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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

29th October 1915

Ed: Well it’s a right trial getting into central London today… I’m supposed to be on a job helping to repair some of the Zepp damage near the Strand but the bus has been crawling for miles because it’s Edith Cavell’s memorial at St Paul’s and everyone’s blocking the streets. It’s bloody awful news about her being shot but the recruiters are already jumping on the bandwagon, using her story to drum up support for even more fighting. There’s posters everywhere saying we have to avenge her death... Didn’t your mother ever tell you that two wrongs don’t make a right?

To see a picture and write-up of the memorial service, visit: http://goo.gl/h9P7vx

27th October 1915

Walter: Fred mate, you’re going to have to give me some news before I go barmy – what’s been happening out there?

Fred: Morning Walt. How you getting on? Hope you’re mending up alright – we could do with you out here. Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet – we been in the line the past few days and it’s been hell. Just been relieved by the 21st Londons but we’re still in support. Look I’m really sorry but I’ve got some rotten news for you. Our young Will… well he got hit. Right in the chest and we tried so hard but we couldn’t save him. I’m sorry Walt. We wrote to his mam saying how much we all thought of him and she wrote us a real moving letter back. You was right you know – he was only fifteen.

Walter: Bloody hell. Poor Will – he was such a good lad. Fifteen… Damn I wish I’d been there. I feel like I’ve left you all in the lurch.

Lily: Oh that’s awful… he should never have been there, the poor boy. You mustn’t feel bad though sweetheart – it wasn’t your fault.

Ed: Complete and utter waste. And there’s thousands signing up still…

To read about the teenage soldiers of WWI: http://goo.gl/JwTrIf

26th October 1915

Walter: Heard a real commotion in the night, then this morning the chap opposite Cormac and me was gone and his bed all made up. Hettie said the gas gangrene finally got him, even after his amputation, and there was nothing they could do. I’ve been lucky – my wound was infected just like everyone else’s but they think they managed to get all the bad stuff out and it doesn’t seem to have got no worse. Still hurts like hell mind. Anyway, now we’ve got a new lad in his place who’s been out at the Dardanelles! And gawd can he talk – he’s been telling us all about how rough it is out there, about how the British and French navies have been losing men and ships left right and centre – some from Turkish batteries but most from mines. Said they’ve just sacked the commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force because of it…

To read more about the Gallipoli campaign, visit: http://goo.gl/3pKhvS

24th October 1915

Walter: Happy birthday to the most beautiful girl in London – my Lily! I’m sorry I’ve not been meself since I’ve come back sweetheart… I do love you though and I can’t wait to see you again soon. I’ve wrote you a nice letter too. Have a lovely day!

Lily: Good heavens, in all of London…? You charmer. I’ll have to watch out when you go back to France! Thank you though Walt. It’s the best birthday present in the world to have you back home where I don’t have to worry about you every minute. I’m going to work extra hard to save up the train fare so I can come and see you again. We’re only scraping by here… no birthday cake or nothing. Mrs Lawrence next door was baking some gingerbread though and gave me a bit for a birthday treat! Wasn’t that nice? Especially when they barely have more than us.

22 October 1915

Rose: Good god, they’ve shot Edith Cavell. I’d heard about her getting court-martialled but I never thought they’d go through with the sentence. Firing squad it seems – on the 12th – just awful.  They say it was for helping hundreds of Allied soldiers escape from Belgium. It don’t seem fair… I heard she helped enemy soldiers just as much as our own. All of us nurses are so thrown by it we don’t know what to say to each other – we’re going to hold a vigil for her later.

Walter: What rotten news. Can’t believe it’s only just come out. All the nurses here have been talking about it. Poor Hettie seemed really upset while she was changing my dressings. One chap made a remark about how all his mates are facing a firing squad every day but we all told him to stash it – it’s seems different somehow when it’s a woman… especially one who was only helping people.

Mary: Rose, hearing this makes me worry about you. I know you’ll say you’re a tough nut but that’s just what worries me – I don’t want you to do nothing silly that’ll get you arrested. Promise me you’ll be sensible Rosie.

Rose: Thanks Ma, but I’ll be alright. Miss Cavell was braver than me… I wish I had that much pluck.

To find out more about Edith Cavell, visit: http://goo.gl/YDXhPX

21st October 1915

Walter: Well everyone – I’ve got Lily and Mabel here visiting me. They came all the way across town unchaperoned! That’s a new one on me. At least they’re together. Mabel’s changed out of her munitions garb but you can still see the lines of black powder under her nails. And Lil, well somehow Lil’s even more beautiful than I remembered… but bless her she does look thin. When I asked her if she was eating enough she just looked at me and laughed – said didn’t I know she had her mother and herself to look after on only her wages? Now they’re chatting about whether London should get ‘blacked out’ to stop the Zepps spotting their targets. It is good to have visitors but I don’t know if I can keep up with all this talking…

[LONDON LIGHTING.

“The illumination, if put down lower and lower, will help any enemy alien signallers. On clear nights I think it is impossible to prevent a Zeppelin crew knowing they are over a city the size of London.

“I think we have gone a little further than necessary in lowering illumination. When the fog come, traffic in the streets will become extremely dangerous. If these fogs spread far out into the country beyond London, then the Zeppelins will be put out of their reckoning and will be entirely baffled.]

To find out more about remarkable laws passed during WWI, including blackouts, visit: https://goo.gl/G6mqfB

 

20th October 1915

Ed: Lord Derby’s making a last ditch try at getting men to sign up ‘voluntarily’. They took them pink forms from the summer and anyone who they reckon ought to be fighting is going to get a knock at the door from a ‘canvasser’ who’ll make them say publicly if they will or won’t fight. A few lads who are still here are getting worried but I say let them come – they’re going to get a right earful off me.

 

 

Margaret Wiggins: Oh for shame, Edward! Mary, I hope you know there’s talk about your boy all over town. About how he can’t be right in the head to make such a public fool of himself with this cowardly behaviour. You’d best change your mind when the canvasser comes round, Edward, or you’ll make a laughing stock of the entire street.

Mary: I’m aware of what people are saying Margaret. We’ve had words about it but our Edward’s strong-minded, as you know. Heaven knows, with one boy never coming home and one wounded, we could do with keeping one in one piece.

To find out more about the Derby scheme, visit: http://goo.gl/v0BxXm

19th October 1915

Walter: Can’t believe my brother Charlie’s been gone a whole year. This time last year we didn’t even know – didn’t find out until Ma got that form. Still don’t know if or where he’s buried. Feeling really cut up about it today. One of the nurses here, Hettie, she caught me sniffing and came over. We talked a bit and she told me she lost her older brother too, at Neuve Chapelle. There’s not many people now who ain’t lost someone close to them. We both agreed we hope there’s good beer and boxes full of Huntley & Palmers’ biscuits wherever they’ve gone. She’s alright, Hettie. I’m still feeling sad, but it’s good to have someone to talk to.

Mary: We just have to try and keep our chins up love. It’s a hard day and there’s nothing that can make the hurt easier but you won’t do yourself no good by fretting too much about it. I’m just glad you’re back nearby, especially today.

Lily: I’m sorry sweetheart – what a tough year it’s been. I’m always happy to talk too, you know that. How about I come up and see you after work one evening?

Walter: That would be wonderful, Lil, yes please. Do you think you could come this week? Ma, I hope everyone at home’s alright – I’d get down and see you if I could.

Fred: I thought about this just this morning – sorry you’re feeling blue mate. I’m missing Charlie meself, he was a grand bloke.

To read more about Charlie Carter’s death, re-visit the blog entry: http://goo.gl/VIvZGw

To read more about soldiers’ resting places, visit: http://goo.gl/SLgiCO

Please be aware that this link contains images that may not be suitable for sensitive viewers.

16th October 1915

Walter: The Daily Express is being handed round the wards – have you seen the front page? We had to read it twice to get their meaning but we reckon they’re saying everyone should stop arguing over it and just get on with conscripting men who ain’t volunteered yet. That’d be you Ed. Changed their tune a bit the papers, haven’t they?

Ed: Seems to me they’re forgetting there SHOULD be ‘disagreement’. How else is everyone going to have a say in it? You know I disagree with conscription Walt. I don’t want to fight in any war, but especially the one that took Charlie and hurt you. Even if I did want to go, I still think we should have a choice.

To read a modern-day opinion on media output during WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/snm3iL

14th October 1915

Walter: Anyone hear the Zepps last night? First time I’ve been around for a raid. Made me wonder if I was glad to be in London after all. It’s funny, Cormac and me was saying, out at the front you find you can sleep through all sorts of things – bangs and whizzes and people shouting – but the moment the nurses started whispering about a Zepp attack last night we was all wide awake and straining our ears for it. The idea of Fritz chasing us even over here sent one of the lads into a right panic. They put him in the padded room in the end.  Are you lot in Battersea alright? The doctor this morning said they hit Croydon and Woolwich and a couple of places in the centre.

Lily: We’re all fine thank you sweetheart – I hope it didn’t trouble you too much. We was saying you boys must be used to all this but I suppose it is a shock to have it follow you home... I heard some of the Zepps got lost and never even made it to London – so thank goodness it wasn’t worse.

Mabel: I didn’t know they hit Woolwich! I suppose we’d know if they’d got the munitions factory – all the explosives there would blow London to smithereens…

To see posters for Zeppelin insurance, visit: https://goo.gl/tirtmf

12th October 1915

Walter: Now, I’m not going to complain about being out of the line. There’s plenty of other men who I’ll bet are praying to be just where I am right now. But sitting on your backside in a hospital all day is tough in a whole other way. My Irish mate next to me – Cormac – he’s feeling just the same, except he’s been here nearly a month now. Today we read the paper together, cover to cover, but it just gave us the blue devils. Salonika this and Armenia that… What’s going on with you Fred, or Bert? I’d love to know some news lads – I read you’re advancing.

Fred: I don’t know about advancing Walt. Far as I can tell we’ve gained a bit and lost a bit… we’re billeted now anyway so can’t tell what’s happening up the front. Had a bath today though. Hope you’re doing alright anyway – how’s the arm? I don’t mind saying we’re missing you here.

Walter: Thanks Fred. The nurses say it’s getting on alright but I still can’t move it... I could do with seeing you lot and all. Strange as it sounds, sometimes I think I’d rather be back out there.

To read more about the Armenian Genocide, visit: http://goo.gl/sLJxYf

and to see footage of troops in Salonika, visit: http://goo.gl/YXScno

9th October 1915

Can’t wait to see everyone today! I told the lad in the bed next to me that I was getting visitors – he’s from Ireland though and his family can’t get over so I felt a bit bad for saying it. Still, so as you know where to come – if you come in from Union Road and look for the two red crosses on the gate, then not into the main wards (you’ll see them, with the big windows and balconies) but round to the new huts at the back, that’s where I am. Tell them you’re here to see Corporal Carter – my nurse said they’ve got more than 1000 beds here, so make sure you get the right one! Gawd I’m almost  nervous about seeing you all.

Lily: Just got home again – sweetheart it was so wonderful to see you. I’m sorry I cried – I didn’t mean nothing bad… it’s just I was all over the place with being so happy to see your dear face again, but then seeing your poor arm all bandaged up… and I just wasn’t ready for how different you’d look. Well, I’ll come back again very soon and we’ll talk properly then, won’t we? I love you.

Mary: Oh I could have stayed and squeezed you all day! Did you see that nurse having to shoo me and your father out? I’m sorry we tired you out love. Rest up and we’ll be back to see you soon – maybe less of us all at once.

Ed: A treat to see you brother. Annie’s right jealous – she didn’t like having to stay with Mrs Hibbs. She says you have to get better soon so you can come to see her.

Walter: Thanks everyone – I’m sorry about today – I just got a bit overcome with having you all there. And I’m sorry I made you cry Lil – I love you too, I really do. Please come back soon.

To see photographs of Walter’s hospital at the time, visit: http://goo.gl/hSYt4S

7th October 1915

Walter: Can finally let you know which hospital I’m at – it’s the Edmonton Military Hospital, so it’s in London! A bit of a way from Battersea of course but a couple of trains will get you there. We was taken in a train off the ship and it brought us into Victoria station. I could have cried when I saw old Victoria again. Then an ambulance driven very slow all the way to the hospital, so it didn’t jolt us around too much. You won’t believe it – when they saw us coming, all the children raced out of their houses and cheered and ran alongside the van. I’ll never forget it. What a thing, to come back broken and still be cheered at. It’s a strange old place the hospital – used to be an infirmary and it’s got the workhouse next door. I had to hand in me paybook when I got here. Didn’t like that too much. And they’ve given me a new ‘suit’! It’s blue with a white collar and red tie… so everyone knows I’ve been wounded in action. I can’t get the hang of it just yet – it don’t seem to fit right after wearing me uniform for so long… and of course I can’t put me arm down the sleeve, so it just hangs loose.

Mary: I’m so thrilled you’re in London – we’ve decided we’re all going to travel up and see you on Saturday and hang the cost!

To find out more about Edmonton Military Hospital, visit: http://goo.gl/Wngq7d

and to read more about the ‘Hospital Blues’ suit, visit: http://goo.gl/zbIKKZ

6TH October 1915

Walter: Alright you lot – I’m on the boat back to Blighty! I’d say it’s just like when we came out but it ain’t. We was all excited then – do you remember, Fred, Bert? And I thought when we travelled back again we’d be all together and in one piece and with the war over and done with and everyone would cheer us into port… fat chance of that – they try to keep the ships full of wounded quiet so we don’t frighten the lads who are going out. Still, it’s nice to see the sea again and know I’m on me way to see everyone at home.

Fred: Can’t believe we was ever so daft… Good luck Walt – I’d say hurry back if I didn’t know better. Say hello to the old place for me, and give Mabel my regards… if you see her.

Bert: Hope you get fixed up quick Corporal. The lads all say get well and bring us back some decent grub!

Lily: Not long now and we’ll be in the same country! Let us know where you end up as soon as you can. Oh sweetheart, my heart’s beating like a hammer just thinking about it – Ma keeps telling me to sit still!

4th October 1915

Walter: They’re going to send me home! They really are! How about that Ma? And Lily too – I can’t wait to see you! It won’t be forever, mind… they try to get you better as soon as possible so you can go back and fight. They realigned the bone in me arm, which was as horrible as it sounds, and they’ve dressed the wound proper, so now I can be sent to a hospital back in Blighty for more treatment. No sense in me taking up a bed here. I don’t know where I’m going yet – could be anywhere in the country, but you could still come and see me couldn’t you?

Mary: Oh Walter really? That’s the best news I’ve heard me whole life! Oh love I hope you get somewhere nearby. The relief of knowing I’m going to see you… I can’t tell you.

Ed: You should see her mate – dancing around the kitchen singing ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier’ at full pitch and then started crying fit to burst. Mrs Wiggins has been noseying over the fence trying to see what’s going on. I’m pleased for you Walt.

Lily: HOORAY! Ah Walt it’s such wonderful news! I can’t believe I’m going to see you! When will it be, do you know?

Walter: Not yet – I’ll let you know when I’m on me way!

To hear the song ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier’, visit: https://goo.gl/8mDmpd
and to read about medical innovation in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/i37cnt

2ND October 1915

Walter: Well so far getting wounded is almost as hectic as being in action. A trainload of us was set down at Boulogne – some walking but lots on stretchers – and now as soon as I’d got settled in me bed at the Base Hospital I’m being taken off to get an ‘X-Ray’. They’re going to shine something through me arm to see how badly broken the bone is. It’s all clever stuff here, and all in fancy rooms that make me think the hospital used to be some sort of grand hotel. The nurse says they’re going to have to cut away some more of the muscle where the wound is too… not looking forward to that. Any news from the front Fred? It tears me up not knowing what’s happening to you lot.

 

Rose: It’s just wonderful that they’ve got an X-Ray room! Let me know how it is, won’t you? I’m sorry you have to have more of the muscle excised. They’ll probably pump saline through it to flush out anything nasty afterwards. It’s clever but you won’t enjoy it. Just grit your teeth.

Fred: Not long to write Walt – took lots of prisoners but the tide looks to be turning back towards us. We’re out of the action for a bit though. All swapped our old long rifles in the field for the new short ones that unluckier lads had dropped on their way out. Trouble is – and you won’t like this – they won’t let us keep them. They say Territorials ain’t ‘entitled’ to the long bayonets to go in them. So we got to have the old long Lee Enfields back.

 

To read more about Base Hospitals, visit: http://goo.gl/G6hUxu

To find out about the invention of the X-Ray, which was only 20 years old in 1915, visit: http://goo.gl/Um5ti2

And for more about rifle evolution, visit: http://goo.gl/4p5qOk

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