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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

29th June 1915

Well here’s a thing! Your father opened up his copy of the Express and what did he find on page five? A report of the charge of the 23rd Londons back in May! Oh we was ever so proud. Annie had a go at reading it (I’ve been teaching her at home) and it said even the Regulars had failed three or four times to capture those trenches, but you Terriers was able to do it. We’re going to cut it out of the paper and stick it in a little book I’m keeping… after I’ve taken it round to show Mrs Wiggins.

[The Charge of the 23rd

Battersea men beat the Prussian Guard

Historic Fight

The ‘Daily Express’ is able to publish the full story of the way the 1st 23rd Battalion County of London Regiment recently carried three successive lines of German trenches in a charge that bids fair to become historic. “It was the finest charge I have ever seen,” said an officer of another regiment.]

26th June 1915

Mabel: Take a look at this Lily. How do you fancy working in a munition factory? I know they need more people over at Woolwich – they been building all them new houses for the workers. And they say the pay’s very good indeed. Bet it beats standing around at Arding and Hobbs with a measuring tape.

Lily: I don’t know if I could do that Mabel – it looks ever such hard work and we’d have to take the train there and back. Besides, Mrs Reed was kind enough to let me keep me job after I went AWOL down Southampton... Mind you, I did see the ‘Woman Worker’ section in the paper – they’re looking for film actresses!

 

[Lady SHORTHAND TYPISTS needed in connection with MUNITION work and other posts: salaries up to 2 guineas; also YOUNG GIRL, straight from school preferred, to train here and learn typing. – MISS DYMPHNA SMITH’S AGENCY, 231, EBURY ST, SW (corner of Pimlico rd).

CINEMA. – Learn to act for films: we discover, train, and use talent in studios – Write for free guide of call, Victoria Studios, 36, Rathbone pl, Oxford St, W.]

To find out more about ‘munitionettes’ in the Great War, visit: http://goo.gl/28KZTN

24th June 1915

Walter: Training today – we been learning how bombers and bayonets can work together. In an attack, a bomber (or a grenadier, you might call him) has his hands full with grenades to throw over to Fritz, and his rifle on his back, so he needs to be covered by us ‘bayonets’. I haven’t had to use me bayonet on Fritz yet…

To listen to a podcast about the weapons of the Great War and to hear first-hand memories of their use, visit: http://goo.gl/zVWiVa

23rd June 1915

Mary: Saw a lot of people queuing down the Post Office and wondered what was up – the government has brought out a new one of them ‘War Loans’, where you pays some of your money into bonds to help them pay for the war. They calls them ‘silver bullets’. You gets interest back on them though – so hopefully more money comes back than what you’ve put in. Trouble is, they don’t have to pay them back until 1945… so I’d be 80 years old, if I manage to hang around that long!

Ed: Sending fellows off to get killed and then asking us all to pay for it… that’s a bit rich. 

Mary: Oh leave off Edward. If they can’t pay for it we’ll lose the war… do you want to become a German? And your brother needs more ammunition. If I had the money to start one up I would.

War Loan poster

To read about the war loans, visit: http://goo.gl/qT3HX2

19th June 1915

Walter: Alright, I had a go at a bit of poetry, after I met that fellow Sarson the other day. I don’t know how he does it, it took me hours. Here’s me best effort:

We’re fed up with the war
We hope that it will pass
We’ll go and tell the Kaiser
To stick it up his -

I don’t think it’s very good.

Fred: Walt you’re a genius! That’s made me feel ten times better. A new marching song if ever I heard one! Just got to find a tune to sing it to now…

Bert: The work of a true poet Walt! You wait till I tell the others!

Walter: Alright, there’s no need to go spreading it around…

Mary: I’m not sure that one will make it into the Times love. And watch your language.

To find out more about soldiers’ songs and chants, visit: http://goo.gl/UiCiyc

16th June 1915

Walter: It’s been all go here – artillery to cover troops advancing to the north and south. Had a few casualties from the return fire – 9 wounded and 1 killed. Buried him today at a ruined church behind the line… I had to go along. Tough job that. Anyway Bert and I saw some fellows from the Canadian Expeditionary Force standing by the gate and I ain’t never met anyone like that so I went to say hello. They don’t half speak funny. There was this one chap, Henry, who was scribbling something on a scrap of paper and the others saw me looking and they said he’s a poet. So I asked if I could have a butcher’s but he didn’t know what I meant, so I pointed at the paper and he showed me. It does make you think. Here look:

Mary: Clever chap! Did you find out who he was? You ought to have a go at writing poems yourself Walt! They print them in the paper sometimes…

Walter: His name was Henry Smalley Sarson. Said he normally works for the family business doing pickling and vinegar. Must be Sarson’s vinegar! And I ain’t writing no poetry…

To read more about lesser-known war poetry, visit http://goo.gl/CHeIdj

and to read more of H. Smalley Sarson’s work, visit http://goo.gl/enTqK

 

15th June 1915

Walter: Writing from the trench. It’s quite dark now and most of the platoon is trying to get some sleep - apart from the sentries of course. Just a few flashes from further down the line. I’ve had me promotion to Section Corporal approved – our Platoon Commander, Lt Summers, found me a few days ago and told me I’m now officially Cpl Dart’s replacement. Had to draw stripes from the CQMS and sew them on. First test came pretty soon afterwards – got caught in a terrific bombardment earlier yesterday. Not much we could do though – just keep down and hope for the best. Thought they was going to attack afterwards but they didn’t come. Waste of their shells – no serious casualties. There’s a rumour we’re going to have another go at them soon… can’t say more yet.

Lily: Congratulations on your promotion sweetheart. I’m not sure whether to be happy or worried for you – I expect it puts you in more danger, doesn’t it? I do fret about you. And it’s funny to think of you out there in the dark and me all tucked up in Battersea. We must seem very far away to you. Thank goodness you’re still safe. How’s Fred doing?

Walter: Hello Lil! It does seem strange to think of you lot back home – almost like a dream from years ago. I miss you. You mustn’t worry about me though, I’m doing alright. Fred’s cheering up a bit, but he’s still a skinny rake and his old stiff arm has started playing him up again. He’ll be fine – just needs a chance to get his confidence back. How are things in London now – no more Zepps?

Lily: No, no more Zepps. And the rioting’s quietened down. Some days it just feels like normal again, except all our boys are gone and the food’s so expensive. I miss you too. Look after yourself won’t you sweetheart? Goodnight!

13th June 1915

Walter: Well, it’s baking hot out here and we’ve taken over a section of the line from the 24th battalion. You’ve come back just in time for it to all get going again Fred! Sounds like you had a cushy time of it up at St Omer though… I wouldn’t mind a hot bath and a nice nurse to look after me!

Fred: I wouldn’t have stayed long Walt… it was nice and all but I wanted to get back to you lot. It’s a strange thing – I spent days in that shell hole with no one but a dead fellow for company and then the moment I got meself together enough to crawl back I was whisked off to who knows where and it was all clean sheets and smiles and hot food… they said I looked so rotten I had to go, no arguments. I was lucky – plenty other wounded men don’t get that luxury eh? I kept dreaming I was back in that shell hole the first few days though. Sorry I missed your sister visiting.

Mabel: So glad you’re alright Fred! It’s baking here in London too – everyone’s been out in the parks.

Fred: Hi Mabel. Thanks. What a picture… it seems a million miles away.

10th June 1915

Lily: Happy birthday sweetheart! Hope you get a quiet day and that my card arrives – I never know with you moving about so much.

Mary: Happy birthday Walter! 20 years old already… Have a good day love. Keep safe.

Ed: Happy birthday little brother.

Rose: Have a good birthday Walt! See if the others will let you have some extra rum.

Walter: Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes – and for the parcels! I shared all the food out with the others… you should see the excitement when there’s a birthday. It ain’t a bad day out here neither – nice weather and we’re not back in the line until tomorrow.

To read more about food in the trenches, including parcels from home, visit http://goo.gl/OalCi9

9th June 1915

Rose: Here’s some news – I saw dear old Fred today! We had a visit to the convalescent hospital near GHQ (St Omer). The nurse who showed us round said it used to be a jute factory, but now it’s all full of stretcher beds and men go there who’ve got ill from the trenches. She said you’d be surprised what getting clean, shaved and louse-free can do for them… They give them hot meals and disinfect their clothes too, and they’ve got an entertainment room with a piano in! Anyway, I didn’t realise it was Fred at first, he looked so drawn, but I spotted the name on his bed. He was asleep, and looking the picture of peace, so I didn’t disturb him – the nurse said he’d spent a few days in a shell hole, poor chap. But she reckoned he’d be fit enough to come back to you tomorrow Walt. Ain’t that good news? The men only stay here about a week – sometimes 10 days if they’re really bad.

To read more about convalescent homes in a despatch from Sir John French, visit http://goo.gl/YQDd8g

8th June 1915

Walter: ‘Bathing parades’ by the lake at Les Brebis today. In the army you can’t be shy about getting your kit off in front of everyone! Most of the lads don’t mind it, and you can bet our mate Duncan will be strutting about as usual… but poor Bert always looks like he’d rather the ground swallowed him up! At least the weather’s hot, and we could all do with getting clean. Shame Fred’s away – he’d love getting to lark about in the lake… I feel bad for him missing it, especially on his birthday.

Mabel: Well ain’t you all handsome! I do miss our boys…

Lily: Calm yourself Mabel!

To see footage from a WWI ‘bathing parade’, visit: http://goo.gl/4Huu4p

5th June 1915

Walter: How you getting on Rose? It’s a bit quieter now. Moved to Verquin – doing route marches and more training. They get us doing fatigues too – bit rich when we’re supposed to be resting… Had a few new recruits to make up the numbers after we lost so many though – they don’t know what they’re doing half of them, not like us veterans. Still waiting for Fred to get back from the M.O.

Rose: Hello Walt. Hope Fred’s alright - I’m so sorry you boys have had such a rotten time of it. I’m busy as ever… We’re near Festubert, so if I had a motor and a proper day off it wouldn’t take me long to come and see you! We’re so near the action now that when the fighting’s heavy we can’t sleep – not just because of the extra wounded but because of the noise! I lie in bed just listening to the casualties racking up… Had some very bad times lately with fellows dying on me – 24 in 2 weeks. Glad you’re getting a bit of a rest though - make the most of it.

Walter: Thanks Rosie. Sorry you’ve had a rough time. Did you hear back from your Scottish fellow with the amputation?

Rose: Yes I did! His name’s Jamie. We write to each other often now and he’s getting on well with his recovery. I’ll let you know when I get his next letter – he said he’d tell me about his rehabilitation treatment.

3rd June 1915

Walter: Bert got this clipping from the Daily Mirror in the post – this year the races at Epsom was run by wounded soldiers instead of horses!

 

 

Ed: What a sight! Mind you, I probably would have had better luck backing one of them than the lousy runners I’ve had lately. Get yourself a dodgy arm Walt and I’ll put a shilling on you to win the National next year.

1st June 1915

Mary: What a palaver last night! Boy Scouts with bugles and policemen with their whistles cycling up and down shouting “Take cover!” Ed went out to see what was what and they told him them awful Zeppelins was coming. Well it was 11 o’clock at night so we didn’t know to do. Annie woke up with all the noise and wanted to watch out the window, daft thing. In the end we all brought our blankets and slept downstairs. All four of us with our heads under the table! What a sight. Luckily they didn’t get down this way. I hope no one was hurt. Looks like the papers are having to watch themselves when they write about it though, so they don’t give nothing away to the enemy. ‘The Times’ is already in trouble…

 

To listen to a podcast about the Zeppelin threat to London, visit: http://goo.gl/1y6Bxd

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