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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

31st October 1918

Walter: Turkey has surrendered! Hostilities to cease at noon today. Fantastic news. And their prisoners of war should be released too (isn’t Mrs Hibbs’s son out there somewhere, Ma?). Now we just need Germany and Austria-Hungary to follow suit. We heard General Ludendorff finally resigned, so that’s a good start.

Mary: Yes, Sam Hibbs was taken prisoner in Palestine. She hasn’t heard from him in a long time though so doesn’t know what to think. I do hope he comes home.

To read about how Turkey was affected by the war in the long term, visit https://goo.gl/t7d9MK

29th October 1918

Walter: My shoulder’s sore where it’s healing but at least I don’t have any flu symptoms. We’ve had to send far more men than we’d like off for treatment so I’m always keeping an eye in case I feel shivery. Sounds it’s the same back home but the papers are trying to make light of it.

Mary: What nonsense. The newspapers are suddenly trying to tell us there’s ‘no need to panic about the flu’. Well that’s a load of rot. I’m wise to it now – I can see their game. Anyone with eyes in their head can see this epidemic is getting worse. Mrs Wiggins and Mr Cox the grocer are both dead from it and Mrs Hibbs is only just getting back on her feet. The Speaker of the House of Commons has got it and there’s even rumours that Lloyd George himself is suffering. We’ve been hearing every day about this lord or that actress who’ve passed away but the papers have stopped reporting it. Now they’ve got doctors saying it’s not likely to cause a rise in mortality and ‘there is no doubt that many persons frighten themselves into the flu’! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? Margaret was never scared of anything and it got her.

Rose: I’m with you on that Ma. We’ve definitely had an increase in deaths from the flu here, there’s no denying it. Keep washing your hands and keeping to yourselves as much as possible. And try to eat well – some people are saying it could be due to reduced meat consumption.

Mary: I don’t know about that – Margaret always managed to get hold of plenty of contraband meat. I’ll keep taking my Condy’s Fluid.

To read more about the myths surrounding the 1918 pandemic, visit https://goo.gl/HyVcah

26th October 1918

Walter: Having a small wound seen to but it’s nothing, really. Could have been a lot worse. It’s been a hell of a day. The general advance was heading up towards that river I was on about and we were supposed to follow on behind two other battalions as support troops. But we caught them up, which isn’t meant to happen. Turns out they’d been held up by machine gun fire on their left flank. So we all had to reroute, just like at the canal, and follow the right flank who were only having to get through short range fire. That must have been when I got this wound, but the daft thing is, I didn’t even feel it. They say sometimes you don’t in the heat of the moment. I just heard Reg call out ‘Sar Major, your shoulder!’ and saw that blood had soaked through my tunic (the new one I scrounged thinking I’d go on leave…) Anyway, it looked worse than it was. Bled a lot but just a scratch really. I’ve had it stitched up (the wound and the tunic) so don’t go getting worried about me Lily.

Lily: Walter Carter, it can’t have been just a scratch if you needed stitches. Are you safe now?

Walter: Yes sweetheart, relieved and back in billets at Courtrai. By the time the next lot took over our patrols had reported no enemy activity ahead. So at least we left it as safe for them as we could.

Mary: Oh Walter. Make sure you keep an eye on it and keep it clean, like Rose always says. Glad you’re alright though.

24th October 1918

Mabel: The House of Commons voted 274 to 25 in favour of letting women sit as MPs! About time. Now we just need the Government to pass it as a bill. They said they couldn’t keep us out, on the basis that there must be “one woman in the country as capable as the least capable of male members.” I’d say so…

Walter: First voting, now there’s women MPs… the war has changed things, that’s for sure.

Lily: Great news. Mabel you should run for Parliament!

Mabel: Ha – not only a woman but a mother? That’ll be the day.

To find out more about women in Parliament, visit https://goo.gl/tp9w8n

23rd October 1918

Walter: Tough day. Trying to make our way towards a certain river (can’t say too much) but getting there means going along a canal path and no one had counted on the enemy being holed up in and around the tunnel it passes through. They let us get right on top of them before opening fire with machine guns, and with the banks on either side we couldn’t get away without going backwards. We were lucky to only lose a few – it could have been a massacre. But we dropped back, licking our wounds, to the eastern side of the cutting. Got orders to carry on with the advance despite everything (typical), so several companies set off and the rest of us were to follow after. Then a new order came in, telling us to halt! Couldn’t get that information to the lads up ahead and we weren’t going to leave them without back up so we had to press on regardless. Came around the sides of the tunnel, above the canal, and eventually managed to ferret Fritz out of all his hidey-holes. Captured 6 machine guns too.

Fred: Good on you mate. It sounds like hell being trapped like that. I’m glad you got through. Been marking your progress on the maps the Express prints –

Walter: That’s it. We’re not far from Ypres.

To see photographs of the canal and tunnel today, visit https://goo.gl/augyXt

18th October 1918

Walter: I’ve cheered up no end today – not only have we heard that Allied forces have captured Lille, Douai and Ostende, but I’ve just bumped into Ed Carter in Courtrai! He does look a state without his teeth but it’s been wonderful to see him. I almost didn’t recognise him at first. Haven’t seen him in years so it was strange to see him in uniform and even stranger to hear him called ‘Bombardier’. He did a double take as well and we stood and stared at each other for a second or two before he grinned and came over. Said I looked too old to be his little brother. We both had a bit of time, rare as that is, so we took a walk around the town to catch up. Walked past all the returning refugees living in covered wagons outside their own front doors. Their children seem happy enough, marching around like army bands playing makeshift musical instruments and waving flags, and I half expected the church bells to be ringing, but of course they all got pinched for the metal. Anyway, I’ll be sad to say cheerio to Ed. Didn’t quite realise how much I missed him until I saw him.

Mary: How lovely that you two saw each other! I wish I could see you both too. And wonderful news about all those places being retaken. I have to say, the mood here at home is very anti-armistice. The more we hear about the Allies coming out victorious, the more everyone’s keen to see the Germans beaten fair and square, without letting them off the hook with a truce agreement.

Walter: You can’t count your chickens, Ma. The Germans were here so recently their signs are still up, look:

To read more about Belgian refugees, visit https://goo.gl/kaRjxc

16th October 1918

Ed: I wasn’t far behind your advance yesterday Walt. And guess what? I got my bloody teeth knocked out. A blast sent me flying and I smashed my front teeth on a chunk of concrete. Cut my chin up a bit too but that’s alright. It’s the teeth I’m worried about. My two front ones. What will Thelma think of that? And it’s not just her. You know what they say about blokes with missing teeth. About cowards pulling their own out or losing their false ones so they can get sent back from the line. It’s hard to manage out here without your pearly whites. After all, they’re not going to send special pureed food up the line just for you are they? Lucky I can get by with my others for now. I do look a picture though.

Walter: Ouch. Make sure you can still get your gas mask on, Ed – you’ll need to grip the mouthpiece with your other teeth…

Mary: Edward, your lovely teeth! Couldn’t you hang on to them?

Ed: You try fishing them out of two foot of mud while you’re trying to get out of the way of an enemy attack. They’re long gone mother.

Rose: Oh Ed. Hopefully the army will find you some dentures. For now, I’ve got a toothless soldier on the ward who says the best thing to do is grind your biscuits to a powder and mix that with a tin of milk and a tin of jam. Then heat it up if you can.

Ed: Thanks Rosie… I have still got some teeth.

To find out more about WWI and tooth loss, visit https://goo.gl/YyMuLP

To read more about dentistry in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/VUweif

15th October 1918

Walter: I’m trying to think about the good that’s happened over the past two days. I made it through two bombardments, we captured our objective and even put an enemy battery out of action. Sounds alright put like that, doesn’t it? Really, it’s been hell. First the tail of our column got shelled on the way to the line. Then the enemy must have learned when our Zero Hour was scheduled because they started shelling again just when we were all assembled to attack. It was awful. About 20 killed and must be hundreds wounded. The dust from the barrage mixed with the thick morning mist until we couldn’t see a damn thing, so those of us who’d survived the first shelling all got muddled up and lost our bearings. But we gathered together the remnants of our troops and somehow reached our objective. That’s all the staff will care about – the Allies have done well between the Lys River at Comines and Dixmude.

Mary: Thank goodness you’re alright. Somehow, the more the papers talk about armistice, the more nervous I get about you, your brother and sister.

Lily: I’m the same, Mrs Carter. It’s the hope – I can hardly stand it. I’m terrified that the moment I dare to think he might come home safe, something will happen.

To read more about this episode, visit https://goo.gl/Dc3mjW

12th October 2018

Walter: On our way up the Menin Road on foot towards the front line. Stopped at ‘Clapham Junction’. That’s what we call the crossroads near Hooge because it’s the busiest spot behind the line. All sorts of roads and paths and railtracks meet here. Makes sense, eh Fred? I miss our days as porters back at the real Clapham Junction. This one’s far more dangerous. The Germans shell it because there’s so many people and vehicles passing through that they’re almost guaranteed a hit. Last night we were ordered to bivouac here but I don’t think many of us got much sleep – we were so close to the crossroads that the shell blasts shook the ground, and mud kept spattering against the side of my bivvy. No casualties, thank God, but I’ll be glad to move on.

To see the Menin Road today, visit https://goo.gl/ck8ynk

10th October 1918

Mary: What a shock. I’m shaking like a leaf. I’ve just had Mr Wiggins from next door knock for us. I hardly ever see him but today he was looking broken, poor man. He stood back from the door, said he wouldn’t come in or get too close, and told us how Margaret had felt a bit of a chill yesterday, then cooked up a high temperature overnight so they called out the doctor but she took a turn and by this morning could barely breathe. Then, oh goodness, he said she passed away. At 1 o’clock this afternoon. Can you believe it? She was right as rain yesterday morning! It’s this flu that’s been going about. I’m terrified of it. I make your father wash his hands three times with the carbolic soap after his shift at the railway. Poor Margaret. She did tend to stick her nose up at us but we had been getting on well lately. And to think it took her so quickly... Mr Cox down the grocers has had it too – had to shut the shop. And Mrs Hibbs in our street. Well, I’ll have to take Mr Wiggins over his dinners from now on. Heaven knows, the man won’t manage by himself, especially with his last boy still at the front. Oh poor Margaret.

Walter: Can’t believe it… have you seen this Rose, Ed? Poor Mrs Wiggins. I didn’t like the woman, but still. Hope you’re alright Ma.

Rose: Ma, that’s awful news! Poor Mrs Wiggins. I can’t help but worry about you too. The flu has been spreading like wildfire out here. Keep up the hand washing and maybe take some Condy’s Fluid.

Mary: Thank you Rosie, we will. I’ll need to help sort out the funeral arrangements for Margaret so I can’t very well stay away from the Wiggins house, can I? Perhaps I’ll wear my gloves indoors. 

To find out more about how the flu outbreak affected Britain, visit https://goo.gl/yQ444f

8th October 1918

Walter: Still fed up. No more news about the armistice and we’re stuck in a freezing cold siding (better than a trench, I suppose) for the night, waiting for trains to Douglas Camp that haven’t showed up. Delays down the line or something. Worst of all, we’ve had word that all leave has been cancelled! Just when I’d managed to scrounge a new tunic from the QM thinking I might get to see you, Lily. Reg has been trying to cheer everyone up by saying if there’s no leave that means the powers-that-be think we’re onto something and need all the men we have to see it though, but I don’t think anyone wants to be cheered up today.

Ma: Your friend Reg sounds like just the sort of chap you need out there. Stay warm, love. I hope the trains arrive soon.

Walter: He is that. He’ll make a great Sergeant Major one day. Anyway, the train’s turned up so we’re off finally…

Lily: That’s rotten news about leave being cancelled! Still, if it does mean the war’s ending then I can spare you just a little longer if it means you can come home for good.

To see footage of light railways in use in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/m5W9WK

5th October 1918

Walter: Right. Reg says there’s rumours that the German and Austro-Hungarian governments have asked America for an armistice. Some are saying it’s only going to be for two months, but that’s daft, isn’t it? We’re getting on alright now, gaining back miles of land, and two months would just let Fritz take stock and strengthen up. And even if it’s an armistice for good… well, we all want peace, of course we do, but it seems like a bit of cop out to let them have a truce when we’re on our way to beating them wholly and forever. I don’t know. What do you think?

Ed: Why on Earth wouldn’t you want peace as soon as possible? Millions have died. You might be next. Is beating the other guy all that matters?

Mrs Wiggins: You know we all want you all home and safe as soon as possible. But I do think Germany should be punished for all those deaths. Think of your brother Charlie. The papers say we need to send a clear message that they can’t pull these tricks in the future – make them pay now and they won’t try it again. There need to be ‘assurances’. That’s what President Wilson says.

Evan: Ed’s right. We need peace without recrimination. And it wasn’t just Germany that brought about this war. What about Austria-Hungary? What about Turkey? What about us?

To read about the controversial conditions of peace, visit https://goo.gl/gVW5KB

3rd October 1918

Walter: Left our billets yesterday and marched to the Kruiseke Area. Lots of shelling and the weather’s bloody awful. Most days you can get on with what you have to do out here and other days you get to feeling like you just can’t stick it any longer. Today’s like that. Not that I’d ever let the men know. And whenever I get the blue devils, I can’t help but miss Lily Howes. How are you getting on, sweetheart?

Lily: No wonder you’re fed up. It’s a marvel how you keep so chipper the rest of the time. I miss you like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve been really busy with the couriering – delivering parcels as far away as Alexandra Palace these last few days – so it keeps my mind off the war. But when things are quiet in the evenings I always think of you and when I might see you again. Is there any chance of you getting leave? You must be due some by now?

Walter: Word is the fighting will go on all winter, so they’re still giving out leave passes. Maybe it’ll be my turn soon. Times before, when I’ve come home injured or on leave, I’ve almost missed the work out here. And the lads. But they can have all that. I just want it all done with now. Anyway, better get back to it – as CSM, I can’t be seen to take my eye off the ball.

Lily: Oh I hope you can get some leave! Let me know as soon as you do. Keep smiling in the meantime darling. I’ll be here waiting for you.

1st October 1918

Walter: Guess what? We’ve just been relieved in the line, but not by any old battalion – by the 23rd London Regiment! My old lot. I’ve missed being part of the Territorials (me, Fred and Bert will always be Terriers at heart) and I’d been half hoping for a transfer back there now they’ve got themselves together again. Unlikely though. Anyway, I got all excited about seeing them and then didn’t recognise a single face. The battalion’s been totally rebuilt after the disaster at High Wood in 1916. Even the new men are having to be replaced time and again – our NCOs had a debrief from theirs and they said we’re gaining ground but losing far too many in the process.

Fred: I’m glad they reformed. I still go up the old drill hall on St John’s Hill to see Bert sometimes.

To find out what happened to Walter and the 1/23rd in September 1916, visit https://goo.gl/7Y2Lny

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