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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

29 January 1916

Lily: Saw this in the Daily Mirror – it’s for hearing Zepps when they’re on their way. I wonder how much extra time it gives you? Seems they’ve only got them in Paris so far though. I half think I ought to move there, what with their anti-Zepp aircraft too!

To access an educational resource on Zeppelin raids and defences, visit: http://goo.gl/wVVBj9

28th January 1916

Mary: They’ve started banning things left right and centre – things that have to be brought into Britain on ships like paper, tobacco, fruit. I suppose it’s good as means there’ll be more room for the essentials, but your Pa’s having a real fit about it. I think he don’t like the idea of there only being so much baccy left in the country! I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts hoarding it.

Ed: Well there’s a reason to end the war that Pa could get on board with…

Lily: Looks like some people are having an alright time of it though – look at this lovely picture from Lord Granby’s wedding! Imagine having a train as long as that.

The life of Lord Granby and his bride has recently been researched in the attempt to solve a mystery – read a review of the resulting book here: http://goo.gl/Tnrgse

26th January 1916

Walter: I think I’m finally getting fitter! Every morning, early, before we start the day’s training, I’ve been taking myself off on runs around the edge of the camp. It was tough to start with, especially in the dark and cold, but today I got back so quick I almost thought about going round again. Even my arm’s not giving me so much jip. It still twinges every so often but I’ve got a feeling it might do that always. My mate Terence (he’s the one that was going on about the Balkans) spotted me getting in from my run yesterday and said he’d be surprised if they didn’t send me back out to France soon… I expect he’s right. Still, there’s plenty to do here. We’ve taught the cadets as much as we can about soldiering and life at the Front but it’s nothing like really being there. When they actually have to face Fritz or Johnnie Turk it will be a shock, especially if they’re posted to the PBI (the ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’!) This lot look like they’ve never seen a day’s hardship in their life. I’m a bit worried it might be a shock even for me, when I go back out.

Mary: Well don’t head off too soon, will you? It sounds like you’re getting on very well at Berkhamsted – I wouldn’t have though they could spare you.

Lily: I’m glad you’re feeling better sweetheart but don’t go shouting about it too loud. I couldn’t bear for you to go back out there yet. Besides, I’m making you a present and I haven’t finished it.

Walter: Thanks you two. I know you’re only looking after me but sooner or later I’m going to have to go back. There’s plenty of men who could step into my shoes at Berkhamsted and they need fit men to go out to the front more than anything. I’ll look forward to the present, Lil! Thank you.

23rd January 1916

Lily: Well that’s put the wind up me alright. 1 o’clock this morning there was two air raids over in Kent – not Zeppelins but seaplanes! What a rotten thought. I hate Zeppelins bad enough, sneaking up on us with that awful hum, but planes… they’re quicker aren’t they? And how sad that they hurt children. I can’t stand it.

Mabel: This’ll cheer you up Lil. In Paris, they’re using planes to guard against Zepps! So they can be put to good use after all. I reckon we should have an air patrol system over here.

To read more about the air attack Lily mentions, visit: http://goo.gl/pqAfMk

21st January 1916

Lily: What a palaver! I had a visit from Herb again at Arding and Hobbs. Mrs Reed spotted him coming up to my floor and nearly tripped in her hurry to get between us. She stood at the top of the stairs and told him to sling his hook! Said if he bothered me again she’d chase him off down the street with a broom and then what would people think? Well I snuck up behind her and looked down the stairs at him. Poor Herb. He’d brought another big bunch of them lavender roses. But he started walking backwards down the stairs saying he’d only come to say goodbye. Turns out his number’s been called, because of him joining the Derby Scheme, and he’s off to join the forces. Well, then I started to feel sorry for him and told him to take care of himself, but he just shook his head and told me I mustn’t worry. By that time he’d got to the bottom of the steps so he tried laying the flowers down, right in front of a customer who was trying to walk up. Then he shut his eyes, strange lad, and said in all of a jumble: “It has been an honour to know you, Miss Howes, and I should like it if you were to remember me kindly.” And he turned on his heel and left! Bless him, he’s quite a gent underneath it all. I hope he gets on alright.

Mabel: Lil that made me laugh! Poor old Herb. Well hopefully he’ll find some nice French girl to make a fuss of instead…

To read more about the Derby Scheme, visit: https://goo.gl/aQveId

20th January 1916

Walter: Happy birthday to my old dad! Could you pass it on for me, Ma? Tell him I got his letter. It was nice of him to send it – I’m not sure I’ve ever had a letter just from him before. I’ll write back when I get a minute but tell him it was nice what he said, about being proud of me. I suppose he wouldn’t want to say it to me face-to-face. But it’s nice to have it in a letter, so I can keep it. If you really want to make him happy, tell him I got a mention in dispatches for that business back at Loos, where we helped the Guards gets across our trench line. I thought I was in trouble at first, getting called to see the CO… but then he congratulated me and said he was a peacetime Terrier too, so he was extra pleased. Even the RSM gave me a pat on the back and called me by my first name! First time that’s happened. Anyway, it sounds like Pa’s having a fine time with the Volunteer Training Corps. What a bit of luck that he’s been set to guard the railway bridges. He won’t have to move too far from his job at Victoria.

Mary: Of course I’ll pass it on love. And what news about your MID! Your father’s pleased as punch. I’ll just pop round and let Mrs Wiggins know.

Lily: Well done sweetheart!

To read more about the Volunteer Training Corps, visit: http://goo.gl/AqIGde

18th January 1916

Fred:  You remember yours truly was ‘volunteered’ to be a gunner? Well, we’re to get four of the new Lewis Guns now that they’ve withdrawn the machine guns from the battalion. It takes some looking after of course, and you need a mate to keep you supplied with the magazines.  I managed to get a few dry lessons in behind the line, and then fired off some rounds across No Man’s Land… Fritz was not happy! The Lewis really is a little beauty, Walt – it’s light (well, compared to the Vickers), easy to use, dead accurate. Just what we needed.

To read more about soldiers’ training, including specialist schools, visit: http://goo.gl/0Xs7sT

16th January 1916

Ed: Trying to get me nose to stop bleeding before I get home. Fat chance – I had to tie a scarf around me face just so the bus driver would let me on the 37. Evan invited me up to a church in North London for a ‘Stop the War’ meeting this afternoon. What a sight. The minister of the church, Mr Swan, started telling everyone how it was a sin for men to be killing each other but a bunch of patriots burst in and started heckling him, shouting things like, “Don’t you believe in hanging, then?” and saying about how our boys in the trenches are “up to their necks in water” while we’re holding peace meetings… I tried to say that’s exactly why we was having a peace meeting but someone landed a punch right square on me nose and I don’t remember much else. Evan said all hell broke loose after that, with people throwing firecrackers and everything. Said he pulled me out through the vestry because I was out cold. He’s a good chap, Evan. Still, now I’ve got to explain this bust up face to Ma. She ain’t going to be happy…

Lily: Boys, please! I know you don’t agree about it but can’t you just get on for the sake of being brothers? And you didn’t ought to keep up with these peace meetings Ed, you’ll just get yourself in more trouble. You even made the paper, look:

Mary: The state of you, Edward! If it weren’t bad enough you sneaking off to peace meetings, now you’ll have to go around with two black eyes. It’s shameful. I don’t know how much longer your poor father will stand for it.

To read more about opposition to the war, visit: https://goo.gl/TSkrNU

15th January 1916

Rose: It’s amazing how quickly you settle back into everything – I’ve hardly been back at the Casualty Clearing Station three days and I feel like I’ve never been away. Lucky it’s not been too busy. There seems to be more training going on than fighting and every soldier looks to be learning some kind of specialism. We have had one rather sad case in though – a young officer with a brain injury. It’s hopeless, really, and the kindest thing to do would be to let him pass, but Sister Célestine says we have to try and keep him alive long enough for his uncle, who’s in the line near Lille, to get down to see him… he’d best hurry up. Still, I can’t complain, I’ve got it cushy compared to others. I had a letter waiting here for me from an old nurse friend of mine who’s been out on the Eastern Front with the ladies from the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. They’ve had a rotten time fleeing Serbia since the Austro-Hungarians moved in. She said they’ve trekked for miles and now they’re camping on the shore of Scutari lake, hoping to catch any boat across that they can. I hope she makes it alright.

To see a documentary about Scottish Women’s Hospitals and their work in Serbia, visit: https://goo.gl/7fztj8

14th January 1916

Walter: I was just sat with one of the other sergeant instructors on our break and caught him shaking his head at the newspaper, muttering, “There goes another one…” He’s done the same thing near enough every day since I got here and today it got the better of me. I had to ask him what was up. So he starts banging his hand on the paper, shouting, “Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, now Montenegro!” Turns out they’ve all been taken over by Austria-Hungary. He reckons it’s Eastern Europe we should have been worrying about all along, not the Germans on the Western Front. Then he chucked the paper at me and walked off, shouting, “You’d better start teaching your cadets Austrian!” It scared the life out of me. I hadn’t been thinking about the Eastern Front hardly at all. Somehow, even through everything, I’ve always thought we’ll end up winning, no question. But, if all those countries are dropping like flies, then… I don’t want to think about it. At least I’m Camp Orderly Sergeant for the next 24 hours so I’ve got plenty to take my mind off it all.

Fred: Don’t you dare go saying that, Walt. We’re coming out of this on top and you’d better believe it.

Ed: And every German bloke’s saying the same thing. I wouldn’t bet on it, if I was you.

To find out what happened to each of the Balkan nations during the war, visit: http://goo.gl/MQnnk1

11th January 1916

Rose: Sitting on the train back to Southampton, looking out at the English countryside, and I still can’t get over how perfect it all looks – no shell craters, no ruined forests, no graveyards. By this evening I’ll be back over in France, which will no doubt look even worse than when I left it. What a thought that is. Still, it’s been quite a day already. Leaving home was hard. Now I know why I didn’t stop to say goodbye last time… I just couldn’t bear to see Annie’s little face full of tears. Can’t think about it too much – a kind lady on the opposite seat just had to ask if I needed a handkerchief! At least I got to see Jamie one more time. He made me promise I’d come by the hospital on my way out of London. I half expected him to be stood up again but when I got there he was in his chair without his leg on at all. He looked shy about it and said after weeks of trying to walk on it he just couldn’t make it fit right, so they’d taken it back to the workshop to fix it up for him. He cheered up no end when we started talking though. And then I looked up and I’d been there two hours! I don’t know how he makes the time fly so fast. So I set about trying to leave to catch my train and all of a sudden he pulls out this little box and puts it into my hand. Well my mind went racing off, thinking, ‘What’ll I do if it’s a ring?’ but I opened it up and it was his Gordon Highlanders badge for me to wear! He said he knew he couldn’t ask me for any promises yet, but perhaps I could consider myself ‘booked’ for the meantime? So now I’ve got it pinned on my coat. And I’m going to need a hanky after all.

Mary: We all miss you already Rosie. I just can’t get my head around you and this lad though. I don’t like to be a killjoy, but you have to think carefully about the rest of your life. You made a lot of sacrifices to be a nurse – are you going to throw it all away on an amputee? And he’s not likely to stay in Roehampton forever, is he? Scotland may as well be overseas, the time it takes to get there.

To read more about sweetheart brooches, visit: http://goo.gl/2XahrZ

and to read more the role of women in society prior to the Great War, visit: http://goo.gl/9bJWU6

10th January 1916

Fred: Guess where we’ve ended up? Back at the Double Crassier at Loos. Last time we was here it was with you, Walt. Anyway, it’s almost worse this time round – we’re guarding the top of the slagheaps, which means having to get up the sides of them. We carve out a sort of staircase up the side every day, but at just about 6 o’clock each evening, the Germans shell the bottom of it, which makes it all flatten out, as my pal Roberts says, “just as you hope won’t happen to an escalator when you’re on it!” Made me think of when we went to see the first escalator on the London Underground at Earl’s Court – do you remember? Feels like forever ago. We was laughing at all the people who needed a stiff drink before they could bring themselves to get on it!

 

Mabel: Don’t forget I was there too! Remember me trying to get my mother to have a go…? What a lark. Hope you get on alright at Loos.

Fred: How could I forget! I can still see you two clutching your skirts around your knees… What I’d give to be back there.

To see a contemporary map of the area, including the Double Crassier, visit: http://goo.gl/Vz86gh

and to read more about London Underground’s first escalator, visit: http://goo.gl/E5dcmj

7th January 1916

Ed: Showed up at the Fox and Hounds this afternoon with a group of lads from the No-Conscription Fellowship. A message went out to meet as soon as we found out the result of the vote. I suppose we all knew it was coming, but it still felt like a shock. One chap, Arthur, he turned out to be the one who left the leaflet at our house that day, but I didn’t know most of the others. There was a lad called Evan who weren’t no older than me but he seemed to know all there was to know. Took charge of the meeting and started giving out jobs – now I’ve got a list as long as me arm of things to do: write to our MP refusing to take part in the war, write to the press, send out the no-conscription manifesto to ‘influential people’, put up posters… can you imagine Ma and Pa letting me put up a pacifist poster? Gawd. I’d better learn how to write a proper letter too. Anyway, the landlord, Jim, who I’ve known all me life, suddenly got wind that we was having a peace meeting and came over and grabbed me by the elbow. Said he didn’t like to throw us out but we had to leave, pronto. Evan stood his ground and said we was just as entitled to be there as the next man but Jim said he wouldn’t have his place get known as a ‘peace crank’ pub, so I suppose I can’t go there no more.

Evan Robinson: I’m sorry we got you kicked out of your local, Ed. You seem like a nice fellow. But the time for lying low has passed; we’ve got to get the message out. Saw something on my way back through Trafalgar Square that would’ve made you sick. Look at this:

To read the ‘Why We Object’ section of the No-Conscription Fellowship manifesto, see (pages 2/3 and 3/3): http://goo.gl/7EdPqr

 

6th January 1916

Walter: Well, it seems the Derby Scheme didn’t work. Not enough single men signed up and they reckon they’re finally going to go ahead with conscription, if it gets enough votes in parliament today. First time in Britain that people will be forced to join the army. Strange thing though – they’ve announced there’ll be some get-out clauses. They reckon you’ll be able to weasel out of it if you’re in ‘necessary national employment’, ‘part of a holy order’, ‘ill or infirm’, have ‘persons dependent’, OR, and this is the one that’ll get people talking, if you say you’re a ‘Conscientious Objector’. Never heard that before. It means if you’re a Quaker or something and you ‘object’ to being in combat. Or if you’re a slacker and you don’t want to go, I suppose… sound familiar, Ed?

Ed: So that’s what I’m meant to call meself, is it? I suppose it’s better than ‘slacker’ or ‘peace crank’. You’re me own brother though Walt, you ought to know better than to believe all them words they use about us. It suits the army down to the ground to have everyone think any man who don’t want to sign up is frightened, or lazy, or mad. But it ain’t that at all – we just think it’s wrong. Plain wrong. I’m glad the government is giving us an option, but I don’t quite trust it yet.

Margaret Wiggins: Disgusting. They’re being too kind by far. What’s the point of having conscription if you can still shirk your duty? Not conscription then, is it?

Lily: Ed, I’ve been trying to work out why you don’t think you ought to go, and if it’s because you reckon you need to stay back with your family, then perhaps I could help your Ma instead? I could help look after Annie or something, so you’d be freed up to go – how about that?

Ed: Lil, that’s sweet of you but it ain’t the half of it. I’ve got a leaflet for you, next time I see you.

Walter: Don’t you dare bring her into this! Lily, don’t you take anything off him.

To read about the experiences of conscientious objectors at the time, visit: http://goo.gl/PQaAPN

4th January 1916

John: A P&O passenger liner’s been sunk by an enemy submarine and they reckon more than 350 people drowned. That’s wrong that – anyone with sea legs knows you can only sink merchant or passenger ships if you’ve proved they have contraband on board, and only then when you’ve evacuated all the civilians. I know there’s a risk of ‘neutral’ ships carrying war materials on the sly, but that’s why you stop and search rather than just torpedoing them. Think of all them women and kids. An American official was drowned too, so maybe the USA will stop sitting on the fence now…

Mabel: Rotten news. Poor kiddies. You wouldn’t catch me going on a ship – I’d spend the whole time thinking I was going to get blown up.

Lily: Says she who works in a munitions factory…!

To find out more about the ‘Persia’, visit: http://goo.gl/8Ng6jO

1 January 1916

Walter: Happy New Year all! I’m off back to Berkhamsted already. I know it’s early but the CO wants all us instructors to go through the next 3 months’ training program before the young gents get back from their Christmas leave. I can’t help but think we must have learnt enough by now to make a difference this year. We’ve made enough mistakes, anyhow. Maybe with Haig in charge things will look up. Mind you, I saw his report in the papers about the mines at Hairpin. Fred, what do you make of this? It sounds nothing like what you said. He said there was only a “few casualties and slight damage”! I reckon they’re trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, not telling them straight how bad it is… I wouldn’t want anyone going over to France with false ideas about what it’s really like in the front line, especially young officers.

Fred: That’s a joke, Walt. Has to be. “Some few casualties and slight damage to our trenches”?! Try five huge craters and no front line left to speak of… not to mention all the poor sods who went up with it.

Mary: Have a safe journey back love, and don’t go too hard on the cadets. Your father says you don’t want to put them off and end up without an army, do you?

Lily: Here’s something to cheer you up, sweetheart – I just spotted Herb wearing a Derby Scheme armband! So he must have attested. I’ll bet he won’t be around here much longer...

 

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