First world war: How did the teenage Hugh William Paterson Cutting, who went on to be solicitor to ITFC, go from playing schoolboy cricket to fighting in the trenches?

Hugh Cutting in uniform, outside his family home in Stalham, Norfolk, in about 1917-18.

Hugh Cutting in uniform, outside his family home in Stalham, Norfolk, in about 1917-18. - Credit: Archant

Today: Hugh William Paterson Cutting. He crossed the Atlantic to wear his country’s uniform, was probably gassed by accident, and after the war had a key role with Ipswich Town. Steven Russell reports on a life less ordinary

Alan Cutting with memories of his Grandfather, who served in the First World War.

Alan Cutting with memories of his Grandfather, who served in the First World War. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Alan Cutting’s talking about his grandfather, who as a teenager returned from Canada to fight for Britain. “I always find it extraordinary, with his and my father’s generation, how you see school photographs of them. They’re clearly boys, playing cricket, and then, just a very short while later, they’re in the trenches. So when my grandfather is 19, 20, he’s being gassed. My father, at 19, 20, was training to be a pilot. When I was 19 or 20, I was watching Led Zeppelin. When my son’s 19 or 20, he’s sending texts.

Alan Cutting with memories of his Grandfather, who served in the First World War.

Alan Cutting with memories of his Grandfather, who served in the First World War. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

“It’s extraordinary what happened in those formative years for those generations.”

He’s right. However hard we try to focus on “today”, sooner or later the past elbows its way in and demands our attention. When it’s dangling intriguing family history before our eyes, who can resist?

Alan’s got some visible reminders of his heritage, including an ancient and weighty family bible. Bound in leather, it was given to his great-great-grandfather, the Rev William Aubrey Cutting, when he married.

Alan doesn’t remember how exactly this edition – “Bagster’s Comprehensive” – came to be in his possession, but on a couple of blank pages the vicar had made “what had always seemed to me random efforts to update parts of his (my) family tree”.

The names – sometimes scrawled, semi-legibly – for a long time meant nothing to him. But last year something stirred Alan’s interest.

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He can’t recall exactly what set the ball rolling, but reflects: “I guess I’m a man of a certain age who, along with many others of my vintage, now regrets not having asked more questions and having taken more interest whilst he had the chance.

“A man of a certain age who, whether now through the gnawing insecurity of globalised rootlessness or an increasing awareness that each generation is not an island – or, most likely, an inevitable chunk of both – wants to connect a few of the dots while he still has the opportunity.” So he started digging.

Five generations between 1760 and 1964 took him through “achievement, failure, war, discovery, education, courts, status and disgrace, through the lives and loves of farmers, surgeons, parsons and solicitors”. The man we’re particularly interested in is Hugh William Paterson Cutting, born in 1895 north-east of Norwich. He was Alan’s paternal grandfather and died on Alan’s 12th birthday, in 1964.

Hugh studied at Epsom College and in 1912 went to work with relatives on a farm on the prairies of Canada, as many young men did.

Surviving daughters Margaret and Anne remember him saying how he narrowly avoided travelling across the Atlantic on the Titanic. Their father left Liverpool on the Lusitania on July 27, 1912, bound for New York. That was less than four months after the Titanic hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank, with great loss of life.

Hugh’s stay in Canada lasted just over two years – cut short after Britain declared war on the German empire and the 19-year-old farmer returned to fight for his country.

He sailed from Montreal and landed at Liverpool in November, 1914. (Oddly enough, points out Alan, his grandfather sailed on the Hesperian, which was sunk 10 months later by the same German U-boat that claimed the Lusitania.)

Hugh, it seems without further ado, joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment as a lieutenant. Precise details of his service are not known, but it’s pretty clear the young soldier was at the heart of the action. “We know his ‘theatre of war’ was France,” Alan reports. “He was the victim of a chlorine gas attack, which caused him to have a dreadful cough for the remainder of his life, and which is one of my abiding memories of him.

“I think this gassing incident was probably in Loos in September 1915, when some 150 tons of chlorine gas was used on the first day of the battle, discharged via thousands of cylinders. But strong winds blew the gas backwards; a dreadful own-goal for the British troops, and hardly a good start in life for a young man just turned 20.”

The casualty was probably transferred to, or recuperated at, Pembroke Dock in South Wales. His marriage to Norfolk girl Jess Wittrick was registered in Haverfordwest in 1916, around the time of the formation of the 3rd (Home Service) Garrison Battalion (Royal Defence Corps) at the docks. Garrison battalions were units of soldiers either too old or medically unfit for front-line service. Instead, they took care of security duties at home, protecting key facilities such as ports.

We don’t know how Hugh came to meet Jess. There’s family speculation that perhaps she was nursing him during his recovery and they realised they both hailed from Norfolk. It would be lovely, and romantic, if it were true.

The couple were still living in the Haverfordwest area when son Geoffrey was born in 1918.

Sadly, the lad was just five when his mother died. By this time Hugh had become a solicitor, and was living in Felixstowe. An Act in 1918 had allowed people to count the years of their war service against the requirement for legal training.

In 1924, at Woodbridge, he married Ipswich girl Winifred Girling – Alan’s grandmother. They made their home in Martlesham – the village where, coincidentally or not, Hugh’s great-great-grandparents had lived – and between 1925 and 1933 had six children. The boys went to St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, and the girls to the convent school in Woodbridge Road.

In the 1940s the family moved to Constable Road in Ipswich and then Corder Road. Hugh had joined Ipswich legal practice Gotelee and Goldsmith, later becoming a partner. One of his more eyecatching roles was as solicitor to Ipswich Town Football Club during its giddy rise from non-league status, in the Eastern Counties League and the Southern League, to the Division One championship.

“I remember stories of the Southend players coming to Ipswich by boat… I think. It could have been Ipswich players going to Southend by boat – not sure!

“That connection ran right through until he died. He used to sit in the directors’ box, though he wasn’t actually a director,” says Alan, who has a senior role with a Christian international relief and development organisation.

“I have these memories of going occasionally with him, in the directors’ box, to watch games. One particular one involved a big British betting scam in which some Sheffield Wednesday players decided to lose, for a consideration. As a boy of 10 or 11, I couldn’t spot anything wrong with the match!”

Three Wednesday players had bet against their side before the match on December 1, 1962, which Ipswich won 2-0. After the plot was rumbled, the trio were each jailed for four months and banned from football for life.

The whole Cutting family became wrapped up in the affairs of Ipswich Town. “My father remembered Sir Stanley Rous coming to dinner. He (Hugh) obviously had an involvement with Suffolk FA.” (Rous was secretary of the Football Association before becoming president of world soccer’s governing body.) As solicitor, Hugh would have overseen some of the momentous moments in the history of the club, such as the arrival of Sir Alf Ramsey as manager and his later departure to take over the England side.

“He would have been at the centre of those negotiations – things like that that you don’t really think about until you put it in some context. His signature is still on the original Ipswich Town shares, too.”

Aptly, the Portman Road floodlights shine through the door of Alan’s Ipswich home... though he himself travels hundreds of miles to watch Kettering Town play non-league football – the legacy of a couple of decades in Northamptonshire!

“He was a big sporting man in other ways,” he says of his grandfather. “He was vice-president of the Suffolk County Bowling Association and chairman of East Suffolk Gun Club, chairman of Earl Soham Parish Council and involved with the British Legion.”

Hugh certainly wasn’t a man to let the grass grow under his feet. He was also an inspector in the Special Constabulary of Ipswich Borough Police from 1939-49 before joining the East Suffolk Police Special Constabulary. He became a special superintendent of the Eye division in 1957.

Hugh also owned a 240-acre farm at Earl Soham, near Framlingham, where Alan’s father Peter and uncles Paul and Owen farmed in the 1950s. Alan was born in a cottage across the road. Hugh died on his grandson’s 12th birthday – March 12, 1964. Home at that stage was Hasketon, near Woodbridge. Winifred survived until 1983.

One of their daughters tells how tremendously patriotic their father was and how as children they would have to stand not just for the British national anthem but all the allies’ anthems when they were played on the wireless on a Sunday evening during the Second World War.

Hugh would always take them out of school on November 11 so they could go to Christchurch Park in Ipswich, to the war memorial.

Like many veterans, Hugh didn’t much care to air in public his First World War experiences. Alan says his aunts “assume that things were so grotesque that he didn’t want to talk too much about them”.

Records show his grandfather’s unit being involved in Great War action at Neuve Chapelle and the Second Battle of Ypres, so it’s likely Hugh found himself in the thick of the action.

One of his daughters tells of her father suffering a war injury to an arm that stayed with him for the rest of his days. Of that exposure to chlorine, Alan says: “Thank the Lord he lived a long life, but it was a distinct and daily legacy he carried with him.”

What kind of man was he?

“He called me Buster. Don’t know why! But I was always slightly in awe of this formal grandfather figure. He was personable, but with that backbone of dignity. I remember him only until my 12th birthday, of course, but he was hugely respected.

“I recently came across very long letters that my father wrote when he was training to be a pilot in the RAF, in Canada, and writing back to his parents and siblings.

“One of the things that really impressed me was that sense of honour and respect he was giving his father; which is maybe, sadly, something we’ve lost these days. It was distinct and noticeable.”

Councillor Liz Harsant, the first female leader of Ipswich council, remembers Hugh as a partner at Gotelee and Goldsmith, says Alan. She started working there as a secretary/shorthand typist in 1962.

Hugh would deal with divorce cases, among other work. “Liz recalls him being a traditionalist, and a stickler for respect, integrity and confidentiality.”

From what his aunts and father told him, Alan feels the strong sense of patriotism and sense of order valued by a man who supported the notions of community and society.

“He was the classic English gentleman of his era.”