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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31 March 1916

Lily: Thank goodness the weather’s finally got its act together! Means I can get out on the bike and do me job properly. I’ve been all over London today. A parcel to Knightsbridge, a message to Camden… they even made me go out to Limehouse! I nearly told them to sling it. I mean, you’ve heard the rumours about what goes on in the East End, haven’t you? Anyway, I did it – delivered a package to a Chinese lad and then hooked it, quick. It is exciting though, this job. You meet all sorts of people. I even saw a crowd of Serbian soldiers marching down the Strand! It beats working at Arding & Hobbs, that’s for sure. This lady’s got a bike just like mine, look -

Mabel: It sounds perfect, Lil! How exciting. I’m almost jealous. And don’t worry too much about Limehouse – it ain’t like it used to be since they tightened the laws on opium and cocaine last year.

To read more about the use of motorbikes in WWI, visit http://goo.gl/yc5OHY  

and to read more about Serbia’s involvement in the war, visit http://goo.gl/b89G2l

30th March 1916

Walter: Had a letter from Terence, my mate from the Berkhamsted training camp. He was going on about the new steel helmets. They’ve all been issued with them in his battalion. Alright for some, eh? He reckons they’re the best thing yet, as long as you rub mud on them to stop the shine. The French have had them for ages and even us Brits have been getting them off and on since Loos. Just not nearly all of us. You’d think they’d get a move on with that, of all things, wouldn’t you? I’d always assumed the ‘powers that be’ were doing their best for us but this just makes you wonder. Makes you feel a bit… neglected. Anyway, this chap had the right idea – trying to get people talking about it.

Ed: That just goes to show you, don’t it? They don’t care whether you get your head blown in or not. It’s just money and numbers – how many helmets we can afford to make and how many men we can ‘afford’ to lose… Don’t trust them, Walt. Strike until you at least get something to protect your head.

Walter: Strike, he says! You’ve got no idea. What do you expect me to do, tell Fritz not to fire because I’m ‘striking’?

To read more about the use of helmets, visit http://goo.gl/WFIwjP

28th March 1916

Mary: The apocalypse seems to have come to Battersea. Thank heavens we’re a terraced house, else I’d worry this storm would blow the whole place down! Your father said some of the windows up town have been blown in and trees pulled up by the roots. He only just managed to get home from VTC training, poor man. Said no one’s able to use the trams or walk, so the Underground’s even more crowded than ever. He had real trouble at Victoria today too, with all the trains delayed or cancelled and no one able to get in touch with anyone else because the telegraph wires are down. Annie thinks it’s all a great laugh, watching people trying to walk down the street with their umbrellas inside out and their hats blowing off… At least it takes her mind off Ed having moved out. He went to live with that troublemaker Evan a few days ago and we can’t bear it, either of us. She’s insisted on writing him a letter every single day, bless her. It must be hard having grown up with all her brothers and sisters around, and them all leaving one by one.

Lily: Hope you’re alright up there, Mrs Carter. We’ve moved everything away from the windows here in Limburg Road. We could do without this storm, that’s for sure. London’s dangerous enough with the ‘lighting orders’. I have to keep my motorcycle light shaded – I’m terrified of hitting someone! Anyway, I hope you get on alright without Ed. I’m sure he won’t stay away long. And I could always come by if you need help in the meantime?

To read more about the Home Front, including the WWI ‘blackout’, visit http://goo.gl/6uFCmF

27th March 1916

Walter: Yesterday was all new to me. First time I’ve had to rub my feet with whale oil and all that new footcare business. It don’t half keep them warm though. Trouble was, then the Platoon Commander, 2/Lt. Bennett, got me to inspect the rest of the platoon too. Thank god I’ve had plenty of practice back at Bekhamsted. I always hated feet. Still, I did it, and tried to keep up a show of authority with the boys. I think I pulled it off. They all got given new socks as well, so everyone knew something was coming. Sure enough, today we marched to the trenches at the Lorette Heights, not far from Vimy. First time I’ve been in the trenches proper since I was injured back at Loos. Of course it’s different being the Platoon Sergeant now, but I’ve still had to learn a whole lot of new stuff. Like all the gas procedures – they reckon you can tell tear gas because it smells like lilac perfume…

Lily: I hate you being back in the trenches. How is it? We’ve had snow here again… and to think we was all thinking it was spring! It’s not too bad in central London, thank heavens, so I can still get around on the bike. Well, stay safe from the gas, won’t you? I’ve heard even the dogs out there have masks now…

Walter: Hello Lil! Nice to hear from you. There’s snow here too... No wonder we all had to keep up with the footcare. The worst thing is when it melts and everywhere gets boggy again. I’d nearly forgotten the smell of boggy trenches. Anyway, I’m glad the motorbicycling’s going alright. Take care of yourself.

To see a chart of the different gases of WW1, including how to tell them apart by smell, visit http://goo.gl/7PqeFz

24th March 1916

Rose: What a sad day of goodbyes. The little French lad I’ve been looking after since his house was bombed out, le petit Edouard, is much better, apart from his few scars, and had to go to the local orphanage today. It was horrible. I took him along, trying to be cheerful and telling him in my best French about all the new little friends he’ll make and how the ladies there will take good care of him, but he cried his heart out when I had to leave him. And then to see all the other ‘orphelins de guerre’! I could have brought them all home, poor babies. Speaking of home, Ma, I might have caused you a new problem. Or maybe he’ll be a help if Ed goes? Who knows. But the Australian who didn’t die, Leonard, was sent off to England today to recover. They can’t send him back to Australia, it being so far away, can they? At least he’s spent a bit of time in England before, him being part of King Edward’s Horse. But he looked so worried about it, saying everyone he knew before was no doubt off fighting, that I took pity on him and gave him your address at Sabine Road. You don’t mind, do you?

Mary: Heavens above, Rose, you could have asked! When is he coming? I don’t having nothing to feed him with. What do Australians eat?

Rose: Just food, Ma! Whatever you’ve got will be better than the hospital grub anyway. And he’s not coming to live with you – he’ll be based at Weymouth. Sorry to spring it on you, I just thought he could use a friend.

Margaret Wiggins: You Carters are a law unto yourselves! Whatever next?

To read more about ANZACs in Britain, visit http://goo.gl/POFGiu

23rd March 1916

Walter: My platoon has to provide a working party tonight. That’s where you collect a group of soldiers to get something practical done, like road building or carrying supplies to the line. Seems to be all we’re doing at the moment. At least the Russians look like they’re seeing some action on the Eastern Front – the papers we get out here are full of how well they’re supposed to be doing up by Lake Naroch. I suppose they’re trying to pull German troops away from Verdun. Hope it works.

[A striking photograph of the Grand Duke Nicholas taken at a review of Russian troops. It gives a good idea of his great height and breadth of shoulder.]

Terence: I’d take it with a pinch of salt, mate. I’ve heard rumours it’s a disaster up there…

To find out more, visit http://goo.gl/EsqZUo

21ST March 1916

Sidh: I am sorry not to write to you more often with our news. We are now a relief group, led by General Aylmer. We try to reach Kut, where many Indian and British soldiers starve under siege, but each time we are kept back by Ottoman soldiers. We have fought at Hanna and crossed the Tigris to fight at Dujaila, but still we cannot break through. Thousands of our soldiers have died in this way. My dearest of old friends, Achanda, never returned from Dujaila. I can only hope he is taken prisoner. If we cannot reach Kut before our allies’ supplies run out entirely, then we must all retreat and lose this territory to the Ottomans. I hope you are having better luck in France…

To hear about the campaign in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), visit http://goo.gl/oZuAEa

and to see statistics showing India’s contribution to the war, visit http://goo.gl/ByMiEr

18th March 1916

Remember I said Lily gave me a pocket bear just before I came back out? Here he is. ‘Biscuit’ she called him…

17th March 1916

Ed: Just got collared in the street by a girl I knew at school. Was walking home when I heard this, “Oi!” and a woman came running across the street at me, pram in tow. Well, I’d just realised it was little Ditty Anderson when she started a real tirade, shouting about how she’d only been married a year and her baby only 6 months and now her husband was getting called up and why couldn’t I go instead, a no-good, useless shirker like me? Then she started crying. She said Asquith promised her husband wouldn’t have to go before someone like me… I suppose she’s right. That’s what the government said last year when they was trying to get everyone signed up on the Derby Scheme – no married men until all the unmarrieds had gone. So now they’ve brought in conscription, they reckon it’s all clear to call up any married men who attested. Trouble is, that don’t account for Conscientious Objectors like me who’re appealing.

It bothered me something rotten to see her carrying on like that, and with the baby, but it don’t make me feel different about the war. It’s that what’s taking her husband away in the first place, ain’t it? Anyway, I’ve made me mind up. People like Ditty are cross at Asquith for going back on his word, but that don’t come close to how they feel about us Conscientious Objectors, and after that brick through the window business last month it’s just too dangerous to stay at home. I couldn’t live with meself if Annie came to harm because of me. So Evan says I can lodge with him. I’m sorry, Ma. I know you won’t like it, but I’m going to pack up a few things and get out of your hair for a while.

Mary: Don’t you dare! I don’t care what no one says, you stay put. I understand Ditty Anderson don’t want her husband to go, but she don’t know what a help you are to me, especially with my other boys gone. She ought to remember some of us have lost loved ones for good, with others in the firing line too. And if you go and live with that Evan he’ll just go filling your head with more nonsense. You can’t do that to me, Edward.

Ed: What would you have me do, Ma? Pa doesn’t want me around and I’m turning out to be more of a danger to you and Annie than a help. I’ll still pop round if you need anything heavy lifting, and I’ll think again when things have calmed down a bit.

To read more about HH Asquith’s promise to married men, visit https://goo.gl/mF2sB4

16th March 1916

Walter: Never long in one place! We’ve moved to billets at Estrée Cauchy, which no one can hardly say or spell so we call it ‘Extra Cushy’. It’s all stone houses and farms along a straight road, with billets in barns and cow sheds and all the debris left behind from when the French fought through here last year. We had physical training yesterday… two games of footie! I’m aching from it a bit today. Turns out I’m not as fit as I thought I was. Of course, I could’ve opted out, being a sergeant, but you know I can’t resist a game! It’s getting warm and sunny now too. The snow’s finally let up so we’re practising artillery formation later. That’s where you have a ‘creeping barrage’ fired ahead of you by your own artillery and you follow it over No Man’s Land, all in formation – riflemen at the front, bombers to the sides and Lewis Gunners like Fred bringing up the rear. Always worth practising it behind the line before you have to do it for real.

Lily: Are you practising for something particular? Please say you’re not!

Walter: Lil, you know the censors wouldn’t let me tell you if anything was afoot. Hope you’re getting on alright, anyway. I’ve got your little bear Biscuit here, keeping me company. He’s a right war-hungry little fellow, I’ll tell you that much. Yesterday I had to wrestle him to the ground to stop him heading straight off in the direction of the front line… he reckoned he was going to knock the Germans out in one go. Typical first-timer.

Lily: Walter Carter, you’re daft!

To find out more about the physical training of WWI soldiers, visit http://goo.gl/KZ554E

and to locate Estrée-Cauchy, visit https://goo.gl/lV2phs

14th March 1915

Ed: They’re talking about a ‘non-combatant’ corps now, so that conscientious objectors can still be talked into being part of the war, just without fighting. I suppose they’d be doing medical care or supplies or something. Now, I can half understand how that’d work for someone who’s religious and has sworn never to kill no one, but if you believe that war should be illegal altogether, like me, then how is it better to ‘oil the cogs of the wheel’, as Evan says? That’s like saying, ‘Here’s a bomb what I’ve brought for you – just make sure it’s you who pulls the pin, not me, so it ain’t my fault, alright?’ Can’t you see that’s daft?

[The formation of a special corps, presumably for the benefit of conscientious objectors, is announced in an Army Order issued last night, which says:-

The Army Council deem it expedient for the period of the present war to authorise the formation of and to provide rates of pay for a corps to be entitled the “Non-Combatant Corps.” The rates of pay of the men in this corps shall be those laid down for infantry of the line, but they shall not be entitled to draw working pay or to draw proficiency pay which is given for professional skill in arms.]

Evan: It beggars belief that people still can’t see that, Ed… And if you needed any more proof that the whole thing’s inhuman, just take a look at these ‘noble’ stories… it’s brutal.

To read about real soldiers’ experiences in the non-combatant corps, visit https://goo.gl/rMbBlq

11th March 1916 (evening)

Walter: No rest for the wicked! Started wishing I hadn’t stayed up all night talking with Fred when I had to look after a working party going out today. All under the Platoon Commander of course, a new chap – Second Lieutenant Bennett. I can’t get the measure of him yet. Well-spoken. Seems younger than me. I tried to get him talking a few times but he just looked caught up in the work. Smokes like a chimney. Anyway, have you ever heard of a ‘cheval-de-frise’? A bunch of them had to be carried to the front line and set up today. It’s an idea we nicked off the French. They’ve been around for donkey’s years and are supposed to stop cavalry. Only, we get the men to wrap barbed wire around them and use them to stop people, not horses…

To find out more about the cheval-de-frise, visit https://goo.gl/NWCfDR

11th March 1916 (morning)

Walter: Back in France. What a thing to see it again after all these months. Hearing the language again at the ports and stations brings it all back. I joined the rest of the 1/23rd lads at Coupigny yesterday, after dropping off a bunch of replacements that I had to bring back with me. Not quite the welcome I was expecting at first. I hardly recognised a soul! Grumpy lot as well – they’d just come off clear-up duties. And I don’t mean domestic cleaning either… they’d been clearing a battlefield, which means identifying and moving bodies, so it’ll always put you in a low mood. Had a bit of grub and then found my place on the floor of one of the huts. Not the fanciest of places but I fell fast asleep, until something woke me in the middle of the night – a tapping at the door. Well, I figured it couldn’t be a rat, else I wouldn’t have woken up, then the door creaks ajar and there’s the shadow of a man creeping in! I almost went for my bayonet, but this Battersea voice whispers, ‘That you, mate?’ – it was only bloody Fred! He’d been out with a working party and hadn’t got back till 2.30am.  We crept outside and slapped each other on the back a few times. Talked for ages about what’s been going on. He kept taking the mick out of me for having got ‘posh’. He reckons my voice is different. I hadn’t noticed… I suppose it comes from hanging round that lot at Berkhamsted.

Mabel: Walter! Did you give him the scarf?!

Fred: Course he did, Mabel! It’s a proper treat, thank you. It’s quite long, ain’t it? I might wrap meself in it and hope no one spots me till the war’s over.

8th March 1916

Walter: Time to leave. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much but there’s no more ignoring it now. Got all me kit back on again, apart from the stuff I have to pick up from Kingston Barracks on my way. Webbing, spare clothing, shaving kit… you name it, I’m wearing it. Ma and Pa have come to the station to see me off. Not near as fancy as the folks in this picture but they’ve sorted out their best hats for the occasion. It’s a wrench to leave them, especially with Ma getting so tearful. Still, I’ve got a few nice souvenirs to bring with me. Now I know what Lil was secretly making for me – a pocket bear! It’s a little ted that’s small enough to sit in your pocket. His little eyes are up high so he can peek out too. Lots of the lads get given them by their girls at home. Something to keep you company, I suppose. I let Lil name mine, so he’s called Biscuit, of all things. Right, time to get on the train. I hate this bloody war. Two days in Kingston, then let’s go and get it over with.

Lily: I can’t stand it that you’re off already. I suppose we’ve been spoiled, having you back in England for so long and not having the worry. I’ve had a miserable day, trying to get by at training and all the time thinking of your train setting off. I wish I could see you just once more. I even thought about jumping on the bike and taking off towards Kingston but I’d have been sacked for sure. Well, take care of yourself, won’t you? And keep Biscuit with you, to make you think of me. I know I’ll be thinking of you every minute. Safe journey, darling.

To see a soldier’s kit, visit https://goo.gl/tuDzO9

and to find out more about pocket bears, visit: https://goo.gl/GtlfEt

7th March 1916

Fred: Good to hear you’ll be on your way back soon, Walt. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, of course, but it’ll be good to see you. Better bring your snow shoes – it’s still coming down out here. I remember when we used to hoot and holler to get out and play in the snow. Now I’d be glad if I never saw another flake in me life. To make it all worse, we just arrived at billets in Barlin and they’ve been left in a right state by the last mob that was here. It ain’t fair really. We leave everything in good order when it’s our turn to move on. Anyway, at least we’re not up at Verdun. Sounds like they’re having a hellish time up there. Hope the Germans are coming off worse, at least.

Mabel: I’m sending Walter off with that scarf for you, Fred! I settled into the idea of knitting after a while. Might have overdone it a bit, in fact. It looks like it’d stretch from here to France. But at least it’ll keep you warm! Fred likes

To read about the Verdun battlefield 100 years on, and to see archive footage from the battle itself, visit http://goo.gl/U7pJcc

6th March 1916

Walter: Well, I’m knocked over sideways. Just met up with Lil on her lunchbreak while she’s learning this motorcycle job. She didn’t tell me she’d be in a bloody uniform! Breeches and boots! She started twirling round to show me, right in the middle of the street, and I had to tell her to leave off. At least she’s got a long coat to wear over the top… it’s enough to turn a man barmy. Never seen her look so happy though. She reckons she’s alright at this motorcycle lark and she’s picked it up quicker than anyone thought. When she’s finished the training she’ll be speeding off round London delivering parcels and the like. She says there’s even a chance she’ll get a sidecar so she can pick people up too. It’s a fair bit different than when I last left her to go off to the front. You remember when everyone got in a panic when she went off down Southampton without a chaperone? I suppose we’ve all changed a bit. Anyway, it was good to see her so happy… I’ll miss her something rotten.

Terence: Now don’t you go rubbing it in. Here I am back in France with the ‘Diehards’, in the company of a load of sweaty soldiers. You stay in Blighty for as long as you can, mate!

To read more about the changing role of women during the war, visit http://goo.gl/54rwTQ

and http://goo.gl/2PN57a

5th March 1916

Walter: Just arrived back in Battersea in the pitch dark and a raging blizzard! I was half thinking all the windows would be lit up with candles the way they used to be and the gas lamps lit in the street, but the houses have their dark binds up and the gas is turned down low because of the lighting orders. Must have been a Zepp warning. Good job I know this street like the back of my hand, else I’d have had a job finding my way. I’m certain I’ve got the right house though – you can’t miss the sound of Ma’s laugh. Sounds like they’ve got a houseful, actually. You can see where Ed’s fixed the new pane of glass in the window. Not a bad job. Just took a peek through a crack in the blinds and they’re all sitting round the table, even Annie, and Lil’s round! No wonder it sounds busy. I bet she thought she’d surprise me! Looks like they’ve got a real spread set up to welcome me, bless them. Right, better knock the door before I freeze to the spot…

Lily: We never knew you was sneaking around outside! It was wonderful to be there to welcome you home tonight, sweetheart, and your family’s such a laugh. I finally feel like we’re all getting along. See you tomorrow, anyway? I want to make the most of it before you go back.

4th March 1916

Walter: Taking a last look around the training camp. Leaving tomorrow. I’ll miss Berkhamsted, but I don’t mind moving on so much now that my mate Terence has left too. He went off yesterday to join the Middlesex Regiment. Tough bunch – they’ve been in it since Mons. We’re going to keep in touch. He’s a good lad, Terence. Gets a bee in his bonnet about things now and then but you need a bit of fire in your belly in this line of work. We’ve done a good job here I think. Taught the officer cadets as much as we can in trenches as close to the real thing as you can get. Even down to the snow!

[The smoke from bursting shells and bombs during a sham battle “somewhere in England.” The men can be seen in the trenches.]

Terence: Got a couple of days’ home leave first, so not quite back in France yet. Thank God. Maybe I’ll see you out there one day – I’ll keep an eye out for the 1/23rd!

To read more about the Inns of Court Regiment and their training ground, visit http://goo.gl/ao2X2I

and to read more about the 4th Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment, visit https://goo.gl/OX4p4A

2nd March 1916

Ma: Saw this in the paper and thought we were onto a winner, until I read it’s the Germans who think they’ll win by April! Do you think they will, Walter? I’m terrified of it. They’ll come over here, won’t they, if they win? We’ll end up part of that German empire. And then we’ll be even harder up than we are now. I’ll bet they won’t let us keep Charlie’s pension, for starters.

Walter: I don’t think the Express printed it in seriousness… if the enemy think they’ll break through because of Verdun, they’ve got another think coming. No need to panic, yet.

Lily: Surely they can’t win, Mrs Carter? And they might not get over here, even if they did… we’ve got people like Mr Carter guarding us at home, haven’t we? We just need more defence against their planes, that’s all. Take a look at this -

 

[Lord Montagu of Beaulieu referred to his new responsibilities in a speech he delivered at a meeting at the Constitutional Club held last night to discuss the need for a strong air service.

“We must now begin to prepare not only fot the necessities of this war – a war which may end next November, but will probably go on to November next year – buut we must begin to thinkout a proper Imperial air policy. I look forward to the time when the great Dominions and India will have a common air policy with us.

In this war Germany may be bereft to a large extent of men, may have her fleet at the bottom of the North Sea, may have Essen blown up, and be, from that point of view, on land and sea to a large extent emasculated for  along time to come. But Germany will contain the same people who cultivate the love of science as today, and as 1,700 aeroplanes can be built at the cost of one Dreadnought, and as a Zeppelin costs a great deal less than a destroyer, it stands to reason that thenation which still has great scientific ability but an empty purse will try to establish a military existence again in a form which will cost the least possible amount of money.]

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