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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

28th March 1917

Walter: On the boat back out to Belgium. Rotten weather still. Finding it difficult to get my head around everything that’s happened. The funeral was an ordeal but I couldn’t let it get to me – had to make sure Ma was alright. It seemed to hit her all of a sudden. And guess who showed up? Lily. It was nice of her to come and, bless her, she was so upset. She came back to the house with us for the wake afterwards and sorted out the tea when Ma had to take a breather upstairs. I was feeling blank until I saw Lil, then when I saw how sympathetic she looked I got that awful tearful feeling in the back of my throat and thought I was going to embarrass myself. And me a Sergeant Major! Managed to swallow it. We had a brief chat, nothing much. Have to turn my mind back to the war now. Just seen a paper with a headline about French villages being liberated by the Allies left right and centre. Thank god I’m going back to good news. Could have done without the picture of the soldier and the little girl though.

Geoff Adams: Good to see you’re on your way back. We need you out here. I’ll see if I can send the hot rations your way…

To see footage of French towns and villages being liberated in 1917, visit https://goo.gl/uZCgbq

27th March 1917

Walter: The whole of Sabine Road has its curtains closed. Out of respect for Annie, it being her funeral today. I remember doing that for other families’ children over the years. Annie’s laid out in her coffin in the front room. I spent a while in there but then couldn’t take it anymore. Waiting for the funeral directors now. Me, Leonard and Pa will carry the bier out. Fred’s here too, with Mabel, but he can’t take the weight because of his shakes. The insurance has covered a carriage to take Annie to the church but we couldn’t afford any others to travel behind it so the rest of us will walk up there. It’s pouring rain. I feel numb, really. Arrived very late last night and have to leave straight afterwards as I’ve only got 3 days’ leave, including travel. Wish I could stay longer, for Ma especially, but the OC’s been a real gent to work this leave for me and needs me back as soon as possible. At least Rose is here, fussing over everyone. She has a week’s leave. It’s been nice to see her after so long. Ah, they’ve just pulled up with the carriage. I’ll have to fetch Pa in from the back garden. He’s been out there smoking in the rain all morning and won’t come in the house. I expect he feels like I do – it is an honour lifting that little white coffin, but it’s the last thing I want to do.

Margaret Wiggins: A very sad day but perhaps in the end a blessing for the child, considering her problems.

Rose: Oh, have a heart. And don’t you dare say anything of the sort to Ma.

To read about funerals in the early 1900s, visit https://goo.gl/5qPwrB

23rd March 1917

Walter: Got some awful news. The worst news. Worse even than losing lads out here, somehow. My little sis passed away this morning. From the Infantile Paralysis made worse by what turned out to be pneumonia. Her lungs just couldn’t take it. I’m heartbroken. Even writing it, I can’t believe it yet. Rose got home just in time, tried everything she could but she said in the end all they could do was make her as comfortable as possible and let the vicar read her the last rites. She never regained consciousness, so Rose says Annie wouldn’t have known if I was there or not but it tears me to pieces that I wasn’t. They’re letting me have compassionate leave now, anyway. Very lucky as that doesn’t happen often. Just a few days for the funeral. At least that means I can take care of Ma and Pa.

Ed: I got Rose’s message. I’m just so bloody angry! I don’t know what Him Upstairs is playing at. Take the Kaiser, why don’t you? Not our Annie. Of all people, not Annie! And I can’t get home at all. Not even for her funeral. Especially now I’ve been put on jankers for smashing the window of our billet when I heard. Feel like tearing the whole place up. What would it matter?

Fred: Oh mate. I’m so sorry. Poor kid, I always thought she’d pull through. Mrs Carter, Mabel and I will come and see you if I can get out of the hospital.

Walter: Thanks Fred, I’m on my way home now.

Bert: I’m so sorry to hear it, Walt. Thoughts with you and your family. Let me know if you need a hand with anything, I’m only round the corner from your folks. Walter likes

John: That’s awful news. So sorry mate. I lost a cousin of mine to Infantile Paralysis after a bout of polio. It’s a rotten disease.

To read about the death of a child in the early 1900s, visit https://goo.gl/SSncdZ

21st March 1917

Fred: Saw the message about Annie. Hope she’s alright mate. Any news?

Jamie: Rosie, I got your line about setting off back home to be with your sister. Poor wee girl. How far have you got?

Rose: About to head over the Channel. We got held up due to the bad weather. It’s miserable. I haven’t heard anything more from Ma but she never would have said to come back if it wasn’t desperate. I just hope I can get back in time. I haven’t seen Annie since the Christmas before last. I wish I’d come back sooner.

Jamie: Don’t be hard on yourself. She’ll be glad to see you when you get there. Safe journey.

20th March 1917

Mary: Edward, Rose, Walter – can you get home? We’ve had the doctor out to Annie after she took a turn for the worse and I’m sorry to say but it’s not good news. The poor child hasn’t woken since yesterday and her breathing’s ever so laboured. I can’t bear it, the doctor thinks she doesn’t have long. Please say you can get home.

Walter: Annie can’t be that bad, surely Ma? I wish I could get leave but I’ve not long come back and there’s blokes here who haven’t seen their families for months. I’m sure she’ll pull through though. She always has, hasn’t she? She’ll rouse up soon, you’ll see.

Rose: I’m on my way. I was due leave anyway. Is she responding to anything?

Mary: Nothing at all. We’re going to get the vicar out. Please hurry, love.

Edward: I’ve damn near begged but they won’t let me have the leave. We’ve only just come out and, as the BSM pointed out, I don’t have a good record. I’ve half a mind to set off back to Boulogne myself but I’d only get picked up by the Military Police. I’m sorry Ma. Tell her to hang in there. Tell her she’s strong enough.

16th March 1917

Walter: Did you see this? Nicholas II, the Russian Czar, has abdicated! Something about riots in Russia, a revolution even. I have to say, we hadn’t paid it much attention here. But they’re our allies, the Russians, so who knows what it’ll mean for the war.

Mary: What a shock! I know that Rasputin fellow was killed over Christmas. Funny business, that was.

To see a short video about the abdication of Nicholas II, visit https://goo.gl/4fciWb

15th March 1917

Walter: Sorry it’s so hard, Ma, but I’m glad Leonard’s helping out. Is Annie alright?

Mary: I’m at my wits’ end with trying to get enough food into everyone. It’s not that we don’t have the money now, but there’s so little food in the shops. How am I supposed to keep Annie’s strength up when I can’t feed her properly? We’ve had a bit of help from Len, who gets a parcel from home every so often. Wonderful things he gets – tinned peaches and pineapples, Meat Extract, boiled sweets…

Mary: I can’t seem to get her to perk up. She will drink a little Bovril though, so that helps.

To read more about the history of Bovril, visit https://goo.gl/dUfZtm

13th March 1917

Walter: The Allies have taken Bagdad. It’s been back and forth in the newspapers for years now. What with the news about Gommecourt and the others, it’s tempting to think the war is finally going our way. Here’s hoping.

To find out more about the First World War in the Middle East, visit https://goo.gl/wPhBoJ

9th March 1917

Walter: I’ve heard about the Native Labour Contingent but never seen one of the camps. Ed’s been right past on his way to the line -

Ed: Every day, something new. Today we passed the South African Native Labour Contingent. The South Africans have set up camps for men who aren’t allowed to be soldiers because of their race. They do labouring instead. Corporal Retford said there’s more than 21,000 of them in France. We were all craning our necks to see through the ‘enclosure fences’ into the camp but they’re six feet high with barbed wire along the top, so not much luck. The men inside aren’t allowed out unless they’re supervised by an officer or a European NCO and they get handed over to the Military Police if they’re found in an estaminet or anything.

To find out more about the South African Native Labour Contingent, visit https://goo.gl/HomXJ2

8th March 1917

Walter: Taking a working party out today. They’ll be loading the light railway with Geoff. I remember doing this with you, Fred, when we first came out. How are you, anyway? Any better? Hope Mabel’s getting on alright too.

Fred: Not too bad, thanks mate. They’re thinking of discharging me from the hospital. I’ve tried so hard to get better, now I’ve just got to hope they don’t send me back out. And Mabel’s grand, thanks. Size of a house!

Mabel: Size of a house, indeed! He’s not far wrong though – I’m trying to keep going at the munitions factory long as I can but it’s difficult now. My pal Florrie here worked right up till three days before she gave birth. Don’t know how she did it.

To read about light railways on the Western Front, visit https://goo.gl/6ogDjS

6th March 1917

Walter: Sounds like a close shave, Ed. Have they really poisoned the canal…? Better get used to seeing the dead though, there’s plenty out here.

Ed: Left Boulogne. Travelling towards the front. When we’re not clattering along in railway trucks we’re marching. All of us – horses, guns, the lot. Riding some of the way, which helps. Nearly caused a disaster though. The horse I was on wanted to dip his head to drink from the canal we was walking along. Thought there couldn’t be any harm in it until Battery Sergeant Major Wesham shouted, ‘Get that horse away from that damned water!’ Turns out they reckon the Germans have poisoned it so we can’t use it. As soon as he’d said it I could see why they’d think so. The water’s a rum colour. Not just murky brown, like the Thames, but sort of yellow. My mate Saunders reckons he saw something human floating in it and all. That made the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. Felt a bit better when we got under the cover of the trees for a break. The snow’s starting to melt so there’s plenty of safe water for the horses there. We unlimbered them and let them drink as much as they wanted.

An account of a poisoned canal can be found in the illustrated diary of Private Len Smith: https://goo.gl/1GuGdF

3rd March 1917

Walter: Never had such a hard job keeping a straight face! Especially with Sgt Chapman trying his best not to laugh as well. He confiscated this picture off a soldier he was tearing a strip off. The lad had gone back out into No Man’s Land during the raid – ignored orders and put himself and others in needless danger. He eventually admitted he’d promised a mate of his that if he got killed or injured he’d remove the ‘smutty pictures’ from his pockets! Sure enough, his pal went down so, honour-bound, this lad went back out to retrieve them. Came back with this. I have to say, having been out here a few years, it’s not the most shocking I’ve seen…

Lily: ‘Not the most shocking’?! You can nearly see what she had for breakfast!

Mrs Wiggins: No wonder the world’s in the state it is. I’ve always said it, you introduce trouser uniforms for women on war work and you end up on a slippery slope towards this sort of smut.

To see other postcards from WWI (nothing that will raise eyebrows today!), visit https://goo.gl/RkzwfE

2nd March 1917

Walter: Getting a whiff of hot, cooked rations when you’re back in the cold trenches can cheer a man up no end. They’ve done well today – we don’t usually get anything that’s still hot unless we cook it ourselves. Plenty of fresh bread to go around too. Then again, there’s not so many to share it with after the raid. Not until we get another draft. Best not to think about it. There’s some good news going about anyway. Sounds like our pals down in France have captured Gommecourt.

To see how the capture of Gommecourt, Thilloy and Puisieux-au-Mont was reported in the US news, visit https://goo.gl/F6vYdj

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