS

Next week: A Captain Sam detests startles him by offering direct promotion from Lance Corporal to commissioned rank! What should he do? Meanwhile, everybody gets a medical to check their readiness for a return to the Front…

* 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.