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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th September 1914

Lily: Walt, you’re not going to like this but I thought I ought to let you know… There’s a fellow called Herbert who comes in Arding and Hobbs a lot. Mabel always laughs and says he’s taken a liking to me, but I didn’t think nothing of it until he come in today with a great bunch of lavender roses (well you know they’re my favourite) and made a big show about how pretty I was and how I deserved a fellow who was around to take care of me. Well I went red as a beetroot – it ain’t like I’ve been acting like I’m available, Walt… You’ll be pleased to know I told him I didn’t need no looking after and besides I deserve a fellow who’s brave enough to fight for King and Country – said I noticed he weren’t wearing khaki. He said he were all for love, not war, and tried to give me the roses again! Well I kept them in the end because they were nice, but I made sure he knew I was waiting for my Walter. The girls did have a laugh about it though and Mrs Reed sent me home for causing a scene! I think secretly she was glad that I said he ought to be out fighting because she says I can go back tomorrow.

Walter: Too right I don’t like it! I don’t mind telling you that’s given me the right hump Lil. And a shirker as well! He’s got a nerve. I’ve a mind to come straight down there and knock the living daylights out of him. Are you sure you’re alright? He didn’t hurt you or nothing?

Lily: Of course he didn’t hurt me you silly!

Walter: Well, good. You just make sure everyone knows you’re spoken for. Pretty thing like you, it’s no good you being down there by yourself… it’s just that I can’t get back while I have to be training. Maybe I could send you some little token or something, just so all the ‘Herberts’ know you’re mine.

Lily: A ring would do it…

Walter: Well now hold on I don’t mean nothing like that. I meant a badge or a locket or something.

25th September 1914

Charles: What a good day we’ve had. The Dorsets relieved us back at Missy so we marched along the railway line at 4 o’clock this morning and now have billets at Jury. Time for a rest. Commander Smith-Dorrien came by our billets hisself and said how proud we must be and how well we done. Not only that but we been reclothing. Feels better than you’d ever think to have a fresh, clean uniform – seems like I been wearing nothing but mud for weeks.

Mary: Well done son, we’re all very proud of you.

Walter: That’s great Charlie. Have a good rest. Did you see Marie?

Charles: No. Don’t know what happened to her. That’s how it goes out here. Shouldn’t say too much about it anyway, we ain’t supposed to talk to them – although word is we might get a little book of French words soon.

24th September 1914

Walter: Happy birthday to my Ma. Sorry I’m up here in St Albans and not with you but have a nice day.

Charles: Hope I’ll be home for the next one – happy birthday!

Rose: Happy birthday Ma. I’ll be round as usual in the morning…

Mary: Thank you very much. It’s been a quiet birthday, and not much good news – Maud from up the road got a form saying Billy is missing. We can’t console her. The note says he might be a Prisoner of War – I hope so.

Charles: That is bad news – poor old Bill. Hope they find him – sometimes men gets separated from their regiment for a while so he might find his way back.

To find out more about how next of kin were informed of losses, visit http://www.1914-1918.net/died.htm

23rd September 1914

Mrs Abbott showed me a new poem in the paper - “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” Bit bleedin sad, ain’t it?

To read the full poem, which was released in September 1914, visit http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/laurence-binyon-for-the-fallen.htm

19th September 1914

Walter: I heard the suffragettes have finally given up… is that right, Lil?

Lily: Well, they ain’t given up exactly, it’s just Mrs Pankhurst says we has to do everything we can for the war effort and then think about the vote again afterwards. Her daughter Christabel made a speech about it. She reckons the French women are all working while the men are at the Front and that we should do the same.  This is what she said look:

“You are not now utilising to the full the activities of women. In France, from which country I have just come, the women, while all the able-bodied men are at the Front, are able to keep the country going, to get in the harvest, to carry on the industries. It is the women who prevent the collapse of the nation while the men are fighting the enemy.”

To find out more about the events leading to the emancipation of women, go to http://www.britishpathe.com/video/emancipation-of-women-1  or http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/struggle/suffragettes1/suffragettes.html

 

18th September 1914

Walter: How are you getting on, brother Charles?

Charles: Rain and digging, Walt. And then more rain and digging. Rain don’t half make digging hard.

Walter: What are you digging for?

Charles: Trenches – ain’t you practised that yet? We has to protect ourselves from the bullets somehow and it helps if you can shelter a bit below ground. They ain’t fancy ones, we’ve just dug them quick to cover us for the next day or so. The Germans have already dug trenches on the high ground and we can’t get past them, so we’re stuck with the wet low ground and have to dig too.

Walter: We’re going to practise digging trenches in Essex when we’ve done the musketry – we’ll be back in St Albans in a couple of days. You lot out in France have got all the sandbags though so we can’t do it proper.

Charles: We ain’t just digging trenches, mind – it’s graves too. You wouldn’t believe it, but we been burying dead Germans as well as our boys – the ones what get left behind when we advance on them. Something about seeing the results of your work that makes a man think.

To find out more about the trench digging Charlie mention, go to http://www.1914-1918.net/intrenches.htm

17th September 1914

Walter: Ed Carter, you ought to get yourself to see a Vesta Tilley show – she recruits men for the army right there in the music hall and gives you kiss if you sign up…!

Ed: She can have her show, I ain’t going.

Fred: Well I wish I’d waited and volunteered now – don’t fancy a kiss off any of you Terriers!

To read more about recruiting tactics in the early months of war, go to http://noglory.org/index.php/articles/war-sketches/79-recruiting-blackmail

15th September 1914

Walter: I’ve been thinking about what Lil was saying Ed, and I don’t know what you’re playing at, not volunteering. You must have seen the posters of Kitchener – they’re everywhere. I read that they asked for 100,000 volunteers and 750,000 joined up in just one month. That’s British pluck that is. Find yourself a backbone.

Ed: If they only needed 100,000 and 750,000 signed up, then what do they need me for? Don’t make no sense to put meself in danger for some Austrian problem I don’t even understand. You’re the ones needs your heads looking at.

Walter: Don’t understand he says… we was protecting Belgium. They’re neutral – they’re staying out of it, but Germany didn’t take no notice and went right through them to get to France… Why don’t you join a Pals battalion? Then you could go with your mates.

Mary: If your father could hear you, Edward. I’m frightened to send my boys away but the shame of having a rum’un stay behind is too much. How your brothers grew up with such grit and you didn’t I’ll never know. Even Rose wants to go out there, God save her. Too much chasing girls my son, that’s what did it. Well you’ll find that those young ladies ain’t so keen on you now, not when they could go with a soldier.

Ed: Minnie says she thinks I’m braver not going.

Rose: Who’s Minnie? I thought it was Eliza?

Ed: It was, but now it ain’t. Minnie’s a nice girl, you’d like her.

Mary: One of these days I’ll wash my hands of you, Edward Carter.

To find out more about recruitment for Kitchener’s  Army and the Pals Battalions, visit

http://www.1914-1918.net/kitcheners.htm  and http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/pals_01.shtml

13th September 1914

Walter: Word is we get to leave St Albans for a while for musketry camp. I’ll miss little Jimmy and Jack but it won’t be for long. Perfect conditions at the moment so should go off well. Will be at Panshanger near Hertingfordbury – I’ll send you a temporary address to write to, Lil.

Lily: Thanks. I know you’re busy but I like to hear from you.

Walter: What’s happening back in Battersea? Hope you’re all getting on alright without us!

Lily: We’re just fine thank you kindly… but it’s quiet without our boys around. There’s still quite a few, like your Ed, who haven’t volunteered, but people are starting to say that women could step up and take the men’s jobs what have gone! How do you think I’d do as a porter eh Walt?

Walter: Ha! I can just see you in me uniform, lugging cases about! Ha ha. Don’t be daft though, you’ve got your job. 

To find out more about muskets, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/wars_conflict/weapons/musket_to_breech_10.shtml

To find out more about the changing role of women, visit http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/document_packs/women.htm

11th September 1914

Charles: Well at least it ain’t hot no more. Trouble is, it’s pouring rain and we can hardly get along the tracks. Rough time yesterday – a party of us was left behind to bury the dead that was laid along the side of the road. Not easy, especially with me bad arm. Hope we got them deep enough – we didn’t have much time. We had the chaplain with us and tried to give them a proper burial and that but it’s hard when you’re moving on. Still pushing the Germans back towards the North of France. Crossing the River Aisne soon. Got to make a raft.

To find out more about Army Chaplains, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/priests/armychaplains_1.shtml

9th September 1914

Walter: Any news from the Front?

Charles: Busy day. Moved at 5am towards the Marne river. We were the Advanced Guard (the brigades take it in turns to take different positions when we’re on the move – sarge says it’s like penguins trying to keep warm). Very trying – lots of thick woods and steep valleys. Heavy artillery fire from the Boche. Tried to keep meself hidden under the trees. Was sent towards the German trenches. Hail of bullets. Fell back. Went in again with reinforcements. Hail of bullets. Fell back again. Went in again with more reinforcements. Hail of bullets. Fell back again. Couldn’t believe I’d made it out. Got a bit knocked about and took a bullet across me arm - only a scratch but you’ve got to go careful in case of gangrene. Treated by the Medical Officer at the Regimental Aid Post and then straight back out again. Fritz was still in his trench at nightfall but we must’ve put the wind up him because he ran off soon after. Word is we’re getting in between the German 1st and 2nd Armies, and soon enough he’ll be on the run for good.

Walter: Told you, Ma! We Carters, we’re made of strong stuff! Tell Annie that Charlie was the only fellow to make it out and he chased them Germans off all by hisself. Won’t be nothing left for us to do if we ever gets out there, eh Fred?

Fred: Can’t believe it, just when I got me rifle eye in as well. At least I won’t have to get on a boat.

Mary: Annie asks what happened to his friends then and is he lonely… poor little love doesn’t really understand.

Charles: I’m starting to think it won’t be over so quick Walt – best keep preparing. Little Annie’s a clever old stick… tell her it do get lonely, but only because I miss her.

To find out more about the Battle of the Marne, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/battle_marne.shtml

To find out more about the treatment of the wounded, visit, http://www.1914-1918.net/wounded.htm

8th September 1914

Charles: What a joke of a day. Fought hard through the thick wood around Chateau-St-Ouen – full of steep banks and streams, even had to take a small boat (one little boat for two battalions…) Then the CO got some information about exactly where Fritz was hiding – he’d dug trenches on the opposite ridge of the valley. So we came around to the right, to hit him on his flank. All had our bayonets out, excited to finally get a chance to stick it to the enemy, man-to-man, like the CO promised. A few casualties as we advanced but we was going on well and the enemy was retreating, when all of a sudden our Artillery opened fire all along the ridge. Right over our heads – sounded like being under a railway bridge. The CO tried to get them to stop but it was no good. We had to fall back behind the line of fire. After all that. Took a couple of prisoners during the day but still right disappointed. Captain Whish died – that chap that joined us yesterday.

Walter: Bad luck Charlie. Still no chance to use our bayonets here in St Albans either. Are you back at camp now?

Charles: Back where we bivouacked earlier… not much to show for it, except when we got back we found some of our men who had been cut off from us in August. Turns out after the fighting they found themselves closest to 1st Division so joined up with them. When they left though, 1st Division kept their horses and vehicles!

Walter: They’ve got a nerve.

7th September 1914

Walter: How are you going on Charles?

Charles: Nothing doing yet – having to stand by. Want to get going. Marching east when we can. A Captain Whish and about 100 other men have joined us. Word is the French have had lots of casualties so the reserves have been called in – they were taken to the front in taxis from Paris! Renaults it was. About 3000 men. Must have been a sight.

To find out more about the taxis, visit http://www.firstworldwar.com/video/taxisofthemarne.htm

6th September 1914

Charles: Roused at 3.45am – couldn’t sleep anyway. Today’s the day – we’ve finally been given the go-ahead to change direction and go on the offensive. One officer said it’s the happiest day of his life.

Walter: Good luck Charlie.

Mary: We’re always thinking about you, son. Good luck.

To find out more about the change in warfare, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VC3S9RgDIDs

5th September 1914

Charles: You should see us now, Walter – still on the march but with a squadron of North Irish Horse helping by day and a platoon of cyclists by night! Still ‘exceedingly hot what’ and I’d just about curse whoever thought it was a good idea to give us these heavy uniforms, not to mention everything else we has to carry. Moving down to the east of Paris now. Seems to have been a change of plan. All hoping we might get to stop this retreat and lay into Fritz before he gets any further.

Charles: Bit of news – looks like the enemy ain’t headed for Paris now and just wants to wipe out the French army. Getting the information from aeroplanes! New one on me.

To find out more about cyclist groups in WW1, go to http://cyclinguphill.com/cyclists-first-world-war-dont-forget-helmet/

3rd September 1914

Charles: Moved at 4am to Montge, now have very comfortable billets in a French chateau! Can see the outskirts of Paris from the window. Strange to think that’s what we’re trying to protect.

Walter: Didn’t realise you were so close. I always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. Maybe I’ll take you there one day Lily.

Lily: That would be nice. Except I don’t like heights…

Walter: I reckon you’d be alright with me. Just you keep the Tower standing Charlie, then me and Lil can go up it next year when the war’s over!

Charles: If all goes well I shan’t even be going near it.

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