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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th November 1917

Walter: Finally arrived at Fossalunga, missing 62 of our original number who couldn’t last the journey. I’m proud of the lads though – they’ve mostly stuck it pretty well, even when we reached our billets last night to find they’d already been taken by an Italian flying squadron!

Rose: Well done, Walt. What a slog. Don’t forget to take care of your feet after all that marching! 

To locate Fossalunga, visit https://goo.gl/ZPD8Mp

28th November 1917

Walter: Guess what? More bloody marching. Still, we saw General Plumer by the side of the road today and he returned the salute to every company as we marched past. He seems a cheerful old boy and I think he was pleased with what he saw. It certainly livened us up a bit.

24th November 2017

Walter: Losing patience now. We’ve been marching non-stop with very little to eat and then yesterday, when we reached the destination chosen for us on the map, we realised it was at least two or three hours from where we actually needed to be! We’d have had to cross dangerous, hilly ground in the dark and would have been too bloody late by the time we got there anyway. So it was decided we should stay put and just picket the road where we were. What a joke. Still, I’m grateful not to be at Cambrai. Sounds like the battle there has been tough going – hearing news about half our tanks being out of action by the end of the first day.

Find out how the battle of Cambrai changed fighting tactics on the western front. Visit https://goo.gl/s2DCnh

22nd November 1917

Walter: Really feeling my old leg wound today. We marched all day, including nine hours straight without a break. It’s not French or Belgian pavé, at least, which was hell on the feet, but the ground’s chalky and Italy’s hillier than we’ve been used to, so it’s no easy task. At first the scenery and sunshine was a good distraction but now we’re all so weary you just stare at the back of the bloke in front of you and keep marching. We have the band and drums leading us, which helps, especially when we can muster enough enthusiasm to sing, but we’ve already had to send dozens of men back to the base camps. Their feet just couldn’t take it any longer. Mostly men who’d come from backroom work and weren’t used to it.

Fred: Sounds about right… why use transport when they can make you march eh? Hope your leg’s holding up.

To find out more about one of the soldiers’ favourite marching songs, visit https://goo.gl/C84u62

20th November 1917

Walter: My legs don’t know what’s hit them. We’re fit, of course, but this is tough. Two days ago we started what the staff from Division reckon will be a five day march to get to the Italian line. At first we were supposed to be forming part of the Advanced Guard, then the Divisional Advanced Guard, but both orders were cancelled at the last minute… So now we’re just headed towards the defensive line but even getting there is taking a lot out of us. On the first day, the whole battalion marched for 16 hours and today we’ve done nearly 20 (without much food or rest) because we somehow overshot our billets. A lot of fully grown men nearly cried when we thought we’d reached bed and rest and were told we had to go back the way we’d already come. All dog tired.

Lily: 20 miles! Hope you get there soon. Has the war hit Italy as hard as Belgium?

Walter: Well, not from what I’ve seen so far but we’re nowhere near the line yet. It’s beautiful actually, when I have the energy to look around me. We can even see snow-capped mountains in the distance. I’d like to bring you here one day. Wouldn’t make you march though…

16th November 1917

Walter: Nice distraction from this rotten journey (electric trains with overhead cables from here on so no more riding on the roof or hot water for tea…) – my mother’s becoming a local celebrity! One of the papers in Battersea wants to do a feature about saving food back at home.

Mary: Well, I’ve had a bit of good news despite the wretched weather this week. A young man knocked at my door this morning (frightened the life out of me at first, thinking he had a telegram) and said he was a journalist from the local paper. Seems they’d heard about our little cooking group and they’re looking to do an article on us! Isn’t that something? They want to encourage people not to waste food and thought we were ‘an inspiration’. Just wait till I tell Margaret next door…

Rose: How exciting! Are they going to interview you?

Mary: Yes, me and some of the other ladies. I’ll buy a few copies when it’s done and send one out to you!

Mrs Wiggins: I think you should tell them about my parkin recipe…

To see a timeline of food shortage in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/cZasF1

15th November 1917

Walter: Still on the train in these godforsaken horse carriages. On the plus side, we’ve worked out the driver can pour boiling water from the steam engine by pulling a lever. So, we all stick our dixies under the train and make pots of tea! Tastes a bit stale and oily, but needs must. You have to do it quick though, before everyone starts relieving themselves against the wheels. It’s not for polite ears, this, but we don’t have any sanitary facilities and even when the train has stopped we’re not allowed out of the immediate area of our own carriage, so you can imagine the state of the place whenever we move on.

Mary: Walter Carter, that’s rotten!

Lily: Yuck. Honestly the lengths we Brits will go to for a cuppa… people are fighting over the last boxes of tea in the shops here.

To find out more about the use of railways in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/C5j7Qq

13th November 1917

Walter: What a couple of days we’ve had. Travelling into Italy by train. It’s not exactly luxury… rattling along in trucks marked for ‘Chevaux 8’ or ‘Hommes 40’ and no lamps in the men’s carriages, so it’s pitch dark from late afternoon onwards. Straw on the floor for our comfort. We decided we’d rather ride on the roof! Better view from up here. The officers get it a bit more cushy. Still, we all get a warm welcome from the locals. The ladies bring us cigarettes and fruit whenever we pull into a station for a ‘haltes-repas’ (a food stop) even if it’s in the middle of the night.

Mary: How nice that the locals give you fruit! I hope you’re getting well fed by the army too. We’re all being encouraged to do ‘voluntary rationing’ here. Not sure how well it will work – there’s still queues round the block.

To see footage from the Italian Front, visit https://goo.gl/euyeQf

10th November 1917

Walter: The post arrived today so I got Lily’s letter just before we’re due to leave for Italy. Cheered me right up. And she said there’s going to be a parade of tanks at this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show! That’ll get everyone excited. I don’t suppose they’ve ever seen one back home. Even out here it’s still a bit of a thrill to hear one go rumbling by. That is, if it hasn’t broken down or got stuck.

Mabel: I went to see them! Thought Clifford and I would have a day out. I couldn’t get very close with the pram but aren’t they something? I got used to working with shells in the munitions factory but these looked so deadly I got the shivers.

To see footage from the Lord Mayor’s Show 1917-18, visit https://goo.gl/YZBkwX

9th November 1917

Walter: Well, we’ve found out our mystery destination – Italy! Got the news at the OC’s Orders Group this evening. I’m pleased enough about it. I’ve never been anywhere like that. It’s meant to be warmer over there, isn’t it? Anything that will make a change from the Belgian rain will do me just fine. It’ll make it harder to take home leave though, which will be tough. Sorry Lily, and Ma. The other trouble is we’ve had the American Medical Corps attached to us but the US isn’t at war with Austria-Hungary yet (that’s who the Italians are fighting on their front) so they’re being replaced by the British RAMC. Bit of a shame as the American orderlies are a good laugh.

Rose: Italy! Hope it’s a cushy number for you. I wouldn’t rely on the weather though… it is winter after all. And doesn’t Italy have mountains? Bring your snow shoes.

Lily: I’m so sad it means you’ll get less leave! It’s not enough as it is. And hearing about you going off to Italy just makes me even more frustrated to be stuck here in Battersea. I’d like to do more. Hope you’ll be safer out there…

Walter: I hope so too. I wouldn’t have thought anything could be as bad as the fighting around Passchendaele so I’ll be glad to get away from Belgium at least. Then again, I thought the same thing about France after Loos... And if the Italians are being driven back by the Austrians then it’ll be no picnic. Not looking forward to even longer spells without leave either. I’ll really miss you. Keep writing to me!

Lily: Of course I will. In fact, I sent you a letter the other day, before I knew about Italy. Hopefully it’ll reach you before you have to leave.

To find out more about the Italian Front, visit https://goo.gl/YiK27s

7th November 1917

Mary: Thought you’d like to know your father’s getting on better at the Volunteer Training Corps these days. There was a time last year when he thought he’d pack it in as they were never given anything useful to do but now they’ve been put on firefighting duty during raids as well as guarding the bridges. Plus his lot have got quite a rivalry going with the neighbouring corps. Can’t say I’m happy about him attending fires but it seems to have given him a sense of purpose that I haven’t seen since before we lost Annie. He’s proud as anything to hear the Allies won at Third Ypres too. Keeps telling everyone our Walter was there.

Rose: Tell Pa not to forget I’ve been at Third Ypres too! 1917 can’t be done with quickly enough if you ask me.

To find out more about the Volunteer Training Corps, visit https://goo.gl/4iH1hP

4th November 1917

Walter: Was just resting my sore feet after a long night’s marching to Wormhoudt in Belgium when the Company Commander called a briefing to say the battalion has received an Operational Order. Quite big news by all accounts, and will mean a total change of scene for us. The company commanders have been briefed but all the rest of us know is that we’re ‘wanted’ and we won’t find out exactly where we’re going until the staff deem it necessary. For now we just say we’re going to a place called ‘Oonoesware’. Say it out loud…

Lily: I hope ‘Oonoesware’ isn’t too far away… That made me laugh when I said it!

To look for records of British Army Operations in the Great War, visit https://goo.gl/wTuyh4

1st November 1917

Ed: Thought I’d try my luck with one of the doughnut ‘lassies’ today. That’s what they call the volunteers from the Salvation Army. Thelma’s the name of the one I’ve got my eye on. Trouble is, you can never be sure if she’ll be serving or not. Twice in the last two weeks I’ve geared myself up to speak to her and found she’s not on duty. Then today I caught sight of her from down the end of the queue and my heart skipped a beat.  As I got closer I was rehearsing in my head how to ask about maybe meeting sometime and then I got to her, looked at my feet, took my doughnut and mumbled ‘thanks love’. I don’t know what’s got into me. I always had the gift of the gab with the girls at home but there’s something about these Americans…

Walter: Hard luck, Ed! I expect you’re out of practice – female company is such a rarity out here.

To find out about the Salvation Army donut lassies, visit https://goo.gl/iybLu2

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