Sutton-1917 - The Tubbs - online

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.

As one zillionaire plans to build a new version of the Titanic, another plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace. We have already mentioned the Crystal Palace in these pages, en passant, for the original design was sketched out on Derby Midland Railway Station (there are no train stations in the world of The Tubbs) by Joseph Paxton who had already pioneered the construction method in the gardens of his employer, the Duke of Devonshire, probably the greatest example of an employee outshining an already distinguished employer since Milton worked for Oliver Cromwell. The original Crystal Palace was erected in Hyde Park. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was one of the most significant events of the 19th Century, in two important respects. It displayed and encouraged the commercial exploitation of science and technology. Its greatest legacy is the complex of museums at South Kensington, V&A, Natural History and Science. The other is that it was the first instance of mass transportation of the populace by railway, pre-dating the other more sinister use of railways pioneered during the American Civil War. The problem with exhibitions is what to do with the leftovers. O2 Palace anybody? The Palace was carted off to the top of Annerley Hill and gave its name to the neighbourhood, only then being developed as suburban paradise. Among many other things over the years the Palace grounds were used for athletics and motor racing. Sir George Grove was much more than the author of the eponymous Dictionary of Music for which he is best known today – Oh yes he is! He gave concerts in the Crystal Palace and was the Secretary of the Crystal Palace School of Engineering. He died in 1900. There was also a School of Music. Sir Arthur Sullivan taught there. Distinguished students of the various institutions include Rene Jules Lalique, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The composer not the earlier poet) , Geoffrey de Havilland and Reginald Walter Maudslay.

On June 22nd . 1914 we find a Certificate signed by a Director of Siebe, Gorman & Co Ltd. Submarine Engineers to the Admiralty &c &c.

This is to certify that Mr GA Sutton, a student under J W Wilson M Inst CE at the Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering has received practical instruction in diving at our works and is, in our opinion, so far as the actual diving part is concerned, capable of making examination of subaqueous work in connection with Harbours, Docks, Piers, Bridges, etc. Other records suggest that he was training to be a railway engineer. One wonders why Monk was not drawn into the Royal Engineers with all his engineering skills. For which I read that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think.

From about the end of 1913 until his death near Cambrai in 1917 we have a great deal of information about Monk’s whereabouts and activities, more than for most people anyway, for much of his correspondence has survived. He went to Haileybury in the autumn of 1907 and left at the end of 1911. His entry in the Haileybury register falls between the son of a field Marshall from Korea and a future emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of South Carolina. His father was a man who composed his sermon notes in Ancient Greek. It is clear that Monk had not inherited his father’s great academic gifts and his alma mater would not have thought very highly of his attainment of the rank of lance corporal in the Irish Guards. In fact he did briefly carry the King’s commission, but we will come to that later.

We know that by February of 1914 he had joined the Artists’ Rifles. The Artists originally formed in 1860. Lord (for a day) Leighton PRA was one of its first commanders, so the artistic connection was by no means fanciful and Monk was certainly a draftsman and water colourist so this may have been part of its attraction. After various reorganisations it became the 28th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment on 1 April 1908, still a territorial i.e. volunteer part time outfit. Many regiments contained a mixture of regular and territorial battalions. It was a popular resort for ex public school men and was reportedly open only by invitation in the period before the war. During both wars the battalion was used as a training school for officers and over fifteen thousand men, mostly officers, passed through the Artists during the first war. Soon after the start of the war arrangements were made to permit territorials to serve overseas, but there was no chance of a territorial battalion being in the first wave of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), which was initially limited to just four regular divisions. Strictly speaking territorials are there to defend the home territory rather than to serve overseas.

Monk may have formed part of a Guard of Honour to the King on the occasion of his opening the new wing of The British Museum on 7th May 1914. He has detached the reply portion of a postcard sent to him on 7th April from the Artists inviting him to attend.

We also know that by April of 1914 he was a member of the London Irish, one of the best known Rugby Football Clubs, and perhaps the first sight we have of Monk’s fatal fascination with things Irish.

He was also a member of Leander, the fourth oldest of the premier rowing clubs, founded in 1820 at Henley. Despite the fact that his father wrote to him on 1st July 1914 not to row in the heat of summer he received an hilarious postcard from Ostende on 20th July congratulating him on his success the previous Monday. The grim irony is that the invasion of Belgium by Germany was the casus belli that put an end to the sending of jolly postcards from Ostend for the duration. Monk had been rowing for The Kensington Rowing Club based at Hammersmith. During this period he moved several times. His father wrote to him again in October, under the mistaken belief that he was being posted to Egypt or India. “Be careful of your health. Don’t take liberties with sun, but profit by the experience of others”. I fear that my great grandfather, despite his brilliance, did not quite understand the workings of the military mind. Perhaps Monk no longer needed to live in Crystal Palace, but there is a strong suggestion that some of his moves were designed to avoid his creditors. Monk was for ever indigent. On the 28th July, the very day that Austria declared war on Serbia, Monk received a letter from the Trade Protection Association, debt collectors in other words, hounding him for 3/8d (18p) owed to the St. James’ Sanitary Laundry. The letter was marked as being opened in error and was forwarded to him.

He had pawned an overcoat in Croydon in April 1913.

On 12th July Irene E Sutton (my grandmother) wrote from St Catherine’s School Bramley, Guildford to her brother at 7 Belvedere Road Crystal Palace, but the letter was forwarded to the Crystal Palace School of Engineering, so probably Monk really had done a flit. Irene reports that she was amused by reading “Some experiences of an Irish RM”. That of course is the novel on which the 1983 television series starring Peter Bowles was based. Somerville and Ross were in fact Edith Somerville and Violet Florence Martin, originally writing as Martin Ross. Irene comments “ I thought you might possibly be interested in these Irish people”, so Monk’s interest in Ireland is known within the family.

On 2nd September London Irish wrote to Monk inviting him to a General Meeting on 17th September, at the Irish Club (in Camden). The meeting is to discuss “the question of carrying out our Club Programme during the present season....If you are unable to attend ... fill in and return to me the attached sheet by 16th inst”. The sheet invites the member to declare they are available if required to play in any of our Club Games during the present season. I think the London Irish suspected that the Kaiser has rather messed up the fixture list.

Monk was a ladies’ man, despite his perpetual lack of funds. On 29th (June) 1914 Monk receives a letter from Leighton Buzzard addressed to Dear Sutton boy at the Brook Green Hotel, Hammersmith. It is possible that the Stevens family were running the Unicorn Hotel in Leighton Buzzard, which still exists. “I write to you thusly but I dinner ken your name (sic). “ “Dolly Hills tells me your name is Monk. Is it?” On 2nd July Peggy (just Peggy) Stevens writes to Monk from 32 Hill Street, “Dear Monk, I think I’ll call you Monk too, may I”, inviting him to a strawberry tea at the Slade. “I just wished I was on the river today”. No doubt Monk had been showing off his musculature. Leighton Buzzard is the nearest town to Eaton Bray where the Edwin Sutton family was living. Peggy was a student at the Slade, top of the tree in terms of artistic training, under the formidable Henry Tonks who was also medically qualified and was shortly to recoil in horror at the medical trauma of the western front. The Brook Green Hotel in Hammersmith also still exists. Monk returned there at intervals during the war and there is a suggestion that he knew the proprietor personally.

A letter from another female, Irenè, not my grandmother, enquires after Jack Nolan . I don’t yet know much about Nolan, but he seems to be the link that is crucial to the Irish connection. His family had an upmarket interior decorator’s business on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Nolan decamped to New York during the war, which suggests to me that he was keeping out of the way of the Ascendancy. There is absolutely nothing positive in the correspondence that explains Monk’s fascination with things Irish. Whether this is his natural reticence to discuss important matters with his parents, the need to be discreet or perhaps we are reading too much into it, I can not say. Dark rumours heard down the years seem to suggest the middle possibility.

On 9th June 1914 Monk received another jolly note from a lady (C/o Turner 38 Glendarvon Street, Putney SW – next to the Embankment near Putney Bridge) ) . Dear Bubbly Thanks awfully for Pc. I should love to meet you again. Do write and say you will meet me one night this week. Kindest Regards Kathleen Beattie.

(Followed by the greatest come-on postscript of all time) I shall come alone.

And there’s another one from 37 Coram Street, Russell Square London WC. This belle is Lorna (?) Kitchen. The letter is undated and it is addressed rather oddly and unfortunately illegibly. Please be punctual. I hate waiting more than the 5 ? in Piccadilly. I will be outside the London Hippodrome at 5pm. Wait for me as our show may not finish punctually. There’s a dear boy. Whether the lady’s talents had got her a job at the Hippodrome, or elsewhere, I can not say but she had certainly learnt her lines.