Walter: Just marched back to La Clytte and spotted Geoff Adams, the Company Quarter Master Sergeant, sitting by himself in the Mess. Looked like he had the blue devils. Went to talk to him and it turns out that commotion Ma and Mrs Wiggins heard yesterday was the munitions factory at Silvertown in East London getting blown sky high. All that ammo. Everyone thinks it was a German plot but no one really knows what happened yet. Poor Geoff – his sister was working there and he’s got no idea if she’s alright or not. He’s taking heart from the fact it was after-hours so most people had gone home but he’s heard nothing as yet. Really hope no one I know was nearby. Lily, I know we’re not on the best terms and it’s none of my business any more but could you just let me know you’re alright? Oh and wish Pa a happy birthday for me, Ma. Tell him I was glad to get his letter and I’ll get one back to him as soon as I can.
Lily: It’s kind of you to think of me but I’m alright, thank you. Hope your friend’s sister turns up.
To find out about the people who lost their lives in the blast, visit https://goo.gl/RKOj4m
Walter: Anyone else in London hear what Ma heard? Over here you wouldn’t think twice about it but back home that’s worrying. Especially with the fire, if that’s what it is. And I can’t help myself, I hope Lil wasn’t working nearby if it was a Zepp…
Ma: What on earth was that? Was it an explosion? It woke Annie – she’s been sleeping all afternoon. I haven’t seen a Zepp or heard a warning alarm but just had a look out the top window and all the sky’s lit up in the east. Do you think it’s a fire?
Mrs Wiggins: I heard it, Mary. The sky is far too bright for it to be a small fire from a bomb though. Thank goodness we seem to be on the right side of the river. Do you think we should evacuate?
Mabel: Word here is that it was one of the other munitions factories. Certainly sounded loud enough. Awful, I hope not.
To find out the real cause of the blast, visit https://goo.gl/AGDNGZ
Walter: Can’t seem to keep the numbers of wounded down and just been told by two of the soldiers that Will Kelly, my sergeant from the Liverpool Rifles, has been taken off by stretcher bearers with a wound to the shoulder. No idea if he’ll be back. I hope to God he will be – he’s a nice chap and one of the few who’ve got half an idea what they’re doing. We’re going to need far more men if it keeps on like this. I’m glad they’re bringing in the ones who were exempt before. I was worried it might be a bunch of blokes who aren’t fit for service but it looks like it’ll be men who’ve been kept back like policemen and farm labourers. Look at this fellow – he’s from the police and the Mirror reckons he’s 7ft tall! Heaven knows how he’ll manage to keep his head down.
To read more about reserved occupations, visit https://goo.gl/0ImRDk
Walter: Back into the trenches yesterday. I’m starting to get to know the faces of the 32nd Royal Fusiliers who we’re always replacing. We try to get the reliefs done in the pre-dawn or evening light, which keeps us safer but seems to make them look all the more tired and bedraggled when they’re coming out. I suppose we must look the same when it’s our turn. The worst thing at the moment is I can’t get what Mabel said about Lil out of my head. I’ve still got her daft pocket bear ‘Biscuit’ with me too. Grubby as they come and missing an arm but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. The boys would have a field day if they found him.
Fred: Mabel’s been round and bending my ear about you and Lil. She reckons Lily thought you’d gone off her because you were quiet with her but I tried to explain that it’s not easy to chatter like normal after what we’ve been through. I didn’t explain very well and left off the details of course but I think she understood. Anyway, I don’t envy you that trudge in and out of the trenches, especially in this weather.
To find out more about support lines and reliefs, visit: https://goo.gl/w44xuT
Walter: Got back from today’s march to the supply dump and found this message. I know you’re trying to help, Mabel, but it’s not as simple as all that. If Lil won’t stick around unless we get married, that’s her choice. I’m not going to pretend I don’t miss her… but I know what happens to men out here. My luck could run out any day now. Maybe she’s best off forgetting about me.
Mabel : Walt, I hope you don’t mind me writing but I wanted to let you know something. You do realise Lil still likes you, don’t you? She told me as much. And I’m not about to let two of my pals fall out over pride and a stupid misunderstanding. Look at it like this – things ain’t going to be the same no more. War has changed you. Lil’s changed too. She’s got her independence now and (about time) she’s learning to tell it like it is. How about you start over on new terms? It’s like that with me and Fred. Life ain’t turned out at all how I’d thought, but we love each other and we’ll make it work. Just give it some thought, eh?
Ma: Well said, Mabel! It’s silly you two keeping apart when you’re both obviously pining for each other.
To read more about gender expectations during the war, visit https://goo.gl/AKfmNE
Fred: Well I think I’m making progress. So long as no one shouts at me I can get by alright. Trouble is, shouting seems to be the order of the day. Every so often some doctor or other comes and gives me a stern talking-to about ‘bucking my ideas up’ and ‘pulling my socks up’ and all that. It don’t help. Makes it worse if anything. It’s not as if I’m not trying to get a grip of myself anyhow. And the electrotherapy nurse is on a hiding to nothing and all. No amount of electrics seems to be able to stop the tremors in my hands. The best thing for it seems to be getting out with some of the other patients to play skittles in the grounds. My balance seems a bit better doing that anyway. How you doing Mabel? Hope our little one’s coming along alright.
Walter: Good on you, Fred. Keep at it and try and ignore whatever doesn’t help. They didn’t ought to make you feel bad like that – you’re a good soldier, don’t forget it.
Mabel: Sounds like you’re getting better! You’ll be ‘bucked up’ in no time I’m sure. Don’t bother with the electrotherapy if it’s no good. Just take care of yourself. Baby Dickenson’s getting on alright I think and the doctor’s pleased with me. Can you believe I can feel movement already?
Fred: Course you can. He’s Fulham’s next striker that’s why.
Mabel: Could be a she, darling.
To read more about medical treatments for ‘shell shock’ at the time, visit https://goo.gl/lFaf2L
Walter: We’ve been relieved and moved out to Ridge Wood. Bit of a problem on the way – a shell fell close to the parapet as we were heading to the communication trench and blew a whole section of the wall in. Still have ringing in my ears. Captain Hambledon-Fox stood around gawping or shouting by turns and not doing anyone much good, so I got Kelly, Chapman and their boys digging away the entrance to a dugout that had collapsed and we pulled out three blokes. Wounded but all alive, which was a scrap of good news at last. Managed the rest of the march without incident but could do with a good kip now. Trouble is, I can’t stop thinking about Lil. Trying to keep my mind off it all but I think the reality’s kicking in. If I’m honest, I miss her. What with the worry about little Annie as well, I’m going to have to keep my focus on the job at hand.
Walter: Was just talking with Will Kelly and Don Chapman when a load of shells came over from Fritz. They missed us but looked to fall further back, near our battalion Headquarters. Sure enough, a few minutes later the Colonel came bowling along the trench, shouting about how HQ’s been shelled. He reckons we’ve lost at least 20 men, either wounded or killed. From what I can gather, the Acting Adjutant’s among them. Poor bloke. I’ve seen him every day since I got here. Nice chap. Anyway, I’ve sent a few lads from the Company to go and help them evacuate and set up a new one. They were only occupied with repairing the trench so luckily I could spare some.
To read about the composition of an infantry battalion in the Great War, including HQ, visit https://goo.gl/PBrRtQ
Walter: More bad news about my little sis. I’m so worried about her. You’re right though, Ma – the doctors said last year that she was going downhill and she perked up, didn’t she? She’s a little fighter, our Annie.
Ma: Poor Annie, I can’t seem to get her comfortable. We’ve had the doctor out and he gave us that look, again, as if to say, ‘You know there’s nothing I can do?’ Now, I know we’ve been here before and she’s always rallied, so I mustn’t get too downhearted, but I can’t help fretting. We’ve tried giving her Venos, Owbridge’s Lung Tonic and rubbing Camphor oil on her chest. None of it any good. I’ve made a little bed in the front room next to her now so I’m getting a bit of kip there when I can. It’s not real rest though – even when I’m half asleep I’m on edge, keeping an ear out for her breathing. She seems to be getting weaker too. Thomas and I can both see it but can’t bear to say it to each other.
Ed: Poor mite. I didn’t know it had got so bad. If she gets worse or needs anything doing let me know and I’ll apply to the Battery Commander for some compassionate leave. You never know with the army – might be lucky. I wouldn’t count on it though. Give her a squeeze from me.
Mary: Don’t start with that, Edward, I’m up to my armpits in worry as it is, without you going AWOL again. We’ll do our best to take care of her.
Rose: I can’t think what else to tell you, Ma. Is she eating? If it’s difficult, could you top her up with beef lozenges and extract of malt, to get her strength up?
To read about more household remedies from the time visit https://goo.gl/6fBBb2
Walter: Happy New Year all. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who thinks last year was a rough one. Things need to start looking up this year. We’re back into the trenches tomorrow so I’ve been going round making sure everyone knows that our orders are to complete the relief by 5.30pm – just after sunset. At least we ought to be getting more men soon. Word is they’re relaxing the rules on who can sign up so we might be getting new drafts. Hope they’re up to scratch.
To locate La Clytte, where Walter’s battalion are stationed on 1st January 1917, visit https://goo.gl/4p8HSm