A terrible price – are we worth it?

Eric Guy Sutton, a member of the wealthy family which owned Sutton’s Seeds, Reading’s iconic horticultural business, had joined up soon after the start of the war. He was awarded the Military Cross a year later for saving a fellow soldier’s life, but was killed in action in April 1916. His home church, St John’s, was devastated by the news.

It was with great sorrow and deep sympathy for the bereaved family that we heard of the death of Lieut. E. G. Sutton. This most promising young officer, who had already been awarded the Military Cross for an act of great courage and self-sacrifice, was killed on Saturday, April 8th, in the gallant performance of his duty. We shall hope to publish some details of his career in the next issue of the magazine.

“Ye are not your own. You are bought with a price” (1 Cor VI.20)
Most of us were moved, I think, a few weeks ago by a story of almost unexampled heroism given in a list of recently conferred V.C.’s. A young officer attempted to throw a bomb into the enemy’s trench. The missile, however, struck his own parapet and fell in to his own trench. The officer cried a warning to his comrades and himself sprang back into safety, but then noting that his warning had been unheeded, turned back, flung himself upon the bomb and was destroyed by its explosion. And I wonder what were the feelings of his comrades and whether the thought of our text came into their minds, and they said to themselves: “We are not our own, we have been bought with a price.” And I wonder how many of us at home had the same thought in our minds as we read the account, or whether we have ever sufficiently thought at all that not to one such glorious act of heroism, but to countless splendid and ungrudging acts of devotion, do we owe today the security of our shores, the air we breathe untainted by foul poison emanations, the food we eat unstinted in quantity, our women their honour, our children their deliverance from brutality, our old people the quiet, even tenor of their placid lives, and all of us our immunity from the horrors that have desolated Belgium and Poland and Serbia.

We are bought with a price! Who will deny it? Vicarious suffering! Vicarious death!, say some. “We can’t understand it, we can’t accept it!” To such, I say: Alas for the poverty of your intellect and the hardness of your heart, when the very thing is happening today before your very eyes and crying to your souls. When not one minute passes, but even now in France, in Russia, on the seas, wherever the ceaseless battle rages, a man dies that other men may live. We are bought with a price, and day by day in that pitiful concentration of tragedy we know as the casualty list, the bill is presented, and every now and then, at longer intervals, the account is rendered up to date. And how stands it today? Some half a million of Englishmen slain, mutilated, sick, languishing in pestilent Wittenberg prison camps – for us. Mown down by machine guns, crashing from the air in the shattered aeroplane, settling to the ocean-bed in the sunken submarine, buried beneath the soil, buried beneath the waves, unburied in the hideous no-man’s-land between the trenches, tossing in our hospitals, limping about our streets, cry of the wounded and sob of the broken of heart, laughing boys who do not know what awaits them, grave-faced men who do, going forth in courage to do their part – behold the price that is paid; the price that is paid for us; in virtue of which we sit tranquilly in this church this morning, and shall walk tranquilly home to our tranquil and ample dinners.

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“I cannot keep from loathing the German vermin”

Lady Mary wrote to her son to Ralph to express her horror at the treatment of British prisoners of war suffering from typhus in a camp at Wittenberg the previous year, which had recently been publicised.

April 11th
In the train

We are reading your General’s Gallipoli despatch and the papers are full of Verdun – and there is the check again in Mesopotamia. The story of Wittenberg is beyond my reading. I cannot read these things & keep my mind clean of loathing of the German Vermin as Collingwood calls them, “not men but Vermin”….

I wonder if you have come across Marmion [Guy], GSO, DSO, I think he is on your Staff BMEF?

I had an amusing talk with a typical Farmer Churchwarden who is an ardent Tariff Reformer, & says there ought to be a determination not to go back to Free Trade if the farmer is to be compensated for putting his farm under wheat & all the labour – that wages must be raised to enable every one to afford a 6d loaf. How? Said the Shoe Manufacturer Churchwarden – how are you going to do that? He was busy turning out one million heels for boots (Army) a month & has a big order for Russia. He gets his leather from France – 26 and 30 tons ordered & now 30 on its way. He keeps only eight men & is doing all the rest with women labour. The farmer was on the tribunal for exempted agricultural labour – a strange agreement was arrived at by them that if the Government had asked for it they should have compulsory service 3 months after war broke out. They were both interesting men, and a sort of labour leader parson Atkins joined in with very real knowledge of all the conditions. His father is an old clergyman in Leicester, who was a working man’s son….

Letter from Lady Mary to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/4)