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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th November 1915

Walter: I reckon it won’t be too long before I can get back to Battersea you know… just trying to get me strength up. One of the chaps here recommended Hall’s Wine. It’s got cocaine in, like Coca Cola. They reckon it bucks you up.

Fred: I wouldn’t mind some of that out here… We should have had physical training today, but all it was in the end was ‘breathing exercises’! Breathing exercises! I’m not pulling your leg – a sergeant stood in front of us shouting, “In through your noses boys, shoulders back!” Well we got the giggles like you wouldn’t believe. I think it’s supposed to help us if the smell of the trenches and dugouts gets too much… get out to some fresh air and do some deep breathing. I bet the enemy would love that – “What are you doing in No Man’s Land, Tommy?” “Just a bit of deep breathing, Fritz! You ought to try it…!”

To read more about WW1 health initiatives, including breathing exercises, visit: http://goo.gl/8ktDYJ

26th November 1915

Lily: Thank heavens for that, they’ve capped rent at the level it was before the war. Our landlord can stick that in his pipe and smoke it… he’s a right scoundrel, I can’t stand him. After all the refugees started coming over from Belgium and France, he reckoned he could put the rent up as much as he liked and if we couldn’t pay up he’d throw us out and get a refugee family in instead. There’s that many people needing houses that I reckon he would have and all. But now we should be able to keep up the payments… I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is – Mum was looking into sticking matchboxes or sewing hems for a bit of extra cash.

To read more about rent control, visit: http://goo.gl/LZN6Qn

and to find out more about how people made extra money in the early 20th Century, visit: https://goo.gl/9TsYqB

 

24th November 1915

Mabel: Oo I love a good scandal! The girls couldn’t talk about nothing else at the factory today. Mademoiselle D’Herlys, that French actress who was on in the West End, has been deported back to France! And her mate Tod Sloan, the jockey, he’s had to go back to America. My pal Gladys reckoned they only had 6 hours to pack – she said the government called them ‘undesirable aliens’! Then Florrie said she wouldn’t be surprised if they’d been spies all along… We’ve had a right laugh guessing what they’ve been up to. You ought to get yourself down here Lily, it’s hard work but I’ve made some great friends.

[Tod Sloan, the once famous American jockey, who used to make £25,000 a year, has been arrested while in the company of Mlle. D’Herleys, the beautiful French revue actress who made a success recently in “Y’a d’Jolies Femmes” at the Garrick Theatre. It is understood that both Sloan and his companion are being deported from this country under the Defence of Realm Act. Solan and Mlle. D’Herlys have lately been well-known figures in the West End.]

Lily: I’d love to come and work with you Mabel! I get jealous thinking about all your new friends… but I just don’t think I can leave Mrs Reed in the lurch. She’s been so good to me and has lost half her workers already. And we’ve just taken in a delivery of material for these new dark blinds, so she reckons we’ll be rushed off our feet… Besides, Mum says when the war’s over and all the men come back, they won’t need munitions girls no more and I’d have been better stopping at Arding & Hobbs. Anyway, I can’t believe the news about Mlle d’Herlys and Tod Sloan! His music hall show came to the Clapham Grand just recently – maybe he was spying on us all!

Walter: Who’d have thought it about old Tod Sloan, eh? I remember Pa following the horse racing in the papers when I was a boy and telling me about the new ‘monkey crouch’ style he had. I wonder if it’s true about them being spies…

To see footage of Mlle d’Herlys and Tod Sloan in a night club, visit: http://goo.gl/gtQbmp

and to find out about how Tod Sloan’s name lives on in Cockney rhyming slang, visit: http://goo.gl/NWcAai

23rd November 1915

Walter shares: Sharing this from Ed. Sounds like there’s been a bit of a barney at home…

Ed: Anyone who’s with me on fighting conscription, I’ve just heard there’s a North London Stop-the-War Committee. There must be a South London one, don’t you reckon? I brought it up at the dinner table at home. Should’ve known better. Pa went beetroot and had a raging fit about it – slammed his plate down on the table and bellowed at me for being a disgrace. I said I’m thinking of appealling but that just made it worse – said he wouldn’t have it made public. Anyhow, he can eff and blind all he likes… I’ve come this far, I have to see it through.

To read more about peace activism in the First World War, visit: http://goo.gl/a0PT8m

20th November 1915

Walter: What a treat to see my girl Lily this evening… Heaven knows how she got the money together to come all this way, she wouldn’t tell me. But the best thing of all was that we soldiers are allowed to go walking out from the Convalescent Home, so we could go for a little walk together. It’s been more than a year since we’ve done that. It weren’t half lovely – almost like old times, when we used to go up the Battersea bandstand. Only problem was, after being fit as a flea with all the training and action out in France, now that I’ve sat on me backside for nearly two months I feel all weak and woozy… I didn’t like to say to Lil though, so it was all, “Here Lily, let’s sit down on this nice bench, it’ll be romantic…” I reckon she saw right through me though! Anyway, at least I had me ‘hospital blues’ on, so no one tried to give me a white feather…

Lily: It was wonderful to see you sweetheart. I wish you had let me have a butcher’s at your scar though, it must have mended up a bit better by now… And of course I knew you wanted to sit down! You went pale as a ghost, you poor thing. Now hurry up and get well enough to come back to Battersea… just not well enough to go back to the Front, alright? Not yet.

Walter: Alright Lil, you have my word! Hope you got home alright.

Lily: Just got back and found the funniest thing! A meat pie all wrapped up on the doorstep. Ma says she has no idea where it come from, so I knocked for Mrs Lawrence but she don’t know either. I suppose we ought to eat it anyhow… but what a mystery!

Walter: I wish I could say I’d sent it over… I wonder who it was? Make sure it’s alright before you eat it, won’t you?

17th November 1915

Bert: As if it weren’t bad enough having a bullet take near enough the whole of me left ear off, the hospital ship I was coming home on (HMHS Anglia) just hit a mine! Must have been laid by one of them U Boats. I’m one of the lucky ones, mind… they reckon about 250 of us have been rescued but there’s still hundreds unaccounted for. Just have to hope they got hold of their lifebelts – there’s meant to be one under every pillow on these ships. The nurses were wonderful, they set about taking off everyone’s splints so they could swim if they had to, and chucked deck seats overboard for swimmers to cling on to. I reckon I must’ve spent about 40 minutes in the water before a destroyer picked me up…. and November ain’t the time for sea bathing, let me tell you. They’ve brought us back to Dover though, so at least I’m home eh?

Rev Captain Barley: What trials you’ve had! I’m pleased to hear you were carried safe to shore and hope someone’s given you a hot cup of tea and a cig.

To read a first-hand account of the sinking, visit: http://goo.gl/Syc18E

16th November 1915

John: Winston Churchill was forced to resign from the government yesterday. Says he’s going to join the army and fight at the Front instead! Gave a pretty decent speech defending what happened at Gallipoli and Antwerp, though he could have done without saying we should press forward with “an utter disregard of life”. The campaign in the Dardanelles has been a right shambles if I’m honest – we ended up making a harbour out of sunken ships, that’s how many went down… Here’s Churchill’s speech, look:

“All through this year I have offered the same counsel to the Government – undertake no operation in the west which is more costly to us in life than to the enemy; in the east, take Constantinople; take it by ships if you can; take it by soldiers if you must; take it by whichever plan, military or naval, commends itself to your military experts, but take it and take it soon, and take it while time remains. The situation is now entirely changed, and I am not called upon to offer any advice upon its new aspects. But it seems to me that if there were any operations in the history of the world which, having been begun, it was worthwhile to carry through with the utmost vigour and fury, with a consistent flow of reinforcements, and an utter disregard of life, it was the operations so daringly and brilliantly begun by Sir Ian Hamilton in the immortal landing of the 25th April.” – Winston Churchill

To read more about Winston Churchill’s role in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/BqgWY7  

and to read his speech of 15 November 1915, visit: https://goo.gl/9T9aO7

15TH NOVEMBER 1915

Ed: This is what makes my blood boil. Look at that headline… “HOW THEY DEALT WITH “FETCHED MEN”. That’s just threatening if you ask me. A ‘fetched’ man is one what won’t volunteer so he has to be arrested to make him go and fight. That’s what’ll happen if they bring in conscription. It’s touch and go if they will – word is they’ll only conscript if not enough single men volunteer before 30th November. The Derby Scheme seems to be working though… there’s queues outside the recruitment offices again, all people thinking they’ll get called up whether they like it or not, so they’d rather get on with it and say they volunteered rather than was ‘fetched’. Not me. The more I see about this war the more I can’t stand for it – half the lads I knew have been killed or wounded and somehow that makes everyone think more men should go out and have the same thing happen to them! All for some argument that weren’t even ours in the first place. It’s plain barmy. Anyway, Walt, I know you’ve lost mates and I’m sorry for it… not to mention our Charlie, but that’s just why I don’t think we should be doing this in the first place.

[There were no posters and no meetings in Trafalgar-square in the old days. The press gang had its own peculiar methods of filling up any vacancies which occurred, and this picture illustrated the “send off” of a recruit. It is by Gillray, and is entitled “The Liberty of the Subject”. Gilray lived between 1757 and 1815.

The article goes on to read:

If young men medically fit and not Indispensable to any business of national importance, or to any business conducted for the general good of the community, do not come forward voluntarily before November 30, the Government will after that date take the necessary steps to redeem the pledge made on November 2.” The pledge means “other and compulsory means would be taken before the married men were called upon to fulfil their engagement to serve.”  Great Britain has not always had the voluntary system. Rough-and-ready means were taken to fill up the ranks, and the press gang did not stop to listen to any objections which might be put forth.]

Walter: I wouldn’t want no one to go through what we have at the Front but the worst thing would be if it was all for nothing. All the friends I’ve lost while you’ve been at home, Ed… The fact is, we need more men to finish the war and you’re fitter than most of them – even at the grand old age of 28 (happy birthday, by the way). Anyway, at least if you volunteer now, you’ll have some choice about what you do. How about joining the Pioneers?

To read about different types of recruitment in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/Ai9VeV

13th November 1915

Walter: Settling into the Convalescent Home now… the chaps here seem like good sorts, almost as chipper as us lot before we went out. It’s nice to see lads who look like they’ve had a good sleep and some decent grub… some of them don’t half have some scars though. I think I got off lucky, at least I can hide mine under me shirt. And they’ve given me a new book for one of these reading classes that I told you about – ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ – it only came out last month. Slow going, if I’m honest, but it seems a good story. Anyway, the doctor who came round this morning said there’s a new war committee. Here’s hoping they’ll get enough ammo out to the front so we don’t have another ‘Loos’, eh?

[THE RESPONSIBLE FIVE: THE PREMIER ANNOUNCES NEW WAR COMMITTEE

In the House of Commons yesterday Mr. Asquith announced in the temporary absence of Lord Kitchener the composition of the War Committee of the Cabinet would be Mr. Balfour, Mr. McKenna, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Bonar Low, and the Premier. The names are given in the order in which they appear in the photograph, reading from left to right. Mr. Asquith also stated that Lord Kitchener had not rendered his resignation either to the King or himself. A statement was issued by the Press Bureau last night in which Lord Derby, on the authority of the Prime Minister, warns “eligible” that compulsion will be applied to them before married men are called up.]

To read more about political leaders of the First World War, visit: http://goo.gl/whqEV2

10th November 1915

Fred: It just don’t stop. We got back to billets, thought we might have a bit of time out of the firing line… then just after the CO had done his inspection a shell hit one of the buildings. Killed a lad from C Company and wounded a couple of others. Seems there ain’t no way of getting away from it. Mind you, we’ve got to get our act together again – working on the trench tramways tomorrow. They’re small tracks through the trenches that we use for carts. Very useful. Had a bit of good news too – the Sgt Major is in line for the ‘Croix de Guerre’! It’s a new medal that the French are giving to soldiers from any of the Allied countries for an act of gallantry. He deserves it – he’s a brave chap when we’re in a fix.

To read more about trench tramways and other light railway systems of the First World War, visit: http://goo.gl/sUOK91

9th November 1915

Lily: Herb came in the shop at the end of the day to tell me all about the Lord Mayor’s Day Parade. I weren’t half jealous… I had to spend the whole day fitting rich ladies for frocks. Sounds like it could have been a washout – poured with rain all day – but there was huge crowds even still, all under their umbrellas. He said all the different nationalities that are helping the Allies was there, even West Indians! Said he’d never seen black soldiers all together like that before and they got a huge cheer.

To read more about West Indian involvement in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/AWbqC1
and to read more about the Lord Mayor’s Show, visit: https://goo.gl/eyZNls


5th November 1915

Mary: I don’t like to jinx it, but from what they’re saying in the papers I don’t reckon Germany can hold out much longer. Everyone’s talking about how there’s riots over there, with women attacking dairies because they can’t get no butter or milk, and some food’s gone up in price more than double. By all accounts Germany’s begging for peace… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could sort it all out before you have to go back Walter? Or before Edward has to decide about going? I can’t help but feel like something good has to be on the way soon.

[All over the world there are indications that Germany is feeling the pinch of the war.

It is evident that the food crisis in Germany, the British blockade, and the growing military power of the Allies are all making themselves felt, and that Germany would be glad now to escape from a continuation of the war.

Of course there is no response from the Allies, and will be none until the power of Germany is broken.]

Rose: I don’t want to be a killjoy, but don’t believe everything you read in the papers. Remember how it was all going to be over by last Christmas? I heard Germany’s conditions for peace were something like us giving them £1,500,000,000…! And letting them keep Courland. Can’t see it happening myself. And I had a letter from Jamie saying there’s rumours about Lord Kitchener resigning…?

To read more about food shortages in Germany during WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/FW0Hpe

and to find out more about Courland (now part of Latvia), visit: http://goo.gl/I8iIv4

3rd November 1915

Fred: The battalion is back in the line again. Trenches like swamps from all the rain… no dugouts neither because they keep falling in on people – wet mud don’t do a lot to hold back shellfire. A lot of good men have copped a packet already. Most of them are new – from the second line battalion who joined up last year. You wouldn’t even know them Walt, that’s how many get hit every day and have to be replaced. I try to look after meself but to tell you the truth I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. I’m so bloody tired. What we could do with more than anything is them steel helmets – I don’t care what they look like, we just need something to protect our heads from the blasted shrapnel. We’re just about keeping ourselves going by talking about the footie matches we’re going to have with other platoons when we’re back behind the line again, with the new balls the Daily Express ‘Cheery Fund’ has sent us. Trouble is, the line-up keeps changing.

Rose: I feel for you Fred, the wards are full to bursting here. We can’t clean up quick enough so the lads, the uniforms, the blankets and the floors are all the same colour with the mud. It sticks like you wouldn’t believe. At least we’re not in Gallipoli… I heard three quarters of the men there have dysentery and they have to ship 1400 out every week just because of illness! You wouldn’t think it was the 20th century would you? Sounds more like the Crimea.

Sidh: You have my sympathy. We too are suffering in the line and not very far from your position. Our clothing and equipment are very bad to wear in such conditions. I am certain the cold will finish us if this war lasts another winter.

To read about the ‘Cheery Fund’, visit: http://goo.gl/CT13xm

To read more about sickness in Gallipoli, visit: http://goo.gl/E2jUJe

2nd November 1915

Walter: Good news – they say the wound is healing nicely and I can move on to a Convalescent Home! Only trouble is, they’re talking about sending me to The Bury at Kings Walden. Near Hitchin. So it’s not so near you lot. I’ll understand if you can’t make it up to see me, the train will cost a mint. Hopefully I won’t have to stop there too long though… and I can probably get some leave. In the meantime, though, they get you doing classes like reading and needlework and whatnot! Never thought I’d end up a seamstress…

Lily: I’m so pleased you’re getting better but I could just about cry – I’d nearly saved up enough to be able to come and see you again at Edmonton! I even got a little extra off some kind friends… Still, it don’t matter – it would be even better to see you in Battersea.

Mary: Do you really think you’ll get to come home love? What a treat that would be. It’s all looking a bit different now – Ed and his friend lifted Annie’s bed downstairs for her so she could be near the fire (I don’t know no one who’s got the money to heat all their rooms) and your Pa’s put up some makeshift ‘dark blinds’ in case of Zeppelins…

To read more about The Bury, and to see pictures, visit: http://goo.gl/CT84o1

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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale