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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th May 1915

Walter: You won’t believe it! Guess who just walked in? Only Fred! He’s alive but he ain’t well. Poor chap ain’t saying much and looks to have lost about two stone. He’s been sent to see the Medical Officer. I asked where he’d been but he just said he got ‘held up’. We’ve had a few men turn up over the past few days but I was giving up hope that Fred might be one of them. I hope he’s alright. I’m made up that he’s back.

Mary: Oh what good news! Do you know, I had a feeling he was alright. They’ll have him back to normal in no time I’m sure.

Mabel: Oh thank heaven. Do you think he’ll be alright Walt? I’m going to write him a letter – can you let us know where you are?

Walter: Thanks Mabel – just put 1206 Pte Dickenson F, 23rd Bn the London Regt, BEF. Like the letters Lil writes to me.

Lily: Wonderful news! Poor dear Fred, I wonder what happened to him…

Rose: So glad to hear about Fred. Give him time – it sounds like he’s been through it a bit.

28th May 1915

Walter: No news about Fred yet… 122 men have been buried so far but no mention of him. They reckon we lost more than 200 men in that offensive, just from our battalion. And another 250 or so injured. They’ve had to make our whole battalion into 2 companies, not 4, because there ain’t enough men no more. I’m in No.1 Company now. Colonel Streatfeild reckons the reason we lost so many is because we didn’t have enough shells… he says it might get better now that that fellow Lloyd George is Minister of Munitions. Anyway, we been given this from the newspaper… looks like we’re doing alright after all.

Reverend Captain Charles Barley: I’ll be holding a service later Walter. And I’m always around to talk – I’m missing Fred myself. Let me know if you’d like a quiet word.

Walter: Thanks. I might.

27th May 1915

Walter: I’m still in one piece everyone. Well, just about. So damn tired. We did it though, we took the trench… Trench J.7 it was, at Givenchy. Sorry I couldn’t tell you before. We’ve had a bloody awful time of it. We heard the whistle go and I don’t even remember what I did – must have got up the ladder and over the top somehow. Then we was running. We got the worst of it – the two platoons that went first mostly got through before the guns started up, but by the time we got up Fritz had realised what was what and gave us hell for it. Getting across the ground weren’t easy neither. Nearly lost me footing in a few shell holes and had to dodge fellows who’d already gone down. One shouted to me for help but I didn’t stop. Couldn’t have stopped. I think I saw a French soldier who must have been laying out there for months. Most god-awful thing I ever seen. Then I realised Cpl Dart weren’t next to me no more and I panicked and thought, ‘does that mean I’m in charge now?’ And suddenly we was at the German trench – well, it weren’t hardly a trench no more – our artillery had smashed it all up before we got there and we couldn’t even get in it. We each had two empty sandbags with us and had to try to fill them with dirt and make some sort of defence. Two measly sandbags against them big German guns firing at us from the side. Maurice Galloway from the signals section did a grand job – ran a telephone wire out to our position, so we was in touch across No Man’s Land within 3 minutes. The enemy kept cutting the line with shells though so he had to keep redoing it. They got him in the end, poor lad. And Sergeant Oxman saved a lot of us by building traverses... that’s where you build up the trench walls so they’re not a straight line - means enemy fire can’t travel so far. The First Surrey Rifles dug communication trenches and our machine guns got up to us just before midnight… but our howitzers couldn’t smash the German guns until daybreak. Don’t know how I stayed alive that long. Didn’t see one German soldier though. Not a live one, that is. Words removed here Anyway, we held the trench all day under awful fire and the 20th Londons took over at 4pm. We’re back behind the line in billets now, but… oh god it’s awful… Jonnie Dart’s gone, Bert said he saw him go down – and the worst thing is… I can’t find Fred. Not nowhere. No one saw him hit, or maybe they just don’t want to tell me… but he ain’t here. I’m so sorry.

Mary: Oh love I don’t know what to say. I’m so relieved you’re alright, but what awful news about dear dear Fred. Keep your chin up – is there a chance he might turn up yet?

Lily: I can’t tell you how glad I was to see your message – I went running to tell my ma. But oh poor Fred. I’m going to go round Mabel’s – I don’t know if you know, but she had a soft spot for him. Please let us know if you hear anything.

25th May 1915

Walter: It’s time – we’re going over. Plan is to run across and take the German trench on the other side. Two platoons have just gone ahead and we’re waiting for the order to follow. Standing in our trench, all next to each other with bayonets ready, quiet. Got our share of rum. More than normal. The guns are getting going now – Fritz must have realised what’s happening. Awful screams from No Man’s Land. Don’t think about it. 30 second warning. When you hear the whistle you just got to go. Charlie, brother, this is for you –

Mary: Oh heavens. God bless him, keep him out of harm.

Lily: Oh it’s horrible. Good luck sweetheart. They must have got over by now? He said it’s only 200 yards to the enemy trench. I hope he’s got through alright… let us know soon as you can Walt – I can’t sit still until I know you’re alright.

Rose: Just got to pray the odds are on his side – they reckon it’s 1 in 10 who gets killed in an offensive. He’ll be alright. Let us know Walt – as soon as you can.

To see footage from 1915, including soldiers going ‘over the top’, visit: http://goo.gl/0eeHWQ

24th May 1915

Walter: Back in the line to relieve exhausted 22nd London Regiment. Already lost men just entering trenches. Artillery knocking seven bells out of the enemy though. Reckon we’ll soon be going over. Can’t write more.

Lily: I know you’re not allowed to say nothing more Walt but we’re thinking of you… your Ma’s worried. Keep in touch.

22nd May 1915

Mary: I know you ain’t got much time to spare Walt but just passing on this news. Such an awful thing – and Territorials too…

21st May 1915

Walter: Just time to write. Billeted in local town but shelled this afternoon. Lots wounded, one killed. I’m alright, so is Fred. Knock to the head but alright. Can’t understand why locals don’t leave. Their only home I suppose. Write more when I can.

To read more about French civilians caught up in the war, visit http://goo.gl/Qk7Uy1

20th May 1915

Walter: Something’s up… I’m sure of it. A bunch of our officers went off to visit a busy part of the trenches today (three of them got concussion from a shell blast while they was there and all) – I’m not allowed to tell you where. Makes us all think they might be planning something big… Please don’t worry too much, it might not be for a few days yet, or it might not even happen.

Mary: Oh Walt you do know how to worry your mother…it makes me sick with fright to think of you in so much danger. I know you have to watch what you say in case the enemy gets wind of it, but it would be a comfort to at least know where you are…

Walter: Sorry Ma… Like I said, it probably won’t happen yet, or at all. I’ll let you know. Word is our artillery have already started trying to break up their barbed wire though – they do that so we could get through if we did go over. I can’t say no more. Tell Lily, um… tell Lily that I love her.

Lily: Walter Henry Carter, I love you too. Sweetheart, it’s the most rotten, rotten feeling not knowing what’s going on. Still, I reckon you’re one of the best there – you’ll be alright, won’t you?

To read more about communication and censorship in WWI, visit http://goo.gl/weamr2

May 16th 1915

Lily: I wondered why all those men was sitting around outside the station with cases! The government is putting German nationals in ‘internment camps’ while the war’s on. They say it’s for their own safety as much as anything, after the riots… It’s only the men mind – women and children and anyone over 55 is being sent back to Germany. I don’t know if they ought to split up families like that… but I suppose they had to do something.

To read more about the internment camps, visit http://goo.gl/YoyU1p

14th May 1915

Walter: I’ve heard that some of the German papers are doing cartoons about our fellows who got murdered with that rotten gas… I don’t see how it’s funny.

Ed: It’s rotten taste Walt, but we been doing cartoons that make fun too… I saw this postcard of the Kaiser for sale the other day – made me laugh.

13th May 1915

Walter: I was going to write and tell you all about how our division is changing its title to 47th (London) Division, but then we got the news from back home… are you lot in London alright? Heard about the rioting – people looting shops and that. Are you alright Lil? Did they get to Arding and Hobbs?

Lily: Hello sweetheart. We’re alright, don’t worry – it’s just shops owned by Germans that they’re going for… We closed up early though and (don’t get cross) Herb walked me home because there was some trouble around Clapham Junction – not nearly as bad as the East End mind. There weren’t enough policemen and mobs were stealing all the stock and setting fire to some of the buildings… It’s been happening in other big cities too – Liverpool and Sheffield. They’d already been boycotting the shops but this is the worst it’s been yet.

Walter: It sounds rotten Lil… I’m glad you’re alright. What’s all this about Herb walking you home though? That ain’t his place. I’m glad you had someone to keep you safe, but couldn’t you and Mabel go together? Or maybe Ed could meet you or something?

Lily: Oh it’s alright darling. After I rushed off down Southampton to see you go, he’s left off saying anything about love and that – he’s just… around. You ain’t got no need to worry.

To find out more about the riots, visit http://goo.gl/eUz5r4

10th May 1915

Walter: We’re out of the line for the next few days, back in billets… It didn’t start off too restful mind – had to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning and stand-to on the parade ground until a quarter past 5! Then the rest of the day is having a bath in the canal and handing all our winter blankets back in to the Quartermaster’s Stores – it’s warm enough not to need them now. I’m struggling with all the paperwork for it but at least it keeps me mind off Charlie – it would have been his 30th birthday today. I miss him. I keep wishing I could ask him all sorts of things like how to get by out here and how not to get scared by it all. Hope you’re all getting on alright at home… is Annie alright?

Mary: Morning love. Yes it’s a hard day… it breaks my heart to think about him. I hope the lads out there can cheer you up a bit. I helped Annie light a candle for him. She’s not doing too bad. Your father’s gone quiet again. No change there. Take care my love – I’m glad you’re out of the line today.

Ed: Well you know how I feel about it – he shouldn’t never have been killed in the first place… but let’s keep our chins up eh? Charlie wouldn’t have wanted us moping around.

Rose: Hello all. It’s rotten feeling this sad all over again… Still, it gives us a nice chance to think about him, don’t it? Hopefully next year we can all be together for his birthday – just everyone try and keep safe in the meantime won’t you.

To read about what happened to Charlie, visit: http://goo.gl/rTQr5I

8th May 1915

Mary: I don’t know how much news you get out there Walt but I thought you should see this from the paper. Yesterday the Germans sunk a passenger liner that had come over from New York – there was 1,978 people on board, poor souls… It’s like the Titanic all over again. The Americans ain’t got nothing to do with this war but I wouldn’t be surprised if this made them want to join in.

To read more about the sinking of the Lusitania, visit http://goo.gl/lEIrce

6th May 1915

Walter: We’ve been given ‘anti-gas appliances’! There’s not much to them but here’s hoping they’ll help. We’ve got a cotton wool pad each, covered in black gauze - it goes over your nose and mouth, with elastic round your head, and if the gas comes you soak it in carbonate of soda. Bridges says the ‘ammonia’ will ‘neutralise’ the gas. I don’t understand what he says half the time. But he did say if you don’t have no carbonate of soda then you just… well, you has to ‘urinate’ on them, and that has ammonia in just the same. Sorry Ma.

Fred: I’ve never had so much trouble not laughing as when he told us that! He was that serious about it, and there was me trying not to catch your eye Walt! Thought I was going to burst…

Rose: You’ll be glad of it if you need to use it! I’ve seen some fellows with gas poisoning now I’m closer to the line, and there’s a fair few Canadians who would’ve been a lot worse off if they hadn’t known that trick. The Express says the Allies might start using gas as well… “As we have to kill some seven to eight millions of Germans before the war ends, I think this English gas should be used as soon as convenient to ourselves.” Worrying when they put it like that…

4th May 1915

Walter: Just had the biggest scare I’ve ever had – my heart’s beating so hard I swear I can hear it. I was ordered to take the lads from my section to fix up the wire about thirty feet in front of our trench – right in view of the German line if it weren’t dark.  Nasty stuff, barbed wire – it’s meant to stop the enemy getting to our trench but it’s a devil to uncoil and hang on the posts and it’s easy to catch yourself on it if you’re not careful. Anyway, we had our sentries out and was working away when suddenly Fritz sent up a flare. Honest it was just like daylight. We all dropped to the ground but Tommy Mills was just a bit too slow, got hit by a sniper and fell onto the wire. We managed to pull him down and as soon as the flare died out I shouted to the boys to make a run for it. Me and Bert somehow got Tommy back to the trench between us but I could hear bullets whizzing past me ears all the while. Heaven knows how we all got back in one piece… I’ve never been so glad to see the right side of the parapet. Looked around for Fred after we all fell into the trench and felt sick when I couldn’t see him, thinking I’d just scarpered and left him behind. But he came leaping in just after me, white as a sheet and with his tunic ripped up. Someone get us some hot tea, I’m shaking like a leaf.

Fred: Rum, more like! I caught me sleeve on a bit of wire when we dropped down. Thought that would’ve done for me but I got it free in the end. I’ll have to get me ‘housewife’ out. Glad you and Bert got back alright. I saw the stretcher bearers carrying Tommy Mills off to the Regimental Aid Post… if I’m honest he didn’t look too good. And don’t worry about waiting for me old pal, just get yourself to safety if something like that happens.

Walter: I know Fred, but I promised Ma I’d look after you… Still, fat lot of use it’d be looking out for you if you’re going to use our own barbed wire to trap yourself!

Fred: Ha, fair point – bit of an own goal wasn’t it? Gawd I need that rum.

Lily: Oh Walt, that could have been the end of you! It makes my stomach turn to think of it. I can’t help it, I keep hoping that maybe you could get just a little injury so you could come home… the headline in the paper the other day was “Wounded on Friday, home in England by Sunday, watching the Chester races on Wednesday”! Here look:

3rd May 1915

Walter: Just heard we’re going back into the line to relieve the 24th Londons… not looking forward to it. Lot of to-ing and fro-ing, this war. Me and Fred was in a working party at Chocolat Menier Corner today – the army comes up with all sorts of names for places, so we know where we are. We’ve learnt where ‘Orchard Communication Trench’ is, and ‘Bomb House’… the mob what was here before us named them. Anyway, this bit was called ‘Chocolat Menier Corner’ because there’s a sign up for a French chocolate company:

To see trench maps from the time and read about the names British soldiers gave to the new landscape, visit http://goo.gl/wGO6NS

and to see footage of ‘Chocolat Menier Corner’ today, visit http://goo.gl/Xy9DwP

1st May 1915

Ed: Well this is what going to war gets you – more expensive beer. It ain’t bleedin fair. I don’t want to fight, I just want to do me work and have a beer at the end of the day. Simple. And I know you been saying you need more shells to blast the other fellow with Walt… but taxing drink to get the money for them is just a shifty way of trying to get everyone teetotal.

01 May 1915 Taxing Drink

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