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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31st August 1915

Walter: Transported back towards the line today, in London motor buses! Strange to be in one of them again – the driver was a real Cockney as well. Of course we was all on the top deck shouting “Goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square…!” and giving it a good round of ‘Let’s All Go Down the Strand’. Helps a bit when you’re trying not to think about what you’re going back to. Poor young Will don’t know what he’s in for. We’re not straight back into the worst of it anyhow (lucky, what with all the new men) – we’re digging communication trenches later to help troops get to and from the reserve line without too much risk from snipers and the like.

To read about London buses used for transporting troops, visit http://goo.gl/lHeGMi

27th August 1915

Walter: Did you see this Fred? Mabel’s off to work in munitions!

Mabel: Two weeks ago I turned 21. And I thought it was about time I got on with doing what I want, so I’ve handed in me notice at Arding and Hobbs and I’m off to work at the munitions factory at Woolwich! I asked Lily if she’ll come with me but she ain’t too sure yet. Reckon I’ll change her mind. It’s a lot more money. My Ma ain’t too happy though… says it’s no work for a lady.

Lily: You are brave Mabel! Mrs Read thinks you’re daft... Wouldn’t you prefer to work at Clapham Junction? They’re going to pay women on the railways the same amount as men now, instead of two thirds less. Still the minimum amount, but it’s a start. Trouble is, they say any of this ‘women’s work’ is only going to last as long as the war, so I suppose we’ll have to go back to normal after that.

 

[WOMEN ON RAILWAYS

EMPLOYMENT TO BE REGARDED AS WAR EXPEDIENT ONLY

All the English and Scottish railway companied have, it was announced last night, agreed that the employment of women on their systems is an emergency provision arising entirely out of the war.

The pay of the women is to be at the minimum rate for the several grades in which they are employed.

These conditions are to date back to August 16.]

 

Fred: There’s pluck for you! Just go careful eh? Some of them explosives, you just so much as look at them and they go off. And don’t go giving her ideas about joining the railways, Lil – I know the sort of lads you get working there...

To hear about the munitions factory at Woolwich, visit http://goo.gl/uBfXgQ

and to read about the women who worked on the railways, visit http://goo.gl/ruqNro

25th August 1915

Walter: We had a battalion sports day behind the line today! You should’ve seen us! Me and Fred didn’t tell no one how we used to win all the three-legged races as kids and we won by a mile! And we had blindfold wheelbarrow races and egg and spoon with stones instead of eggs and then a big cross country race. Young Will took us all by surprise by racing ahead of everyone, so maybe he is fit enough after all. I think we all feel a lot better for it. There’s talk of a football tournament between the platoons too – now ain’t that a good idea? It’s funny though – the day before yesterday we had about a dozen new officers join us from the Royal Fusiliers. Probably New Army men… and this is the first thing they’ve seen us do! Still, with the replacements that joined us a few days ago we should have made up most of our losses now.

To hear a podcast about sport in WWI, visit http://goo.gl/7uWPOI

and to read more about it, visit http://goo.gl/VHUITn

21st August 1915

Walter: Some replacements joined us from the base today. About 125 in all. A couple were allocated to my section to make up for the lads that I lost. One of them though, named Will… well he’s tall enough I suppose, but honestly he don’t look no more than fourteen. I thought I’d better ask him straight out, so I said: “You nineteen are you?”, because that’s how old you has to be to come overseas, and he said, “Yes, Corporal” but he looked that shifty about it. There’s a lot of others like him too – they’re just about over 5 foot 3 and with a 34 inch chest like you has to have, but I’d swear they’re young’uns. I’ll keep an eye on him anyway. Hope Annie’s getting on alright at home – let me know any news.

Lily: Hello Walt – I went round your house today to see if I could give your Ma a hand with Annie. Thought you’d like to know she’s getting on a bit better now. But that picture of the young boys Walt… They’re no more than children themselves! I had no idea. Who in their right mind would send them out to the front? Can you get Will sent home? You ought, if he really is fourteen.

Margaret Wiggins: We ought to be proud of our patriotic young lads, Lily. They’re the sort who’ll grow into real men: brave boys who want to fight for King and Country and won’t cry off because of their age. Heaven knows we need the extra soldiers, what with so many fully grown men shirking their duty.

To read more about underage soldiers in WWI, visit http://goo.gl/fykUBF

19th August 1915

Walter: How's Annie getting on Ma? Hope she’s feeling a bit better. All sorts going on here too - we said goodbye to the Commanding Officer yesterday. Before he went he came down the line saying thanks and wishing us the best of luck. He was a good governor – we’ll miss him. Wonder what the next CO will be like…

Mary: It's hard to say. The doctor came out and said the same as our Rose - leaning her forward seems to help. She can't sleep like that though poor little duck can she? Like we thought, it's the infantile paralysis she got after the polio that stops everything working properly, lungs and legs the same. The doctor took your father to one side to say it might only get worse. I can't bear it. Mind you, she does seem to be a bit calmer with her breathing now - she just has to stay very quiet and still. I had to stop Ed trying to cheer her up - he'd only make her laugh and set it all off again.

Rose: I'm glad she's feeling a bit more peaceful - that's a good sign. I'm afraid the doctor might be right about it not getting much better though. We might have to think carefully about how much she does in future. Poor darling - I wish I could come and sit with her.

18th August 1915

Mary: Walt, Rose, I don't like to worry you but I thought I should let you know - Annie's not been too well. You know how she gets with her breathing... well it's been ever so bad these couple of days. I been up with her every night, trying to help her get comfortable. Today I've got her propped up in our bed on all the pillows I could get me hands on and I can still hear her poor little lungs heaving away. Anyway, don't you worry too much, but I'll let you know what the doctor says if I can get him out.

Rose: Oh poor Annie! I wish I was there to help Ma. Is she most comfortable propped up? You might want to try her leaning forwards with her arms on the table - sometimes that helps in breathing cases. Try to get her to breathe slow and steady if you can. Tell me what the doctor says.

To read more about poliomyelitis, visit http://goo.gl/kbq3Nt

15th August 1915

Ed: We’re all filling out forms. I’ve got a blue one and no doubt soon I’ll havea pink one. It’s National Registration Day – bit like a census – and we all has to say who we are and what we does and our age. The blue form is for the fellows and there’s a white one for ladies. Then, once you done that, they send you back a pink one… but only if you’re a man aged 18-41. Then you has to fill that out. Don’t tell me they ain’t thinking about conscription. I’d bet my teeth that’s what this is for.

13th August 1915

Walter: Took a working party out at 6.30am today, digging third line trenches at Noeux-les-Mines. Bleedin hard work for the lads. It might make me unpopular standing there giving out orders but sometimes you has to be hard if it gets the job done. I just hope Fred understands. He would’ve been in line for a stripe himself if he hadn’t gone AWOL that time after the Givenchy offensive.

Fred: I don’t mind it Walt. Even if they offered me a stripe I wouldn’t take it. Don’t fancy being away from the boys and I’d rather dig twenty trenches than be in charge of anyone. You’re good at it though, ain’t you? He was born to be a Corporal, Mrs C. You raised a good’un.

Mary: That’s very sweet of you Fred, thank you. I’m glad to hear he’s being a good boy. And I happen to think you’d make a fine NCO yourself. Hope you’re feeling much better now.

To find out more about trench lines, visit: http://goo.gl/ZoNI5N

and to find out about British Army ranks, visit http://goo.gl/XRpEC3

10th August 1915

Walter: Lily says there’s a new film from that Chaplin fellow – I never knew he was from near us!

Lily: Charlie Chaplin’s new film is out over here! I know a lot of people are saying he ought to come home and join the army but I still like him… did you know he’s from South London like us? Annie says the local children are singing a song about him:

When the moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin

His boots are cracking

For want of blacking

And his little baggy trousers they want mending

Before we send him to the Dardanelles

 

To see the film itself, visit http://goo.gl/Zuu34A  and to hear a later recording of the song, visit https://goo.gl/VdAHBB

7th August 1915

Ed: I always thought we ought to stay neutral, like the Swiss. But it looks like they been having problems of their own. “In an hotel which was nearly full of English and French, a large party of Germans arrived… The former presented an ultimatum to the manager, announcing that if the Germans were received, they would depart…”

[SWITZERLAND’S DILEMMA

“Daily Express” Correspondent

Hotel proprietors in many Swiss resorts are at their wits’ end to solve the problem of accommodating visitors of different nationalities who object to ‘mix’.

At a resort above Montreux lately, in a hotel which was nearly full of English and French, a large party of Germans arrived, having booked their rooms long ago. The former presented an ultimatum to the manager, announcing that if the Germans were received they would depart. The Teutons left next day.

Last season the number of foreign motorcars that entered Switzerland was 3,500. This year only 151 cars have crossed the Swiss frontiers.

There is no mountaineering season this summer in Switzerland, as most of the guides are guarding the frontiers and their clients are at the front. ]

Walter: Imagine meeting a German enjoying his holidays, while the rest are out fighting! I don’t know what I’d do. Try to poison his schnitzel most likely. It’s odd to think of anyone having a holiday at all while all this is going on…

To read about the effect of the war on neutral Switzerland, visit http://goo.gl/hoaS4z

5th August 1915

Rose: Well it looks like even the enemy think the war has gone on at least a year too long. I was doing dressings for an officer from one of the Indian regiments today and he said in his part of the trench our men started getting stones thrown at them. First off they was laughing because they thought Fritz had run out of ammo, but then they saw the stones was wrapped in paper with things written on like, “Why don’t you stop the war? We want to get home to our wives these beautiful days, and so do you, so why do you go on fighting?” I hope it weren’t a sneaky trick – I reckon they meant it, don’t you? And I read this article about some Australians and Turks out in the Dardanelles: “Suddenly there was a hoarse cry, and a big brown sack crunched into the trench… then somebody opened the bag and found – walnuts!” It don’t end well though – take a look:

GIFTS FROM THE TURKS

WALNUTS THROWN INTO THE AUSTRALIAN TRENCHES

One of Reuter’s special correspondents at the Dardanelles, writing under date July 23, says:-

The Turks began it, just as the sun, like a vast red billiard ball, was meeting the molten rim of the sea beyond the violet smudge made by the island of Imbros.

The occupants of the front trenches of Quinn’s sprawled contentedly in halcyon peace, smoking and raising visions of Australia from their golden and languorous environment. Even the spiteful ‘ping’ of the snipers’ rifles seemed to have been lulled into a hush by the spirit of repose.

Suddenly there was a hoarse cry, and a big brown sack crunched into the trench. Instinctively men snatched their weapons and crouched: then somebody opened the bag and found – walnuts! The gift was returned with tobacco – which the Turks seemed to resent for it was hailed with a chorus of derision.

The soldiers’ sentiments are of a very transitory character, and any feeling of gratitude for the walnuts was at once dispelled by the idea that good tobacco had been badly received. One bare-chested son of the Parramatta expressed the conviction that the Turks had been getting too ‘uppish’ of late, and that a bomb would be more in their line. And so it came to pass that within twenty minutes, more than thirty yards of the enemy trenches had been burned completely out by the furious fusillade of hand grenades which rained from Quinn’s Post.

To read a modern article from the same newspaper about relations with the enemy, visit http://goo.gl/0mzG59

4th August 1915

Walter: Well it’s a whole year since we all thought going to war was a great idea. We ‘celebrated’ today with a bath at Auchel... Remember how we worried it was all going to be over before we even got out here? What a bunch of mugs we were to believe that. Here’s what I wrote this time last year, young lad that I was:

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.

Mary: Oh and there's Charlie’s words there too Walt. To think he was still with us. And I don’t know that we’re a jot closer to winning, even with all you boys out there. Your father pointed out there’s not hardly nothing in the papers about it being a year since it all started. I suppose they don’t want to make a big thing of it.

Ed: Well they ought to be making a thing of it. It ain’t right and it didn’t ought to carry on. I know we can’t surrender to the Kaiser now, but there has to be a better way than this.

To recap the past year in Walter’s life, visit http://goo.gl/qkmERu

3rd August 1915

Walter: Who knew our Bert was a secret artist! He’s been making all sorts of fancy things out of the bits and pieces we’ve saved from the line. We calls them souvenirs – bits of shell and shrapnel, that sort of thing. And he’s been putting pictures and patterns all over them. We had a near miss with a ‘souvenir’ when we first got out here – the orderly room corporal brought a ‘dud’ shell back to battalion headquarters, wanting to “knock its snout off” to keep. He dumped it by the cess pool to go and get a hammer and chisel and thank heavens the Regimental Sergeant-Major Cook stopped him just in time because it weren’t a dud at all! What a way to go that would have been…

 

Mary: Well for goodness’ sake don’t send none of your souvenirs here! I saw this in the paper today – the poor lady got blown sky high by another one of them ‘duds’. Good to hear Bert’s making good things out of bad though – I bet it’s nice to do something like that to take your mind off it all.

[“SOUVENIR” BOMB EXPLODES

A German aeroplane bomb, which had been sent from the front as a souvenir, exploded in a house in Redrock-street, Liverpool, yesterday, killing Mrs. Disley and injuring her husband, her father-in-law, and her sister-in-law.

The bomb was received on Friday by a woman who lives on the same street, from her son, a motor driver at the front, and it was being inspected in Mrs. Disley’s house when it was accidently dropped and exploded, wrecking the kitchen. Miss Disley was so badly injured that it was necessary to amputate one of her arms.]

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