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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31st October 1916

Walter: I don’t like to admit it but headlines like this make me glad I’m out of the action. The lads will be settling in for the cold season and dealing with the rain as best as possible but it’ll be miserable. Shame we didn’t manage to get the war over and done with before the winter. Now it’ll be months before we can launch any sort of useful offensive.

To hear first-hand accounts of the freezing winter of 1916-1917, visit: https://goo.gl/wNc2M1

28th October 1916

Mabel: Fred’s been sent to the same place you were at, Walter. King George’s. Shame you just missed each other. I saw him today and got a bit of a shock. Bless his soul, he ain’t well. His shrapnel wounds are the least of it – they’re mending up not too bad – but he’s struggling in his mind. I’ve not seen it as bad as this. He’s got this godawful stutter and the only word he can get out is ‘No’. He tried to smile when he saw me, all of a shake, but still all he said was ‘No’. The doctor says they might transfer him to the Springfield Military Hospital in Wandsworth… its name’s been changed (it’s not the Wandsworth Asylum no more) and I’m told it’s much more respectable. It’s for ex-servicemen now, not lunatics or anyone like that. It’s a rotten shame – I had such big news for him but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him while he was in that state. Next time, maybe.

Walter: This doesn’t sound good, Mabel. Sorry to hear he’s struggling. As soon as I’m allowed out, I’ll see if I can get up to see him. Hope you’re feeling less sick now at least.

To read more about the symptoms of shell shock, visit: https://goo.gl/5YMWuB

27th October 1916

Rose: Had a long night on the ward so was extra glad to see a letter from Jamie waiting for me on my bunk this morning. One of the other girls must have dropped it off for me. Imagine my surprise when I saw it had a Scottish postmark! He says they couldn’t do any more for him at the rehab hospital so he’s gone home to his folks. So much for the false leg – he never took to it properly (not surprising seeing as his amputation was so high up) so it’s crutches for him now. Says it’s very odd to be back in his old room but his mum and dad are being good as gold helping him out. I’ll bet they’re glad to have him back, even with his injuries. Bit of a shame for me though – I was dying to see him when I go on leave but Scotland’s a whole extra day away, then another back, and I’ve only got a few days off! What with getting in and out of France that would be my whole leave gone…

To find about more about the impact of disabilities on veterans, visit: https://goo.gl/vqqyYq

25th October 1916

Walter: Turns out it’s not just you who’s moving, Rosie. I’m being shifted to a convalescent home. Good job Lil came by when she did, she nearly missed me. As it was, she was able to help me wave cheerio to the other fellows here. Bye bye Eric… and good riddance. I’m off to Woodcote Park in Surrey. Just my luck though – I’ve heard it’s full of Canadians! Still, all the ones I met out in France were good lads, so here’s hoping. Just said goodbye to Lil as well as I won’t see her for a few weeks now. I know things haven’t been good as normal between us but I’ll miss her still. Hopefully I can make amends for being grumpy when I see her again.

To read more about the Woodcote Park camp, visit: https://goo.gl/FUuKC2

24th October 1916

Walter: Happy birthday, Lily! Hope you’re having a nice day. I’d bring you round some flowers if I could. Any chance you could get yourself up here to see me? I’ve been talking with your ‘pal’ Eric, that Canadian I’m not too fond of, and he showed me this in the paper. They reckon a U-boat’s been kicking around off his neighbour’s coast. Now, I thought that would be a sure way of riling the Americans, but then I read that they’re protecting the submarine from British warships! Doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway Lil, hope to see you soon.

 Lily: Thank you, sweetheart. Nice of you to remember. How about I pop by tomorrow while I’m on my lunchbreak?

To read more about U-boat SM-53, visit: https://goo.gl/8WZOnM

21st October 1916

Rose: All change again… Just arrived at my new hospital. Been moved to Camiers and promoted! Ward sister, so I’m terribly important now. Bit of a task on my hands to run this new ward though. We’re a bit away from the line so we get the long term cases and I’ve got the most difficult of the lot – heads. Worse still, I’m on the night shift. Still, if anyone needs good care it’s these boys. And I’ve got a couple of VADs to be in charge of. They’re the unpaid nurses from the Voluntary Aid Detachment – usually good girls but some of them posh as they come! Mine are Louisa and Cicely. They seem alright – we’ll see how we go.  

Walter: Congratulations on the promotion, Rosie! To think you’re in charge of VADs…

Mary: Well done, love! About time too. Let us know how you get on.

To read more about VAD nurses, visit: https://goo.gl/g2auBX
and to locate Camiers, visit: https://goo.gl/61KnVC  

19th October 1916

Walter: 2 years since we lost my big brother Charlie at Mons. Not sure it gets any easier… Been reading the paper to take my mind off it and it’s all about whether or not Irish soldiers should be conscripted like the rest of us. What does everyone think? I’m in two minds… we need as many soldiers as we can get but there’s that much trouble in Ireland already, I don’t know if conscription would tip it all over the edge. Charlie used to be stationed out there – I bet he'd have had an opinion on it.

To read more about Irish soldiers in the war, visit: https://goo.gl/IO00Is

18th October 1916

Walter: Just seen this about Fred and shouted so loud two nurses came running. Thank God he’s alive, if a bit shaken. Take care of yourself, mate, and let me know where you end up. It would be great to see you. Thanks for the news, Mabel.

Mabel: Finally some news about Fred! Silly sod had me worried sick but we just got word through his family that he’s alive and being evacuated to a hospital over here. As well as the official form, they had a letter from his nurse at the CCS saying he has shrapnel wounds and some sort of… nervous disorder. Said he weren’t speaking much and they had to work out who he was from his identity discs and pay book. Still, he’s alive and coming home and that’s all that really matters, ain’t it?

Lily: I’m so glad to hear it! Mabel, if it’s the nerve problem that’s troubling him still, I saw an advert in the paper about a tonic that says it fixes that sort of thing. Might help?

15th October 1916

Ed: It’s been a month of Basic Training since my spell on jankers (that’s punishment to you lot) and I reckon I ain’t doing too bad. I’ve had to grit me teeth every so often but it helps that I’ve made a couple of friends now. Remember that lippy bloke from the guard room? The one who’d cheeked his squad instructor? Turns out his name’s Archie Saunders and he’s an alright lad. Almost a mate. And Sergeant Grey had a quiet word with me too. He said because of my age and the fact I’ve got a brain between me ears (hark at that – someone thinks I’m smart!) he’d help me out, as long as I promised not to do nothing stupid like run off again.

Walter: Nice work, Ed. Good that your sergeant’s got your back

Evan: What a load of bunkum. They’re just buttering you up, don’t get caught up in it. I know what you believe in your heart of hearts, Ed, and it’s not this. Take my advice and get out while you still can. I’m banged up in Wandsworth Prison with a load of other ‘conchies’ and it’s no picnic but God knows it’s better than being forced to kill. We even write our own magazine (secret, of course), ‘The Old Lags’ Hansard’. Bit of a trial as we have to use toilet paper, spare ink and the blunt end of a needle but it’s very popular. Come to think of it, we could do with someone smart to set the fortnightly chess puzzle…

Mary: Well done, Edward! Keep at it and don’t pay attention to bad influences…

To find out more about jailed conscientious objectors, visit: https://goo.gl/Sw9o39

13th October 1916

Walter: Visit from Ma today. Bit easier than with Lil as she wasn’t expecting me to say too much. She just told me about all the things that are going on at home – Pa doing his Volunteer Training Corps exercises in the garden, Annie practising her writing, the price of a loaf of bread going up to 10d on Monday… that sort of thing. And she reckons she’s going to start boiling all the water (like our nan used to do – do you remember that, Rose?) after she read that the Germans are spreading cholera germs as a weapon. Can’t be true, can it?

Rose: Crikey, has she? I do remember nan doing that. Her aunty and all her cousins died in the 1849 outbreak so it’s no wonder really. You remember she used to say it was a miracle she survived it? Something to do with a different water pump. Anyway, she boiled the life out of everything from that day forward.

To read more about biological warfare, including the WWI cholera rumours, visit: https://goo.gl/TwcSG8

10th October 1916

Walter: Had Lily back to visit me again today. She looked the picture of loveliness but I had the same trouble as last time. Couldn’t find anything much to say. She was rabbiting on about Mabel and how sick she’s getting and all I could think about was Fred and where he could be… but of course I couldn’t tell Lil how awful it might be for him so I clammed up. Then when she said about seeing the Somme film I wanted to tell her about what happened to the 1/23rd the other day but I didn’t want to worry her. And I couldn’t think of a single nice, humdrum thing to chat to her about so I just stayed quiet. In the end she gave up on me and started chatting to that Canadian again… I was so looking forward to seeing her but something’s changed. Me, probably.

9th October 1916

Lily: I was supposed to go with Mabel this evening to see the Battle of the Somme documentary film but she was too poorly so, hark at this, I went by myself! Rather wished I hadn’t, after a while. It was rotten. I mean, a good film and all that, quite amazing really, but how horrible. They showed people being shot down and everything. I’m glad Mabel didn’t come, she’d have been looking out for Fred’s face the whole time. I know I was. Those poor men – I had no idea they all live like rats in the ground. I thought the trenches were, I don’t know, deeper or cleaner or something. Walter, why didn’t you tell me?

Mary: Everyone I know has been going to see it, thinking they might catch a glimpse of their boys. I don’t think I can bring myself to.

To find out more about the film that nearly half the population went to see, visit: https://goo.gl/8cshgo

7th October 1916

Mabel: I tell you what, I’m sick as a dog. I reckon these chemicals and whatnot at work are getting to me. I’ve had to go off sick today – can’t keep any breakfast down. Feeling right sorry for myself. Maybe it’s the worry about Fred. Wish I knew where he was.

Walter: Sorry to hear it, Mabel. They reckon those chemicals don’t really do you any harm though, don’t they? It’s probably just a bug. And keep your chin up about Fred. Hopefully we’ll hear good news soon.

To read more about the hazards of being a ‘munitionette’, visit: https://goo.gl/1v9uPq

6th October 1916

Walter: Just had a butcher’s at the local paper that’s being handed around the ward and there’s a write-up of my Military Medal. Seems wrong to be jolly about it after what’s happened to the boys at the front but I suppose it’s nice for the folks around here to see, being that I’m a local lad. And it was a thrill to see Ma and Lily mentioned.

Mary: We’ve bought 3 copies! I wanted nothing more than to put one through the letterbox next door but I have to tread gently with Margaret after they lost their Cyril. Annie says we should put it in a frame, so perhaps I’ll do that instead.

To find out more about honours cited in the Gazette, visit: https://goo.gl/3lYatZ

4th October 1916

Walter: They’ve had to do more treatment on my leg today. The doctor this morning said the infection had got into the bone so they’ve had to scrape it clean. Doesn’t bear thinking about, let alone looking at. Trouble is, they’ve got this new method where they don’t stitch you up, they just leave the wound to heal on its own with some salt water flushed through it. I think I’d rather it was closed up but they say that would make the infection worse. Had some news from Mr Haskell too – nothing about Fred, only the 1/23rd. More bad news, and just as they’d got themselves back together again. The day before yesterday they were supposed to advance at 5am but final orders didn’t come through in time and there was congestion in the trenches, so they ended up going over just before 7am, in broad bloody daylight. Needless to say, they got blown to bits. Mr Haskell just about got through alive but he’s injured and he reckons about half the rest of the battalion are missing, wounded or killed. Again. It’s starting to feel hopeless.

To read about the battle, visit: https://goo.gl/Ajzv40

3rd October 1916

Walter: Ma, Pa and Lily came to see me today. Now, of course I was over the moon to finally see them. Who wouldn’t be? But, if I’m honest, it was hard to find a thing to say to them. They were making such a fuss of me over the medal that I got tongue-tied. Still worried about Fred, I suppose. And, to make matters worse, I’ve got a Canadian soldier in the bed next to me who’s got the gift of the gab. He was in a tank on the Somme, of all things! And he won’t let anyone forget it. He was wittering on to my lot in his fancy accent about what it’s like to drive a tank (hot and stomach-churning, by the sounds of it) and how many Huns he’d dispatched and they were lapping it up. Lily’s changed a bit since I last saw her – seems she’ll chat to anyone and everyone.

[SUNDAY – Good work of frightening Huns continued. Better day, better deed. Fritz didn’t thing that. Blighters opened rifle fire on us at 200 yards. It went like water off a duck’s back Fritz couldn’t make it out. Kept up the fire, but go a bit nervy as the blessed old thing kept waddling up to him. Ladled out death as you might vamp out indifferent music from a hurdy-gurdy.

Fritz got fits. No fight left in him. Prisoners scared to death. Some of them acted as though they believed that we used our tanks for making sausages out of prisoners. We had a lot of trouble explaining that once they surrendered they were safe.

Finished an exciting week. Got plenty of fun, but one, wants a good rest after a spell with a tank.]

Rose: Wish I could have been there to see you! And don’t worry about Lily – it’s good she’s coming out of her shell a bit.

Ed: Well done, Walt. They owe you more than a medal after all you’ve done though

To hear more first-hand experiences of being inside a tank at the front, visit: https://goo.gl/tX2TWI

1st October 1916

Walter: Well, what a thing. I just had a visit from the Commanding Officer from the old Battalion HQ at St John’s Hill. Good to see him again and he had a bit of news – I’ve been awarded the Military Medal! It was for pressing on during that offensive on the 18th Sept after all the officers had ‘gone West’. And holding the position with hand-to-hand fighting. Bit of a fuss over nothing, of course, and there’s plenty of boys who deserve it… but it’s an honour, all the same.

Mary: Fuss over nothing, my foot! We had a visit this morning from the same chap and your old friend Bert from St John’s Hill too. I invited them in for a cuppa and they told us the news, very formal-like. What an honour, Walter. We’re so very proud of you. They reckon that ‘had it not been for the leadership and personal courage of Sgt. Carter, the outcome of the enemy action could have been very serious indeed.’ Your father was very moved by that. We all were.

Lily: Well done, sweetheart! Your Ma and I just got interviewed by a chap from the local paper – they’re going to do a piece on you! I got terribly shy talking to him but hopefully he can write it up better than I could speak it. Congratulations, darling!

To read more about gallantry awards in the First World War, including the military medal, visit: https://goo.gl/lkXwvh

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