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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30 January 1918

Walter: Managed to catch a quiet minute with George to discuss the battalion’s performance in the latest Divisional Scheme. Need to have a proper conversation with the OC about it today as well. Absolutely fuming about the feedback from Brigade – “insufficient training in attack”, “initiative of NCOs slight” and “fire orders poor”. That’s basic infantry stuff and the lads ought to know it backwards. Still, as George says, how can we have expected to do well? There’s only 200 or so of the original battalion left, so most of the rest are new conscripts, and it’s not like the Western Front. Back there you have to learn pretty damn quick or you’ll end up copping a packet. Here in Italy, the rookies haven’t had chance to use their training, what with the lack of action and the terrain being so different. And anyway, what would the Staff know about it, living in comfort in the rear?

Fred: They’d probably do better if they stayed off the Fernet-Branca! Still, a lack of action doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me.

29th January 1918

Lily: I am shattered. We had London’s first air raid of the year last night, so my first test as an ambulance worker. The warning rockets went off around 9pm so I rushed down the depot and we set off in the ambulance towards where the bombs had fallen. Have to say, I wondered halfway there if I’d made a bad decision. But once you’re in the thick of it you just press on. Still had my heart in my mouth but we evacuated one terrified little boy and his mother from their ruined house. Nothing we could do for the grandmother though, and she passed away right in front of me. Nearly broke my heart and in the end the girls had to drag me away from trying in vain to bring her round. We carried on working right through until the morning light and I’ve just trudged home feeling weary to my bones but oddly proud of myself too. Time for a sleep – thank goodness I’m not couriering today.

Walter: Good grief, Lil. Are you sure you’re up to this? I know what it’s like to deal with the injured and dead after a shell blast and it’s not for your eyes. I hope you’re alright.

Mabel: Well done, Lil. You’re tougher than you think. Get some kip then pop over here and I’ll put the kettle on.

To see more images like this visit https://goo.gl/TCXJnv

25th January 1918

Walter: One downside of having a few weeks behind the line is I have more lads on defaulters for getting drunk and disorderly. There’s a few bars around here and some of the locals open up their houses to us too. All very nice, but they drink this lethal black stuff called ’Fernet-Branca’ or something, which the Italians can knock back like nobody’s business but our lot get absolutely blotto on. No wonder General Plumer has brought in new rules – he’s limited access to cafes and bars to 12-2pm and 6-8pm and everyone has to be back in billets by 9pm!

Ed: You’re making me want to go to Italy. I’ve had about as much vin blanc as I can stomach…

To find out about painters and photographers who captured the British experiences in Italy visit: https://goo.gl/8791kd

24th January 1918

Rose:  Hearing rumours that the Germans will launch a new offensive soon, which has put us all on edge here at the CCS. It’s a small comfort to have gas masks now, with lime permanganate in to neutralise that awful mustard gas, but it’s still a worry after last year. I took my mind off it in between shifts by writing to little Edouard, the orphan I cared for when his village was shelled. I’ve been up in Belgium so long I don’t even know if he’s still in the orphanage in France but it was worth a shot. Hope it reaches him.

Walter shares: Good to hear you and the other nurses have been issued with gas masks, Rose. If there is a new offensive coming, you’ll be glad of them. Do what we do – practise getting them on and snug in 6 seconds flat.

Jamie: I’m sure the wee lad will be glad to hear from you. So would I! Life at the newspaper is interesting enough but I so look forward to hearing your news from the CCS. I do miss you.

To find out more about nurses during WW1 visit https://goo.gl/bpQ4nt

22nd January 1918

Walter: Away from the cliff-side dugouts at last but the battalion isn’t in good shape. We’ve not been able to get many men out of the line for medical care lately and we’re all tired, cold and overworked, so everyone’s got an infection here or a stomach ache there. The powers-that-be seem to have realised this for once though and are going to give us some days of ‘respite’. Alongside the usual route marches and occasional working parties, we’ll be taking part in a football tournament and having a good bath for the first time in weeks. Here’s hoping it makes a difference.

or some facts about football in the First World War visit: https://goo.gl/3BYSzp

19th January 1918

Mary: The newspaper article about our recipe group is out! It’s in the Battersea paper today. Your father’s bought three copies, even with the price of them these days. It’s very nice, what the chap’s written. Calls us a ‘group of innovative women’ and says how we’re ‘making the best of the new rations in a way all housewives should aspire to’! Margaret next door is half proud as punch and half miffed that they didn’t include her parkin recipe.

Rose: That’s great! I’d love to see a copy too. We get a couple of national papers out here but not the local ones. Well done, Ma. And wish Pa a happy birthday from me for tomorrow too!

Walter: Can you send one out here? I’d love to get a look at it. Anything to cheer us up while we’re stuck in these freezing dugouts.

17th January 1918

Mary: What a fuss. After we saw Ed off at the station the other day, I tried to take my mind off it by going up Sainsbury’s to register for the new butter and margarine rations. It was bedlam! Packed full of people trying to do the same thing and the staff was overrun. Gave up on it and decided to try again another time.

Walter: Sounds like the grocers are struggling to register everyone for the new rationing scheme. Shame you couldn’t have stuck around on leave a bit longer, Ed! The way people react to a serviceman back home, I’m sure you could have escorted Ma to the front of the queue, no bother.

Lily: My mum’s had trouble too, Mrs Carter. She says it’s a shame you have to register with your usual grocer or she’d go round the corner to that new one – Waitrose Stores.

16th January 1918

Walter: The river below our position is full of ice and snow and rushing so fast we can’t ford it, but Reggie Tallis, one of my new sergeants, just stuck his head into our dugout and said we had to come and see this – there’s an Austrian deserter trying to swim it! Now all the lads have come out to cheer him on and, what’s more, he looks like he’s going to make it!

Lily: You’re not being serious, Walter?

Walter: I am. One of the officers even wrote it into the War Diary today - https://goo.gl/a7zypt

12th January 1918

Ed: Just pulled into Victoria station – 3 days’ leave! I haven’t said anything to Ma. Want to give her a surprise…

Walter: Say hello to the old place for me, Ed. It’ll be months, if not years, before I get back there…

___

Mary: Our boy Ed’s just walked in the door! What a surprise and a treat to see him. And looking so well, considering. Still, I’ve marched him straight out the back to strip down so I can put his lice-ridden clothes in the boiler. I’ve learnt my lesson now – no grubby soldiers dillydallying in my clean house until I’m sure they’re not bringing no insects in with them. I’ll get him in the tin bath next, so he’s spruced up before his father gets home.

10th January 1918

Walter: Out of the flooded billets and back into the line along the Piave River. And when I say along the river, I mean almost IN it. Our dugouts are built into the side of the cliff with the icy water rushing beneath us… Thank God we don’t seem to be getting shelled as it would be near impossible to get the casualties out – the narrow paths have iced over and it’s a nightmare trying to get along them.

Fred: At least you’re out of the firing Walt. Looks cushier than No Man’s Land anyway.

Walter: I don’t know mate. This river’s deadly. And it’s bloody freezing here and all, especially without proper winter clothing.

To read about the war in the Italian Alps, visit https://goo.gl/2nJ4sn

8th January 1918

Walter: Now, this is interesting. George Stone, my CQMS, filled me in this morning. President Wilson from the USA has listed ’14 points’ that he reckons will bring about longstanding peace if all the warring countries agree to them. Things like no more secret agreements between countries, free movement on the seas and setting up a ‘League of Nations’. George understands it better than I do, but still… do you think the other leaders will go for it?

Lily: I hope so, Walter. Anything that will get you home sooner.

Ed: You can bet they won’t. Everyone’s focused on victory…

To read more about Wilson’s 14 points visit: https://goo.gl/kdqJWz

6th January 1918

Rose: We’ve got an alter set up in a small tent here at the CCS but have had to move it to a bigger one today for the king’s intercession day. It was quite moving, seeing the walking wounded filing in to say their prayers and give thanks. Praying for peace, no doubt. If there is a Him Upstairs, I hope he’s listening.

Walter: This intercession day that Rose is on about is happening all over the Empire. King George has announced ‘a day of prayer and thanksgiving’ that everyone has to take part in. They reckon the churches back home will be queuing out the doors and we had a special service from the padre this morning. Lots of the blokes out here have got quite religious since being out on the battlefield. Helps them try to make sense of it I suppose. Fingers crossed today is good for morale.

4th January 1918

Walter: Have been sent to billets behind the line. Accommodation rotten – no drainage so two falls of snow have melted into standing water and mud. Hardly any fighting going on either so everyone’s grousing about not getting leave. ‘Why can’t we go home if there’s nothing doing?’ and so on. The average wait for leave is 15-19 months and any of us who’d been waiting for leave in France have had to start clocking it up all over again since we arrived in Italy.

Lily: You’re joking? I can’t bear the thought of not seeing you for another year and half!

Walter: Fraid so, Lil. For what it’s worth, I miss you something awful too. Sitting in this cold, wet barn, all I can think of is getting home, seeing you and having a roast back at Sabine Road. Hope you’re doing alright.

1st January 1918

Walter: Happy New Year! Chins up -

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