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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31st August 1914

Charles: Rotten day. As one of the officers said: “Exceedingly hot, what?” That’s become our little saying now. I does quite a good impression when he ain’t listening. Couldn’t stop for our noonday halt, owing to reports of Germans coming up too close, so we had to keep marching in the heat and some of the men ‘fell out’ towards the end. Got more men yesterday though – there weren’t many of the 2nd Suffolk Regiment left so they’ve been added to us.

Walter: Sounds like you’re one of the fittest there Charlie. Can’t wait to come and join you.

30th August 1914

Charles: Bad news from the Eastern Front. The Russians have been trying to give us lot a break by attacking the Germans from the east, but it ain’t gone well. Yesterday, three whole corps of the Russian army got surrounded in a forest with no way out. They say the enemy took 92,000 prisoners and killed the rest – don’t know how many yet.

To find out more about what came to be called the Battle of Tannenberg, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/battle_tannenberg.shtml

29th August 1914

Walter: I had a letter from Ma, Rose… says she ain’t happy with you and to have a word. What is it now?

Rose: I told her I’m signing up to go to France… You remember when I joined the Civil Hospital Reserve so I could be a military nurse in wartime, but still have me civilian nursing job when I come back? Well, I didn’t tell you… but like you, I had the chance to sign up to go abroad instead of just staying here. You can bet I did it. Me and Edie from the Lodging House went together. Ma ain’t happy though – she says with Charles there and you going she won’t have any of her eldest children left, except Ed…

Walter: Right, first off, Ma – I probably ain’t even going. Charlie’s lot will have finished him off before we even leave. Secondly, Rose – you ain’t got your head on straight. France can do without one more nurse. It ain’t the place for you. You heard what Charlie said, it’s dangerous enough even for the men.

Rose: Well ain’t you all high and mighty now you’re out of the house. Yes I saw what Charlie wrote. That’s just it – I can’t have me big brother and our boys out there and not do nothing to help. The military nurses ain’t enough and they need us reserves.

Ed: I don’t see why you’d bother, Rose. Stay here where it’s safe.

Mary: I don’t know what to do with her – I’ve told her she’ll have to have her father’s permission before she can go, not that that’s ever stopped her. If you’d been married by now Rose, you wouldn’t be giving your mother so much grief.

Rose: How many times, Ma… I can’t do nursing proper if I’m married, and they wouldn’t have let me sign up to go to France anyway. Besides, I like living with the girls in the Lodging House.

Charles: Just got a quiet minute to reply - sorry everyone, but we need more nurses like you Rose. It ain’t a place for women out here, especially not me little sister, but that don’t mean we don’t need you. Just you mind them Jack-the-lads… tell them you’re engaged or something.

Walter: Well, if Charlie says… When do you think you might go out?

Rose: As soon as I can – October maybe. Thanks Charlie, hope you’re alright.

Charles: Alright here, got a bit of cooked food yesterday morning. Usually we just picks stuff up from ‘dumps’ they leaves for us at the side of the road… Then it was more marching, but we’ve been able to rest at Pontpoise today.

Mary: Take good care, son. We’re very proud of you…  Rose you come and speak to your father.

To find out more about nusing in WW1, visit http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/casualties-medcal/1140-british-military-nurses-and-the-great-war-a-guide-to-the-services.html

27th August 1914

Walter: Thought of you today Charlie – Mrs Abbott was asking me all about me brothers and sisters. Proud of you, brother. How are you getting on?

Charles: Thanks Walt. Paraded at 3am and marched to St Quentin. Bit quieter here, but the Hun are never far behind. Some fellows from 4th Division was going to surrender, owing to not wanting to march no more… but they say Major Tom Bridges and his trumpeter walked into a toy shop, bought a toy drum and a tin whistle and did a speech with music to stir them up again! Ha. I could do with some stirring up meself. How are you getting on in St Albans Walter? Tell me all the news, it’ll give me something to take me mind off the hunger. I shall be glad to get to somewhere where we can get proper supplies and some cooked food…

Walter: Great story Charlie. Hope you gets some hot food soon. We’re getting on alright – always marching here too. Sounds like we’re going to need the practice, from what you said. We ain’t had any bayonet assault training at all though – suppose we might not need it with all the rifle and artillery action!

Charles: Don’t be soft. You’ll always need your bayonet – it’s great for toasting bread, opening cans, scraping mud off your boots…

To find out more about Saint Quentin and WW1, visit http://www.saint-quentin-tourism.co.uk/remembrance 

To find out more about bayonets, visit  http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/bayonets.htm

26th August 1914

Walter: How is it Charlie?

Charles: Very tiring. I’d say we’ve lost more men in this retreat than we did in the battle. Arrived at Le Cateau last night but a lot of fuss to get there. Our whole army was split in two to march either side of the forest. Meant to be quicker that way or something, and we have to be quick – the Hun are on our backs night and day. Got reinforcements now – chaps from the 3rd Division. We were meant to fall back to St Quentin, where GHQ has retreated to, but Fritz was coming up too close and General Smith Dorrien said we had to stay and make a stand against him here at Le Cateau. We was all so glad to finally turn around and fight, but it weren’t pretty, Walt. We thought I Corps would come to back us up but they never did. Battlefield a bit like Salisbury Plain without the trees – nowhere to hide and the Germans all on high ground to the north. Got buried by a shell blast – got meself out again. Out of all the line they say us in the 5th Division in the west got it worst, but the right flank got wiped out too. Saw a lot of good mates go down. Not going to list them no more. Don’t worry though Walt, we’re holding him back.

Walter: That don’t sound good. How did you get away?

Charles: In the end the Yorkshire infantrymen covered us while we retreated south. I’ll be honest, there ain’t many of us left. They say we started out with 80,000 men and the Germans with 750,000. In the east it’s 250,000 Germans versus 800,000 Russians. Don’t know what our numbers are now. Don’t like to think. We stopped them at Le Cateau for a while though. Gives us a chance to get further south. Heading for St Quentin – marching overnight. 25 miles.

To find out more about the retreat from Mons and action on the Eastern Front, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_invasion_of_East_Prussia_(1914)

24th August 1914

Charles: Up again. Parading at 4am. Very tired. There’s rumours that the French are retreating. Stupid if you ask me – the BEF could stick it, but not if the French leave a gap to our side. Could get surrounded so we’ll have to pull back if they do.

Walter: (7am) Not what anyone was expecting – thought you was going to blast straight through him Charlie?

Charles: I told you, there’s too many. We’ll keep him off Paris but we’ll have to retreat for a bit. Just been told I’m on rear guard now while we pull back. Going to be a long, hot march.

Walter: Good luck.

24th August 1914

Walter: Charlie?

Charles: Just got to bed, bivouacked in a factory yard to the south. Exhausted. 100 of our battalion are dead, wounded or missing, maybe more. Chalky’s gone, Pearce, Eddie. He were only a foot away from me and they got him. I’m sorry you had to wait for news. Tell Annie I’m alright, Ma.

Walter: What happened? So sorry about your pals.

Charles: The Hun attacked at 1pm. Artillery bombardment first, then Fritz himself. There’s so many of them, Walt. More than us. They came forward in a block but was just walking, so we gave them some – our riflemen are the best there are and you can’t beat the Mk III SMLE for accuracy. You couldn’t miss them anyway, them coming forward like that. Don’t know how many I got. Lots. The machine gunners held them off at the bridges too but there was too many of them and they broke through the Borderers’ barricade – we had to withdraw south. Only a bit though. And the Royal Engineers blew up the bridges so Fritz couldn’t get over.

Walter: Sounds like you gave him a rough time. Well done Charlie. Glad you’re alright.

Charlie: We’re holding him back. Have to sleep now – only got a couple of hours.

To find out more about the Battle of Mons, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/zf7msbk 

23rd August 1914

Walter: Charles – heard there’s been some enemy action up there. Hope you gave him what for. Let us know how you’re getting on when you can Charlie.

Mary: We’re fretting here – Annie keeps asking how her biggest brother is and I can’t tell her.

Walter: I’m sure he’ll be fine, Ma. Tell Annie Charlie’s the strongest fellow there. He won’t let no German come near him. He’s probably too busy fighting them off one-handed to write that’s all.

22nd August 1914

Charles: More marching up to the Mons Conde Canal today. 18 miles. Very hot. Every road in Belgium seems cobbled and it ain’t half hard on the feet. Worse for the reservists with their new boots – they’ve worked hard to get fit but the boots take weeks to break in. I ain’t seen it meself but they say they have blood coming through their lace holes! They can’t even have a foot inspection because they’re all afraid if they take the boots off they might not get them back on again... And now we’re here we ain’t got no supplies and was told to eat half our iron ration already.

Walter: Poor chaps! Glad I’ve had me boots a while… Hope you had a cup of tea at least Charlie. Have you see any Germans yet?

Charles: Not yet, but we had reports of a couple of cavalry skirmishes. All we can do is strengthen our positions here, to the left of the French. The canal’s important – we need to stop Fritz getting beyond it and heading for Paris. There are two bridges here near Les Herbieres, out to the west of Mons – a railway bridge and a road bridge. Ours to guard, with the 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers.

Walter: I wish I was there Charlie – it sounds so exciting to be up there with the boys doing some good. Feel a bit cut off here in St Albans.

To find out more about soldiers’ rations, visit http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/ironration.htm

21st August 1914

Walter: Any updates, Charlie?

Charles: Quick one while I’ve got a moment to write to you. Left our billets at Landrecies at 6.30 this morning for more marching… 15 miles past the Forest of Mormal. Weather very close and muggy. Lots of reservists joined us before we left– glad of them as we were low on men, but it’s strange to suddenly get new chaps when you know the usual ones so well. They’re finding it very trying. I’m alright. Haven’t even seen a German yet and already got one casualty – Walters was bathing in the canal and was drowned. Poor fellow’s going to miss the whole thing.

Mary: Thanks for this son and I’m sorry to hear about your friend Walters. Give us all the news whenever you can.

Walter: Silly chap. Glad to hear you’re getting on alright Charlie.

To find Landrecies, visit https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Landrecies/@50.1170124,3.6840401,7z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x47c287dc8bdb7979:0x40af13e81646490?hl=en

19th August 1914

Walter: Heard something funny from little Jimmy today. He said his mate was on scout camp when war was declared, with a German scoutmaster! The fellow left immediately, but Mrs Abbott says he only got as far as Dover and they must have taken him to prison. Good job too. Reckon them Germans have got spies everywhere.

17th August 1914

Walter: Starting to know me way around now – they’ve set up battalion headquarters, sergeants’ mess and central messing at the Abbey and County Hall, and we’ve got a good bit of Batchwood Park for training. Met the rest of the family too – Jimmy and Jack, the little’uns, are a laugh. Jimmy’s at school – he says he’s nearly nine and almost old enough to be a soldier hisself. Ha. Little Jack’s only 3 so he’s still at home with his ma. Then there’s Mrs Abbott’s Old Nana, who I must call ‘Miss Sarah’, but who everyone on the street calls ‘Ol’ Great Western’ because she always tells how she “came hootin’ into the world the same time as the trains, dear” – she told me this a few times already.

Lily: Seems like you’re settling in darling and they sound a nice bunch. Just don’t go meeting no glamorous ladies.

Walter: Oh it ain’t glamorous here at all Lil. Quite like the countryside compared to London. Must say I like it though. Quiet enough. And anyway, we spend all our time training – no time to meet no ladies.

15th August 1914

Walter: How are you getting on, Charlie?

Charles: Landed in France, at Le Havre – soaking rain though so can’t see much. Will set off ‘on root’ (how’s that?) to Belgium on Monday.

Walter: Good luck. Wish I was there with you – I reckon it’ll be all over by the time we get there. Give Fritz a bellyful from me if you see him.

To find out more about Charlie’s battalion, visit: http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/war_diaries/local/1Bn_East_Surrey/1Bn_East_Surrey_1914/1Bn_East_Surrey_1914_08.shtml

15th August 1914

Walter: Marched the rest of the way to St Albans today. Arrived like heroes – the band played us all the way up the hill into the town. Felt quite proud. Billeted at a nice place on the west of the city – some of the rest are up on the north side. I feel for Fred – he’s only up the road but he must be in the most narrowest house I ever seen. Bad luck Fred!

Fred: It ain’t so bad. Living with a nice old fellow – he made me cocoa and everything. He don’t have no family here so I think it suits him just fine.

Mary: Who are you billeted with Walter? I hope they treat you alright.

Walter: Haven’t met all of them yet Ma – it’s a family with a couple of kids and their nan living with them. A Mr and Mrs Abbott. They seem alright. I’m here with another fellow from our battalion: Bert Hopkins. I suppose they wanted the extra money for taking two of us. Bert says you know his mum. We’re sharing a room like I do with Ed at home. Hope he’s a better bedfellow that you, Eddie…

Ed: Well I’m stretching out here now… very nice to have a room all to meself!

Mary: I do know her – I’ll have a word next time I see her down the butcher’s. Sleep well son.

To find out more about St Albans in the first months of the war, visit http://www.stalbanshistory.org/page_id__600_path__0p153p175p.aspx

14th August 1914

Fred: I tell you what Walter, I’m jiggered. I was half ready to go back to bed when we reached Hyde Park, and then to have to march on to Edgware with all the others!

Lily: So you’re at Edgware now?

Walter: Yes Lil – in bivouac at Canons Park. Fred’s just pretending, we’re having a grand time really. Hyde Park looked wonderful with all the soldiers and their horses. Met a couple of fellows from the 1st Life Guards. Great to live like a real soldier. More marching tomorrow – all the way up to St Albans.

13th August 1914

Walter: The billeting party have set us up at St Albans so we’re off tomorrow. Parade at headquarters at noon and then we start the march. It’s finally time. Can’t wait. How do you fancy a walk this evening, Lily? It would be nice to see you.

Lily: I thought you’d never ask…

Walter: I ain’t planning no big gestures, mind. Just thought it’d be nice to see my girl before I go. I’ll knock for you at 6 and we’ll go round the block a bit. Maybe up by the bandstand.

Lily: I’ll look forward to it.

Charles: We’re on our way today Walt – the people of Dublin gave us a right good send off and a packet of fruit, cake and cigs for each of us!

Walter: Sounds good, Charlie! Enjoy the trip.

Charles: Don’t know about enjoying it – would you enjoy rattling around in a cattle truck? About to cross the channel – some of the boys is a bit nervous. It would be difficult enough without thinking about the German Navy lying in wait for us.

To find out more about the history of Battersea Park, visit http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/info/200073/parks_and_open_spaces/266/battersea_park/5

12th August 1914

Walter: Passed the medical – nothing wrong with me! Fred stupidly told them he’s got a stiff arm from his portering work and they nearly passed him for home service only, but he said quick he was only joking and they let him though.

Fred: That was close! Don’t know what I was thinking. It’s me rifle arm too so they definitely wouldn’t have let me sign up.

Lily: I hope it don’t give you trouble when you’re out there.

Fred: Course it won’t – won’t be doing no portering will I? Be a chance to give it a rest. Get some sunshine on me and a nice French girl to kiss it better - I’ll be right as ninepence in no time.

To find out more about 1914 medical examinations, visit http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/MedicalCategories.html

11th August 1914

Walter: Had a talk from the CO. He told us all about signing up to say we’re willing to go overseas if they need us. Me and Fred was right at the front of the queue. Some fellows thought twice about it once they actually had to sign their name, but not us. In the end only one chap didn’t sign the form but I reckon we can sway him.

Mary: I’m sorry we couldn’t talk you round son. I know Lily’s taken it hard. All the same, as I was saying to Mrs Wiggins today, it does make you proud to have two brave boys going off to fight for King and Country.

10th August 1914

Lily: It would be nice to hear from you Walter. Are you getting on alright? I heard there was some trouble with the band.

Fred: Looks like she’s got the hump with you…!

Walter: I’m sorry Lily. We been so busy and caught up in it. It didn’t go down well with the regimental band that they was supposed to be mobilised too. They didn’t think they’d get called up so it was a shock. In the end they was told they don’t have to go abroad just yet.

Lily: I didn’t think you had to go abroad either?

Fred: Oho! This gets better and better…

Walter: Cheese it, Fred. I wasn’t sure how to tell you, but we might get the chance to sign up for going abroad. I’d miss you and all that but I should like to see a different country.

Mary: Just seen this Walter, what do you mean? I got Charles going off to France with the regular army – you’re not going anywhere.

Walter: I ain’t been training for nothing Ma! If they need me to fight overseas you can bet I’ll be there. Can we talk about this at home later?

To find out more about WWI military recruitment, visit http://www.1914-1918.net/recruitment.htm

7th August 1914

Walter: We been commandeering horses and wagons today. The grocer weren’t too keen to give up his van even though he signed the form to allow it years ago! We told him it was ‘marked for regimental transport’ and it was our duty as soldiers to take it off him. He gets paid for the use of it so I don’t know what he was grumbling about. Did cause a stir when all the local tradesmen’s wagons showed up on the parade ground. Gave us all a laugh.

To find out more about horses in WWI, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zp6bjxs

6th August 1914

Walter: They’ve got grindstones in the drill hall now – everyone’s sharpening their bayonets, ready to stick it to old Fritz. Some of the officers brought their swords and sharpened them too. Now it’s starting to feel like we’re really going to war.

5th August 1914

Walter: What a day! Got paid £5 in gold plus 10 shillings for having all of me kit. This is better than when I won on the Grand National. They told us to open a Post Office savings account – not likely… that’ll be drunk away tonight by most of the lads I reckon.

Fred: I can’t even spend mine – looks like everyone’s been at it already so there ain’t no change for a sovereign anywhere in Battersea.

Mary: You bring that money back here Walter, with not a penny missing.

To find out more about the British sovereign, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_(British_coin)

5th August 1914

Walter: Couldn't believe the noise of everyone cheering the announcement last night!

To find out more about the newspaper headlines of the time, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/mirror01_01.shtml

5th August 1914

Walter: Well lads, we are at war! Announcement from last night:

“Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty's Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport, and His Majesty's Government has declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4.”

We was all out in the streets – very patriotic, songs and singing and all that – I reckon even the Germans heard us singing ‘Rule Britannia’! Some chaps went up outside Buckingham Palace, waiting for the news – you can bet they cheered when they heard it. Now we’re off to report – 9am roll call. You up and ready, Fred?

Fred: I’ll see you there.

To find out more about Britain’s declaration of war, visit http://www.1914.org/podcasts/podcast-2-outbreak-4-august-1914-2/ or http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3532588.stm

4th August 1914

Walter: Got me identity disc stamped today and me field service pay book sorted – need to keep that safe (right hand breast pocket) as it’s got all me details in. We’re preparing for mobilisation. All very exciting.

Charles: Us too. Haig said he wants us to hold off going to France until you Terriers are mobilised too… but I reckon we’ll be going anyway.

Mabel: Saw a mobilisation notice come up on the cinema screen tonight. Walter, Fred, looks like you have to report tomorrow.

Walter: I saw it too Mabel – on a notice at the station. Here we go, Fred!

Lily: Do you know where you’ll be going? Will you visit me first?

Walter: I shouldn’t think we’ll be off anywhere just yet Lil. There’ll be a lot to do here before that.

Walter: This is what the identity discs look like – aluminium ones for now.

3rd August 1914

Walter: Germany has declared war on Russia. The Daily Mirror said, “It is Armageddon”…

2nd August 1914

Walter: Well it was nothing to do with Bill at all. We been told to go home for now but to be ready to report at short notice. Got a shiver when I heard that – I reckon we know what’s coming. Training on Wimbledon Common from tomorrow until we hear any news.

Fred: Can’t say I’m not excited - might see some real action! Better than pretending up Salisbury Plain.

Mary: I’ll be glad to have you home, everyone’s a bit nervous here.

John: If Germany don’t stay out of Belgium it’ll be war for sure. Better be ready, boys!

To find out more about historical military use of Wimbledon Common, visit http://www.wpcc.org.uk/historical2.html

2nd August 1914

Walter: On our way to camp but the train has stopped between Willesden Junction and Acton. Not sure what’s going on. Some of the boys are saying Bill left his pack on the station and the CO’s making him run all the way back to Clapham Junction for it!

Walter: For some reason we’ve started pulling back towards home now… If this is all for Bill’s pack I’ll wallop him meself.

1st August 1914

Walter: Off to Salisbury Plain for training camp in the morning! Pleased to get out of Battersea for a while. Though I shall miss you, Lily Howes…

To find out more about the military training area on Salisbury Plain, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salisbury_Plain

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