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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

28th November 1914

Walter: The paper says there’s German refugees now as well as the Belgians and the French and all the others… Part of me thinks it’s good that they’re getting a taste of their own medicine but then the other part remembers they’re just ordinary folk who’ve lost their homes. I don’t know what to make of it.

Rose: I think refugees is refugees, wherever they’re from. We’ve had some trouble here with spies pretending that they’re refugees – all nationalities, it don’t seem to matter. I suppose they gets paid to do it. The locals have been kindly putting people up and then finding them on the roof in the middle of the night signalling to the Germans with lights or getting visits from carrier pigeons! Makes you feel bad for all the genuine chaps who won’t be able to get a bed now. At least it’s got a bit sunnier – they won’t be quite so cold even if they has to sleep outside.

Walter: It’ll be colder at night though, won’t it, if it’s clear. I didn’t realise there was spies over there… they’ve got a nerve. Do they send them to jail?

Rose: They’d be lucky! It’s straight to the firing squad for them… That’s what they do with traitors out here. I gets worried in case the lads with that shock are called traitors or deserters – some of the men have said that about our little lad who keeps asking for his mother.

To find out more about the refugees of the Great War, visit: http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/refugees-europe-on-the-move

26th November 1914

Rose: Thought I’d let you know at home – the fighting seems to have gone fairly quiet out here. I don’t know whether it’s because of the cold or because the Russians are coming through from the east. Or maybe we’ve won? Ha. Who knows. I suppose they’d soon tell us. Very glad not to have to treat as many wounds and breaks but now we’re seeing all the other sicknesses that the poor men gets from being in freezing cold trenches. Rheumatism, a lot of them, and then we had two fellows with frost bite. One of them looks likely to lose his whole foot. The worst though is an odd thing - a boy (he can’t be more than 16) who’s in a kind of shock. He don’t know where he’s at, poor lad – you ask him his name and all he can manage to do is look right at you and say ‘Mother’, over and over. It just about breaks your heart. The other fellows are being quite kind to him, being that he’s young, but one of them said another man in his battalion cried off with the same thing and everyone reckoned he was just a coward. I don’t know… this poor lad ain’t pretending, that’s for sure.

To find out more about the psychological effects of the war, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z9g7fg8 and to see how Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in military personnel is treated in the present day, please visit http://www.combatstress.org.uk/

24th November 1914

Walter: It do make a difference to have these new rifles – we been given converted long Lee Enfields, so now they take the Mark VII cartridge with a pointed bullet. Can’t say nothing good about the ammo though. Been doing field firing out at Dunstable and got some ammunition from America. It all comes in loose cardboard boxes and I’d say about 1 in 10 is a misfire…

Fred: At least! It don’t half make things hard. I reckon I gets all the duds specially too.

23rd November 1914

John: Bit of news. The British have entered Basra (in Mesopotamia) – they’re going to keep the oil pipeline safe so the Navy will have enough fuel.

22nd November 1914

Mary: Well it’s five weekends before Christmas and all us ladies in the road are preparing our Christmas puds. It don’t feel right to be missing three children… Annie says she’ll give an extra stir and make a wish for each of you, as you can’t – and she says she’ll eat some for you too! We’ve got all sorts in it – currants, almonds, nutmeg, carrots… and a little porter beer as we can’t afford no brandy.

Rose: Oh Ma you don’t know what you’re doing to my stomach! What I’d give for some Christmas pud… And thanks so much for the socks and woolly underthings – they arrived this morning and everyone’s a bit happier all of a sudden!

Mary: You’re very welcome! We did enjoy making them and I’m glad the post got to you so quick. Nice to know we can do something for you out there.

For a traditional Christmas pudding recipe, visit http://www.beamish.org.uk/file/uploaded/Recipes/ChristmasPudding.pdf

21st November 1914

Walter: Great news in the Express – they say Lille has been taken by the British. The fellow in the paper reckons we’ll have seen off Fritz and be celebrating by Christmas! A shame not to get out there of course, but it would be good to get it all over with before the end of the year.

Fred: Imagine doing all this training for nothing! But you’re right, good news.

Rose: I’d wait and see if I was you. We ain’t heard too much about it here, apart from that the Germans in Lille had an outbreak of typhoid fever – maybe that’s why they left. Besides, I heard they’re advancing into what used to be Poland, so it ain’t over yet…

18th November 1914

Rose: Some good news! We’re getting electric lights and heating in our ambulance train! That will make a difference, although we’ll still need those socks. We was at Le Havre yesterday – the ships coming to take the wounded back home couldn’t get into Boulogne because of the rough weather, so we had to take the train further down the line and put them off at Le Havre. Had a look around to see what dear old Charlie would have seen when he arrived in France. Not much time for that though – there’s always something doing. A nurse there told me we’d brought them a rum lot. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we’d already put off the worst ones further up. The men are all being very brave and kind, thanking everybody very much because this rotten hospital is the nicest place they been for months…

Walter: Crikey, electric lights eh? You’ll be glad of that. No chance of it here with my two old ladies. I think everything in their house comes straight out of the 1860s – flowery William Morris stuff everywhere.  What are the lads out there saying about the fighting?

Rose: Oh it’s all they talk about. A fellow will come in with both legs blown off and all he talks about with the others is how they can stop Fritz getting to Calais. I reckon they seen too much of the war and now all they care about is keeping it away from England. Don’t blame them. I don’t know how they’ll manage it though – we gets reports one day saying the enemy has been pushed back and then the next day someone says they’ve got 80,000 reinforcements from somewhere and will be at Calais by the 10th December. I couldn’t tell you which way it’s going to go.

Ed Carter: 80,000 men…

17th November 1914

Walter: Ma – I know it ain’t me birthday for ages yet, but you know how you knitted them socks for Ed? Well some of the lads’ mothers have been sending some up here… do you think you could knit me some too? Me feet gets cold. Not on marches, but it’s the standing around that does it. Don’t worry yourself or nothing but just if you get a bit of time.

Rose: Oh Ma, to have some woollen socks! Do you think you could send some out here too? It gets so cold out here now with these frosty nights. The worst is on the ambulance trains – we managed to rig up a little stove heater in the corridor, but it don’t do much and everyone’s toes is as cold as ever. After a long night we always looks out for the sun coming up over the woods as we go by, thinking it’ll warm things up, but it don’t. Makes me miss that heatwave we had back in Battersea in July. Feels like a lifetime ago.

Mary: Alright alright, I’ll knit you all some! I expect you nurses could do with some warm underthings as well, so I’ve said as much to the other ladies in the street and hopefully we’ll have a nice lot to send out to you both. Mrs Wiggins weren’t too keen, there’s a surprise, but I’ll see if I can talk her round.

Rose: Thanks Ma! We’ll be glad of them. I always think if it’s so cold here, then what must it be like in the trenches? They don’t have much more than what they came out with in August, so Heaven knows how they keeps warm. Knit as much as you can!

Walter: Thanks Ma. I’ll look out for a parcel.

Lily: Count me in – perhaps I could come round after work Mrs Carter? I ain’t too bad at knitting.

Mary: You’re welcome anytime, Lily.

To find out more about the war in winter, visit http://www.1914.org/podcasts/podcast-10-war-in-winter/

16th November 1914

Walter: Sounds like our soldiers fighting out in Africa have had some trouble with their horses – they ain’t never seen a camel before and it spooks them! The picture in the Mirror made me laugh. To be honest, I ain’t seen a camel neither, so I mightn’t be any better. There’s been a lot of fighting out there – must get confusing with the different colonies belonging to different European countries.

To find out more about Africa in the Great War, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_theatre_of_World_War_I

15th November 1914

Walter: Happy Birthday Ed! Sorry you’ve had a rough time lately. What you up to today?

Ed: Thanks Walt. Had a present this morning – well, two really – Ma knitted me a new pair of socks. And little Annie wrote me a card all by herself. She read it out loud to me in the end before I could even get a look at it – she ain’t half getting clever. I needs them socks today and all – I’ve got a job on down Tregarvon Road. Fellow wants his sash windows fixed up before it gets too cold. He’s got two sons away in the army and he’s that nervous about it – don’t blame him – I was going to say about our Charlie but I thought I wouldn’t in the end.

Walter: Poor fellow. Best you don’t say nothing. Well have a happy birthday then Ed – even if it is mending windows. At least you have warm feet!

14th November 1914

Lily: I don’t like to tell you Walt, but Herb’s been back in Arding and Hobbs wanting to have a word with me. I gets ever so worried in case I find him waiting for me outside after work, but I think he’s more of a gentleman than that. The other girls rather like him – he’s tall. Mrs Reed said they ought to put a sign in the window saying I’m not for sale.

Walter: Gentleman my foot! I don’t care if he’s 8 foot tall, don’t you talk to him no more. Didn’t he see your badge?

Lily: I showed him it! He didn’t seem to think too much of it. Anyway, Mrs Reed chased him off in the end. I do miss you Walt.

Walter: Well I’m glad she did. I miss you too sweetheart. Chin up though eh? It won’t be long.

12th November 1914

Walter: How are you getting on Rose?

Rose: Hello Walt. Not bad now – we’ve had a rest day and at last a full night’s sleep. I’d been in the same clothes for 40 hours before that! I’m glad the fighting has eased up a bit, it’s been very tough going. We been up and down on the hospital train between Boulogne and Ypres, bringing back the wounded from the Front. We cares for them here a while and sometimes we ships them back home for more treatment. There’s been some very bad ones – it’s horrible how smashed-up a man can get from shellfire. But they’re such sweethearts – they don’t whine or moan or nothing. One chap turned out to have a break in his thigh bone that he didn’t even mention because it weren’t so bad as his poor shoulder what he’d broke. He’d rigged it up with his rifle as a splint and padded it with bits of his mate’s kilt!

Mary: Good to hear you’re having a rest… I sent up a parcel with a newspaper and some things for the men. I hope it arrives soon.

Rose: It arrived today! Thank you for it – the men will go barmy over the chocolate and cigs. Newspapers we don’t do too badly for – we even gets the same day’s Daily Mail from Folkestone! It don’t always match up with the news we gets back from the Front though. On the worst days at Ypres it just said the fighting was ’severe’. When you’re lifting all them heavy men onto the top bunks in the ambulance train, each one bleeding faster than you can stop it and then you find they’re dead before you can treat them… well you start to think they needs new words for this type of thing - ‘severe’ don’t cover it. ‘Hell’, more like. I had a chap with both eyes gone from a shell wound. He lived, mind.

To read the diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, visit: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18910/18910-h/18910-h.htm#IV

11th November 1914

Mary: How are you getting on in Luton, Walter? We’re getting by here, but it’s hard when we can’t have a funeral for your brother. I had a letter of condolence from his Company Commander, which was nice to get but don’t make it easier. Your father’s even quieter than normal. Well, I thought you might like a bit of news from London – it was the state opening of parliament yesterday and some Indians who fought at Ypres was there! The crowd all cheered them. It seems they stepped in when our army was low on numbers and helped us to get ahead in the battle.

Walter: Thanks, Ma. Sorry I ain’t had a moment to write – we been so busy trying to find billets for everyone here in Luton. I’ve not done too bad though – stopping with two nice old ladies. I think they must be sisters. Good to hear about the Indian fellows – sounds like a lot of the Empire countries have been fighting hard.

Rose: We see so many Indian soldiers here in Boulogne – had a trainload the other day who all had smashed left arms from a machine gun that caught them while they was firing over a trench. Lots was 47th Sikhs with their long hair under their turbans – never seen nothing like it. If there’s one good thing about the war, it’s getting to meet all sorts of people.

To find out more about the countries of the British Empire and their contributions to the war, visit http://www.iwm.org.uk/learning/resources/the-empire-called-to-arms or http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/india_wwone_01.shtml

7th November 1914

Walter: Said goodbye to Mr and Mrs Abbott, Miss Sarah and the boys today – I’m a bit sad about it if I’m honest. Still, can’t grumble – they gave me a fruit cake to take with me! Ha ha. Will have to see where we’re billeted in Luton. Hope it’s as nice as here – they’ve looked after me very well.

Jane Abbott: Just to say we shall miss you very much Walter – you and Bert have become quite a part of the family. I know Jimmy for one will be very lost without his ‘big brother’! Do write to us, as you said you would, and I hope you find nice lodgings in Luton. With all our very best wishes for the future (and enjoy the cake!), The Abbotts.

Walter: Thanks, Mrs A. Tell Jimmy and Jack to be good and I’ll write to you all soon.

6th November 1914

Walter: Just heard I’m part of the Advance Party heading to Luton… our Company Sergeant Major caught me by surprise just as I was leaving the dining hall and told me. Can’t say no of course.  Means I got to help out with getting everything over there before the rest of you jammy lot (Fred) comes over in a few days. Disappointed I won’t get to see all the St Albans people come out to wave us off with the band and all that, but we’re going to have the cooks, blacksmiths and all sorts with us – maybe I can talk them into bringing the best food for the journey! We’ll have a bit of transport, but other than that it’ll be marching again – more than 20 miles. Good job we’re all fit. The other day we marched nearly 24 miles in full marching order and with a blanket and ground sheet each…

Fred: Get us the best billets, won’t you Walt!

Lily: Send me your new address when you get there darling, I’ve a letter to send to you.

Walter: Thanks Lil I will do. It’ll be nice to get a letter.

5th November 1914

Walter: Well it’s Guy Fawkes Night and we’re banned from having a bonfire! It ain’t fair. I always loved going down to see it with everyone back home. Remember that time we climbed all over it before they lit it Fred? Thought we’d find some treasure someone had thrown out… ha ha.

Fred: Ha that’s right – we was eight or something. Came away with a butter pat, two empty tea boxes and a rear end full of splinters.

Lily: Don’t worry, there’s no bonfire back here neither. I suppose we don’t want to call the Zeppelins over. Oh but someone made a Guy that looked like the Kaiser and that made everyone laugh. I’ve heard a couple of fireworks go off too but it’s only kids playing – everyone else is steering clear of anything to do with gunpowder and whizzbangs. Never mind… next year we’ll have a great big one eh?

4th November 1914

Walter: Well we’re leaving St Albans… but not to go to the Western Front, or even the Eastern Front… just Luton. More training. Have to say we’re getting fed up. We’re fit as we can be and at full war strength – about 950 men – but still no word of when we can get started. It don’t look like it’ll be over by Christmas neither, so you can bet they needs us out there. And now to have to leave our nice billets here and move everything out to Luton. It ain’t easy anyway – the whole lot’s got to move with us: administration, stores, tents… it’d be just as easy to get to Le Havre!

Fred: It’d be over by Christmas if they sent us out there, Walt. As long as they ain’t relying on me and a compass.

Walter: Too right - I’d finish off the lot of them in Charlie’s name and make it back in time to hang the mistletoe…

Fred: But we’re going to Luton.

Walter: That’s right.

3rd November 1914

Walter: Heard there was a German naval attack on Great Yarmouth – always puts the wind up you a bit when they gets that close. They only managed to shell the empty beach though, silly chaps. The town was fine and our British destroyers saw them off. They ought to know better than to mess with us! Seems they laid a few mines though.

John: I told you our Navy was the best in the world! This is a picture of the crew of HMS Lively (one of the ships that sent the enemy packing). I like the ship’s dog.

To found out more about the bombardment, visit http://www.gorlestonhistory.org.uk/worldwars/germanbombardment.php

2nd November 1914

Walter: At least the Territorial Force are doing well in Belgium! The first lot of Terriers out there, the London Scottish, was sent on Halloween to fill a gap in the line. They had to fight hard to hold a ridge at Messines – pushed the Germans back twice but got broke through in the end. Bought some time anyway, even though they was outnumbered and their weapons and ammo weren’t working right. Well done lads.

Ed: I don’t know about well done – I heard they went out with 700 men and came back with 300…

1st November 1914

Walter: You alright, Ed? Heard you got given a white feather…

Ed: You didn’t have to make it public, Walt… To be honest I didn’t know what was happening until the girl was almost in me pocket. I thought maybe she’d come over all friendly but then she said, “A skiver! A young, strong lad in civvies!” and some other ladies came over and laughed at me too. Then the first one took out a white feather and stuck it in me lapel to say I was a coward. I started to say me big brother was only just killed but I choked a bit and they laughed even more.

Walter: I’m sorry to hear it, brother. I don’t know what to make of it – I always thought you should sign up but I don’t know if I’ve changed me mind, what with Charlie gone. What a rotten thing. Did it make you want to enlist?

Ed: Of course it did – I went straight to the recruiting office, stood outside looking at it… then the sergeant came out and said, “Alright, sonny? Think you fancy wearing khaki now? About time too!” and I suddenly thought of Charlie and I scarpered. I still ain’t going, Walt. They can give me enough feathers to make a fan if they like, I ain’t going.

Margaret Wiggins: Your poor mother, I don’t know how she bears the shame. I know that if one of my boys were to give his life in the line of duty it would make his brother only more keen to take up the fight. It is a great pity, I think, that the country has come to this – young men skulking about on street corners, waiting to be called up. Keep that white feather as a lesson Edward, and go and fight in your brother’s name.

Ed: I weren’t skulking! I was crossing the Chelsea Bridge. And anyway I chucked that feather over the side. With any luck it’s halfway to Belgium itself by now.

To find out more about the giving of white feathers, visit http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWfeather.htm

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