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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th November 1916

Walter: What a wedding! I stood up the front with Fred while we waited for the bride. Chatted with a few of his family and made sure he was alright. He was white as a sheet but as soon as the organ started up and he saw Mabel coming down the aisle he lit right up. I think in the back of his mind he’d been a bit worried she wouldn’t show up after everything that’s happened. She looked a treat in her best dress though and I got my bit with the rings right, thank heavens. Then when they did the ‘to have and to hold’ bit I looked round and Ma was in floods, with Pa sat next to her not knowing what to do. Made me think how none of us Carter children are married yet. Wonder if she was thinking of Charlie. Still, we had a grand afternoon afterwards. I had to go round telling everyone not to throw rice when the happy couple came out of the church, ‘because of the shortages’. Really though, I was worried it might get the wind up Fred. As it was, it all went off well (even my speech!) and we had sandwiches in the hall that Mabel’s mum had made. Dear old Fred was looking after his new wife so gently, it made me think maybe Lil was onto something with that ‘in the family way’ business after all… she kept nodding at me all day, as if to say, ‘See?’ Anyway, congratulations Mr and Mrs Dickenson!

To see wedding photographs from 1916-17, visit https://goo.gl/9l5HWb

and https://goo.gl/cgLAA4

30th November 1916

Walter: Today’s the day Fred Dickenson! Just seen Lily and she’s off to help Mabel get ready. Next time I see them will be this afternoon at St Mary’s – the 23rd Londons’ regimental church. Turns out I got Fred a uniform that’s a bit too big as he’s lost so much weight but we’ll pull the belt in and it should look alright. Will be nice to see all his family again – it’s been years. My lot are coming along too, except Annie who’s being watched by Mrs Hibbs as she’s had a bit of a bad turn. Hope she’s alright. Right, better double check I’ve got the rings (we’ve borrowed some for now – can’t get them quickly because of the shortages) and then we’ll set off…

29th November 1916

Walter: Wedding of the century tomorrow, ladies and gents! So I thought I’d better get on with some of my Best Man duties and get hold of a new uniform for Fred, seeing as he left his in France and he can’t very well get married in his hospital blues. Bert from the old Drill Hall helped me out and lent us one. It was a treat to see him again, even if you have to shout because his hearing’s wrecked. So then I turned up at the Springfield with the uniform over one arm and a bottle of rum hiding under it. The nurse there looked at me all suspicious but I said, ‘It’s his stag do!’ and she rolled her eyes and let me go on in. She seems a good sort – must be the one Mabel got onside. Well, Fred looked pale as death but he stood up to shake my hand and, apart from a bit of a stammer, chatted almost like normal. We even had a bit of a laugh over sneaking a swig of rum. Then, of all things, the damned alarm got called for an air raid and people started running to the windows to see if they could see enemy planes. Well, that almost did for Fred – for a few minutes his nerves got so bad he couldn’t say a word. Trouble was, the Commanding Officer at the hospital picked that exact moment to come in on his rounds. It’s his job to say if he thinks Fred’s well enough to go off and get married tomorrow so he frowned when he saw him flat on the bed, not speaking. But that nurse, gawd bless her, swept in and said, ‘I knew his friend was a ruffian – look at this bottle of rum he’s snuck in! Poor Private Dickenson’s blotto! Couldn’t say a word if he tried!’ So the worst that happened was I got thrown out on my ear and it looks like Fred has the go-ahead after all.

Mabel: Thanks, Walt! That nurse is a gem, ain’t she? I hope Fred’s alright for tomorrow… I heard the air raid warning earlier and worried it would scupper his chances. Here’s hoping the Hun leave off attacking us, just until the wedding’s done.

Mary: Walter Carter! Rum in a hospital! Whatever next? Well I’m glad Fred can get out for his wedding. I’ve brushed down our best clothes, so Pa and I will be there.

To see contemporary charts showing Germany’s air attacks on Britain, visit https://goo.gl/T8QiH6

and to see the Springfield Hospital as it is today, visit https://goo.gl/DQI1UY

25th November 1916

Walter: Well, they’ve discharged me from the hospital and I’ve made it home for a bit of leave! Didn’t think it would be right to have everyone make a big hullabaloo like last time so I kept quiet about when I was due back. Didn’t make much difference – as soon as all the neighbours spotted me walking down Sabine Road they came out to shake my hand, going on about my Military Medal and all that. Seems they’d all read about it in the paper. One person I did manage to surprise was Annie, my little sis. After Ma had got over me turning up on the doorstep, she showed me through into the front room where Annie was sleeping. I didn’t like to wake her up with a shock so I sat next to the bed for a while and started singing ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World’ as quiet as I could. She started smiling before she even opened her eyes to check it was me! Bless her though, she’s very poorly today, so I’ve left her to get some more rest and am unpacking my things in the kitchen. It’s good to be back.

Lily: Glad you made it back! I’d have come by if I’d known. How about I come around for tea tonight? Would your ma be alright with that?

Walter: That would be lovely, Lil. Ma says the more the merrier, as long as you can bring along a bit of flour. Looking forward to seeing you.

To hear the 1916 recording of ‘If You were the Only Girl in the World’, visit https://goo.gl/YnvuKM

 

24th November 1916

Walter: I’ve just had a letter from Fred. Shaky handwriting but I could make out his meaning – he’s asked me to be his Best Man at the wedding next week! I’m proud as punch. We’ve said we’d be each other’s Best Man since we were kids. Hope he’s doing alright. The Commanding Officer at the hospital will have to agree he’s well enough to get married, so fingers crossed. I’ll have to start thinking what I can put in my speech! A bit about the scrapes we got into at school, then us working as porters at Clapham Junction (maybe those chickens he let loose), then training as TF soldiers together… and I’ll have to tell the story about that ‘bull’ from St Albans. It all feels like so long ago. There’s so many things I could say about us fighting together at the front but I think I’ll have to go easy on that, for Fred’s sake as well as everyone else’s.

To read the chicken story (Walter’s first ever post), visit https://goo.gl/MVJdDY

and for the bull incident, visit https://goo.gl/U2gbIY

23rd November 1916

Lily: Walt, you’ll never guess what? I just went to see Mabel and she says she and Fred have set next Thursday for their wedding! Soon, isn’t it? I’d have thought they’d wait a bit until he’s feeling a bit better but she said she’d been in to see him and he was talking again and not doing too bad. That electrotherapy must have done its job. So then I was telling Winnie on the motorbicycle rounds that my best pal was getting married all quick and she raised one eyebrow and said, ‘Oh yes, been feeling a bit peaky too, has she?’ And I thought, ‘Well, yes, she has…’ Walt, you don’t think she could be in the family way do you? I thought about how she had her ‘big news’ to tell Fred… do you think that was it? It would make sense, wouldn’t it, seeing as he was home on leave in August?

Walter: Heavens above, Lil… I don’t know. So they’re having the wedding next week? That’s great news. But yes, a bit quick. I wouldn’t like to guess one way or the other about her being ‘with child’ though. That’s a bit much. How about we let them tell us if they want? Sounds like we’ll have enough to sort out for next Thursday without getting caught up in gossip.

Ed: Oi oi!

To read why marriage was considered necessary for an expectant couple in 1916, visit https://goo.gl/3HcpzJ

21st November 1916

Walter: Came back in after a baseball game today to two bits of news. Firstly, when I’m discharged from the hospital (shouldn’t be long now) I’ll get a bit of leave and then be posted to a New Army Battalion. An instructor post again. Secondly, it seems the Imperial troops have done well out at Ancre. The Canadian lads in my ward were over the moon with this article about how their pals had frightened the enemy by looking like an ‘army of the dead’, pressing on through the snow. I suppose that’s the thing with growing up in Canada – you don’t mind a bit of cold.

Lily: Hate to hear you’re going back… but can’t wait to see you on your leave! Hope you’re feeling a bit better now.

To read about the Battle of Ancre from a Canadian perspective, visit https://goo.gl/CjT5Vc

18th November 1916

Walter: Ha! It cheers me up no end to think of Ed on a horse. I bet it’s quite a sight.

Edward: Dare I say it, things are starting to look up. This stage of the training means joining the riding school so I spend half me time still doing training and gunnery drills and the rest doing horse care and riding. Some of the lads don’t get on with it at all – Archie Saunders says he can’t stand the smell of the horses and they don’t seem to like him too much either! Me though, well I seem to have a knack with them somehow. They make more sense to me than people, I can tell you that. Maybe because they didn’t choose to be here any more than I did.

To see footage from a WWI army riding school, visit https://goo.gl/ObXZKg

17th November 1916

Walter: Guess who I had a visit from? Ma! Wasn’t expecting it at all. Never thought she’d be able to get out here to Epsom but she saved up for the trip. Wasn’t that nice? She was telling me about how she’s written in to the paper because they’ve been asking for housewives’ tips on how to get the most out of a small amount of food now the government’s decided to tell people what they can and can’t eat because of the low supplies. She said she sent in her recipes for ‘fish sausages’ and ‘chocolate potato pudding’! Even I’ve noticed a change since the last time I was home. Portions are smaller and good luck to you if you can get hold of some white bread that isn’t made with ground-up turnips… not that you’d have any butter to put on it anyway.

Lily: Tell your ma I might use her chocolate pudding recipe! Sounds good. Mr Churchill reckons everything to do with food, work and prices will have to be fixed by the government soon…

To read more about food economy (and fish sausages) in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/LM8i0j

and to find out more about chocolate potato pudding, visit https://goo.gl/Qvg9n7

15th November 1916

Walter: Reading these papers you’d think everything out at the front was easy as pie… ‘Crushing defeat of General Mud”! I’ll believe it when I see it – no one will ever get the better of that rotten mud. Last time I was out of action I had Fred to keep me updated with what was really going on out there but now he’s back here in hospital and even Mr Haskell’s injured. Everyone else I knew… well, they’ve gone West. But all the lads here who’ve had news from their pals reckon it’s true that Beaumont Hamel has finally been captured by our side. Now that would be something. Here’s hoping.

To read more about the Battle of Ancre and the capture of Beaumont Hamel, visit https://goo.gl/pjE91d

12th November 1916

Walter: Bit of news from Rose. Although, she could have left off the details a bit, for morale.

Rose: Been out at Camiers for a while now and starting to get used to the routine. Being on nights is a pain but I think I’ve just about become nocturnal. One nice thing is that, because the patients stay with us a bit longer out here, you can get to know them rather than just patching them up and sending them on (to this world or the next) like we used to do at the CCS. The first few nights were an experience though. I’m in charge of the heads ward – men who’ve had a brain injury – and it’s tough work. We’ve got Jim, who I’ve had to put in the far bed because he shouts ‘Minnie!’ all night. Not the name of a sweetheart, I don’t think, but the soldiers’ word for a German ‘Minnenwerfer’ bomb. Then there’s one we call Silent Sid who, as you can probably tell, never says a word and needs everything doing for him. Poor lad, he lost a lot of his skull at the back and doing his dressings is a real task. I shouldn’t think he’ll ever recover but somehow he keeps living. The most difficult, perhaps, are the enemy soldiers we have in to treat. The first thing I do when I arrive on shift is to pull all the curtains because the locals like to gawp at them through the window. Cicely and Louisa, my VADs, have turned out to be tough girls but they’ll do just about anything to get out of dealing with the German boys.

To find out more about casualties in the war, visit https://goo.gl/ebddk3

9th November 1916

Walter: My nurse Nellie just told me the Democrats won after all. So Woodrow Wilson will stay in. Let’s just hope he bucks his ideas up and joins the fight on our side.

To test out different results using an interactive map of 1916 votes, visit https://goo.gl/NWEL7K

8th November 1916

Walter: They’re voting for the new president in America and the Express says ‘several million women voters’ are taking part! Very modern. It’s between Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evan Hughes and people seem to think the Republican (that’s Hughes) will win. Whoever it is, they need to stop allowing German U-boats to make a nuisance of themselves off their coast…

 

To find out more about the 1916 US election, visit https://goo.gl/2uDczC

7th November 1916

Walter: Sounds like Fred’s made a bit of progress… I wouldn’t fancy electrotherapy myself but, who knows, maybe it will fix him up for good? I hope so, for Mabel’s sake as well as his.

Mabel: This ain’t getting much easier. I went off to see darling Fred again, thinking I’d tell him my big news today, even if he was still feeling off, but I couldn’t do it. They’ve tried this so-called hypnotherapy on him to try and get him talking again and it seems to have done him a bit of good but not as much as they’d hoped. A few more words have come back to him now though – he managed to say ‘Hello, how are you?” to me when I got there, like they’d taught him, but he looked so fragile all I could manage was, ‘Not so bad, duck, thanks.’ I decided to tell his nurse on the quiet what I’ve been wanting to tell him and why it’s urgent and thank goodness she was kind and understood. She said she’ll work especially hard with him and maybe try and get him bumped up the list for the electrotherapy we keep hearing about. She says they use electricity on the bit that’s troubling the patient – so for Fred it will be his throat to help him speak properly again and maybe his hands to stop the tremors. Oh I hope it helps.

Lily: Sorry he’s still suffering. What’s this big news, anyway? Hope you’re alright.

Mabel: Thanks, Lil. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you sometime, I’ve just got to let Fred know first.

To read more about ‘shell shock’ and contemporary treatments, visit https://goo.gl/PtCnWQ

3rd November 2016

Walter: All of us on the ward have been talking about voting today. The government reckons they want to find a way to give all soldiers and sailors the vote. What a thing that would be. At the moment we (us men, I mean) can only vote if we’re over 21 and a householder or tenant, which seems a bit rich when you’ve been off fighting for your country since you were 18, or younger in some cases. A couple of weeks ago they said it would be too difficult to set up but then Asquith realised if so many people were missing from the vote it might bring up the question of women’s suffrage, so he changed his tune. My nurse here, Nellie, is one of those suffragette-types and she read this bit out from the paper: “it would raise the whole question of enfranchising women and nothing could be more harmful to the prosecution of war than the opening of those floodgates.” I don’t think she was too happy about it.

Mabel: Oh how ridiculous! I know Mrs Pankhurst has said we should leave off campaigning during the war but Asquith needs his head examined. So, it would be too ‘harmful’ to open the ‘floodgates’ and let us vote but you’re happy as Larry for us to build your shells and keep the country running…?

Ed: You don’t reckon we should push for universal suffrage first? After all, they’re happy for us men to give our lives for the country but we can’t vote neither, unless we’re householders, landowners, whatever. It’s about class, Mabel, not women versus men. That’s what’s got to change before we start worrying about women’s suffrage. It’s a good start that they’re thinking of giving the vote to soldiers.

Mabel: By universal suffrage you mean just men, don’t you? That’s what the papers mean when they use that term. I give up…

To see a timeline of universal suffrage, visit https://goo.gl/W95MV7

1st November 1916

Walter: I tell you what, it’s not too bad here at the Woodcote. It’s a convalescent hospital, so I have to wear my blue saxe uniform, but apart from the injured lads around the place you’d be forgiven for thinking you were away at camp! We’ve got a huge Recreation Hall and there’s a performance on every single night – sometimes by people here and sometimes they get acts in from London. I’d have you join me, Lily, if I could. It’s not all for fun though. Most of what we do here is geared up to send us back to the front quick sharp. Route marches led by Sergeant Instructors every day, ‘masseuses’ to ease our aches and pains and this new game called baseball in the grounds, to get us fit. The Canadians here play it, and it’s like cricket but you have more ‘bases’ to run between. I’ve been having a go (slowly) and my leg seems to be holding up alright, just a bit stiff and sore.

Lily: I wish I could! Miss you already but I’m glad you’re having a good time.

To read more about Woodcote Park Camp, visit https://goo.gl/GLQJsU

and to see the spike in the use of the term ‘masseuse’ at this time, visit https://goo.gl/JBEhpr

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