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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31 December 1915

Walter: What a year. This time last year I’d just become a Lance Corporal, I’d never been out of England and I was miserable thinking the war would be over before we even got to France. I was a kid. I’m 20 now, and a sergeant, and they reckon I know enough to train officers. I’ve seen so many mates butchered and killed that my brain jumps thinking about it, even when I’m trying to do something else. I’ve learnt how to sleep through any racket and any weather. I’ve got a scar from my armpit to my elbow. And somehow, glad as I am to be safe back in England, all I can think about is the lads who are still out there. Still… here’s to a good 1916, eh? Thanks to everyone who’s been keeping up with my news – hopefully next year I can tell you the war’s over for good.

Rose: I feel just the same Walt. I thought I’d seen some things in the Infirmary before I left but you can’t compare it to war… we nurses see all the results of it. Here’s hoping we have some good news this year.

Lily: It’s been a rotten time. I’ve missed you so much, Walt. I’ve spent most of the year sick with worry, and the rest of it sick from not having enough to eat. And I wish I had a real idea of what you’ve been through… I reckon I’m going to start some war work in the new year, even if Ma says not to.

Ed: I don’t reckon it will end this year. They’ll start conscripting, you can bet.  

31st December 1915

Fred: We got fetched overnight and had to march up to where the mines blew. Got held up for hours because the communication trenches was so full of people going out and coming back… not to mention the closer we got the more the ground was in a state. Now we’re here it’s a bloody nightmare. There’s great craters where the front line was, and any trenches left ain’t usable. The worst thing is, wherever you look there’s bits of people. The medics and stretcher bearers are trying to clear as much of that as they can and helping anyone who’s been wounded or buried alive… but I told you what it was like getting here – they won’t be able to get them back down the communication trench. There’s still a handful of 22nds here, in shock. Can’t counter attack while everything’s in such a mess so our job is to try and rebuild what we can. I tell you what, this year can’t be over with soon enough… Lloyd George was right about this war:

To see the site of the Hairpin Craters and Quarry today, visit: https://goo.gl/nHhJbB

30th December 1915

Fred: Bad news. A bloody great explosion just went up ahead of us at ‘Hairpin’, where the 22nd Londons are. Were, probably. Felt it before we heard it… and I still can’t get me balance properly – I reckon it’s disturbed all the ground. Right, we’ve just had word that they’re sending C and D Companies up to take over what’s left of the front line. The rest of us might get sent up later.

Mabel: That’s awful! I’m glad you’re alright though. I hate the thought of them scoundrels digging away underneath you, trying to blow you up on the sly.

Ed: Our lot do the same to them, Mabel – you make the stuff they use to do it!

29th December 1915

Walter: To think they’ve given over the front page of the paper to a new pantomime cast! With everything that’s going on! Strange as it sounds, I’d almost rather be back with the boys in France… seems to me they’ve got it all backwards over here.

Lily: Can’t we think about something other than war every so often? It’s just panto, Walt… it helps people’s spirits.

28th December 1915

Sidh: My friends and I take a last look around Marseilles before we go to the ship. We have been ordered to leave to fight instead in Mesopotamia, where the winter is not so bitter and we are closer to supplies and reinforcements from India. We have been in France more than one year and the Indian Cavalry will remain even still. We have won great victories and suffered great loss, so to leave is bittersweet. Now we still fight for the Empire but on new ground. I hope it can help our morale.

[The first official announcement that the Indian troops have been withdrawn from France for employment in another field of action was made last night by the publication of the King’s message of thanks to them.

This message was conveyed by the Prince of Wales, who delivered it to the Indian Army Corps on the eve of its departure. The official announcement is as follows:-

At a parade of the Indian Army Corps before their departure from France, his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales delivered the following message from his Majesty the King Emperor: -

Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Indian Army Corps: -

More than a year ago I summoned you from India to fight for the safety of My Empire and the honour of My pledged word on the battlefields of Belgium and France. The confidence which I then expressed in your sense of duty, your courage and your chivalry, you have since then nobly justified.

I now require you services in another field of action; but before you leave France I send my dear and gallant son, the Prince of Wales, who has shared with My Armies the dangers and hardships of the campaign, to thank you in My name for your services, and to express to you My satisfaction.

British and Indian comrades-in-arms, yours has been a fellowship in toils and hardships, in courage and endurance often against great odds, in deeds nobly done in days of every-memorable conflict. In a warfare waged under new conditions, and in peculiarly trying circumstances, you have worthily upheld the honour of the Empire and the great traditions of My Army in India.

I have followed you fortunes with the deepest interest, and watched your gallant actions with pride and satisfaction. I mourn with you the loss of many gallant officers and men. Let it be your consolation, as it was their pride, that they freely gave their lives in a gust cause for the honour of the Sovereign and the safety of My Empire. They died as gallant soldiers, and I shall ever hold their sacrifice in grateful remembrance.

You leave France with a just pride in honourable deeds already achieved and with My assured confidence that your proved valour and experience will contribute to further victories in the new fields of action to which you go.

I pray God to bless and guard you and to bring you back safely, when the final victory is won, each to his own home – there to be welcomed with honour among his own people.]

To read more about the Indian Army’s contribution to the war, visit: http://goo.gl/0ZM4Kf

25 December 1915

Walter: Merry Christmas all! A couple of years ago I only knew a bunch of people around Battersea to wish a happy Christmas to… and now I’m thinking of folks all over Europe. Anyway, I made it home from Berkhamsted on Christmas leave! I’m sat in the front room with Rose, for the first time in more than a year, and she’s got Annie on her lap, reading her ‘The Secret Garden’. Ed’s out the back digging up potatoes for our Christmas lunch… but Pa’s still not speaking to him, which makes everything a bit difficult. Still, got to be grateful that I’m here and that I get to see Lily later and give her her Christmas present! How are you getting on in France, Fred? I can’t help imagining Christmas dinner with you lads…

Fred: Alright Walt, happy Christmas! Captain Charlie Barley gave us a service earlier on and, I tell you what, the Quartermaster’s outdone himself on the lunch… somehow we’ve got enough food to feed an army! Ha ha. Oh hang on – just had an alarm and call to stand to –

Walter: Have you? What rotten luck. Let me know how you get on.

Fred: Sorry about that – we’re back now. No call to action in the end... reminded me of that rotten hoax they played on us in Luton last year! Hardly anyone else remembered it when I said though – that’s how much the battalion has changed…

Fred: Hope you got my card too! Merry Christmas from the 23rd…

To read about what happened to Fred and Walter this time last year, visit: http://goo.gl/8CAM4H   

22nd December 1915

Rose: I see what you mean about it being strange to be home, Walt! To see everyone going about their business when you know what’s going on over the channel is almost unbearable. Anyway, I had a lovely welcome off the family but Ma wasn’t too happy that I’d gone to see Jamie at Roehampton on my way. Oh it was wonderful to see him though. When I got to the hospital he was waiting in the lobby for me – standing up! It was so out of the blue that I couldn’t say anything but, “Oh!” for a moment or two. I suddenly realised I’d never seen him stood up before – he’s taller than I thought. But he gave me the biggest grin and said, “Hello you,” and I nearly melted on the spot. He said how he’d been given a false leg from the ‘Human Repair Factory’ there but, bless him, he hadn’t had it long and couldn’t walk on it yet! He’d been practising how to stand properly just so he could meet me face to face when I came back… but once he’d said it I could see how it was making him shake a bit to stand for so long and, I couldn’t help myself, I called to one of the orderlies for a wheelchair. Poor Jamie, he told me if we were going to be real friends I’d have to remember I wasn’t his nurse anymore! Well, I’m going to go back and see him soon and hopefully I’ll make a better job of it. If I’m honest, I can’t wait.

Lily: It’s so exciting Rose! I’m glad you got on after all this time...

Mabel: I could do with a Jamie meself! Hope he gets on alright with the walking.

To read more about rehabilitation for those who lost limbs, visit: http://goo.gl/8STQnl

22nd December 1915

Walter: Been giving instruction to a squad on ‘the company in attack’ today and one officer cadet asked me about what went wrong with the Gallipoli landings back in April and August. I had to be honest and say I didn’t know too much about it – everything I’ve done has been on the Western Front and it’s a different terrain altogether. From what I heard from my mate in the Convalescent Home, it was because our men got trapped on the beaches, getting fired at by the Turks on the cliffs above… and we didn’t have a scrap of artillery. Still, at least they’ve evacuated everyone now…

 

To read an archive article from the Guardian about the retreat from Gallipoli, visit: http://goo.gl/j5iiDw

and to read about the ANZACs’ role in the campaign, visit: http://goo.gl/EkIJGm

18th December 1915

Walter: Just seen this in the news – we get the papers every day here at the training camp. There’s already so many refugees in Europe, heaven knows where these Serbians will go…

To read more about refugees in WW1, visit: http://goo.gl/tRRJQB and http://goo.gl/HPn6dg

16th December 1915

Fred: About time we got relieved – it’s been a rotten few days. The battalion’s been holding the line at the Hohenzollern Redoubt… honest though, it was almost worse getting here than being here. On the way up we had to push for a mile though deep mud in the pitch dark. There was only one bit where it seemed a bit shallower and firmer, but the Sgt Major said they shone a torch there after we’d all passed through and saw that’s where a body had slid down into the trench. We’d all marched straight over it. And the rats… gawd. I swear they’ve grown even since you was here Walt. They’re so fat with eating bits of soldier they don’t bother to move when you get near them. Anyway, Douglas Haig has taken over from John French now, so maybe we’ll see some changes… One funny thing though – the Highlanders have got so fed up with the frozen mud on the edges of their kilts chafing them that they just take them off and hitch them on the top of their packs! Makes for quite a sight…

To read more about bad trench conditions, visit: http://goo.gl/dAiIa3

To read more about Haig and French, visit: http://goo.gl/7DA0OP

15th December 1915

Rose: I’m finally getting some leave! The CCS is almost empty compared to what we’ve had before – just some lads who are still recovering from last month. It all seems very quiet – I think both sides are busy just trying to keep dry and warm… Sister Célestine says it’s in the East where the trouble is – the Allies have been pushed out of Serbia and Bagdad. You wouldn’t think it here though. Anyway, I thought I’d ask about leave while the going was good and I got it! I’ll be able to get away in the next few days. You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to seeing you all… especially little Annie.

Jamie: I knew you’d get it if you asked! Well done lass. If you’re coming back Blighty-way, might I invite you to visit…? They’re treating me at Roehampton now, so not too far from Battersea...

Mary: You lot are like buses! I wait months on end to see my children and then you all come along at once! It’s about time they gave you some leave, Rose – I’m so glad they’ve sorted it out for you. We shall have to get the bunting out again! Will you be stopping here or back at the lodging house? I might have to put you in with Annie.

To find out more about nurses’ leave in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/KdCEhQ

11th December 1915

Ed: It’s the last day for anyone wanting to sign up voluntarily for the army… This morning before work, Pa took me out into the back garden for ‘a word’. You always know it’s something serious when he does that. Well he left off all the shouting and bellowing and just told me, very straight, about how he can’t sleep for thinking about Charlie and about how we have to win this war or it’s all been for nothing. Then he looked me dead in the eye and said I’d make a fine soldier. No one’s ever said nothing like that to me before. I damn well nearly signed up. I was just on the point of saying maybe I would, when I heard a knock at the door. Ran to get it and it was a man giving out these leaflets. From the ‘No-Conscription Fellowship’. Pa took a look over my shoulder while I was reading it and got in a real fever – chased the chap off down the street with his fists up. By the time he got back I’d read the whole thing. Made sense like nothing else I’ve read. I’m not going to sign up – not now, not ever.

To read more about the ‘No-Conscription Fellowship, visit: http://goo.gl/MsVrpD

10th December 1915

Fred: You’d be glad you weren’t here today Walt – I know how much you hate feet! We had the MO come round and give us a demonstration on how to use ‘anti-frostbite grease’… he said if you grease your feet up with whale oil then they stay warmer and you don’t get so much trench foot or frostbite. And we’ve got to all take our boots off and give our feet a good rub to get the circulation going, twice a day! Blowed if I can find time for that… but he said some battalions who didn’t bother have lost 300 men off sick! So I suppose we’d better get on with it.

Lily: Make sure you do it! We could do with the same thing here this afternoon. Tomorrow’s the last day for signing up for the Derby Scheme and there’s queues outside all the recruitment offices – in this bitter cold! Us girls from Arding and Hobbs started taking out jugs of hot tea for the men who was waiting. I was half hoping we might see Ed there, but no good…

 

Mabel: Don’t get me started on feet! It seems to me you could tell anyone who’s been on war work just by the state of their feet… I have to take good care of mine and all – we get so footsore standing all day at the munitions factory.

To read more about whale oil and trench foot (including a picture) visit: http://goo.gl/fdngqp

9th December 1915

Walter: You’ll never guess what happened! I was being shown round the training ground by a few of the sergeant instructors when the RSM comes storming up, shouting, “Sergeant Carter! Oi, Sergeant Carter!” Well I just stood there like a juggins, thinking one of the others must be called Carter too, until I realised they’d all turned to stare at me and were trying not to laugh. So I jumped to attention and said, “Who, me, sir?” and he says, “You’re improperly dressed, Sergeant! If you don’t get over to the Quartermaster’s Stores and draw up your sergeant’s stripes right now, I’ll have you busted down to private soldier and back in the trenches before you can say, “What, now, sir?”… so get a bloody move on!” Ha! What a way to get a promotion, eh? Of course, I’m only what’s called a ‘Lance Sergeant’, so I’m on a sort of probation and won’t get a sergeant’s pay… but it means they think I’m up to the job! Just got to prove it now.

Fred: Great news mate! You deserve it. Make sure you give those cadets as hard a time as Bridges used to give us… Harder, seeing as they’re posh boys. And don’t come back out here too quick. Sergeants have a bad habit of copping it.

Mary: My boy the Lance Sergeant! Well done love. We’re ever so proud.

Lily: Well don’t you just get more and more of a catch! Congratulations sweetheart.

9th December 1915

Walter: Arrived at Berkhamsted last night – what a place! The training camp is in the fields just north of the station so I didn’t have far to walk, and they sent one of the lads to show me the way. Named Jenkins. Seemed nice enough, if a bit ‘lah di dah’... I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be teaching posh kids who wouldn’t look at me twice if I was still in my porter’s uniform. Anyway, it’s not barracks here after all, it’s tents! And now I’ve had a look around in the light, the whole place looks perfect for training. There’s all different types of ground – flat and hilly and clear and wooded – just like in France. And the rain doesn’t drain away, so it’s just the same… I almost got the wind up me when I saw the miles of trenches they’ve been digging – it looked so much like the Front. Still, that’s good. It means I’ll be able to teach them all something useful.

To find out more about the training camp, visit: http://goo.gl/QHYlRm

 

8th December 1915

Walter: Well that went quick… had to report to the adjutant of the Inns of Court Regiment at their Lincolns Inn HQ today to get my orders – got to leave for the training area at Berkhamsted tonight. It’s exciting but I’m cut up about leaving home after just a week. Ed came to help me pack up my things so I made sure I had a chat with him about signing up. He didn’t want to talk about it really, but I wanted him to know what I thought before I left. I told him about all the mates I’ve lost at the front, thinking it might stir him up, but somehow it only made him more angry at the government… he’ll be a tough one to talk round. Anyway, you lot take good care of yourselves and hopefully I’ll see you again soon. Lily, I’ll miss you every minute – don’t you go talking to that Herbert. And Ma, I’ve left something for Annie in the bread bin…

Mary: A tin of jam! Oh Walt, where did you get that? You’re a good son. It’s been such a treat to have you back, even for a little while. I’m just glad you’re not going back overseas yet. Come and see us soon.

Lily: I miss you already! Walter, I almost daren’t ask, but… was it you that left the sponge cake for us this morning? It weren’t wrapped the way Herb used to so I just thought. If it was him I’ll have to have another word… Anyway, have a safe journey sweetheart. See if you can get back for Christmas?

Walter: I’ll bet Herb couldn’t get his hands on a sponge cake that good… just tell your Ma I said it wasn’t me, alright?

7th December 1015

Walter: Finally a day with Lily to make up for all the bother the other night, and look at this rotten weather! The Thames has burst its banks – hope no one got caught in the flooding. I don’t mind the wet so much (a year in the trenches and you get used to anything) but I didn’t want Lil to have a miserable time. Still, she said it wasn’t ‘proper’ to sit inside with me in a tea room (“not until we’re engaged”…) so walking around in the rain it was! Actually it was nice. We got a bit stuck down near the bridge – the water came up quicker than we thought so we couldn’t get back across the road without wading through it… and there we were, all by ourselves after all! So much for being proper! Still, she’s a lady is Lil. Wouldn’t let me do more than put an arm round her to keep her warm... It was lovely though. And we weren’t there for long in any case – a kind chap pushed a plank out to us so she could step over without getting her feet wet.

Mary: You two watch yourselves! I don’t want any trouble of that sort…

Fred: Sounds like a good day after all! I’ve had range practice with the Lewis Gun Section at Allouagne. It poured with rain here too. Didn’t get on as bad as I thought I might though.

To read about Thames flooding in the 20th century and to see pictures of the December 1915 floods, visit: http://goo.gl/mb0CqH

5th December 1915

Walter: Lily, I’m sorry I wasn’t waiting for you after work – I’ve had a rotten time of it. Still fuming, if I’m honest. I’d planned it all out – I was going to go to your house with a bunch of flowers for your ma and be there as a surprise when you got back. But I got to the corner of Limburg Road and who do I see in the gaslight, sneaking in your front gate? Herbert-bleedin-Marshall! So I kept quiet to see what he was up to and, you wouldn’t believe it, he took a wrapped parcel from under his coat, put it down on your doorstep and went to sneak off again! You should have seen him jump when I hollered at him. He tried mumbling something like, “Now, look here…” but then thought better of it and turned and ran. Well I went after him, didn’t I? Shouting all the while. What your poor ma must have thought was going on outside her house, I don’t know. I think I’d honestly have knocked his block off if I’d caught up with him, but my arm set up throbbing like an Emma Gee with the wind up and I just couldn’t get my breath. Lucky for him he didn’t bump into me three months ago… Anyway, I’m sorry Lil. I’m sat on a bench near Clapham Common now, calming down. I don’t think we’d better see each other tonight after all.

Lily: Oh no – Walt, I’m sorry! Are you alright? I’m so glad you boys didn’t end up in a fight. It must have been Herb leaving those mystery parcels all along… I’ve just got home and Ma’s opened it up – another meat pie. It’s wrong of him, of course, but I’ll almost be sorry to tell him to stop. We’ve been so glad of the extra food. Don’t worry though sweetheart, I’ll tell him to leave off. And thank you for trying to surprise me – it would have been lovely. I was so looking forward to seeing you.

Walter: Sweetheart, I told you last time, if you and your ma are short of anything, just let me know and I’ll get it sorted out. And don’t worry about me – I’m on my way back up Lavender Hill now. Still got the flowers…

Lily: That’s very sweet of you, but Ma says we can’t accept charity… it was alright somehow while we didn’t know who it was. She says it would be different if we were engaged, Walt…

To read more about relationships during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/VCQTLz

5th December 1915

Walter: Lily Howes, how about you and me have ourselves a romantic afternoon? We’ll take a walk along the Serpentine, then maybe see a show in town. Ada Reeve is meant to be funny – why don’t we see her do ‘Foolish Questions’? It’ll be on me of course.

Lily: Sweetheart, I’d love to but I’m at Arding and Hobbs until gone closing time! It’s because of the run up to Christmas – Mrs Read has got me doing all the displays. I’m so sorry… I really want to see you. Perhaps after work?

Walter: Of course. Should have thought of that. It’s strange seeing everyone getting on just like normal… somehow I can’t get my head around it being the same world as the one that’s got trenches and Germans and tins of old Bully Beef in. Well, I’ll plan something nice for when you’ve finished, how about that? It won’t be long till I’m off again, after all.

To hear Ada Reeve’s song ‘Foolish Questions’ from 1915, visit: https://goo.gl/Ru2ObV

3rd December 1915

Fred: So much for dodging a promotion – they’ve gone and made me an NCO, no arguments! But Walt, they’ve put me in the new Lewis Gun Section under 2/Lt. Norman. I’m pleased enough about it – should get me out of doing fatigues – but the boys have been giving me some stick about Lewis guns not having as much firepower as the Vickers. They reckon the magazine empties too quick. We’ll see, eh? In January they’re going to send me off to one of them schools behind the line to get the know-how. Gawd knows how I’ll get on with it – it’s all pins and casings and bolts and you know how lousy I am at all that. Still, somehow I’ve ended up one of the most experienced here… so I suppose that’s why they chose me.

To see footage of Lewis gun training during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/4AFXbZ

and to read more about the weapon, visit: http://goo.gl/FFbMWA

2nd December 1915

Walter: What a welcome! Got back to Battersea about an hour ago and nearly had a funny turn when I got into Sabine Road and saw that Ma and Pa had rigged up a load of bunting over the front door. Some of the neighbours had come out to wait for me too – Mrs Wiggins even made a fruit cake! Maybe she’s softening up a bit… Poor Mrs Gardner (her boy Billy’s been ‘missing’ since September last year) came rushing out and gripped my hands so hard I thought she wouldn’t ever let go. And there was Lil in her green coat and hat, just like when she came to see me off at Southampton, doing her best not to run up to me in front of everyone... Even Pa was puffing out his chest and shaking my hand and trying to look offhand about it all. And then I got inside the door and Ma and Ed had brought Annie into the hallway on her chair to wait for me. God bless her, she looked such a little waif I had to swallow a lump in my throat. So I got on my knees, all gentle-like, took off my cap and asked if the young lady would grant me a hug. Best hug of my life.

Mary: As soon as you’ve put your things in your room, come straight on downstairs! We’ve got Surrey stew and chocolate potato biscuits from the veg your brother’s been growing. And don’t get too sappy over Mrs Wiggins – she’s just showing off that she got hold of some sugar…

Ed: It’s good to have you back Walt, even if we’ll have to share a room again! The soldier and the pacifist… what a lot’s changed, eh?

Lily: Walter, you’re the handsomest soldier I ever saw. Once we’ve had some food and you’ve seen all your family, maybe we could take a little walk together? I’ve got so much to talk to you about!

Mrs: Wiggins: Well there’s gratitude for you… I was only being neighbourly. I’d give anything to have my boys back home for a week. But then, I don’t suppose their battalions could do without them.

To follow a contemporary recipe for Surrey stew, visit: http://goo.gl/qFMZo2

and to read more about home front food, visit: http://goo.gl/xfFkKl

1st December 1915

Walter: Do you want the good news or the good news? They’re going to discharge me from hospital! Need to get my strength back a bit before I get back to the front, so I’m being posted to the Officer Training School at Berkhampstead, on an attachment to the Inns of Court Regiment. It’s an instructor role… but the best thing is, I get a week at home first! How’s that for news? You’ll have to get me a bed made up, Ma…

Lily: Eeee! I can’t believe you’re coming home! Is it really only for a week? I’ll have to see if I can get some time off work. When will you be back? I can’t wait to see you!

Mary: What lovely news! Just wonderful. I’ll get everything spick and span for you. I just told Annie – bless her heart, she got so excitable she brought on a coughing fit. Do be ready for that, love. She’s not quite the little girl you last saw.

Walter: I could be back as soon as tomorrow! Can’t wait to see you all and to have a proper chat with you, Lil. And don’t worry Ma, I’ll go careful with Annie.

Fred: You lucky so-and-so! What I’d give for a week back in Battersea…

To read about the Inns of Court Regiment and the training trenches that can still be seen at Berkhamsted, visit: http://goo.gl/8aba40

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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale