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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

29th April 1916

Mabel: Woolwich has suddenly become the most girlish place I’ve ever seen! All the single men at the factory, the ones what was let off service before for doing munitions work, have had their number called to go and serve. It seems Britain’s running out of men so they’re looking everywhere for them now. It’s given us all the blue devils – we thought at least our lads here were safe. Anyway, word is they’re bringing in girls from Lancashire to replace them! So maybe I’ll make some new friends. I’ll bet I won’t understand nothing they say with them accents though.

["Weeding out" at Woolwich. The "weeding out" of single men from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, for milirary service has begun on a considerable scale, large numbers of war service certificates entitling them to exemption having been cancelled during the past week. It is understood that thousands of Lancashire girls and women accustomed to machinery are to be brought to Woolwich to take their places. So difficult is the problem of housing the newcomers that all appeal has been issued asking all who can accommodate them to communicate with the manager of the Woolwich Labour Exchange.]

Walter: Sorry you’re losing pals but we really can’t do without the extra men… at least Fred will be happy you’re not keeping the company of other chaps!

Fred: Sounds like a good job to me. More blokes out here and not so many swarming round you.

Mabel: ‘Swarming’! I’d be lucky. Anyway, you’d better put your money where your mouth is, Fred Dickenson. I ain’t spoken for, am I…?

To find out more about women war workers of the north east, visit: http://goo.gl/MHd0LJ

26th April 1916

Walter: Stopped for a rest on our march back to Bouvigny Huts this afternoon and noticed everyone was whispering about something, getting all riled up. Turns out they’d had some news about a rebellion in Ireland. It happened on bank holiday Monday but we only just got word. They reckon the Irish Volunteers have taken over the Post Office in Dublin and a bunch of other buildings and have declared an Irish Republic. Seems the only troops available to deal with the situation were a Kitchener battalion of the Sherwood Foresters sent over from England. They came off badly – not surprising seeing as they were recruits and hardly trained. Now no one seems to know who’s got the upper hand and Dublin’s starting to look like a warzone. If my brother Charlie could see this… He was over in Ireland keeping the peace before the war in Europe started. I’ll bet they could do with him now.

To find out more about the Easter Rising, watch: https://goo.gl/1J1ETk

And to see real footage, watch: https://goo.gl/Ad6LN2

25th April 1916

Walter: More drill and musketry today. We don’t still use muskets of course but the word has stuck around. It’s marksmanship really – we’ve got ranges set up behind the line and more being built. As an NCO I have to direct and control fire as if we were under attack. Not easy, especially with 20-odd men all firing at the same time and knowing for once that Fritz isn’t going to fire back! There’s all sorts of practice like this going on up and down the line. My mate Terence in the Midds is finding the same thing by the sounds of it -

Terence: Finally arrived at a rest area with half decent billets! And only a 7 mile march yesterday to get here. Busy today though. D Company are on a course at grenade school and the rest of us are practising attack across open country. Would rather get the real thing over and done with. Keep hearing talk of ‘probable future operations’ so there must be something in the works. Later on we’re having our gas helmets inspected by a chemical expert. Reckon mine’s in good nick – I’ve had it on and off a few times but we’ve been lucky not have a full gas attack yet. Tomorrow there’s a demonstration on the German ‘Flammenwerfer’. Means flamethrower. The larger ones can spit flames up to 40 yards so the enemy use them to wipe out our forward defence before they send over their infantry. Our main problem is getting everyone to stop being so damned scared of them. Flame makes men retreat quicker than bullets. Never could understand that.

To read about British Army tactics in the lead up to the Somme offensive, visit: http://goo.gl/AuE4vN

23rd April 1916

Walter: Easter Sunday today. What I’d give to be back at home! Thanks for the Easter parcel, Lily, it’s going down a storm. I gave a few bits out to the corporals to share with the men – hope you don’t mind – it all helps to keep their spirits up. I’m definitely keeping the HP sauce for myself though! That was a stroke of genius, Lil. If you can put a drop of HP in with your stew then it makes all the difference. We’ve had ‘Shackles’ more times than I’d like to count recently – that’s a sort of soup made from all the dregs of the cooks’ leftovers. It’s just liquid that tastes a bit beefy really. Sounds rotten but it’s good if you get it while it’s still hot. Some of the newer lads have been learning how to make bread in a mess tin too – just flour, water, yeast and salt, proved and then left in your greased tin with a bunch of others around a fire. It helps if you grease the outside of the tin too – they’re a pain to clean otherwise and I’ve not got time for any extra bother.

Fred Gothard ww1 postcard

Mary: Hark at you, getting all housewifely! I’ll expect a hand with cleaning the pots when you get home…

Lily: Glad you liked it, sweetheart. Course I don’t mind you sharing it. The HP sauce was a thank you gift off one of the clients on my motorcycle rounds. It’s like gold dust round here – everyone wants some to send out to their boys at the front. I had a job not getting talked into swapping it!

To see a soldier cooking a stew under trench conditions, visit: https://goo.gl/X7erce

20th April 1916

Walter: Spent the day repairing roads with the Royal Engineers (the ‘Press Gang’, we call them!) Hard task masters and we’re all shattered now – so much for our ‘rest’ time. Having to keep up the discipline when the boys are tired doesn’t make me popular. At least Mr. Bennett seems to be in charge of himself again. He’s making doubly sure we’re all ready for our inspections by the Commanding Officer and the Brigade Commander tomorrow. I can tell he’s still nervy about what’s coming up though… it’s got to be something big. Fred told me they’re bringing Russian troops into France and even us lot in the 1/23rd are getting a draft of nearly 100 new men straight from Infantry Training School.

Lily: It always makes me jumpy when you say ‘something big’ is coming. That’s what you said before you got hurt at Loos. I know you can’t tell us nothing more but keep in touch, won’t you? I hate sitting here wondering what’s what. I love you.

Walter: I’ll let you know whatever I can, sweetheart. I love you too. Hope you’re getting on alright.

To find out more about preparations for the Battle of the Somme, visit: http://goo.gl/rXGh7X

18th April 1916

John: Thought I’d better let you all know I’m still in the land of the living! Barely, mind. We’re patrolling a part of the ocean that’s all iced up and you wouldn’t believe the cold. It gets right into your bones. They say that’s the life of a sailor, don’t they? You’re either baked or frozen…

Walter: Good to hear from my old school mate John after so long. It’s easy to think the worst when you haven’t heard news of someone for a while. Shame he can’t say where he is, but that’s what the world’s like now – if it’s not censored, it’s not worth knowing.

To see more images of the war at sea, including icy conditions, visit: http://goo.gl/bU8f73

14th April 1916

Terence: Hello Walter. Hope you’re getting on alright. Odd bit of the line we’re in. The Tambour sector, near Fricourt. Ground’s nothing like the Flanders mud we’ve all got used to. It’s chalky and hard. Difficult to dig but it doesn’t fall in and you don’t need sandbags. Means the communication trenches are deeper and reliefs can be made during the day, so there’s a good thing. It’s good for mining too – tunnelling through to the enemy’s positions. Of course if we’ve worked that out you can be sure Fritz has too. He’s been giving us hell – artillery day and night, rifle grenades, actual torpedoes in the morning strafe! At least they’re easy enough to dodge. Can’t say the same for rifle grenades. Lost at least one man to them and several injured every day. We’ve started sending back 250 rifle grenades each day ourselves. What goes around comes around out here.

Walter: Thank god we’re getting out of the front line again. Being relieved by the 20th Londons again, in the pitch dark for safety of course. It’s my job to brief the incoming Platoon Sergeant on what this section of trench is like – what needs repairing, if we’ve located any enemy snipers, where the parapet dips low, that sort of thing. I’ve also got to get the platoon in and out smoothly and without taking any casualties, especially with 2/Lt. Bennett in a bit of a state. I’m hoping a few days out in rest billets at Carency will give him a chance to get his head straight.

To read more about trench tactics and rifle grenades, visit: http://goo.gl/vZ7RvR

12th April 1916

Mary: Well, there’s a turn up for the books. The tax on matches has been lifted just in time for Annie’s birthday. Good job too, else it would have cost an arm and a leg just to light her candles! What a lovely day it’s been. Springlike, and the poor little love’s chest hasn’t been giving her too much trouble. I’ll be honest, some of us didn’t think she’d ever make it to 9 years old. What a treat and a blessing she is… bright as a button. Even her father’s in a good mood, not least because they’ve taken back the taxes on railway journeys as well, so all his customers were happy today. Oh and Rose, we had a letter off Leonard, your Australian. It was in with Annie’s cards from the postman this morning – Lily brought it in off the mat when she visited. I must say I breathed a sigh of relief – he seems like a nice boy at least. Says he’s settling in at Weymouth and would be glad to come and visit us one day.

Walter: Happy birthday to my littlest sister, Annie! See, I made sure I didn’t forget this year. Glad to hear you’ve been able to have candles on your cake and that Rose’s Australian has been in touch. Anyway, have a lovely day. Your big brother’s proud of you.

Rose: I told you he’d be no trouble! Happy birthday dear Annie – tell her I’ve put a little something in the post.

11th April 1916

Walter: Difficult day today. We’re in the front trenches, trying to keep our heads down, but every time I needed 2/Lt. Bennett this morning, could I find him? Not a bit of it. So I told the boys he was off at a briefing and put out the sentries myself. I made sure the Section Corporals knew what stags their boys were on, went round each post to check the sentries knew which bit of No Man’s Land they were supposed to be covering in their arcs of fire, then went off to find Mr. Bennett. Eventually found him in a dugout clutching a newspaper. So I asked him, in not so many words, what the hell he was playing at and he showed me an article about the prisoner of war camp at Wittenberg. Have you heard about this business with the typhus there? The prisoners all caught it because of Russians, French, British and allsorts being thrown in together and catching diseases they weren’t used to. Anyway, it sounds like once the enemy realised what was what they just locked up the camp, with the sick men trapped inside, and left them there to die. It was last year but the news only just came out. Bloody awful. And it’s put the wind right up our Platoon Commander. I think he was almost hoping to be taken prisoner, thinking it might be the best way to survive the war. And now he doesn’t see any way of getting out of this alive and it’s frozen him up. You can hardly blame him – the life expectancy of a second lieutenant out here’s only a few days. Their service dress and Sam Browne belts make them stand out. Still, he’s in this whether he likes it or not so he’d better pull himself together. I’ll keep an eye on him.

 

Mrs Wiggins: Well, if anyone’s still dithering about doing their duty then they ought to read this Wittenberg story. What brutes the Germans must be. How can there be any Conscientious Objectors after this?

Ed: Because we don’t think things like that should happen in the first place. No war, no prisoners of war. And don’t kid yourself that our lot don’t behave like brutes as well, you just wouldn’t hear about it in the papers.

To read a modern-day Daily Express article about WWI prisoners of war, including the Wittenberg scandal, visit: http://goo.gl/ieUPHh

9th April 1916

Walter: We made it into the ‘Lorette Heights’ reserve trenches, not far from Souchez. Reserve means we’re in the trenches but not right at the front – though we could be at short notice if the mob in the firing line advance or have something nasty happen to them. Anyway, everyone back here seems to be in a right foul mood. I don’t know what’s got in to them. Maybe it’s the wet weather. I caught the men raving about Conscientious Objectors earlier and how they ought to be brought out here whether they like it or not. Either that or shot. I just told them to keep a lid on it. Didn’t dare tell them I’ve got a brother going to things like this -

Ed: Me and Evan are still waiting for letters telling us when our tribunals are. If they’re so keen to get us out to fight, you’d think they’d get a move on with it. Still, I suppose it takes a while to sort out when they’re still working through all the fuss and bother from the Derby Scheme. Went to a peace meeting in Trafalgar Square today. We always go along with great ideas but it ends up in a mess every time. Today we thought we’d have a better shot at keeping the peace, what with having Miss Sylvia Pankhurst there supporting us, but the moment the crowd caught hold of what we were doing they started ripping down our banners and turning on any of us who tried to stop them. I did well not to come away with another bust nose. Evan says they can’t help it, it’s just what the newspapers are making them believe, but you can’t help getting angry when they’re hell-bent on breaking up a peaceful protest. The other day the Daily Express called us “neurotic curiosities” though, so it’s no wonder, is it?

 “Crowd breaks up the head of the procession. The banners and flags were torn to shreds and these were distributed as souvenirs.”

To read about Sylvia Pankhurst and the suffragettes’ response to war, visit: http://goo.gl/W6A7Ux

7th April 1916

Walter: Marched with the whole battalion to the huts in Bouvigny Wood today. Dry and comfortable, which is always good, but they’re dark and there’s no decent way of lighting them. It’s cold at the moment too. Hope it’s better where you are, Rose – any news?

Rose: Evening, Walt! Hope you manage to warm up. I’ve been treating a boy with an amputated arm today. Or, rather, I thought he was a boy (he didn’t look a day over 17) until he said how worried he was about supporting his wife and 3 kids! It’s his right arm that’s gone, and he was a labourer before. I didn’t know what to say to the poor lad so I told him how grateful everyone would be for his service and that employers would save up all the possible jobs specially for injured soldiers like him. No idea if it’s true. Jamie, is there anything you can give me to pass on to him? Something about how good the new arms are getting now? It might help him feel a bit less gloomy.

Jamie: You can tell him there’s no arms shortage here! They really can do wonderful things these days and the gents in our workshop are working hard on new designs all the time. A pal of mine has just been helping them test out a new false arm with a fitting on the end that attaches to a machine, so maybe soon enough he’ll be able to work in a munitions factory. They don’t let you sit still for long…

To see footage of soldiers learning to use their new prosthetic limbs, visit: http://goo.gl/AJWfcd

5th April 1916

Walter: Catching up on all our post now that we’re out of the line and in one place for a day or two. Had a letter from Ma with all the news from home. She says they’re putting up the taxes even more – on sugar again, coffee, railway journeys, that sort of thing. People won’t like it but if it means we can get our own steel helmets instead of drawing them from the Quartermaster’s trench stores every time we go into the line then I’m afraid I couldn’t give two hoots. She reckons the King has pledged £100,000 to help the war effort too. Now, how many helmets do you reckon that’d buy?

Ed: He ought to be paying for it. This whole sorry mess is ‘For King and Country’, ain’t it? Though it’s hardly out of his own pocket, when you think about it. Maybe the taxes are up to give the King more money so he can ‘gift’ it back to us…?

 

To read more about fundraising during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/3ePpKt

4th April 1916

Lily: Well, at least one of them rotten Zepps got brought down. East of London, over the Thames Estuary. There’s pictures all over the papers of the man who shot it down. They reckon he flew over it in his plane and dropped a bomb on it from above! All the other motorcycle girls have been going barmy over him – trying to work out if he’s stationed here and if we might get asked to deliver him a parcel… No such luck for Scotland anyway. They had their first taste of a Zepp raid last night and all 3 of the blasted things got away.

Mabel: He’s quite the buck, ain’t he? He can come by Woolwich any time he likes.

To find out more about Lieutenant Brandon, visit: http://goo.gl/hrSRQ1

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