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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

29th October 1914

Walter: I must say, as good as it is to see everyone, I’m actually looking forward to getting back to the boys at training. Yes, even you Fred…

Fred: Well we ain’t missed you here so don’t hurry! Just more marching… although we been doing a bit of practice with compasses too – even having to find places at night. I ain’t too clever at it if I’m honest. Here’s a story that will make you laugh – I got meself lost the other night… Was supposed to be finding me way back to base with the compass (in the dark, mind) and was heading through this hedge thinking ‘this ain’t right’ when there was a great snort and a stamping and I thought ‘blimey that’s a bull’. I set off the other way – well I couldn’t get out of the hedge at first, but then I ran for all I was worth. Well I didn’t see him again, he must have been stuck behind that hedge, but I didn’t let up running for about ten minutes. Got meself even more bleedin lost. Sat on a fence and thought ‘this would never happen to Walt’. In the end I saw a light and heard someone calling out me name. Worse luck it was Sergeant ‘Bighead’ Bridges. Wouldn’t let me hear the end of it – took us all out to ‘my’ field the next day, after I’d told everyone about this bull, and it was only a load of bleedin cows. I reckon I must have scared that bull off. When are you back?

Walter: Crikey that made me laugh. Nice to have something to smile about. I’m back tomorrow mate – we’ll go and find that ‘bull’. Ha ha. See you soon.

26th October 1914

Walter: Back home in Battersea. It does feel strange to be here – it’s been nearly 3 months since we left for St Albans... Nice to see everyone, even if it is a bit trying talking about Charlie. We haven’t heard anything about where he’s been buried, if he has been. Don’t like to think about it.

Mary: It’s good to have you home, son. If I had my way I’d keep you here now.

Lily: We’re all glad to have you back – and you look so different.

Walter: Do I? That’s all the marching we been doing – we’re all as fit as fleas.

Fred: You want to come up here and see the rest of us Lil! Anyway, regards to your family Walter – rotten news about Charlie. Sounds like our boys have been having a rough time at Ypres ever since.

24th October 1914

Walter: Oh, and happy birthday dearest Lily… I’m sorry it’s come at such a lousy time, but I’m going to come and see you to make up for you not being able to come up here with Ma. They’re going to give me a few days off.

Lily: I’ll look forward to seeing you. Your Ma’s bearing up and Annie’s being a little sweetheart, but it will be good to have you back. Your Pa’s not saying nothing to no one.

Rose: It somehow makes it more real to see his name on that form. It’s so hard to keep working out here, knowing that Charlie’s gone. Seeing all the soldiers’ wounds I can’t help but wonder what happened to him. You’ve got to try to forget until you gets some time to yourself – I keep telling meself that every soldier I treat can go home to his family. Except when they’re well they just sends them back to fight again. Sometimes it all seems very stupid.

To hear from a woman, like Rose, whose older brother didn’t survive the war, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/clips/zssjtfr

24th October 1914

Walter: This is the form they sent to Ma about Charlie. Everyone dreads them. She said she heard the knock at the door and didn’t think her legs would move to go and answer it.

23rd October 1914

Walter: I ain’t good at writing things like this. Don’t even know how to start. It’s Charlie. Me big brother Charlie. They got him. ‘Killed in action’ they call it. Near Ypres. He’s been gone since Monday and we didn’t even know. No details yet, so please don’t ask – Ma just got one of them awful forms. He was always so brave and strong and didn’t let nothing worry him… I don’t think no one thought this would ever happen. I keep thinking about things like when he taught me to ride his bike what was too big for me but he let me have it anyway. It ain’t fair for them to take someone good like that. I don’t know what we’re going to do without him. One thing’s for sure, Fritz has got it coming when I get out there. No one takes Charlie from me and gets away with it. I’m going to go and finish the job for him.

Lily: Oh darling. I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. He was such a wonderful man. I just want to be with you – shall I come up? I could get the train.

Walter: Thanks Lil. No it’s alright, I think I can get some leave to come down. I’ll be there as soon as I can – need to see you. And Ma. The Abbotts are being very nice, looking after me and being very concerned, but it ain’t home.

Lily: Alright love. Glad you’re being looked after. Would be good to see you though. I could go to Sabine Road – do you think your Ma would want me round?

Walter: Thank you. I think she’d like to see you, what with Rose being away. If you could help to look after Annie, perhaps. I’ll see if I can get home for a bit.

Lily: I’ll go over there now. Your poor Ma, I can’t imagine it… Be strong sweetheart and I’ll see you soon.

John: Very sorry to hear about your brother Walter. So many people have had bad news. It ain’t right.

Mabel: Oh Walt, and Ed and Rose and all of you – I’m so sorry. Let me know if there’s anything I can do – I ain’t far away.

Fred: I’ll look after him until he gets to you Lily:

Mrs Margaret Wiggins: Such dreadful news for you all. In times of strife, you must remember that he died fighting for King and Country, which is the greatest honour.

23rd October 1914

Walter: Can’t wait to see you and everyone tomorrow, Lil! Still ain’t heard nothing from Charlie though… I’m worried about him.

Lily: I know sweetheart – I’m worried too. I’m sure he’ll be in touch soon though, probably just ain’t had chance to write. I’m so looking forward to seeing you – the only thing is, your Ma might want to stay here to wait for any post about Charlie.

Walter: Yes she might. I wouldn’t want to miss a letter neither. No reason to think you can’t come up yourself though… You have to come now anyway – I’ve told all the lads. They’ll think you’ve stood me up…

Lily: Oh don’t be daft, it’s just I couldn’t come without your Ma. Hope you hear from him soon darling.

22nd October 1914

Walter: Have you heard anything from Charlie, Ma?

Mary: Not a peep. The papers say they’ve had some trouble up near Ypres – I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about it.

Walter: He’ll be alright, anyway… it’s Charlie, you know what he’s like – he probably ain’t had chance to write if they been busy out there.

Mary: I hope you’re right, son. I gets meself all worked up every time someone comes by the front door – I always think they’re bringing bad news. Annie asked me what was wrong – I just told her I’d been chopping the onions for her dinner. She didn’t believe me. I’m glad we get to see you at the weekend.

22nd October 1914

Walter: How are you going on Charlie?

21st October 1914

Walter: Seeing a lot about remembering the Battle of Trafalgar today – more than 100 years ago! 1805… Grateful to the men who gave their lives back then.

To find out more about the Battle of Trafalgar, visit http://www.britishbattles.com/waterloo/battle-trafalgar.htm

20th October 1914

Lily: We’re going to come and see you at the weekend, Walt! How about that? It’ll be the 24th… you know what day that is?

Walter: Great news! I can’t wait to see you. The 24th of October though… nope, that don’t ring no bells……

Lily: You’re rotten, Walter Carter! You know very well it’s my birthday!

Walter: Ha ha, you can see right through me. I’d love to see you for your birthday sweetheart – 19 years old and prettier every day I reckon. Got a bit of training on Saturday but not all day. Can’t wait for you to meet the Abbotts and all the lads. The Terrier boys are a bit rough but don’t take no notice.

Lily: I won’t mind them, you know that – I think they’re a laugh. How’s Charlie getting on in France?

Walter: He’s doing a grand job Lil – they’ve lost a lot of men but our Charlie’s got some sort of charm on him I reckon. Them Germans ain’t going nowhere with Charles Carter out there holding them back. Ain’t that right Charlie?

18th October 1914

Walter: Did you get the badge I sent you Lil?

Lily: Just this morning! Thanks. It is nice - I’ll have a look and see where I can put it.

Walter: Put it where everyone can see it I say. Pin it to your blouse, where Herbert can’t miss it.

16th October 1914

Charles: Heavy fog today (just like the pea soupers back in London Ma!). Advanced at 5.30 this morning. A couple of the newer fellows got wounded. Gets difficult sometimes when you’re lumbered with men who’ve just come out – but there ain’t many of us regulars left so we has to have reinforcements. The Germans are getting crafty with their gunfire too – yesterday they put a maxim machine gun on top of a motor car and drove it up and down behind their line, firing at us.

Mary: Sounds terrible… I do worry about you. Thinking about pea soupers - remember that time I thought I’d lost you in the fog on St John’s Hill when you was little? Horrid that was. Bless your heart, when I found you, you said, “I been standing still Ma, like you told me”. Dear little one. Thinking of you out there in the fog makes me want to bundle you up and bring you home.

Charles: Thank Heaven the boys out here can’t hear you, I’d never hear the end of it! “I been standing still, like you told me…” Ha ha. No standing still here while the enemy is on the move anyway. We’re holding them back Ma – if we lets them get through Ypres they’ll be at the ports in no time and over to Dover. We’ll fight to the last man so that don’t happen.

To find out more about the Battle of Ypres or the London fogs visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_Ypres

http://www.1900s.org.uk/fogs.htm

15th October 1914

Walter: I been thinking about your run-in with that Herbert chap Lil, and I’ve got something for you. It’s a cap badge from our battalion. You could put it on your blouse or something. I’ve seen some of the girls up here doing it, just so you know they’re thinking of a fellow somewhere. Will you wear it for me?

Lily: Oh Walt that’s nice of you! Yes I’ll wear it, of course I will. Some of the other girls in the shop have them and they ain’t half proud. Herb came back in yesterday – says as long as I’ll wait for you, he’ll wait for me that long plus a day. He do know how to turn on the charm, I’ll give him that. I sent him packing again though, don’t worry.

Walter: I should hope you did. And charm don’t count for nothing anyway – he ain’t protecting his country is he? I’ll get this to you in the post as quick as I can, and you just remember it every time some other fellow thinks he can get a look in.

To find out more about ‘sweetheart brooches’, visit http://www.photodetective.co.uk/Sweetheart.html

13th October 1914

Charles: Moving north at a good old pace towards Ypres now (good luck pronouncing that – we just calls it ‘Wipers’) and the rest days at Jury feel like a long time ago. The whole army is always trying to get around the top side of the enemy to hem him in (we does it by pivoting to the right – takes a while), but it seems Fritz has the same idea… sometimes I reckon we’re all just fighting our way to the sea. Don’t know what’ll happen when we hit it!

Walter: Any action lately?

Charles: Every day little brother, and sometimes the night too. Fighting with their rear guard, so at least that means we’re pushing him back. Fought over farms and farmland today. Looked like whoever lived there had already left – probably one of them refugee families we passed. Sometimes I think about how much of their harvest has got ruined under our feet, with the shells and the digging and all that. Poor chaps probably didn’t even want a war in the first place.

To find out more about the race to the sea and the creation of the Western Front, visit http://www.greatwar.co.uk/battles/

11th October 1914

Walter: Little Jimmy asked if you’d seen any foreigners, Charlie? I told him you’d seen a lot of Germans – live ones and dead ones! He liked that… but he said what about the French men or any Russian ones – what are they like?

Charles: You can tell him dead Germans is just like dead Englishmen with different hats on. We all looks the same blown to bits. The French, well they got blue uniforms and moustaches and says “toot sweet” when they wants you to hurry up. Some of the boys reckon they’ve got North African troops with them too. Not seen them yet. Seen a lot of Belgians coming down from the north – refugees who had to leave their villages when Fritz came calling. Some of them has horses and wagons but there’s lots just walking, carrying whatever they could get tied up in sheets. Some of the men have got guns, some just umbrellas. Not much use as a bayonet they’d be. I ain’t seen no Russians or Austrians – they’re fighting off on the Eastern Front.

To find out more about the Eastern Front, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_(World_War_I)

10th October 1914

Walter: You alright, John? Heard you went out to Antwerp. Sounds like it’s been tough going.

John: Tough ain’t the word. Some of us Naval Reserve got made into a couple of brigades for fighting on land – the idea was to go and help the Belgians defend Antwerp against the Germans. When we got there though, the Belgian government had already left and they wanted to evacuate the people too. We thought we could stick it but the German artillery was just too much – we didn’t have nothing as big as that to fire back with and they broke through the walls around the city. Well as soon as it was clear how much damage they could do with them heavy howitzers the people started evacuating, and Antwerp surrendered today. Not surprising – they didn’t even have any water there (not for drinking or putting out fires) after the waterworks got destroyed. At least we held Fritz there a few days while the rest of the Allies blocked the coastal routes. Don’t want the enemy getting near Calais. Some of our lot has escaped over to the Netherlands, which is keeping neutral. The rest of us are on our way back to England already. Due in at Charing Cross tomorrow. It has been a rotten few days. I’m glad to be out of it – get me back on a ship.

8th October 1914

Walter: Well, what’s it like out there, Rosie?

Rose: Hello everyone – first chance I’ve had to write, we been so busy. What a place Boulogne is… all the hotels (with their posh “chandeliers” and everything) has been turned into hospitals and there’s wounded soldiers and makeshift ambulances everywhere. Some of the poor fellows are in a bad way – they can’t always get them off the battlefield first thing so they come to us after days of lying out in the rain and mud. The first few days was the worst – I seen some things that would make you shudder and a fair few that would make you blush. First thing I saw when I come through the door was a chap having his dressings changed – a piece of shrapnel had torn his cheek right off – you could see his whole jawbone. They was trying to keep the wound clean… I ain’t never heard a man scream like that. You were right, Ma, it ain’t like the Infirmary. Got to make the best of it though, and I’m glad of my training.

Lily: Sounds like you’re doing a great job, Rose. What a thing to do. Let us know how you get on.

Walter: Well done sis. Get them back out there as quick as you can.

To read about the experience of working in a base hospital, visit

http://greatwarnurses.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/hospital-in-france-early-days.html

6th October 1914

Walter: You’d have been proud of me today Lily, we was inspected by Field Marshal Earl Roberts hisself. The whole battalion in the grounds of St Albans County Hall. He said we was very smart and gave us a speech about fighting for our country. All of us wanted to get straight on a boat and get out there after that. Hope the call comes soon – we been doing that much marching I’m sure we’re as fit as we’ll ever be. You make sure you tell that Herbert fellow when you see him Lil. In fact, don’t see him.

Lily: I’ll bet you looked handsome. I miss you so much. Don’t worry about Herbert, he ain’t been back. Your Ma said maybe I could go with her and Ed to visit you soon – what do you think? It’d be too much for little Annie so she’s going to stop with your aunt.

Walter: Well that’s the best news I’ve had all week! You’ll be alright if you come up with them. Won’t get much chance to be by ourselves though.

Lily: I suppose we’ll see what we can manage…

Mary: Don’t think I won’t be watching you like me own daughter, Lily Howes. I reckon everywhere should have a sign like at them Lodging Houses where Rose was – 'KEEP INNOCENCY'.

1st October 1914

Rose: Get ready for a shock everyone – I’m on me way to France! Going out with a group of reinforcements to join our old Matron at one of the base hospitals. Couldn’t tell you before I left because I didn’t want no one getting upset. I’m alright though, quite enjoying meself so far, even if the boat has to have all its lights out in case we’re seen. Feels quite eerie. I never even been on a boat before.

Walter: You’ve got a nerve, Rose! I dread to think what Ma will say.

Mary: You silly, silly girl. And to not even see us before you left… it breaks my heart. Your father left the house without a word when I told him – slammed the door. Well, you’re on your own now – don’t go crying to me when you want to come home.

Rose: I don’t want to come home, I want to be out there helping. I’m tougher than you think – you don’t know half of what I’ve seen in them hospitals back home. And boys like our Charlie needs us, so there it is. And I’m right sorry I didn’t come to see you – I reckon I was afraid if I did you’d talk me out of it.

Walter: She’s a brave girl, Ma, you have to give her that…

Mary: She might be brave, but I’m scared stiff. I expect we would have talked you out of it too… but it’s only because we love you, Rosie. And I don’t doubt you’ve seen plenty at the Workhouse Infirmary, but it ain’t war.

Rose: I know, but I’m here to learn ain’t I? I’ll write to you as often as I can, let you know I’m alright. Who knows, I might even see Charles!

Charles: We’ve just been given the order to march north so you might! Hopefully with all me limbs in one place though. Where will you be?

Rose: Boulogne I think. That’s where the boat’s headed. I’ll let you know.

To read a short, real-life account from a WW1 nurse, visit http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/156.html

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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale