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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31 August 1917

Walter: We had an inspection today. None other than Field-Marshal Haig himself! He wanted to see how we were shaping up after the difficult time we’ve had lately. Gave us a bit of a talk about ‘grit and determination’. A week ago I’d have been half tempted to tell him everything I knew about grit and grime but when he was right there in front of us everyone stood up a little taller to impress him. Me included. I even felt a little of the old pride when he said about ‘fighting to the end’. He does make it sound good. I just wish it was as grand as that in practice.

To read Haig’s own account of the Battles of Messines and Passchendaele, visit https://goo.gl/tMt1th

29th August 1917

Mary: I showed this advertisement to Margaret at my cooking group. Told her I’ve found a solution to her bread problem and this way she won’t have to scupper the war effort by eating white bread. That said, you can’t move for rules on how to eat bread at the moment. Food is getting much harder to come by so now bakers aren’t allowed to sell bread until it’s 12 hours old because it’s hard to slice thinly when it’s fresh!

Walter: Honestly, the things my mother cuts out of the paper… And buying stale bread? That’s a new one on me.

To find out more about the 1917 Bread Order, visit https://goo.gl/5vbhN5

24th August 1917

Walter: Bad news. Geoff was identified amongst the bodies retrieved from the battlefield. I half knew it but it was still a blow to hear his name. He was a good un and I’ll miss him no end. There’s not much you value more out here than a good pal.

Fred: Sorry to hear it.

Walter: Thanks mate. His sister will be heartbroken too. I’ll write to her personally.

To read more about how soldiers coped with the realities of war, visit https://goo.gl/QBJQEG

22nd August 1917

Walter: Back to training again and taking in new drafts of men. Still not feeling top notch after the head injury and the raid but a bit more cheerful today as I got another letter from Lily. This time she put the stamp slightly off-centre in the right hand corner. Now, in the language of stamps that means ‘I am longing to see you’! So there’s step up from the upside down stamp meaning ‘Do write soon’, which it’s been the last few times. She said how hard it was hearing about the fighting and not being able to see me, even if the papers at home keep talking about ‘Heroism in the Great Battle’ and ‘Great Gains’…

To find out more about early 20th century stamp placement, visit https://goo.gl/ebfTxu

18th August 1917

Walter: Shaken to the core. Covered in debris and bleeding from my head wound again. We were out of firing range, just getting some sleep in tents away from the line, when a Hun plane dropped a bomb right on target. 107 casualties at last count and at least 38 of those dead. Lots from my company. Some really great lads amongst them. All my sergeants. I was bloody lucky again – chose a good time to answer the call of nature and was just far enough away to miss the worst of it. God knows my number must be coming up soon though, mustn’t it? Dear old Geoff never made it back the other day either. Reported missing but that’s rubbish. He’s gone West along with the rest of them, I know it. I hate to think of the mothers, sisters and wives the OC will have to write to tomorrow, not to mention burying these poor blokes. Need to get my head seen to as well before the bleeding gets too bad.

Lily: You have to get some leave soon, surely? No one can cope with all this.

Walter: I’m alright Lil. All of us could do with a break but it’s just not possible at the moment. They need me out here, especially with so many casualties lately. Nice to have you thinking of me though.

16th August 1917

Rose: And there was me thinking we’d seen the worst of the war last summer. These past few weeks have been unimaginable. All the wounded soldiers come in looking the same – soaked through, staring and coated in mud from head to foot. Sometimes it’s only the bright blood showing through that tells you where they’re hurt. I’m back working long hours to deal with all the casualties. Still have scabs and bits of burnt skin and hair from the mustard gas but the men need me more than I need rest. One good thing today though – an officer who was being sent home gave me his gumboots because I was saying how my little boots keep getting sucked off my feet in this rotten mud (the water is halfway up the legs of the beds in some of our tented wards). So at least I can get about now, even if I have to wear two pairs of men’s socks to make them fit.

Walter: Chin up, Rosie. It’s horrible, isn’t it? Good news on the gumboots though. They ought to issue you with them as standard.

Mary: Glad you’re keeping your feet dry at least. I’ll knit you some thicker socks. Just make sure you take care of those burns.

To read about two nurses who became famous for their work in Belgium, visit https://goo.gl/7P3YQi

14th August 1917

Walter: Got back to the battalion this morning. Reported to the OC. Still got a sore head but mended up enough for the Army to get me back into action. Not nice having the tin hat on my scar but needs must – it saved my life. Good job we don’t still have the cloth caps. Oh God, speaking of – that’s the gas alarm ringing! Masks on!

Ed: Good luck little brother. We’ve had to fire some of the blasted things in the other direction today. Hate doing it.

Lily: It’s never-ending! Are you alright?

Walter: All alright – got the masks on in time, not that they guarantee you’ll come out of it alright. The Germans send over high explosive shells with the gas shells now, to tear our clothing and masks so the mustard gas can get in. If that happened I’d rather be hit outright with a shell outright I think. Thanks for the messages. Lily I promise I’ll write whenever I get the chance.

To read more about chemical weapons in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/ihp6Nc (PLEASE NOTE – this link contains distressing images)

10th August 1917

Walter: Sorry I haven’t written. Got knocked out quite bad. Shrapnel. If it weren’t for my helmet I’d be a goner. The doc said it was cracked right through and by the feel of it I’ve got stitches across my head. Not that I remember them being done. I think I remember bits and pieces – opening my eyes for a second and seeing a stretcher bearer leaning over me. Thought he was a bloody angel. I must have been lying out for a while because my arms and legs were stuck, like the mud had settled around me. Lucky to keep my head above, now that I think about it. That stretcher bearer and his pals must have got me out somehow and carried me back to safety, God bless them. I’m in a CCS now. Not sure which one. No reason to stay here longer than necessary though, not when I’m needed back with the battalion.

Mary: Oh Walter. Thank God.

Lily: He’s alright! Fred, Mabel, have you seen this? You had us so worried Walter – we were all terrified your Ma was going to get a telegram.

Fred: Thanks Lil. He’s a lucky blighter. Good to hear you’re still with us Walt. Mabel sends her love.

Rose: Thank goodness for that. Hope your head isn’t too bad and very glad the stretcher bearers found you quick enough. Sadly you’re not in Mendinghem, as far as I can tell, so you must be in one of the other CCSs. Stay put until you’re better anyway – nurse’s orders.

Ed: About time they knocked some sense into you! Glad you’re alright.

To read more about the work of stretcher bearers, visit https://goo.gl/CXLFBF

9th August 1917

Fred: We’re all a bit worried now mate. Would be good to hear from you soon.

Lily: A long time since we heard from you. I’m so worried. Hoping you’re just busy or that your messages have been delayed because of the battle. Get in touch if you can.

Ed: He’s probably in the thick of it, Lil. He’ll come through alright. Luck of the devil, that lad.

Rose: Hope he’s alright. I expect he hasn’t written for the same reason I haven’t. Just too much to do. This battle has been one of the worst of the lot. Godawful weather.

7th August 1917

Mary: Last we heard you were under heavy fire, Walter. Are you alright?

Lily: Hoping for news that you’re alright. Please let us know when you can. The waiting is horrible.

4th August 1917

Walter: Enemy counter-attacking. Heavy shelling all yesterday and today. Morale really low – most of the company is made up of new conscripts and they’re not used to this sort of bombardment yet. Can’t keep up with this many casualties under constant fire.

 

Fred: Sounds awful. Keep at it mate – good luck.

2nd August 1917

Walter: Having to stay put and keep our heads down. Downpour is washing away any defences we can rig up. At least the shelling isn’t as bad. Small mercies. No sign of my pal Geoff since yesterday. Hoping he just lost his way when the battalion was separated. Going to try to get a bit of shut-eye, if I can keep my head out of the mud.

To read more about what was being fought for, visit https://goo.gl/V7Y8wY

1st August 1917

Walter: Exhausted. Made it to Battle Wood by sheer luck. Missed our objective as only given one guide for the whole bloody battalion and he lost his way. None of us had been over the ground before so we couldn’t help. And the creeping barrage was so far ahead by the time we even got to our starting point that it was useless. Pushed on but got shelled to pieces. 3 machine guns still active too which took care of anyone the shells had missed. The lad in front of me had been lucky so far but he lost his footing and tumbled into a shell hole. By the time we got to him he was in too far and we couldn’t get him out – believe me we tried in the little time we had – the mud’s just too strong and the machine gun was swinging round for us again. How I keep making it through I don’t know. About 50 of us from the company are huddled here together now. Impossible to know how many we’ve lost.

Mary: This is dreadful… nothing like what they say in the papers or what you put in your letters to me. It can’t go on like this, surely?

Lily: How horrible about the man in the shell hole! I’m so glad you got through though – I told you Biscuit was lucky.

To read the story of Passchendaele as told by its last survivor, visit https://goo.gl/Doh8Qp

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