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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31st March 1915

Mary: Thought you might like a bit of news from home Walt – a lot of companies what sound like they’ve got German names are advertising to remind people that they’re British! Look at these – ‘Schweppes’ and ‘Dee and Ess’… I don’t know who’s got the money to buy ‘sparkling water’ in the first place mind, but it’s good to know it comes from here all the same.

29th March 1915

Walter: Hello everyone – quick update while I’ve got a minute. We’re busy with training here – learning how to use grenades and that. They’re pretty dangerous most of them – handmade and we has to light them with cigarettes. We had a lecture about spying too… did you know they can use pigeons to spy on people? Fred nearly clobbered one poor bird with a grenade that same afternoon. I had to stop him… it didn’t look the suspicious type.

Rose: Thanks for the news Walt – you do make me laugh. I needed something to smile about today… how are you getting on in this wind? It’s bitter out here in Sotteville and we’ve had no heating for a month now!

Walter: It is cold, ain’t it? I could do with one of them goatskin coats. Everyone calls them ‘Teddy Bears’. Sounds like you could do with one and all. Our camp here ain’t so bad mind – the canvas keeps most of the wind out. Any news from the soldiers about what’s happening at the Front?

Rose: Bits and pieces… One fellow who made it out of Neuve Chapelle said because nearly all the stretcher bearers had been hit and there wasn’t enough motor ambulances, there was wounded soldiers dragging themselves along the road for miles. Says he’ll never get the image out of his head.

To find out more about pigeons in WWI, visit http://goo.gl/y920K7

27th March 1915

Walter: Well what a load of fuss about nothing. The rumour was right – we was supposed to go up to the Ypres Salient, but at the last minute they sent in another bunch of Terriers instead… So we’ve only moved a bit nearer to the line today – to a place called Labeuvrière. Can hear the guns from here though, and see the lights from the flares, so everyone’s excited. Fred even reckons he saw a Taube!

Mary: They didn’t ought to mess you about like that… but I’m glad you ain’t going just yet. Oh and Annie lost one of her baby teeth! She wanted me to post it to you, but I said I didn’t think the Tooth Mouse would travel that far. Bless her heart, she still believes that if she throws her tooth behind the grate and a mouse eats it the new one will grow stronger…

Walter: Ha ha – good girl! Tell her I bet she looks a real beauty with one missing.

To see the German aeroplane known as a ‘Taube’, visit http://goo.gl/D0I5Se

and to read about the Tooth Mouse, visit http://goo.gl/KxcIYF

26th March 1915

Walter: Brace yourselves – we’ve had a rumour from the Transport that we might be going into the line tomorrow… Don’t know where yet, but maybe Ypres – sounds like it’s all getting going up there again. We even had a talk from Field-Marshal Sir John French hisself! He said we was all very smart and that they’re glad to have Territorials out here now. About bleedin time I’d say – we’ve done enough ‘bayonet fighting’ to last a lifetime… it’s time to get stuck in. Wish us luck!

Lily: Oh sweetheart, best of luck. The thought of it frightens the life out of me…

Mary: I can’t help but wish it weren’t Ypres – but you go and give him what for Walter. Your father was glad to hear about Field-Marshal Sir John French. Take care love, and make sure Fred’s alright too.

Fred: Thanks Mrs C!

Ed: Good luck Walt. Hope you get on alright. Bit of news to keep you going – it was the Grand National today. Remember last year when you won all that money? Well this year Ally Sloper won, ridden by Jack Anthony. Good odds as well – 100/8! I backed a rum one.

23rd March 1915

Mabel: Well here’s a turn up for the books! The government has had a bit of sense about women and work. Ladies, take a look at this notice from the paper and knock for me if you fancy going down the Labour Exchange.

Lily: That is interesting… I don’t know what I’d do though! Talk later?

20th March 1915

Walter: Well we have had a miserable time of it. We started on the march to Lespresses yesterday and had to keep on through a blizzard! Sergeant Bridges says it’s good practise for working “under real active service conditions”… We’re tough and all (you couldn’t not be after all the marching we did in St Albans) but the roads out here has this ‘pavé’ which is like cobbles. Charlie was right, it ain’t half hard on the feet. And he was marching on it in the blistering heat and now here I am in a blizzard. And they say the weather’s bad in England! Makes you almost miss some good old Battersea drizzle… I heard some of the French fellows in the Vosges Mountains have been using skis though… now I wouldn’t mind that!

http://www.mirrorservice.org/sites/gutenberg.org/3/0/2/8/30285/30285-h/images/image02.jpg

Lily: It’s snowing here too Walt! Just a little bit though. Your Ma says Mrs Wiggins has bought herself a new fur... I hope you can keep warm enough sweetheart.

To see this image as part of a kinematographer’s account of the war, visit http://goo.gl/rBlhul

18th March 1915

Rose: How are you getting on Walter? We’re still busy with all the casualties from Neuve Chapelle… there’s been some very bad ones and the train is packed – on Monday I had 120 patients all to meself! Mostly British, including some Canadians, and a lot of Indians too – I heard they captured some of the German line. Some of the poor fellows have been coming through with no dressings on at all though and the Clearing Hospitals are getting 800 at a time… There’s bad rumours about mines in the Dardanelles too, but nothing about it in the papers yet…

Mary: Well I’m sure it ain’t so bad as Rose is making out Walter… and it sounds like they’ll be glad to have you out there. Keep your spirits up, and no more bad news please Rose.

Walter: Don’t worry Ma – you can keep on telling it like it is Rosie, I can take it. Besides, everything I read says the Allies are advancing, so there must be something doing. We had a rotten journey up to Arques though – arrived at 4 o’clock in the morning after getting on the train at 10 o’clock the morning before… and then we had to find billets in the dark!

To see a photograph of British and Indian soldiers outside a hospital train after the battle, and to read more about it, visit http://goo.gl/ynI1i0

To read more about the catastrophe in the Dardanelles, visit http://goo.gl/VSB5Ai

17th march 1915

Walter: This made me laugh.

16th March 1915

Walter: Morning all. The lot of us set off marching at 6.30 this morning… and now we’re getting on trains to go to the ‘acclimatisation positions’ behind the line. I think the place is called ‘Ark’? I’ve got a seat next to Fred, of all the rotten luck… ha ha. I tell you what, these French trains ain’t what you’d want to see coming through Clapham Junction… some of the fellows are in carriages like horse boxes and the whole thing moves so bleedin slow. And I swear I’ve got lice – I’m itching all over… It’s interesting seeing the countryside as you go by though – people are still working on their farms as if nothing was happening, but every so often you see a little patch of graves... How did it go with your job, Lil?

Fred: Oi! None of your lip! And there’s no point looking out the window at graves… I say we start up a round of ‘Tipperary’ but swap it for ‘Clapham Junction’.

Rose: I think you mean ‘Arques’, little brother…

Lily: It’s alright Walt! She let me back! Mrs Reed’s a good sort really. But she says I’m on me last warning and there’s to be no more ‘man trouble’ – not with you or Herb or no one.

Walter: Thank goodness for that! Glad to hear it Lil. Well done. And too right about Herb… Alright then Fred, ‘Tipperary’, you’re on!

To hear a recording of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ from 1915, visit: http://goo.gl/CV83rD

15th March 1915

Walter: Well, we’ve arrived at Le Havre! Exactly 7 months after Charlie got here… it was the 15th of August last year that he landed. And now we’re here to put things right again. We got off the ship at 8 o’clock this morning and marched to No. 2 Rest Camp – it ain’t too far away (3 miles) but we had to march through the town and then up the longest hill you ever seen. Led by the battalion band the whole way though – you should have heard the locals when they started on the Marseillaise! Lots of lovely French girls all smiling and singing. Fred reckons they looks different from English girls somehow… Don’t worry though Lil, they ain’t a patch on you! Bless your heart for coming to see me yesterday… Did you get home alright? What did Mrs Reed say?

Mary: Take care of yourself Walter, and you Fred, and let us know how you’re getting on whenever you can. Lily got home alright, thank goodness – Mrs Howes was beside herself.

Rose: Welcome to la belle France Walt! Look after yourself won’t you – learn how to make a splint and a tourniquet just in case and you’ll be doing yourself a favour.

Lily: I got home alright, thanks sweetheart, but I went to see Mrs Reed and she said to take the day off while she thinks about me job… It was worth it though Walt! Just please be careful out there and don’t forget me, will you? I miss you already.

Lily: And I’m sure them French girls ain’t so special anyway.

Walter: Thanks Ma, and Rosie I will do. Don’t worry though, I’ll be alright. And I’d never forget you Lil! I hope she lets you back – let me know how you get on. It was wonderful to see you… I’ll write you a letter when I can.

14th March 1915

Walter: Well we’re on the ship and I ain’t seen Lily at all… I been squinting at all the people who’ve come out to wave us off and I can’t see her. I hope she’s alright. The lads are having a right laugh at me for getting so worked up about a girl… Lil, I’m on a steam ship called the ‘Copenhagen’, next to one called the ‘Trafford Hall’ (the one they’re hoisting the horses onto), and I’ve got me blue handkerchief what you sewed for me and I’m going to wave it about like a lunatic.

Lily: I can see you Walt! I can see you! I’m right at the back, jumping up and down, in me green coat and hat! Can you see me? I’m so sorry I missed you... And I’m alright everyone – I’ll be back later, I just had to see him. Can you see me Walt?

Walter: There you are! I see you! You are a one Lil… I’m glad you’re alright. The ship’s starting to move - can you get any closer? Me eyesight ain’t as good as the army thinks it is...

Lily: Is that better? I’m as close as I can get! I’m going to wave until I can’t see you no more… Please look after yourself Walter. Write to me! I’ll see you soon!

 Walter: Goodbye Lil! I wish I could blow you a kiss but the lads would never let me live it down. Oh, to heck with it – here goes… Take care sweetheart! And make sure you get home safe. Goodbye everyone!

14th March 1915

Walter: Well, do you want the good news or the bad news…? Lil, I’m so sorry, but we’ve had our embarkation orders – we’re finally leaving! The 1/23rd is going to get a chance to show Fritz what we’re made of. Everyone’s in high spirits and there’s two trains waiting to take us to Southampton… (don’t know how I’m going to get comfortable, carrying all me kit, plus me jam sandwiches…) I’m just so sorry it couldn’t be after the 20th Lil, I really am. But you’ll write me letters, won’t you? Rose says it ain’t so far really and the post comes over every day. I don’t know much about what it’s going to be like really… but we’re not going to Ypres after all – they’re sending us near Neuve Chapelle instead because of what happened there. Bethune, I think it is. I’m not scared, Ma… well, maybe just a bit. But I can’t say I’m not excited too – we’ve been waiting 8 months for this!

Mary: Oh love. I know you’ve worked so hard for this, but it was always going to be a shock to hear you’re actually going… Ed’s trying to explain it all to your little sister, bless him, and your father says don’t let the sergeants pinch your rum ration. Just keep warm and we’ll see you soon, I’ve no doubt.

Walter: Thanks Ma. And Pa. Give Annie a big hug from me too. I’ll miss you all (even you Ed!) but I’ll write when I can and it won’t be much different from me being up here in St Albans will it? Do you know if Lil’s seen this? Is she alright?

Mabel: Walt, you won’t believe it – Lily’s gone! Herb ran in all out of breath and said he saw her getting on a train at Clapham Junction – we reckon she must have seen your message and set off to Southampton! Her Ma’s gone barmy because she’s gone off without a chaperone… and Mrs Reed says she’ll lose her job. She must really love you Walt…

Walter: Good gawd, has she? Well we’re on our way on the train and I don’t know when the ship’s leaving! Bless her heart, I’ll feel rotten if she loses her job. I hope she makes it – I’m desperate to see her…

Ed: You know I don’t agree with none of this fighting… but I hope you get on alright. And I hope Lily makes it down. Just keep your wits about you Walt, like your big brothers taught you. Keep safe.

To find out more about a soldier’s kit, visit http://goo.gl/IkJLdX

11th March

Walter: How are you getting on Rose? Heard there’s been something doing near a village called… I don’t know if I can spell it… Neuve Chapelle?

Rose: That’s it Walt. The army have been busy up there, which means we’ll be busy for the next week or more. We got an emergency call to clear a hospital at Rouen ready for more wounded, so we knew something was up, and now we’re being rushed straight back towards the Front again. Not much news about what’s actually happening mind – what are the papers saying back home?

Walter: They say it’s a “magnificent offensive action” and we’ve taken 1000 prisoners. Sounds alright – maybe you won’t have too many of our boys to treat.

John: It was the Lahore and Meerut Divisions from our side – they had a good system going with bombardment then infantry. They took Neuve Chapelle itself but it’s been blown to bits. The Germans are counter-attacking now though…

To find out more about the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, visit http://goo.gl/JM20AI

10th March 1915

Walter: Just to let you know Ma, and you Lil, some of the 1/23rd are going to be back in Battersea today to deliver the Colours to St Mary’s Church. It’s so that they’ll be safe while we’re away. There’s going to be the Colour Party and a marching detachment… I wish they’d chosen me for it, then I’d get to see you all. Never mind eh. Bert will be there, so look out for him. They’re starting from Clapham Junction so my old workmates might see them! Let us know if you get out there.

Mary: We saw them Walt! It was wonderful – they looked everso smart marching down the road and lots of the young men was able to see their families afterwards. It’s hard, really, that only some of you could come.

Lily: It really was a good sight Walt – we came out of the shop to watch them go by. I pretended that you was there too and cheered and clapped for all I was worth. I do miss you sweetheart.

Walter: I miss you and all. Wish I could have been there! But it’s good to hear it all went off well. I can just imagine them all setting off past Arding and Hobbs…

To see the Colours of the 116th Canadian infantry being deposited at Westminster Abbey in 1916, visit http://goo.gl/Zuoxbz

8th March 1915

Walter: You won’t believe what we’ve just had! A farewell concert in the County Hall! Miss Louise Dale organised it and Madame Ada Crossley was in it too. They weren’t half good and they was wishing us luck and saying how brave we all was. Don’t know exactly when we’re setting off yet, but it must be very soon mustn’t it? We all sang along with ‘Keep the Homefires Burning’ and I almost got a tear in me eye thinking of you Lil... Fred got hisself in a right-two-and-eight with the drink afterwards though – I nearly had to carry him home! And me almost as bad… I’m going to sleep now

Lily: Oh Walt, do you think it’ll be before the 20th that you go? I couldn’t bear not to see you.

Lily: Walter?

Walter: Lil, I’m so sorry, I fell asleep that quick I still had me boots on… I don’t know when we’re going sweetheart. I just hope it’s not before then. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out. Now I’ve got to go and find some aspirin for me head – except there ain’t much around since the war started. Bet Fred could do with some too.

To hear ‘Keep the Homefires Burning’ and see the lyrics, visit http://goo.gl/2wC2Lc and to find out more about the history of aspirin, visit http://goo.gl/Vmz2PS

6th March 1915

Walter: The Royal Navy is at it again! They’ve sunk one of them submarines! Off Dover – U8 it was called. They took the Germans on it prisoner and lined them all up down the pier – I would have liked to have seen that… all the townsfolk came out to see them get marched through the streets in disgrace. Something strange though – the Express said “The German officers were to-day the guests of the Royal Artillery officers at lunch at Dover Castle.” Are they being funny? I mean, I wouldn’t mind lunch at Dover Castle and I’m fighting on the right side…!

Fred: That’s officers for you Walt. I can see our own Captain ‘Always’ Wright getting friendly with the Germans if it meant lunch at Dover Castle.

Walter: Ha ha, you might be right. They ain’t all bad though Fred… who knows, maybe they was getting some information out of them? Give them a drop of wine, get them talking…

Fred: Come on now Walt, don’t get all nice about officers now they’ve made you a Lance Jack…

To read more about Dover during the war, including the sinking of U8, visit http://goo.gl/zy5Rg2

4th March 1914

Walter: Big news everyone - I reckon we’re moving on soon for sure. There’s all sorts of kit and equipment arriving and I heard a rumour we’re going to the Ypres Salient…

Fred: I think you’re right – you was right about them horses and mules anyway – they’re everywhere! New general service and limbered wagons too, and a load of saddles and harnesses…

Mary: Oh Walt. Are you really going up near Ypres? I can’t bear the thought of it, not after Charlie.

Lily: That is big news… Do you think you’ll be going soon? It’s been so long since I’ve seen you Walt! I had a word with Mrs Reed and I can’t get leave from work before the 20th… do you think you’ll be going before then?

Walter: Don’t you worry Ma, I’ll be alright. And I don’t know Lil – perhaps. I do miss you something rotten.  How about we say you’ll come to visit on Saturday the 20th (I’ll pay for your ticket – I got a bit of extra money with me promotion) and if we’re heading off before then I’ll let you know.

Lily: Thank you sweetheart! Ooh I can’t wait! I’ll send a message to Haig himself telling him he’s not to send for you before then…

To read more about the use of horses and mules during the war, visit http://goo.gl/AAM2GC

2nd March 1915

Walter: Did you see the Prime Minister’s speech from yesterday? He’s been bandying about some numbers that make me head hurt. He says the war so far has cost £362,000,000! I asked one of our Pay Sergeants, Joe, who’s good at arithmetic, and if I was still working as a railway porter I’d have to keep going for 7 million years to earn that much! Don’t fancy that… Asquith says per day it’s £1,500,000 and he reckons it’ll be even more than that soon. They’ve sorted out enough money for 100 more days of war though… so I suppose they don’t think it’ll be over yet. 100 days from now is June. I hope we get out there before then.

Fred: It weren’t all bad Walt, he said us Territorials are “capable of confronting any troops in the world.” Too right we are! They’d better send us out soon…

Mary: That’s good news about the Terriers Fred. Asquith said he’s going to fight back against the blockade too – by blockading Germany… Says they won’t let any goods in or out. Hope it makes the enemy see sense.

To read H.H. Asquith’s speech in full, visit http://goo.gl/3pv8Dk

1st March 1915

Lily: Have you seen the Daily Mirror, Mabel? The fashion’s coming back from 80 years ago! Big skirts, not them hobble ones no more. Bet we’ll see more in the shop. I wish I could afford them! Getting the cut right on a big skirt’s easier but it costs a lot more in the material. At least it’s a couple of inches off the ground these days so that saves a bit. I’ll see if I can have a go.

To find out more about the fashion changes of the era, visit http://goo.gl/0ektBb

Mabel: I don’t know Lil – it does seem a waste to use all that material when people are trying to save. And to think it was Paris where it started! You’d think the French would know better than anyone that there’s a war going on.

Lily: Well, if I could do it without wasting anything it might be alright… I’m going to see if we have any of Granny’s old dresses – maybe I could use the material.

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