Now available as a Paperback and on Kindle
Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th April 1915

Walter: Well I ain’t never known a day like today! We’ve had a few working parties go out recently… that’s where you has to go out in a group to do things like road building or fetching up wire and ammunition… and today I was picked for one! There was 2 officers and 100 of us men, and we marched to the ‘Indian Village’, up by Richebourg-L'avoue. They calls it the ‘Indian Village’ because the Meerut Division of the Indian Army is there and they has all the special ways of doing their food properly and places where they can pray. Glad they’ve got that now – at the start of the war no one really thought about what they might prefer to eat. It was quite a shock to go there if I’m honest… I mean, you do get people from different countries in Battersea but I ain’t never seen an Indian soldier before… it’s just like you said Rose, they has these turbans to keep their hair in. Some of them speak a bit of English though. I had a word with a fellow called Sidh who said the winter’s been very hard for them. They come from a hot climate see and they didn’t have all the gear to keep warm… He said he volunteered when he saw a poster that said there’d be "lots of rest, lots of respect, very little danger and a good salary”… but he’s written home since to say it ain’t like that.

30 April 1915 Indian Village

To see a feature on Indian soldiers in WWI on Hindi news channel NDTV, visit http://goo.gl/v1t9GH

28th April 1915

Walter: It’s another sunny day – Fred’s been going about saying it’s as hot as summer! And it seems there’s something doing everywhere except here… They’re fighting around Ypres still and they say the enemy made it over the Yser canal... everyone reckons they’re heading for Dunkirk. Wish we could have a go at them – I gets angry thinking about them getting that far. And then our chaps from Australia, New Zealand and home, plus the French, have landed on either side of the Dardanelles strait, out at the Gallipoli peninsula... Hope it’s going alright for them – Corporal Dart reckons the terrain is tricky out that way. Got to go – just heard we’re getting relieved by the 24th Londons – they’re South London Terriers too, from the drill hall in Kennington.

To watch a documentary about the Gallipoli campaign, visit http://goo.gl/UeYfQi

25th April 1915

Rose: Well everyone, I’ve been moved! No more jolting about on hospital trains, I’ve been sent nearer to the line – to be part of a ‘Field Ambulance’. Now, a Field Ambulance ain’t a vehicle – it’s a unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps, made up of all sorts of medical officers and nurses and orderlies and we treats soldiers quite close to the action… my pal Florence said we’re now ‘at the back of the front’! She’s a clever one. Anyway it’s all go already with this gas-fumes business – the medical staff here have been doing experiments in a barn to try and find a way to stop it. They keep going in and out with masks soaked in different antidotes… I don’t know how well any of it’s working though and they’ve all got rotten coughs now. One fellow had too much chlorine and couldn’t breathe – we had to give him fumes of ammonia until he felt better…

Walter: Well at least they’re working on it! Makes me feel a bit better. We’re back in the line now –not much doing but you still got to be careful of snipers and mortars. We’ve had a couple of fellows wounded.

Rose: Sorry to hear it Walt – hope they pull through. Good news here though – our fellows in the barn have figured out something to put over their mouths so they can go and help anyone caught in this gas without suffering themselves! They do work quick.

To find out more about field ambulances, visit http://goo.gl/dyI51X

April 23rd 1915

Walter: Rotten news today. Sergeant Bridges moved down the line this morning telling everyone that the Germans used poisonous gas as a weapon, up on the Ypres salient. Yesterday evening it was. Nasty stuff – no one knew what it was, just this cloud of something coming over towards them, smelling like pineapple and pepper. It was the French and Algerian soldiers (the ones they call the Zouaves) that got the worst of it. Some of them tried to outrun it, some stayed because they didn’t know what the orders was, and then they all started choking on it. I don’t like to say too much about what they reckon it does to you… it don’t sound nice. A load of fellows died and the rest need hospital treatment. Trouble was, it left a great gap in the line and the Germans broke through and started heading towards Ypres itself. The Canadians up there have been putting up a good defence and the French tried a counter attack but still it don’t look good. This ain’t what I thought war would be like at all. I’m glad we’re out of the line.

Lily: Me too… it sounds rotten. We ain’t heard nothing about it here – the papers are just full of news about umarried mothers having ‘war babies’. They’re wondering what women should do about it and whether we ought to treat these mothers kinder than normal because their fellows are soldiers.

Mabel: What women should do about it? Ain’t it got nothing to do with the men then? I’ve heard it takes two…

Mary: Oh love, that gas sounds evil. Here’s hoping they ain’t got any more of it… I hope we can hang on at Ypres too.

To read about the first successful gas attack, visit http://goo.gl/hHKlIC

and to read a first-hand account of the day, visit http://goo.gl/zvRc7Q

April 22nd 1915

Walter: Marched to Auchel today for a bath. About bleedin time. It’s funny, everyone ends up looking white as a sheet from the dried mud – clothes and boots and faces and all... Got some nice billets now though and I’m even learning some of the French lingo, like you did Rose! ‘Napoo’ – that means there ain’t none left, “toot sweet” means do it quick and a “poilu” is a hairy French soldier!

Rose: Ha ha, oh Walt that’s not French! That’s just what you soldiers say instead of the real words… one of the sisters I work with comes from a very well-to-do family and she’s been doing a few lessons on the side, teaching us all to speak French proper. ‘Napoo’ is really ‘il n’y en a plus’ and ‘toot sweet’ is ‘tout de suite’… I think ‘poilu’ is right though, and you’ve got the meanings spot on.

To find out more about trench ‘lingo’, visit http://goo.gl/uB6RDx

April 20th 1915

Walter: Well, we’re out of the trenches – billeted at Allouagne. Can’t believe it’s only a week or so ago that we went in… I feel like a different man altogether. Learnt a lot from the veterans but we’re all just exhausted. We do have a laugh some of the time, but mostly it’s bloody awful. There was that many snipers out there and in some places all we had as protection was canvas screens so they couldn’t see us so easy. Another fellow got hit – Private Drury. They buried him yesterday. I suppose two killed ain’t so many… but it shakes you up. Donald, one of the lads from the Black Watch, said we was lucky it weren’t more, what with everyone sticking their heads up when they shouldn’t.

Mary: Walter Carter, you watch your language. I’m glad you’re out of the firing line though son. Let us know how you get on.

Walter: I’m sorry Ma, it’s just you gets used to it with all the fellows out here... They’ve got some foul mouths on them these lads! And it helps somehow, when you’re having a tricky time. I learnt some words I ain’t even heard on the railways…

Mary: Well you just keep them to yourselves, I won’t have you coming back home talking like a ruffian.

Walter: Don’t worry Ma, once I get home it’ll be just like old times, you’ll see…

To find out more about swearing in the trenches, visit http://goo.gl/CVuIA6

April 17th 1915

Walter: Woke up full of aches and pains this morning – that’s always the way first thing, what with being outside and getting half frozen. And no one hardly gets any sleep anyway, even if you ain’t on sentry – the war don’t stop overnight, so you just has to sleep anywhere you can, whatever time of day or night it is. Still, everyone has to be awake for ‘Stand To’ just before dawn and at last light. That’s when we has to get all our equipment on and take up a ‘firing position’ against the front of the trench – rifles and bayonets pointed towards the German lines. It’s for protection really – they reckon you’re more likely to get attacked at dawn or dusk, so we takes precautions. Our first ‘Stand To’ was when I got me first proper look at ‘No Man’s Land’, the bit between us and the enemy. That was a shock. They’ve got bodies still lying out there from who knows when. And rats all picking at them. It makes me feel sick thinking about it. Then we have breakfast whenever we can and get on with the fatigues of the day – mostly fixing up the trench and digging channels to drain the water. Just heard from Jonnie Dart that the Brits took Hill 60 back... That’s good. Hope they can hold onto it.

To find out more about standing-to, visit http://goo.gl/5Ppg85

and to find out more about Hill 60, visit http://goo.gl/5NCVGL

April 16th 1915

Rose: Sorry to hear you lost one of your chaps Walt. I saw a burial today – stopped and watched because it was a British soldier. Other nurses see them all the time at the base hospitals but we don’t so much, being on the trains. It was something alright – they had a Union Flag over the coffin, which was just a thin wooden box really, and a firing party and everything. The padre read – about a hundred men was there listening... And all of a sudden I thought of all of those fellows I’ve tried to help, the ones who didn’t make it and even the ones who did, and I couldn’t help it, I cried my heart out for every one of them. The tears don’t hardly come when you’re working – you can’t let them – and after a while you just toughen up to it. But that funeral really did for me. It’s funny, they dig the graves very close together in these military cemeteries – I suppose they has lots to fit in. Each one gets a cross to mark it though. Anyway, I hope you’re alright Walt – I been hearing all sorts of guns and crashes up here. Sounds like things are getting busy again. The star shells are the worst (them ones that look like fireworks) – they’re miles away, and I know they’re meant to light everything up, but all the same they’re rotten for keeping you awake at night… I could do with a good night’s sleep, I really could.

April 15th 1915

Walter: Bad news today – one of the chaps that got hit, that Barden from C Company… he didn’t make it. They buried him yesterday, at Richebourg… We didn’t see the ceremony, only the band went along as bearers. They said the Padre made a good job of it. Don’t like to think about it too much – Cpl Dart says it just happens and you has to get on with it. I suppose he’s right. And then we heard there’s been Zeppelin raids back home… glad no one was killed. Is everyone alright, Ma?

Mary: Good to hear from you Walter, and we were so sorry to hear about your pal. We’re alright thank you and none of them rotten Zeppelins have been by – they was up at Tyneside, not round here… It is getting a bit of a trial to buy food though. It’s the cost of bread – 8 ½ pence for a quarter loaf! You remember it used to be 5 ½? I don’t know how I’ll feed us all if it carries on the same.

Walter: Oh Ma that sounds rotten… can you still get enough grub for everyone, just about? It’s been in the papers so maybe Asquith will do something about it.

Mary: You mustn’t worry yourself about it son, I’m sorry I mentioned it. We’re getting by just fine and I’m sure we have more to eat than you boys do

To read more about burials at the Front, visit http://goo.gl/1OjtiR

and to explore changing prices over the 20th century, visit http://goo.gl/FyvIUE

April 12th 1915

Walter: Seems we’re really in the thick of it now. We ain’t got too much cover, because of not being able to dig… we ain’t even got communication trenches, so almost everything has to be done in view of the enemy. Two of our fellows got wounded by snipers just this afternoon – we heard the call for stretcher bearers go up… first time I’ve heard that. They weren’t my Section, but I heard Bridges saying one of them, a chap called Barden, didn’t look too good. We’ve had shells bursting all over too – it is a sight – we was all gawping at them exploding on the supply routes at the rear until we got an earful off the fellows we’ve been stationed with. We’ve been put with the 1st Guards Brigade to show us how to get on out here. They’re good lads. And they had a point about the shells – I reckon one could really smash a man up. Trouble is, it seems we don’t have hardly any shells to fire back with… I suppose this is what they mean by the shell shortage…

Mary: It sounds awful out there Walter – I do hope you’re keeping ok… Now I know you have more important things on your mind, but just to remind you, it’s Annie’s birthday today. Don’t worry, I told her you’d wished her a ‘Happy Birthday’…!

Walter: Oh I forgot! Rotten brother I am. Everything’s just so new out here Ma – half the time I don’t know what day it is. Thanks for telling her that… poor kid. Give her a hug from me and tell her I bet she looks 9 years old, not 8.

To read more about the shell shortage, visit http://goo.gl/FtbJoM

April 11 1915

Walter: What a day we’ve had today… a long march to the reserve line with all our kit, then waiting there until it got dark before we could move forward. The reserve line weren’t like what I’d imagined – just a few ruined farm buildings, full of fellows who’d just come from the trenches. They didn’t look too sharp if I’m honest – head to toe mud and looking dead beat. The Sar Major would have had our guts for garters if we’d showed up looking like that… Then as soon as it got dark, two guides came to lead us to the front line trench. We had to go single file – no fags, no talking. There was a slope at the entrance and we landed in about a foot of cold water at the bottom. That’s when I realised none of this is like what we thought it would be. From what I could see, it looked like they couldn’t dig down no more because of the wet, so they built up instead – the front of the trench was all sandbags and timbers, about 6ft tall. And the trench itself is only wide enough for about 3 men to stand shoulder to shoulder. There’s a smell too – a real rotten smell. I didn’t ask what it is.

Lily: Oh I hate the idea of you being in a trench. I hope it’s quiet and you ain’t in too much danger. Is there really a foot of cold water in the bottom of it? It sounds rotten.

Mary: You sound very tired love. Try and find yourself a dry place to sleep and I’m sure everything will look better in the morning. Take care of yourself.

April 9th 1915

Walter: Moved closer to the line and just had a kit inspection. Laid out everything on a groundsheet and Sergeant Bridges came round first to check everything was present and correct, so Lt Summers, our Platoon Commander, wouldn’t give him a hard time. We got on alright – most of our things was only replaced the other day anyway – our old leather 1903 kit got swapped for the standard issue 1908 web version. It’s a lot better – it’s got the right sized pouches for the Lee Enfield Rifle ammunition clips. We has to carry a lot of stuff – rifle, ammunition, bayonet, entrenching tool, blankets, spare boots, housewife (that’s a sewing kit), shaving kit, greatcoat, rations, a large pack and a small pack… it’s a wonder we can move at all.

 

To read more about the 1908 web kit, visit http://goo.gl/IUVFjC

April 6th 1915

Walter: Hope everyone had a good Easter! Rumours are getting going again here, about us going into the line… don’t know if we should believe it now, after last time. Either way, I hope they still plan on giving us a rum ration – we heard about the King and his household giving up booze for the whole of the war! And Kitchener too. They say it’s because there ain’t enough munitions being made and if people didn’t get drunk they could make a lot more. Don’t know about that… I do know that anyone who says you don’t need a bit of drink from time to time ain’t never had to sleep outside.

Fred: They’d better not take away our booze! Gawd, there’d be a mutiny.

Bert Hopkins: It’s that David Lloyd George, ain’t it? The Chancellor. Wants to stop people drinking altogether. If they stop our rum ration, I’m quitting…

To find out more about alcohol in the First World War, visit: http://goo.gl/rGMYzL

April 2 1915

Walter: Good Friday today. The Bishop of London held a service that got everyone all stirred up – you should have heard him – he reckons this is a holy war and that we’re putting our lives on the line for “freedom, honour and chivalry” just like Christ did. Now, I ain’t been much of a church-going man in me life but I had a word with our padre, Captain Barley, about it afterwards. He’s alright, old Barley. His job is to talk to us if we gets worried out here and he does services too – on Sundays as normal, but he says he’ll do them before battle and at burials as well... He said to me he mostly agrees with what the Bishop said, but he don’t want anyone to give their life if they can help it – even Germans. He reckons God has to be on our side though because we’re the protectors, looking out for little Belgium. I hope he’s right.

Fred: Of course he’s right! I like our Charlie Barley. Whenever he says anything serious he always has this look like he’d rather be having a joke with you. I could tell he weren’t too keen on that Bishop though – I reckon he thought he was a bit fierce with all that business about killing – “to kill Germans; to kill them, not for the sake of killing, but to save the world; to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded…”

To find out more about padres, or military chaplains, in the Great War, visit http://goo.gl/Uw2k4P

April 1 1915

Rose: Well I’ve had some news! I had a letter from Jamie, my Scottish fellow! I’d just about given up hope and then it turned up in the post. It were ever so nicely written. He said he was sorry he hadn’t written sooner but he’d had some complications from his amputation. They had to operate again and take it off altogether, at the hip. He’s alright now though, no gas gangrene or nothing. Except he has to learn how to do things different. Says it takes a bit of getting used to. Look at this what he said: “It seems it’s easier to destroy than to repair.” Don’t he write nicely? He’s at the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley – it’s just near Southampton so he didn’t have too far to go on the train after they got him off the boat. Now I don’t know how soon to write back to him… do you think he’ll think I’m too keen on him if I write back now?

Walter: I’m glad he got his act together, I was starting to think he was a rogue. Of course you ought to write back to him, if you want to. If he don’t reply, then you’ll know he ain’t worth the bother.

Rose: Thanks Walt, no-nonsense advice as always! How are you getting on yourself?

Walter: In the pink thanks Rosie – we had our first baths in France today! So everyone’s feeling chipper again.  Let us know what your fellow says if he writes back.

Lily: Ooh that’s good Rose! Did he say anything nice? And good news on the baths Walter…! I don’t know if I could go two weeks or more without a bath… even when I don’t want to carry all the water over from the copper I go down the public baths.

Rose: Oh he was very nice in his letter, Lily. Seems he liked my curls, of all things! If he didn’t mind me all grubby from nursing then if he ever sees me ‘after the war’ he’ll think I’m Mary Pickford!

To find out more about Netley Hospital, visit: http://goo.gl/tSRToz

Website Designed and Built by B&M Design & Advertising

Now available as a Paperback and on Kindle
Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale