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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

28th February 1916

Rose: Here’s a treat for my birthday – my Australian patient is sitting up and talking! I half forgot he’d have an accent. I have to listen carefully sometimes to get his gist. He doesn’t seem to remember much of what’s been happening to him, but that’s probably for the best. Anyway, I’ve introduced him to my newest patient – a little French lad from down the street – only three years old, bless his heart, and with both parents gone from a bomb that hit their house. I spent a lot of yesterday morning trying to distract him with toys while Sister Célestine pulled pieces of shrapnel out of his back. He’s everso brave though and it’s sweet seeing him play with Leonard, the Australian. Both of them speak French like a child, so they get on just fine!

Mary: Happy birthday, love. Hope you’re keeping warm enough. Write to me when you can.

Ed: Have a good birthday, Sis.

Lily: Happy birthday!

To see colour photographs of French children during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/WtcPBL

26th February 1916

Walter: Perfect timing, in some ways. I get to come home for a few days, so I can help you get sorted after that trouble with the brick. The reason I get to come back isn’t so good though. Well, you won’t think so. I’m going to be sent back to the Front. To France again. They’ve told me I’ll be back with the 1/23rd, and a full sergeant, so that’s something. Means I’ll get a sergeant’s pay and, what’s more, I’ll get to see you again, Fred! Me and Terence got called in together to get the news. He’s going back out too, with the 4th Middlesex. We both knew it was coming, but it still takes a minute or two to get your head around. Anyway, the cadets reckon they’re taking me out for a drink tonight to say thanks and cheerio, so that’ll take my mind off it. I’ll let you know when I’m on my way home – it’ll be a few days yet. Got to get sorted here.

Lily: Great news and awful all at once… I can’t wait to see you though! Let’s just think about that for now.

Fred: I knew it couldn’t be long! It’ll be good to see you, mate. Not that there’s much doing – we was supposed to have brigade training today but they’ve called it off because of the snow.

Mary: Lily’s right. Let’s just focus on you coming home for now. It will be a treat to have you back again, especially after all the upset. At least Ed’s fixed up the window now, and out of his own pocket too. Well done on becoming a full sergeant love, they must have been impressed with you.

25th February 1916

Ed:  *******s! Came home to find all the neighbours outside around our house and bits of broken glass in the snow. Someone had put a brick through the bloody window. Don’t they know we’ve got a sick kid in the house? Her bed ain’t by the front window, thank god, but it shook her up and the house will be freezing until I’ve fixed a new pane in. Everyone stared as I walked past, like it was my fault. Probably is. I’ll bet it’s because word’s got out that I’m going against conscription. The cowards didn’t even have the guts to say it to me face. Well, I can’t stay at home no more. Everyone’s in such a state about conscientious objectors that it ain’t safe. Even the Daily Express is saying how having trade unionists on the tribunal panels to balance out the military men ain’t right, keeps calling them ‘pro-Germans’…

Walter: Fuming! Just seen this from Ed. Some idiot’s put a brick through the window back at home. It could have hit Annie, or Ma or anyone. You’ve got to sort this out, Ed. And I don’t just mean the window. I’m not there to look after everyone and nor’s Charlie, god bless him. You’ve got to decide what’s more important – your principles or your family. 

Mary: It’s wicked, what they’ve done. I know they don’t agree with you but that ain’t no reason to put a little child in danger. You can’t move out either, Edward, please. I know you want to do the best by us, not to mention it’s hard with your father not speaking to you, but can’t you just tell everyone you’ve changed your mind? There’s no point keeping this up. It’s too hard on you. On all of us. 

To read about the experiences of conscientious objectors’ families in New Zealand, but which apply elsewhere too, visit: http://goo.gl/DnBRUZ

24th February 1916

Lily: Snow! So much snow that no one knows what to do with themselves. The children are playing at soldiers in the street, throwing snow ‘mortars’ at each other. I was supposed to have me first lesson on a motorcycle today, but I won’t be in this weather… I’d come a cropper straight away.

Walter: There’s snow up here in Berkhamsted too, Lil. Sounds like not so much as with you. Still, me and Terence managed to have a proper chat. He reckons the French troops still haven’t got to Verdun to fight back against the German advance… they’d better get there soon or we’re done for.

22nd February 1916

Walter: My mate Terence just showed me this in the paper – the government reckons we need 5 MILLION POUNDS for every day of the war. Every single day! They printed a ‘total so far’ too, which I couldn’t get my head around… £2,082,000,000. No wonder they’re cutting costs on everything else.

Ed: If that don’t turn more folk against the war, I don’t think nothing will.

Fred: But think about what we need it for – the amount of shells we has to fire just to keep Fritz at bay, for starters… At least there ain’t quite so many duds these days.

To read more about what the war cost each country (financially), visit: http://goo.gl/kjsfjX

21st February 1916

Fred: Bad news being passed down the line about a place up in North East France, Verdun. They reckon the Germans have started bombarding and no one was prepared for it. All the Allied artillery they had there got stripped out a while back to be used other places, so they didn’t have nothing to fight back with. And if there’s a bombardment, you can bet the infantry won’t be far behind. Gawd knows how far they’ll get if the French don’t get their act together soon. 

To find out more about the battle of Verdun, visit: http://goo.gl/oNTx6D

and to read more about the Erzerum Offensive, visit: https://goo.gl/NQJJUl

18th February 1916

Rose: Remember my dying Australian soldier, with the pneumonia? Well, he was on his last legs about midnight last night, had his rites read and everything, but this morning he’s still with us! Better, even. I stayed up, giving him Atropin every hour and it seems to have worked… I don’t want to speak too soon, but it’s things like that that make all the hard work worth it. Time for a quick nap though, I’m shattered. We had an officer come to visit him yesterday, kept going on about how they’re doing these new ‘air photographs’ from the aeroplanes. I think I was bit short with him – told him I didn’t have time to come and take a look at them, so now he’s going to bring them here…

Jamie: I’m so pleased your Australian’s doing alright. He’s got the best chance with you as his nurse – I should know! Just don’t go letting any strange fellows take you home to show you their ‘air photographs’… I know you’re smarter than that, but I can’t help but be a wee bit jealous.

To see more aerial photographs from the war, visit http://goo.gl/fTrBRs

and to see aerial photographs of the remaining trench lines as they look today, visit: http://goo.gl/SHm3ZI

17th February 1916

Ed: Remember Belgium, who we was supposed to be protecting? Well, it looks like even the Belgians think we’re making things worse. I never thought about how our blockade must be hitting them as hard as the enemy…

MEMORANDUM

It is understood that there is a strong feeling among Belgians that the industrial distress in Belgium is to be attributed solely to the action of the allied Governments in preventing imports, and it is often contended that this action does not appreciably harm Germany, while it involved the most painful loss to the people of our ally.

As it is already known, his Majesty’s Government have not been able to agree that Belgian industry can be maintained in present circumstances without very considerable benefit to the enemy, involving a postponement of the restoration of Belgian independence. But at the same time, his Majesty’s Government have been fully impressed with the necessity of assisting the Belgian population, and it is for this reason that they supported the Commission for Relief in Belgium and have permitted export trade from Belgium under certain conditions. It was also for this reason that they decided some months ago to signify their willingness to consider proposals for the importation of raw materials into Belgium through the agency and under the guarantee of the Relief Commission.

To find out more about the treatment of Belgium during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/zXhU2x

14th February 1916

Walter: Of all the nights they could pick to stage a Zeppelin fight, they choose Valentine’s Day! Very quiet and romantic I’m sure… Make sure you stay in everyone. The paper says there won’t be any falling shrapnel but I wouldn’t count on it.

Lily: Happy Valentine’s Day sweetheart! I’m glad we’re getting a proper anti-Zepp system finally… makes me feel a bit better. And I’m almost excited to watch the sham fight – I’ll bet everyone will be standing out in the street, trying to get a peek at it.

John: I wouldn’t get too hopeful, Lily. I heard air defence is being cut back so they can keep making enough weapons for us in the Navy.

To read more about air defence in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/S0eAu8

12th February 1916

Rose: This weather! The rain’s flinging itself against the windows of the CCS so hard you’d think it wanted to come in. I’ve got an Australian patient from King Edward's Horse in who’s seen the worst of the weather… he’s slowly dying of pneumonia, poor lad. I’ve tried him on everything I can think of: vapour baths, oxygen-through-absolute-alcohol, Atropin, Digitalin, Pilocarpin, Eserin… and it’s not doing him any good. I’ll have to  think what I can write and tell his family. I can’t tell them he died fighting the cold and wet.

Fred: Sad but true, Rosie. Sometimes you’re so wet through you hardly care if you get a bullet or if you don’t. They reckon the Kaiser’s due to visit the German trenches some day soon though. So maybe we’ll knock him out once and for all and get to come home.

Ed: I didn’t know the officers had servants…

Walter: Course they do. They call them ‘soldier-servants’. Some of the officers even bring one of their staff from home for it. They do things like look after the officer’s ‘bat-horse’ which has all their gear on it, so they don’t have to carry it.

To watch a lecture about disease in the First World War, visit: http://goo.gl/qiwNMh

and to find out more about soldier-servants, visit: https://goo.gl/3xKgFW  

10th February 1916

Mary: As if it weren’t bad enough arguing with Ed over this appeal nonsense, now I can’t even have a bloomin’ biscuit. We’re meant to cut down on sugar, jam, sweets… everything nice. And they’re cutting teachers’ pay and postal deliveries – to only two a day in the countryside! To think we’ve had up to twelve before. They’ll need motorcycle couriers more than ever now, Lily… maybe it weren’t such a bad idea of yours after all.

To find out more about changes to the postal service during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/QfdXFS

8th February 1916

Ed: Here we go then. Any single man born between 1886 and 1896 is due to be called up from 3rd March. I was born in 1887. They needn’t worry about calling me though, they ain’t going to get me. I’ve got the form to explain that I’m a ‘Conscientious Objector’ and Evan says he’ll help me write it out. It’ll mean I have to go through a tribunal, where I have to prove what my feelings are… now how am I supposed to do that? Anyway, it won’t be for a while yet – they’re still getting through the tribunals from the Derby Scheme.

Mary: Ed, I don’t want you seeing this Evan fellow no more. He’s not good news. And don’t you go putting nothing about objection on that form – if you fill it out telling them how I can’t manage Annie by meself when your father’s out of the house, then maybe they’ll let you stay. How about that?

To find out more about the appeals process, visit: http://goo.gl/ZXCFLA

6th February 1916

Walter: Well, here’s a cause for celebration – the Skoda works blew up! Serves them bloody right, they’re the biggest arms factory in Austria. They make ‘Jack Johnsons’, the big black artillery shells that have been knocking seven bells out of our line. Got a taste of their own medicine! Still, it makes me glad you’re not going into munitions, Lily.

To read about the history of Skoda, visit: http://goo.gl/IlvJOM

5th February 1916

Lily: Alright, if this girl can be a sergeant in the Serbian army (and she was only 16 when she joined!) then I can jolly well get on and do something more useful than floating around Arding & Hobbs. I plucked up the courage and gave Mrs Reed my notice today… she weren’t pleased but she said she’d seen it coming. She reckoned I was going to join Mabel at Woolwich but I told her what I’ve decided. I’m going to train to be a motorcycle courier! That’s riding around London delivering messages and parcels and things. They need women for it to replace the men what’ve gone, especially now they’re doing conscription. My Ma got real upset when I told her… but she perked up when I told her the wage. It’s nowhere near what the men was getting for the same work but it ain’t bad.

Mabel: Good on you, girl! And you done that all by yourself! Lily Howes on a motorcycle… gawd help us. Oh, and thinking of your Serbian sergeant, here’s a book you might like. Written by a British sergeant… Flora Sandes! I’ll lend you my copy – we’ve been handing it round the girls in the factory.

 

The diary of Flora Sandes, published in 1916, is available to read here: http://goo.gl/S5UeR2

and to read more about her, visit http://goo.gl/v0CxtD

or http://goo.gl/1Oee7B

3rd February 1916

Fred: It’s so bleedin’ cold! We’re back in reserve at Maroc now. Miserable. Still, we’ve got the braziers going and extra hot drinks. It ain’t so bad being this far back, at least the tea’s still warm. By the time they carry the water up the front it’s got so cold it’s got ice on the top. You get a bit worried if your mate takes his time to wake up in the morning too – there’s always the chance he’ll have frozen to death right where he is.

Mabel: Poor Fred… How about I knit you a scarf or something? I ain’t much cop at knitting but I reckon I could have a go.

Fred: Would you really? I’d be made up with that. I mean, I’ve got a scarf but it ain’t nothing like having one from you.

To hear memories of winter in the trenches, visit: http://goo.gl/0XhWzv

2nd February 1916

Lily: I’ve had it with all this. The Zepps have been over again and it don’t seem to matter where you are in the country. They got Manchester, Liverpool, Norfolk, Derbyshire, the Humber… all over. So here’s an announcement for you – I’m going to hand in my notice at Arding & Hobbs and start war work, soon as I can! I have to do something that might help. My Ma won’t be happy… she reckons the war will be over soon in any case and I’d be silly to give up a steady job. But I think I’ll go stark mad if I have to measure up drapes for one more posh lady. I hate to leave dear Mrs Reed in the lurch but I hope she’ll understand. And imagine if I could be a bus conductor, or a munitions worker, or a motorcycle courier, even a railway porter! What do you think I should choose?

Mabel: I knew you’d come round! Come here and work at the munitions factory. It’s good money, you’d be part of the war effort and you’d get to be with me, after all! I’ll have a word with the foreman, twist his arm. Besides, you couldn’t be a clippie yet – you got to be 21, look –

Lily: Oh, I didn’t know you had to be 21 for the buses. That’s a shame. Thanks for saying about the factory, but (and don’t take this wrong because I’d love to work with you) I think I have to do me own thing for once. I’m fed up with riding on everyone’s coattails…

Walter: Listen, I know you’re fed up and want to help, but don’t go making any rash decisions, eh? Maybe sleep on it.

To find out more about women’s roles in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/Dn3CF1

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