Geoffrey Alfred Sutton
Known in the family as Monk, he was not related to Tubbs in his lifetime, but his sister Irene later married Cecil Burnell Tubbs.
Having recovered from wounds serving with the Artists Rifles Monk sought permission to apply for a commission in other regiments
The Monk's War - 1916
The Monk's War - 1916 The story so far. Monk (Geoffrey Alfred Sutton) had been a territorial before the war in the Artists Rifles after being in the OTC at Haileybury. That stands for Officers Training Corps. Monk as a Rugby playing, rowing giant from Haileybury, one of the most military minded of all public schools should have been a natural for selection as an officer during the Great War. The problem was he had a stammer and couldn’t get a commission. He went to the front with the Artists in 1915 and was wounded There are two important themes in the Monk story for 1916. Drink and getting to be an officer. A third is the leitmotiv of Monk’s indigence. He was constantly short of money and it got worse as events developed. A few soldiers have left more detailed accounts than we have for Monk, but this is fairly vivid, I believe. It is well known that other ranks often received a tot of rum before they went over the top but for an officer alcohol was often readily available and for a staff officer available in torrents.
The first affects the whole family. Monk’s father the Reverend Edwin Sutton trained and was ordained at Durham. After a curacy in the Durham area he became the rector of Eaton Bray in Bedfordshire, the advowson of which belongs to Trinity College Cambridge, probably the wealthiest of all the wealthy Oxbridge colleges. The Reverend Sutton is still remembered in the village for bringing order to the parish and bringing worship at the well-known parish church up to standard. His most enduring monument is the Coffee House which stands as a testament to the power of the teetotal lobby of the age. Millions of people signed the pledge in their youth; some even kept it up. It was never a platform that would hold Monk’s weight. The Coffee House is now only used as parish offices.
On the wider scale, the so-called Liberal anti-drink Government had been busy passing laws that enabled licences to be removed from small and ill-found pubs. For a generation a new licence would only be granted on the surrender of one or more existing ones. For that reasons brewers who sympathized with the progressive pub movement promoted by some of the major brewers particularly Courage, and Mitchells & Butler, but were unwilling to surrender a licence would build a new pub behind the old and then demolish the latter. Local examples are the Norman Arms and Garden City in Derby. Sometimes the new would be built on a new site to exploit the demand for new roadside houses. A spectacular example of this is the Wheatsheaf at Burton Joyce built on the new bypass. The old pub was on the old main road next to the Cross Keys. Despite that pub belonging to a different brewer the Cross Keys acquired the old Wheatsheaf site to use as a car park, thereby also improving its prospects in the age of the motor car. There is one pub left. Monk’s sister Aunt Dorothy photographed it for us, The White Horse – I imagine she would have thought it very brave of herself to take an interest in such a wicked establishment. The Bedford Arms closed in 1961; others much more recently.
Edwin Sutton decided that his ministry in Eaton Bray had come to its natural end and he took the living of Grundisburgh in Suffolk. The reasons behind this are entirely unclear. What is much more evident is that this was against the wishes of the rest of the family. In August Annie Hill Sutton wrote to her son stating that she dreads going (.. to Grundisburgh) but … “Dad is inexorable and we must go”. There is a suggestion that he was unhappy with attempted interference in his running of the parish. I haven’t yet been able to find out how the coffee house was funded, which may have been a cause of friction. There is a suggestion it was not very well designed, possibly lacking the lavatories which even coffee drinkers might be expected to avail themselves of. The second theme is Monk’s campaign to get a commission. At the end of 1915 he was back in Blighty having been wounded. His time was divided between the Artists’ Rifles headquarters at Dukes Road and their camp at Romford. Although Monk had served in France with the Artists their main role in both major wars was as an Officer training outfit. It later became part of the SAS.
Monk’s older brother Will, a regular soldier, tried to influence a commission for him in the London Rifle Brigade, but nothing came of that. He got accepted by the Warwickshire Regiment (see below) but the decision was reversed at the last minute. Monk wrote to his mother (AHS – Annie Hill Sutton) on 8th February 1916 “I dare say Dad told you I was home last week-end to get my commission papers signed. When I got back I heard from the Warwicks that my commission had been stopped by the General on account of stammering, so I shall give up star-hunting and stick on as a swattie, but not in this mob though.”
On 26th February he wrote with a touch of sour grapes “ I (am) getting very bored with this place and all leave is stopped. I never have any money except on pay day when I get the noble sum of seven bob. I heard the 2/8 Warwicks have gone down to camp on Salisbury Plain so I’m not frightfully sorry I’m not with them.” The boredom came from working at Hare Hall Camp, Romford on administrative tasks. On January 5th he had written “I’m doing sort of odd job in the Orderly Room which means a good deal of running about – mostly down to the bank at Romford”. On the 8th “There has been a lot of work to do on the pay sheets….anyway it is better than parading”. At about that time he received permission from his CO to send a letter he had already written to the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
On the 29th February he wrote that he was in the isolation hospital at the camp with German Measles. In the meanwhile, knowing that the stammer was the impediment that would prevent him from getting a commission he also got permission to have therapy in London. On 21st March he wrote “BGH (i.e. The Brook Green Hotel – Hammersmith, aforementioned). I saw Mrs B yesterday and she appeared to think she could cure me all right in time. I spoke to Captain Padfield and he has arranged for me to be attached to the depot in London and to be free of all military duties to attend Mrs B’s classes. His only military duty would be to collect his pay every Saturday. “I have fixed up to stay at £1/1/- a week which is exactly my army pay, so I’m afraid I shall be asking for a bit of assistance, now and then. I have greatly enhanced my reputation as an old soldier in the regiment by this last effort; just after coming back from sick leave too.” I take this to mean his ability to swing such a favourable decision.
On the 27th March Monk won again in an eight-oared race, an almost unimaginable privilege for a serving private soldier in wartime. You may recall that Brook Green is just a few minutes’ walk from the Kensington Rowing Club boathouse.
By 4th April his application seems to be progressing. A Brigadier General (name unreadable) writes to 1209 Pte G A Sutton, Artists’ Rifles. “Dear Sutton, Please see my letter to Col. Lydwell. Directly I hear from him I will let you know.” A little later in April he writes “I have got to go back to the Artists shortly after Easter and go through the Cadet School there for six weeks, after that I ought to get a commission if the stammer keeps all right”. I assume that his officer training with the Artists is because of their role in training, rather than his existing membership. In the same letter he notes “I am very sorry to hear that Eric has gone west and it is rotten for cousin Leonard”. Eric was one of four out of five of Leonard Sutton’s sons to be killed during the war, as previously noted here.
1st May is his last day of that spell at BGH. He is due to go back to Romford, this time at Gidea Hall, to begin his officer training the following day. Within a few days he writes “It is a permanent commission. It only means taking up the army as a sideshow (i.e. as a territorial officer after the war). Before the war officers in the special reserve did six months training with one of their regular battalions and after that just came up for a short annual training. On mobilisation they were called up and used as drafts to their regular battalions… Of course they are trying to do in 6 w(ee)ks what used to take two or 3 years. Anyway there aren’t any whizzbangs or ticklers etc. here and there is plenty of food”.
By 1st June he can report “They are making us wear officers uniform now – without rank badges of course”. An Officer was expected to purchase his own kit, but received an allowance from the War Office. There is an invoice of 26th June from Hobsons to Cadet G. A. Sutton for Officers Whipcord Jacket, Breeches, Cap & Badge, Putties, shirt collar and tie, totalling £5-11-10 less £3 cash paid on account. Hobsons of Tooley Street (on the South Bank, now the home of the London Dungeon) is a firm well known to some of my readers as they were Customers of A Sindall & Co for many years. 19th July 1916 Hobsons consign more items to Lieut G A Sutton, 3rd Royal Irish Fusiliers, Eaton Bray. Items include map case, haversack, puttees, blanket, jackets, slacks and own cap adding badge. Monk appears to have made the transition from cadet to commissioned officer.
To enable these ingoings and outgoings an officer required a bank account. 14th August 1916. We see a letter from Cox & Co to GAS at Eaton Bray informing him that his account has been set up and that it has been credited with pay from 7th June to 6 July £11-5-0 and from 21st July to 31st August £15-15-00 plus £42 outfit allowance, a total of £69. There are notes on this showing that cheques have been drawn to a total of £14-4-9 plus £27 to his mother, presumably in repayment of loans. There is a separate undated note indicating that the £27 was made up of cheques for £10 on July 12th and 18th, £4 in cash on July 20th and £3 on July 14th. But there seems to have been a further payment of £27 later – which is equivalent to over £2000 of today’s money. Cox & Co were originally agents transacting all kinds of business between Government and various regiments including payments to officers. By the outbreak of the war they had a regular banking division serving the needs of the War Office, which exists to this day as Cox & Kings division of Lloyds Bank. “Its staff numbers rocketed from 180 in 1914, to 4,500 in 1918. With a third of the original work force having joined up, the firm had to recruit women for the first time. The Charing Cross office was open all day every day during the War, cashing cheques around the clock for officers returning from the Front. The branch had around 250,000 men on its books. At the height of the conflict 50,000 cheques a day were cleared”, according to their website. The Post Office in nearby Trafalgar Square still opens 24 hours to this day. One partly used cheque book survives. For the one short time in his life Monk was relatively solvent. By August 10th he is at Luddon Camp, Buncrana, County Donegal and the money is already flowing back from his mother. By November there was a letter from R & A McVicker Tailors of Londonderry to GAS requesting settlement of account for £5-15-6. Apparently Ludden Camp has completely disappeared and probably never did comprise any substantial buildings. It must not be forgotten that during this period of Monk’s transition the Easter Rising took place, chiefly in Dublin. The British Army was not just recruiting and training for service overseas but had a greatly enhanced and dangerous role garrisoning the whole of Ireland. Monk’s own service seems to have been devoted only to preparation for France.
On 23rd August AHS wrote to Monk from Eaton Bray, indicating that it would have been her father’s 94th birthday but that he had died aged 63 on 28th August 1885. “Isn’t the war news splendid, surely it must end soon”. Just as the very modest achievements of the Somme Campaign were being realized and with two full years left before the end of the war she had been led into an optimism that was entirely unjustified. On 26th Monk writes to AHS from Luddon, enclosing a cheque for £27 “for those loans” and adds “I am going off in about a week for a bombing course in Dublin”… “They tell me that if I get a first in this bombing course I shall be in imminent peril of going straight out to France. They keep sending out officers in driblets about once a week.” The grim reality behind that statement is only too obvious. Some time between then and 8th September Monk attended the bombing course at Grenade School, Elm Park, Melors(?) Road, Dublin (more probably this is Elm Park House, Merrion Road/Nutley Lane, Dublin). There is a surviving notebook with a few notes about the course. Monk is still acquiring kit and there is some correspondence about a new compass that may have been delayed or lost in the post. Essential items of kit such as revolvers, compasses and binoculars were still acquired on the open market as well as uniform.
By 3rd October Monk is in the Field with an address of 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers, BEF, so presumably he had been transferred from the 3rd to the 7th battalion. Unofficially his parents seem to have known more or less where he was. “ I am very glad you are in a quiet place,. Did you know Will had moved on and was quite near to you, about (unreadable) miles off, I believe”. If by “moved on” AHS means that he was no longer with the 1st Somersets, this does not help me to precisely place Monk. If he had still been with the first Somersets then he would have been recently engaged at Saillisel. The 7th and 8th battalions of RIF merged on 15th October that year to form the 7/8 Battalion. Both were part of K2, the second wave of Kitchener’s New Army. Both were in 49th Brigade in 16th (Irish) Division. The 16th Division was engaged in the September battle of Ginchy which is only about 7 kilometers from Saillisel, both being stages in the Somme campaign. The 16th was next to the French 4th Army. Nor does this entirely square with Monk’s statement that he was in a quiet area. However according to Will’s CV, he was appointed Brigade Major 143 Infantry Brigade, subsequently holding 2nd Grade Administrative Staff appointments (GSO 2) until at the end of the War he was A.A. and Q.M.G. 59 London Division.. Now the 143 Infantry Brigade was entirely composed of Warwickshire battalions and formed part of 48th South Midland division which was certainly serving on the Somme, but accessible sources are not clear about precisely where; this presumably explains why Monk applied for a commission in the Warwicks. In 1917 the 48th Division moved to the Italian Front. There is a card dated 11th which appears never to have been completed or posted which set out to request the soldiers’ perennial requisite:- Socks. CBT tells a story that in 1915 he requested some socks from his Uncle Stanley and Stanley sent socks for all the men in the platoon. Perhaps his association with Wolsey predated its taking over Tubbs Lewis by over 40 years. Another card of the same date with a similar request did get sent.
By the 17th he seems to be settling in. The family at home were also settling into the rectory at Grundisburgh. “It is just the same old game as it used to be only things are done infinitely better now in the way of comfort and amusement for the troops when ‘resting’. For instance I saw Charlie Chaplin the other night for the first time and at one place round here there is an officers’ club. Also the trenches are well made and looked after and better still we can return shelling or strafing of any kind with interest and at a pretty high rate too., which is a new experience for me altogether. Yes we all wear tin hats. Their chief use is saving your head from bumps when crawling in and out of shelters etc.” Wherever precisely he was, he thought he would be there for a while. “I got the things all right. We are still in the same place and I think are likely to be here for the winter. Things are comparatively quiet here. I fancy the Hun likes the Irish as little as we do the Bavarians”.
Around the 15th November Monk’s world fell completely apart. A precise statement of what happened does not survive in his correspondence but family lore has it that he struck a fellow officer. I believe officer courts martial records do survive in more detail than most – it would unquestionably be valuable to research this. He immediately relinquished his commission and returned to England, resuming residence at the Brook Green Hotel. An indication of his state of mind may lie in his leaving his kit bag aboard the leave boat. “Sir, On Friday 17th inst. an officer’s brown valise marked G.A.Sutton – 3rd Royal Irish Fusiliers was left on the leave boat at Folkestone Harbour. Would you mind seeing that it is forwarded to Victoria Station (SER). He received a reply the following day from Lt Col Ayto?? Assistant Embarkation Commandant that the valise has been dispatched to Cannon Street. This compares very favourably with my experience of leaving a rucksack on York Station, and much more favourably with what would have happened to any such bag marked with an Irish connection in the latter years before Al Quaeda took over as Public Enemy No 1. The people who look after luggage do not speak English, are definitely not Lieutenant colonels, and it seems unlikely they ever return any luggage to its former owner. Also, unquestionably, drink was involved, as his father soon became aware and disapproved mightily. AHS offered to come up to London adding “It is all a very great blow to us, simply awful – almost unbearable. I feel most strongly that you ought to make up your mind to abstain entirely from intoxicants, I know that you would find this hard because of the sociability connected with it, but many others have done it and continued as sociable and popular as ever”. When I mentioned this incident to the present historian of the Kensington Rowing Club, who has visited Monk’s grave, he thought it fairly unsurprising that a rowing man should get himself in such a pickle.
27th November Monk writes to his mother from the Brook Green Hotel stating “I interviewed the Adjutant of the Irish Guards – Lord Brassy - and told him all about it and he said he would write to my late CO, for verification I suppose, and let me know and then I hope to join up”. Nobody now knows why Monk decided to apply to join the Irish Guards, or why the noble adjutant should be so gracious as to interview a prospective private soldier, but that an Englishman should apply to join two Irish regiments surely indicates that he was somehow attracted to Ireland, and one can only speculate that his Irish romance was involved in that fateful altercation on the Somme.
He wrote to the Command Paymaster, Irish Command, Dublin stating that he has relinquished his commission from 15th inst. as per the London Gazette, asking if all allowances have been paid to his account. The paymaster replies the following day that an allowance of 91 days Field pay had been advanced from 22nd September 1916. To make Monk’s misery worse, his financial position now deteriorated rapidly.
In an undated letter he wrote “The officers on the Court Martial did their best to get me off but they have very little power except in the way of recommending for mercy. Haigh of course is a Scotchman and has very rarely been known to quash or mitigate the sentence of a Court Martial.” Thus do the Scots and Irish get along so very well. The verdict is not made explicit but certainly confirmed the loss of his commission. As he was free to reside at BGH he may also have been discharged, and would have been liable for conscription.
December 5th 1916 Monk writes to his mother from Brook Green. “I kick off down to Caterham this afternoon and I suppose I shall be on parade about 6 o’clock tomorrow with the rookies”. We hope to resume this story, and something about Grundisburgh, in 1917.
END of THIS INSTALLMENT