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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

26th September 1916

Walter: At King George’s Military Hospital and about to have the rotted tissue on my leg cut away. The doctor here was horrified over how bad it had got – there was a bit of bullet still stuck deep in it. I got a bit worried they’d have to take my leg off but he reckons they can save it. I remember this ‘debridement’ bit from last time with my arm. Fun and games. No visitors yet they’ve said – I’m still weak from the fever, not to mention the morphine. Would feel better if I could at least find out what’s going on with Fred. I feel rotten for having ditched them all over there.

Rose: That’s horrible for you. They should have picked up the stray bit of bullet sooner – what a shame you couldn’t have been seen at the CCS. We’re just out of quarantine for the meningitis outbreak here. Overrun with wounded from in and around High Wood.

24th September 1916

Walter: Coming into Waterloo by train (headed for the military hospital here) and just seen the searchlights get going. Must be a Zepp raid. I tell you what, my nerves are jumpy. When you come all the way home and find the enemy here too… it feels like it’s never-ending. Hope you’re alright, Lily, Ma, Ed – the lad next to me reckons he heard bombs dropping over south London. Hope not.

Mary: We’re alright thank you Walter, just scared witless. We saw the thing go right overhead! Seemingly most of the damage is down near Brixton but our boys have managed to shoot down 3 Zepps. How wonderful to know you’re so nearby, anyway. We’ll be along to see you as soon as we’re allowed.

To read more about Zeppelin raids on South London, visit http://goo.gl/kpaEff

22nd September 1916

Walter: I’ve been put on a hospital ship, no matter how much I protested. Lawrence Haskell, have you heard anything more about Fred? Do you know where he is? Being hefted about and not able to do anything for myself or make my own decisions is almost harder than the injury itself. This leg seems to be getting worse though. I don’t think it was cleaned out properly near the line and it’s throbbing like mad. I’ve got the shivers as well, just to make things worse.

Rose: Sounds like an infection, you poor thing. I’m sure the nurses on the ship know what’s what but make sure you speak up if you need to – I know what you soldiers are like. Glad you get to go home, despite everything, and I hope you find out more about poor Fred, if he has been injured or court martialled or anything rotten like that. Let me know.

Haskell: Sorry for the lack of news, Walter. We’ve been busy with more than 300 new men joining the battalion. As far as I know, Fred has been taken off for treatment for an injury, so it sounds like there’s no need to worry about a court martial this time. Best of luck with your recovery – we could do with you back out here.

Mabel: What’s a ‘court martial’?

Walter: Don’t go worrying about it, Mabel. As long as he didn’t turn tail, that won’t be the case.

To watch a short documentary on infections in the war, visit https://goo.gl/1apqVo

and to read more about courts martial, visit http://goo.gl/pXUeDW

20th September 1916

Walter: I’ve been patched up quick and was supposed to go to the Casualty Clearing Station nearby but there’s been an outbreak of what they call cerebro-spinal meningitis and they’ve stopped people going in and out, so they reckon they’re going to put me straight on an ambulance train. Don’t know if that means I’ll stop at a Base Hospital over here or get to come back home. Part of me wants nothing more than to just get home regardless but I don’t want to without knowing what’s happened to Fred. I’ve heard from Haskell – he made it through by sheer luck but still no word about my old pal. I’m so sorry Mabel, if I could get back to the battalion I would.

To read more about medical services during the war, visit http://goo.gl/OEzuyU                     

18th September 1916

Walter: I knew it was too soon for us to go out. Today has felt like a hundred years. The long and the short of it is that I’ve been wounded again. Don’t worry, I’m alright I think, and I’m waiting on a stretcher to be seen at the Advanced Dressing Station, but I’ve got a gunshot wound and my leg is a real mess. The pain is something else. I’m almost glad. Means I’m out of the fighting. We went into the attack with the 24th Londons this morning but didn’t get past the north corner of High Wood before Fritz opened up with machine gun fire. Billy Andrews went down, along with half the others that I didn’t even know. We were only 100yds from our objective but got held up for an hour. Reached it in the end but couldn’t hold it and went back 100yds again. Then the enemy got to us and we fought hand-to-hand for hours until I totally lost track of who was who. That’s when I realised I’d been hit and was bleeding. Hadn’t even noticed. Can’t remember much after that until I was being lifted by the stretcher bearers and one of them stuck a cig in my mouth. Now I’ve ended up here and it’s started to rain but I can’t move. No idea what happened to Haskell or any of the others. Feels like there’s no one left.

Lily: Thank goodness you’re alright, apart from your poor leg. They’d better send you home now… let us see you and look after you.

To read more about hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches, visit http://goo.gl/4ImxkS

17th September 1916

Walter: Managed to get back to our line but just a handful of us left. Out of more than 500. Those 3 companies who went out into the shellfire just never came back. The old 1/23rd has been dying ever since we came out here but this really is the end of us. Even if they replace the men from base, it’ll be a whole new battalion. And we just sheltered and watched them die. What kind of a soldier am I? I can barely look anyone in the face. Two miracles though. One is that the 47th Division managed to take High Wood despite everything, and the other is that, according to another NCO, Fred made it out. I don’t know much more though, and he didn’t answer rolecall. I’ve got to tell you, I’m a bit worried. He’s either injured or, God forbid, his nerves got the better of him. If that’s the case, he’ll likely be in worse danger now than if he was back in No Man’s Land. And now the few of us left have been ordered to join the 24th for a new offensive tomorrow. I don’t know if I can do it.

Mary: Walter, this is your father writing. Your mother and Annie are overcome and wanted me to write for us. We are so glad you’re alright. Mary was convinced you’d gone the same way as Charlie. You did the right thing, son. Hold your head high and take care tomorrow. We’ll be waiting to hear from you.

Mary: And your mother says let us know about Fred.

Lily: Thank goodness you’re alright! Mabel’s ever so worried – please do tell us any more you hear about Fred.

To read more about the 23rd (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment, visit http://goo.gl/NRkjKT

16 September 1916

Walter: It’s a disaster, a total disaster. Can’t see how I’m going to get out of this. God, what a mess. We went over early this morning, still with only partial orders having come through, and were supposed to capture a place called ‘Cough Drop Redoubt’, but when we got to what we thought was the place the 6th Londons were already there and using it as a dressing station, so we thought it couldn’t be Cough Drop and pressed on. Well then the carnage really started and Mr. Haskell, me and a few of our men got separated. We’ve just ducked behind the remains of a hedgerow but a minute or so ago our artillery started up! And our battalion… they must be ahead of where they’re supposed to be and all we can see is them getting wiped out by our own shells. It’s awful, God it’s awful. Corporal Andrews wants to turn back but Mr. Haskell’s just pulled him to the ground so he doesn’t give away our position. We can’t turn back, everyone knows you get shot by our own side if you turn tail, but if we go forward we’ve had it.

Mary: Walter please let us know you’re alright

Lily: I hate this. Walter, don’t go forward! Please get in touch if you can.

To read more about the offensive, visit https://goo.gl/O5pgz6

15th September 1916

Walter: Every damn time! We were supposed to go ahead today but the orders haven’t come through. Objectives not even clear. Will be tomorrow soonest, if someone can work out what the hell we’re supposed to be doing.

To read more about the attack at High Wood, visit http://goo.gl/pm0Zaz

14th September 1916

Walter: At High Wood. Attack due to take place very soon – not allowed to tell you exactly when, of course. This place is like nothing I’ve ever seen, even out here. 2/Lt. Haskell said it looks like ‘Hampstead Heath made of cocoa powder’. Everything living has been burnt away and all that’s left is holes in the ground and trenches for us to shelter in. What a life. Hang about, Mr Haskell’s shouting something. Wants me to get the men out of the way – bloody hell, is that one of the ‘tanks’ we’ve been hearing about? Or ‘trench dreadnoughts’, or whatever they’re called? When they first said they were stocking up on ‘tanks’ behind the line and keeping them covered with big sheets, we just thought they were water tanks. I suppose that was the idea. It’s nothing short of a miracle, this thing. Making a noise like a cross between a traction engine and a tricycle! Now put me in one of them and I wouldn’t mind going out into No Man’s Land. It looks indestructible…

Mary: We’ve heard about these ‘trench dreadnoughts’ too! They sound like a wonderful idea. Could you go out in one? I’d feel much better if you did.

Walter: Sadly not, Ma. They’ve got special crews. Besides, one of them just broke down… We’ll have to go ahead same as usual. I’m not looking forward to it.

To read more about the first tanks, visit http://goo.gl/rp5dKh

12th September 1916

Walter: Just to let you know, Lil, because you said to keep in touch – we’re not in action yet. Still waiting and moving closer day by day. Take my mind off it, would you? How are you?

Lily: Sorry it’s getting to you, sweetheart. It’s no wonder – I don’t know how you manage to keep so brave. Me and Mabel went to see a film yesterday after work. Everyone’s been going to see it because it’s all the members of the cabinet talking about the war. Never seen them moving and speaking before! Can’t hear them of course so there’s captions up for the words but it’s amazing how different some of them look when you’re just used to seeing their picture in the paper. We weren’t so sure about Asquith – it looked like he hated being filmed. Lloyd George was much better though. Everyone coming out of the cinema was saying how impressed they were with him.

To watch the film itself, visit http://goo.gl/xwrFgl

and to see how today’s politicians are judged according to their grasp of new media, visit http://goo.gl/eE4wS9 

9th September 1916

Walter: Just as I thought – we’re heading to Albert tomorrow, then on to Mametz Wood. Very close to the action. For the first time I’m feeling like my feet might not carry me there. It seems to go against everything I’m feeling to actually head towards the fighting. I suppose this is why they try to keep the ‘offensive spirit’ up in all of us. If we’re out of action too long it gets difficult to go back towards all the noise, smell and danger.

Lily: The last thing I want is for you to go back into it. It’s horrible, sweetheart. Please look after yourself, and keep my pocket bear with you for luck. Keep in touch.

To read more about the theory of ‘offensive spirit’, visit https://goo.gl/ZcxYAX

7th September 1916

Walter: More preparation for an attack. I reckon we’ll be back in the line soon. It’s unnerving after being out for a while but it’s why we’re here, I suppose. None of it seems to trouble 2/Lt. Haskell – he’s chipper as ever, taking on all the new information about ‘modern attack’ that the army’s learnt since the start of the Somme offensive. That’s what we’ve got lectures in today – gas, strong points, artillery barrage, Aeroplane Contact Patrols and counter-attack. Hopefully that will stop any future attacks from being like 1st July. Can but hope.

To read about the Somme and some of the lessons learned, visit http://goo.gl/tiDrN2

5th September 1916

Walter: Demo with trench mortars today, or ‘toffee apples’ as we call them. Not so sweet if they’re coming at you, mind. They’re designed to go high up in the air so they can land clean in the trench. Old technology but the top brass have realised how deadly they are out here and now we’re supposed to use them as much as possible.

To see French soldiers performing a trench mortar demonstration, visit https://goo.gl/BTwczG

3rd September 1916

Lily: What a night that was. We’ve had no sleep! The alarm was called to say there was a Zepp coming over so we all dashed out into the street and all the searchlights was going and there it was, caught by one of the lights – this great big thing like a floating cigar. And then it must have got hit by the anti-aircraft guns because the whole of it lit up bright like you wouldn’t believe and all the sky went red and it looked to come down somewhere in north London. First time I’ve seen everyone out in the streets and on the roofs like that, all in our nightgowns! We all cheered as it came down and now everyone’s saying they’re going to go and see the wreckage up at Cuffley. They reckon you can still see the German crew’s bodies in it. I don’t think I’d like that – I think I’ll let everyone else go and tell me about it.

Walter: I’m glad you’re alright, Lil. It bothers me no end to think of you lot having Zepps coming over. Good to hear the guns are doing their job though. And don’t go and gawp at the dead crew with everyone else… the novelty wears off quick, let me tell you.

To read more about the raid, and others like it, visit http://goo.gl/jo8K9n

1st September 1916

Ed: Halfway through my sentence. Got 14 days confined to barracks for going AWOL. Could have been worse but it means I’m constantly on guard or fatigues with no pay or privileges. They know how to make you regret something. I’ll be back squaded afterwards too – have to start all the training from scratch. Still, I’ve decided I’m staying put now so I’ll have to lump it.

Walter: Wondered how you were getting on. One week to go…

To read about military discipline in the Great War, visit http://goo.gl/IkQ3IP

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