“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 November 2017

Gallipoli/Somme veteran Sam, 19, on home leave before his return to the Western Front, reflects on what he’s experienced: “People who lived almost normal lives throughout that war had no real understanding of the existence endured by their men…” But he arrives at a strange conviction about his fate…

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… Continuing actions and campaigns in various regions drew towards their conclusions. On the Western Front, it was the Battle Of Cambrai (November 20-December 7). Begun as a massive British tank attack, it proceeded by more orthodox means with the first wave of success subsiding into the usual back and forth. The British Army pushed forward again in the woods on Bourlon Ridge (November 27) – deploying 30 tanks rather than the 450 committed to their initial onslaught – but the following day they dug in under German artillery fire and then had to resist counterattacks on the Ridge and around Vendhuille and Loeuvres (30-December 1).
    Over on the Eastern Front revolutionary Russia and Germany/Austria-Hungary negotiated the war’s first major Armistice, starting with what seems to have been a semi-official “suspension of hostilities” (December 2). It would take some time to extend along the whole Front, as evidenced by a substantial battle in Moldavia (November 29).
    Having stopped their long retreat resulting from defeat by Austria-Hungary (with German support) at the Battle Of Caporetto in late October, with increasing confidence the Italian Army held the line from the River Piave estuary (just east of Venice) north to Monte Grappa, repulsing an assault in the Brenta Valley (November 26) and generally benfiting from the invaders’ overstretched supply systems.
    While the Balkans situation remained fairly static, the Austrian Army did take a swing at Italian positions near Aviona, Albania, and the British and French advanced against the Bulgarians again in the Doiran region north of Monastir, Macedonia, where they’d fought a major battle in late 1916.
    The Battle Of Jerusalem (November 17-December 30) saw significant developments as Ottoman troops broke out of the city to attack the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (British, Anzac and Indian) at Nebi Samwell, the Zeitun Plateau, Beit Ur el Tahta and El Buri (November 27-December 1). At first, the Ottomans gained ground, but then suffered so many casualties it undermined their defensive efforts later in the month.
    Finally, the decisive moment in the lengthy Allied campaign to take German East Africa – a force of 3,500 Germans and Africans surrendered at Nevale (November 27) and a few days later (December 1) the final active German force under General von Lettow-Vorbeck crossed the Rovuma river border, leaving German East Africa – while “invading” Portuguese Empire territory after a fashion.

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller 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. So they 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, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from some lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations – and prepare him for more (he was 19 on July 6, 1917, while in hospital). And now, 100-years-ago-this-week, it’s nearly time for him to return to the Front…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, Sam began his final home leave before returning to the Western Front after his “year out” through being underage. He enjoyed the glorious mundanity of helping his previously poor family move a little way up in the world, renting a larger, semi-detached house in Edmonton. With a will, he carried furniture, laid lino and diverted his thoughts and imagination from what, as a Gallipoli/Somme veteran, he knew awaited him over in France.
    But now he recalls his pause for reflection as the day of his departure approached. In this short passage he expresses his deepest feelings about war as he’d experienced it, about his own resulting development towards growing up, and how he told his family of an extraordinary, perhaps foolish conviction that had come to him…

I don’t suppose it was the successful job on the linoleum that made me feel, at this point in the war, I had, at last, become an adult, and should attempt some sort of summing-up. The immediate future had to be thought about and discussed.
     In late 1917, everybody knew the Germans were making obvious preparations for one final massive attack** which they hoped would place the French Channel coastline in their hands and compel the Allies to surrender or, eventually, contend with a German invasion of Britain.
     When a few moments could be spared from all the settling-in work, I told the family what sort of future I believed I should soon face. That in the New Year, our men would have to hold back, or delay as much as possible, the masses of Germans who would follow up the concentrated artillery bombardments of our positions; that I should be just one little man among all the mess and muddle, but that, for some reason I could not explain, I felt certain I would survive, even though, for a while, I might not be able to keep in touch with the family…
     Physically and mentally, during those months in England I had benefitted from the long, regular hours of sleep and rest available to me, coupled with regular meals and, most of the time, a good roof over my head***. Those people who lived almost normal lives throughout that war had no real understanding of the existence endured by their men who were the actual front-line fighters. Nor did many of them wish to know about the matter.’

Here I’m breaking off to “signpost” the following parenthesis which, ever since I started work on editing and publishing my father’s writings, I’ve used as a form of “dedication” – in the opening pages of the Memoir itself and the three e-bookette episodes, at the top of every edition of this weekly blog, and at the end of almost every Sam reading I’ve done (for the Western Front Association, the Chelsea Pensioners, and several others):

‘(I feel that 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 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. In today’s largest and most powerful group of nations the peoples comprising it have no liberty of thought in such matters, let alone of action, but there are signs of change which may benefit those who survive the next — probable — world holocaust.)’

He wrote these thoughts in the 1970s. Of course, up to you whether you find them as resonant as I do (hearing my father’s voice as I read). Anyway, without further ado, he concluded the story of his last leave…

‘So, feeling in better nick than I had for many a day, I took a cheerful farewell of my family, again emphasising that even if I appeared to vanish for some time, I would certainly reappear later. I had no notion of what this optimism was based on.’
** Gregory Blaxland’s Amiens, 1918 (1968), published by W. H. Allen, says that at a meeting of the German Chiefs of Staff November 11, 1917, General Erich Ludendorff decided to prepare the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle) – dubbed “The Spring Offensive” by the Allies. A few years later he emerged as a fervent anti-semitic supporter of Hitler… although he was also anti-Christian and anti-capitalist… while believing that if Germany lost the war the people would become “slaves of international capital” By the ‘30s he had turned against Hitler.
*** In fact, my father had spent two months or more of his “year out” in Sheffield hospitals beating off severe illnesses – first as a carrier of, though as it turned out not a sufferer from cerebro-spinal meningitis, then through catching a severe dose of German measles, and finally, during the summer of 1917, tackling chronic gastro-enteritis which his doctor diagnosed as clearly an effect of the terrible dietary and sanitary conditions he’d endured in the trenches of Gallipoli (1915-16) and the Somme (1916).

All the best – FSS

Next week: Sam sails for Calais and, encamped there for a short while, is blessed with his own “phoney war”: good times with troops from the Pacific Islands and aerobatic entertainment from the Belgian air force. So he wanders into stray notions about “what if they decided i was too old to fight now, at 19?” and, more seriously, what might have become of his older brother Ted, still at the Front, whom he’d hardly seen since their original Battalion was broken up at Rouen in April, 1916…

* 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 November 2017

December, 1917, Sam’s 19 now and it’s his last home leave before returning to the Western Front… His final preparation? Laying lino!

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

A hundred years ago this week… The Battle Of Cambrai began (November 20-December 7) with a British onslaught by 450 tanks. On the first day this worked very well as they took the villages of Ribécourt and Marcoing and, 24 hours on, occupied Fontaine Notre Dame, 2.5 miles from Cambrai. But on the second day half the tanks were hors de combat with damage or “mechanicals” and the German Army held on to key British objectives Flesquières and Bourlan Wood (scene of to-and-from fighting November 23-5), then recaptured Fontaine Notre  Dame (22).
    The Eastern Front took an eccentric turn as Bolshevik leader Lenin dismissed Army commander-in-chief General Dukhonin (November 21) because he refused to negotiate an armistice, then (apparently!?) told the troops at the front to sort it out with the Germans themselves (22). As a result, it seems “fraternisation with the enemy” became normal on the Eastern Front, at least for the time being. Lenin also set about disbandment of the Army…
    In Italy, the long retreat under fierce attack from Austrian and German troops proved to have reached a firm conclusion with the Italian Army under their new commander Diaz holding still relentless attacks along the River Piave (estuary just east of Venice) and further north at the First Battle Of Monet Grappa (November 13-25, evolved from the 12th Battle Of The Isonzo; casualties Austro-Hungarian/German 21,000, Italian 12,000).
    Over In Palestine, the Battle Of Jerusalem (November 17-December 30) went through a phase known as the Battle Of Nebi Samwill (November 17-24). The British section of the Allies’ Egyptian Expeditionary Force tried to break into Jerusalem via an attack from the north, but stalled 5 miles out after taking Nebi Samwill village – Ottoman Army resistance proved too strong and the British infantry lacked support.
    Finally, a new development in southern Africa – while the Allied effort to drive Germany out of their East African colony (now Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) proceeded a cross that vast territory, the German Army found a new way to sustain their resistance. They attacked Portuguese East Africa, initially winning the Battle Of Ngomo (November 25) and achieving their real objective – not conquest but capturing supplies (250,000 rounds, hundreds of rifles; a lot more to come from further incursions).

[Memoir background: my father, Lance Corporal Signaller 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. So they 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, and then a few summer weeks stomping around Yorkshire on a route march… which in due course led him to hospital again, to recover from some lurking effects of trench warfare’s privations – and prepare him for more (he was 19 on July 6, 1917, while in hospital). And now, 100-years-ago-this-week, it’s nearly time for him to return to the Front…]

FOOTSOLDIERSAM SPEAKS
Last week, my father described how the Army prepared him for a return to the Western Front after his year out – a thorough refresher course in his specialism as a Signaller conducted at the large and near-luxurious Army camp outside Crowborough, Sussex. Among the evening entertainments, local resident Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes’s creator and a WW1 historian, delivered a lecture on the Somme – which Sam regarded with a veteran’s ambivalence (not realising the depth of the writer’s engagement, his son having suffered fatal wounds there).
    Now Sam enjoys his final home leave before travelling to France. He spends much of it helping the family move into a much better rented house than the rather grim terrace where they’d lived for most of the years since 1902 when the “ruin” of his father’s family business drove them from Manchester to London and from prosperity to poverty.
    My father refrains from doing the arithmetic here, but the family’s improved circumstances during the war arose from two things, a) his father’s steady promotion in the export company where he’d found a job that lasted (see Blog 174, November 5, 2017, when Sam visited his workplace), and b) Sam and his brother Ted had, since 1915, taken up the Government’s offer that if a serviceman agreed to have a percentage of his pay sent directly to his family then they would also receive a substantial supplement from the state – i.e. for the Sutcliffes, extra income for the duration and two less mouths to feed.
    Anyway, he leaves them something to remember him by:

At home on leave for some days, I found myself busy from morning to night helping the family move from our three-bedroom terrace house into a three-floored, semi-detached**. As I carried furniture and other items back and forth I got my first look at our new home, starting with several treks upstairs: on the first floor a large and a small bedroom, a really big front room which Ma intended to let furnished as a bed-sitting room, and a bathroom at the top of the first flight of stairs with a WC; above that front room another, equally large, and another room off with an adjoining large cupboard or closet quite as big as many single bedrooms.
    At ground level we had a front dining room and back breakfast room, the latter with French windows through which we saw a paved yard and a long, wide garden. A passage from the hall led alongside the staircase to the kitchen with its roomy cooking range and a garden. Most of the windows, including the French windows, had strong, wooden, folding shutters which, when closed and secured by their iron-bar fastenings, looked quite burglar-proof. It all suggested that, even in those “good old days”, folks had need of night-time protection against intruders.
    Beyond the kitchen was what we called – perhaps because of our North-Country origins – a scullery, furnished with a gas cooker, a large sink, a coal-fired boiler (a “copper” to us) and, high above, a big water-storage tank. Another door led to a second WC and a further door opened into a large coal shed. Under cover of a glazed roof, a long passageway led to a tile-covered garage whose big, wooden doors opened on to a drive and a modest front garden protected from the busy main road by a privet hedge and iron-barred gates.
    The back garden could be approached from the French windows, the scullery or from the coal shed. A well-stocked border flowerbed with a greengage tree, a large apricot tree, and several apple trees, stretched its entire length. While one would step out of the house on to a small lawn, bordered on the far side by an old wall, the grass soon gave way to an area containing more well-spaced fruit trees, mainly varieties of apple, under which grew gooseberry and currant bushes – then, further down, large flower and vegetable beds, and another grassy patch towered over by two immense trees, one a winter pear, the other a rarity indeed, a mulberry (its trunk must have been 30 inches in diameter). A railing of tall iron spikes across the far end must have deterred many a local lad from scrumping.
    I give all this detailed information so that you can appreciate the impressive difference from the small terrace house we had left — and the extent of Ma’s self-confidence in believing she could add to her husband’s income sufficient money to cover higher rent plus the rates and some costs of upkeep.
    Mine not to wonder why or how, for I was only briefly home before going overseas again. I helped where I could, and considered my top contribution laying linoleum – bright blue diamonds on a white background – in the hall and along the passage. It did sterling service for many years after the war finished.’
** They moved to 317, Fore Street, Edmonton, from 26 Lowdon Road.

All the best – FSS

Next week: Gallipoli and Somme veteran Sam weighs it all up before his return to the Front. “People who lived almost normal lives throughout that war had no real understanding of the existence endured by their men who were the actual front-line fighters.” But he arrives at a strange and unfamiliar conviction that he will survive…

* 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.