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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

25th August 1916 

Walter: They’ve thrown Ed in the glasshouse… hope he gets away with not too bad of a punishment. They ought to take into account that he came back of his own accord, at least.

Ed: I’ve been handed over to my unit back at Woolwich and locked up in the guard room while they work out how to discipline me for going AWOL. Not a place I’d choose to be but I’ll have to lump it. At least I’m not being charged with desertion… but I’m on Commanding Officer’s Orders so there’ll be a serious punishment in it for me whatever happens. I’ve got a bit of company in here anyway – a couple of lads caught drunk on duty and one charged with insubordination because he cheeked his squad instructor. They’re all being dealt with by the Company Commander though. The one in for insubordination’s got a mouth on him. When I got showed in he said, ‘Look out, it’s the bloke who don’t talk to no one!’ Didn’t realise I’d got a reputation so quick.

To read about military discipline in the war, visit: http://goo.gl/eGtphs

24th August 1916

Ed: I’m being ‘escorted’ back to Woolwich by the military police. Still don’t know if I’ve done the right thing. I’m sorry for trying to pull the wool over your eyes, Ma. I just had to get out while I still had the chance. Snuck out on a General Service wagon and, after stopping by home, got as far as the train to Penzance, thinking I could make meself scarce for a while until things blew over and the army stopped looking for me. Sat down next to an old boy with a bottle of what looked like gin because I thought he’d be the least likely to start asking me questions. Bad choice. After a couple of stations he said, ‘Wounded, are you?’ So I said, ‘No, Sir.’ ‘In the army, then?’ And I didn’t know what to say so I told him I was artillery and off on a course. ‘Are you now?’ he said, and I knew he could see right through me. Then we pulled up at Swindon and there was a bunch of New Army lads waiting on the other platform. The old boy pointed his gin bottle at them and said, ‘You think they want to fight?’ so I looked at them and thought, ‘Half of them, yes, I bet they bloody do,’ but he said, ‘They want peace, just like you,’ and I wondered how he’d worked that out about me. Then he said something that really stuck – ‘Nobody ever did no good by running away. You got to make a stand, boy, whichever way. Fight for peace by protesting, or fight for peace on the front line, it don’t matter which. Just don’t kid yourself you’ll do the world any good by disappearing.’ And the next thing I knew I’d got off the blasted train and was heading back to Paddington. But he was right, I ain’t going to ever feel proud if I turn tail. All the way back I thought I was going to protest – let them arrest me and take me to prison – but I couldn’t get that, ‘fighting for peace’ idea out of my head. So I’m going back to Woolwich, and Ed Carter’s going to be a soldier after all. Who’d have thought.

Walter: After all the excitement with Fred I’d half forgotten about Ed going AWOL. Thank God he’s turned himself in. Seems that chap touched a nerve. Must be hard to go against his principles though.

Evan: It’s emotional blackmail, Ed! Don’t let it get into your head. What good will one more soldier do on the front line? One more bit of cannon fodder, that’s what. ‘Fighting for peace’… that’s the most backwards thing I ever heard. If you want to make a stand and do yourself proud, square up to them. You’ll end up in prison with me, but that’s the real fight. Mark my words, in generations to come, it’s the peacekeepers they’ll look back on with pride.

Mary: Thank goodness you’re alright but don’t you dare ever lie to me again. I brought you up better than that. All the same, I’m glad you’ve made a decision, love.

To read more about offences such as desertion during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/vJCS0s

22nd August 1916

Walter: Finally managed to get the full story out of Fred! I’m made up for them both.

Fred: Blimey, what a weekend! I’m half floating on air, half sick that I have to go back to France again. Thanks everyone for your messages earlier, and sorry to spring it on you. You read it right – Mabel Green agreed to marry me! It was a spur of the moment thing, really. We had such a lovely time together, hardly left each other’s side for my whole leave, and I suddenly realised I couldn’t go back to the war without knowing she was promised to me. So I got on me knee in the middle of Victoria Station, shaking like a jelly, and everybody around started whooping and cheering. Didn’t have no ring so I made do with a shiny new penny out of me pocket. And the first thing she said was, ‘You great lummox, what the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Ha! Always a lady, my Mabel. But then I asked her proper and she grinned at me and said, ‘Go on then, I will!’ Well, then the crowd went barmy, shaking my hand and shouting, ‘Jolly good show!’ and so on. All that noise made the shakes even worse but it was nice to see everyone happy for us. What a wrench to have to get straight on a train. Now I miss her more than ever and I’m on me way back to hell on Earth. Got something to live for now though.  

Mabel: You old softie. I’m happy as can be and miss you already.

To read more wartime love stories, visit: http://goo.gl/0duArd

22nd August 1916

Walter: No news about Ed yet but Fred and Mabel have got engaged – gave me the shock of my life and cheered me up no end. Fred Dickenson, you’ve got some explaining to do! Congratulations to both of you! What cracking news. Can’t wait to hear about it.

Lily: Wait, what?! You never! Mabel, you come and see me right now! Did he get you a ring? What happened? Oh, I’m too excited! Walter Carter, you see this? You could pick up some tips.

Mary: Fred, that’s wonderful news! I’ll even let you off not coming to see me – it sounds like you had enough going on. Congratulations! When’s the wedding?

Bert: We need a drink to celebrate this mate!

18th August 1916

Fred: What a thing. It was enough of a shock getting back on British soil but then my train just pulled into Victoria and there was this woman running along the platform shouting, ‘Fred, Fred!’ at me. Funny-looking thing she was too, with a yellow face and yellow hair! Well, I thought, who do I know that looks like that? But as soon as I got off the train and she ran up it turned out to be Mabel Green! I forgot the munitions chemicals turn people yellow. Bless her soul, she’d been watching every train that came in that day so she didn’t miss me. It made me feel like king of the world. I wasn’t sure what to say to her at first though, what do you say after everything that’s happened since I saw her last? But I remembered about the French silk hankie I’d brought her for her birthday and fumbled around in me pocket trying to find it. She must have seen the tremble in me hands that I can’t get rid of but she didn’t say nothing about it. It’s wonderful to be home.

Walter: If anything will make you feel better, a surprise like this ought to do it! Good job, Mabel. Enjoy home, mate.

Lily: Mabel, you old romantic! I didn’t know you cared so much. You’ll have to tell me all the gossip when I see you. Welcome home, Fred!

Fred: Thank you, Lil. She’s a dark horse, ain’t she?!

To see a French silk handkerchief, typically given as a gift during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/VwKkl5

17th August 1916

Walter: Practising marching on compass bearings today. Bet you’re glad you’re off on leave, Fred! Remember that time you got in a pickle with a compass back in St Albans and came across that ‘bull’? That’s nearly 2 years ago now - October 1914. Feels like a lifetime ago. Still makes me laugh though. Anyway, have a nice time back in Battersea. Wish I was coming with you. Give Lily my love and drop in on Ma, Pa and Annie if you can.

Fred: Don’t remind me! I can’t believe I was scared of a few cows back then… Well, I’m on me way now. Got 6 days’ leave from today but I’ll have to spend all of today travelling and another day at the end getting back again. It’s motor transport, then a train, then a boat, then another train and I’ll be nearly home. Can’t wait. I don’t think I could’ve stood another week without a bit of leave. Of course I’ll go and see your folks – just hope they recognise me.

To hear WWI veterans’ experiences of going on leave, visit: http://goo.gl/iEx3mf

15th August 1916

Walter: I don’t know, first Lily seeing the Queen and now Rosie meeting the King! Maybe when it’s my turn I’ll get Princess Mary…

Rose: You’ll never guess what – I just met the King! Well, not in person as such, but he came to our hospital. He only spoke to the doctors and the matron and some of the patients, but what a lovely thing for them. We were told he was coming not long before he arrived so we had to rush around getting everything all spruced up and wheel a couple of the patients out into the grounds for him to chat to. We had to be quite careful who to pick. One of the doctors said we’d better keep the shock patients out of his sight so we picked a few men who’d been physically wounded (but were well enough to hold a conversation) and they were the lucky ones who got to meet him. Very exciting, but what a palaver. I even learnt how to curtsey for when he walked past!

Mary: Oh, Rosie, how wonderful for you! What a shame you didn’t speak to him. I hope you brushed up smart. Annie is beside herself at the thought and wants to know what was he like?

Rose: I was as smart as I could be, Ma. Tell Annie from what I saw he seemed like a very nice man – spoke to the patients about which battles they’d been in and asked if they were being well looked after. He smiled a lot, which surprised me. I don’t know why but I always thought you had to be terribly serious to be a king.

To see footage of the King’s trip to the front, including his visit to a CCS, visit: https://goo.gl/pqfUhJ

12th August 1916

Mary: Well, I’m blowed. Margaret from next door just turned up round ours and asked to come in. I don’t think she’s ever done that in all our years of living here – she usually just pokes her nose over the back fence and comments on our business. So I was expecting her to start moaning about something or other or giving me some ‘advice’ about Edward but she said she’d just come to say thank you! I’ve been leaving her meals on the front step every so often since I saw that their Cyril had been killed and I hadn’t heard a peep from her or her husband since but she came round today to say it’s been a lifesaver. Poor woman, she looked rotten. Said she hadn’t slept a wink and could barely put one foot in front of the other. I remember that feeling so very well. Still feel like it some days. I think she was glad to talk to someone who’d been through the same thing. Then when she left she said, ‘Might we be friends, do you think?’ Can you believe that? Funny what war does to people.

Rose: What a turnaround. Poor lady, she must be struggling… It’s hard to feel too sorry for her though, is that terrible? I’ll never forget the time I beat her other boy, Ernest, at conkers when we were little and he ran in crying. Mrs Wiggins came out, got me by the ear and gave me a right talking to about how I ought to behave like a real girl! Still, I wouldn’t wish grief on anyone. I’m glad she’s got you to help her, Ma.

Walter: Good on you, Ma. Poor Mrs Wiggins. One of my new corporals, George Colbin, said when his brother was reported killed his poor old dad didn’t leave the house for weeks.

To read more about mourning in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/d4dObo

11th August 1916

Walter: How are you getting on, Lily? Fred saying about coming home on leave has made me miss you worse than ever.

Lily: I miss you too. Can’t you get some leave as well? It feels like so long since March. I’m doing alright, thanks. Quite a good day today. Me and my pal Alice had to take baskets of flowers from Covent Garden over to Hackney, where the Queen was visiting all the street shrines. They’re the makeshift rolls of honour set up by local people to remember the boys who’ve died from their street or neighbourhood. We tried our best to get a glimpse of her but the crowd was so huge we could only see her hat!

To read about street shrines, visit: http://goo.gl/n7P5pG

9th August 1916

Walter: We’ve got a practice attack tomorrow so all the senior ranks have had refresher training in battle handling and tactics with the Lewis Gun. We’ve been given different colours to wear on our shoulders too, to show what company we’re in. I’m in A Company so I’ve got blue. B is green, C red and D yellow. So we can work out who’s who during future operations. Anyway, by a stroke of luck it was Fred teaching our lot, so I was able to introduce Mr Haskell to him properly. They got on like a house on fire – it was good to see Fred feeling a bit more like himself out of the line and I’m sure it helped that he got the chance to show us something he knows inside out. It’s a shame his nerves get the better of him, I think he’d make a good leader otherwise. I caught him for a word afterwards and said I was glad he looked a bit better – he said so he should be, he’s just found out he’s going on leave! About time, that’ll do him some good.

Mabel: Hooray! What good news. I knew it had to be his turn sometime soon. When’s he coming back? Which station will he come in at?

Walter: Victoria, probably. I’m sure he’ll let you know as soon as he can. Just take it slow with him, won’t you? The poor bloke’s nerves are frayed enough as it is.

Mary: That’s good news for dear Fred. Tell him he must come to see us at Sabine Road and I’ll make him some dinner, fatten him up a bit.

To find out more about the Lewis Gun, visit: http://goo.gl/Kj5LmP

8th August 1916

Walter: Good day yesterday. More preparation training, with Mr Haskell cracking jokes and keeping everyone chipper, then the band of the 21st Londons gave a concert in the local square. They deserve a rest as much as anyone after all the stretcher bearer work they’ve been doing but they reckon they’re going to play every night we’re here. We weren’t sure if they’d be able to as they lost a couple of their best players recently, but they managed to get some replacements in. Last night was lovely and warm and we all sat out listening to the music, feeling like the war was a million miles away. Some of the lads were getting on well with the local ‘ladies’ as well. Not me, mind you.

Lily: What do you mean, ‘ladies’?

Walter: Not for your ears, Lil… just one of the services the locals provide for the soldiers. But don’t you worry, I’m all yours.

To read about the Corps of Army Music today, visit: https://goo.gl/BKQyMa

5th August 1916

Walter: We’ve moved to St Riquier and should hopefully be out of the line for a while. Seems a bit cushy while everyone else is still fighting at the Somme but we’ll be training hard so we can be put to good use when the time’s right. It’ll be good to play a bit of sport again too. The army doesn’t mind us playing a bit of footie when we’re out of the line – keeps everyone fit. Sad to see the Olympics has been cancelled this year though. But then, they were going to hold it in Berlin, so no wonder! The paper reckons they’re using the stadium as a training ground instead.

To find out more about the cancelled 1916 Berlin Olympics, visit: https://goo.gl/lAI7bu

3rd August 1916

Lily: What a treat it is to finally have a tiny bit of spare cash! Now that my mum’s working on the gas helmets and I’ve got my motorcycle rounds, for the first time ever not all my money has to go on rent and food and bills, steep as they are. So I sat in Trafalgar Square, waiting to collect a parcel, and tried to think of something I could get, just for me, that didn’t have nothing whatsoever to do with housework or the war or being sensible. And then this woman walked by, looking just like one of them actresses in the motion pictures, and I thought… ‘It’s the eyebrows.’ Well, it is, isn’t it? And the eyelashes too. So I’m going to buy some of this ‘Eyebrowlin’ I’ve seen in the paper and grow mine all thick and luscious! You wait, Walter, by the time you get back I’ll look a right starlet.

Walter: I’m glad you’ve got some extra cash, Lil. Just remember to save a bit, won’t you? And what’s this about growing big eyebrows? I think you look just fine as you are.

Mabel: I thought of getting some of that too but me eyebrows keep growing through yellow because of the munitions chemicals… I look like a canary! Let me know how you get on.

To read about beauty ideals in the first half of the 20th century, visit: https://goo.gl/9Je5zl

and to find out some tricks of early film makeup, visit: https://goo.gl/I4dIHm

1st August 1916

Rose: What a cheek! There was me happily handing over my French coins for a basket of strawberries at the local shop and a group of children started giggling. I asked them in French what the matter was but they wouldn’t reply until one of the little girls followed me out, pointed at the strawberries and said, ‘English more money.’ I asked one of the other nurses about it when I got back and she said, ‘Oh, yes, everyone knows they charge us twice the price.’ Everyone but me, it seems!

Walter: Sorry to hear you’re being charged double, Rosie! I remember the first time I realised that – the woman in the estaminet we were in kept refilling the French soldiers’ coffee cups for free and charging us for each one. Still, God bless the estaminets. A plate of lovely ‘erfs’ and chips with a buttered roll for 1Fr 60c or so. I don’t mind giving them that. You’ve got to try not to drip any down your tunic though, or the lads will say you’ve got ‘canteen medals’!

To find out more about estaminets, visit: http://goo.gl/JD5PzB

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