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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

30th September 1915

Walter: Sorry everyone – I’ve been wounded and not had all me wits about me for the past couple of days. Turns out I was fainting off and on. I just spoke to a nurse – a real British girl, I ain’t seen one for months! – who says I’m miles behind the line now… in a packed ambulance train on the way to Boulogne. Ain’t that where you worked, Rosie? Me arm’s all bandaged up and throbbing like hell. This train jolts about like you wouldn’t believe… and it don’t half stink. No idea what I did to meself – last thing I can think of is pulling up duckboards so the Guards Division could get over. I keep asking this nurse if our plan worked but she says not to worry about that just now. I think I remember being back in the CCS too, when they was taking some shrapnel out of me arm... I’m not sure – I think they’ve got me on morphine.

Rose: Oh Walter! You poor boy. Right arm or left? Thank heavens you’re alright – I was so worried when I saw your messages. Sounds like a shell burst near you, if you reckon there was shrapnel in the wound. Yes I used to work that route – you might be on my train! And Boulogne is where we used to set down patients – they’ll look after you well there.

Mary: Oh son, thank god you’re still with us. I’ve been in such a panic – I was certain they was going to bring me another telegram. Poor Lily’s been beside herself – we all have – she, Annie and Ed send their love. And your Pa says keep your chin up.

Lily: Thank goodness you’re alright – we can get whatever it is fixed I’m certain of it. Please tell me what happened?

Rev Barley: I’m very glad to hear you’re safe Walter – it seems prayers are answered, even out here. Rest well.

Ed: Sounds like a close shave brother. You ought to come home and stay put now.

Sidh: My friend, I am pleased to hear it. I hope your pain is not too great.

Mabel: Your poor arm Walt! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you came home though?

Mrs Wiggins: I do hope you recover soon Walter. I’ve heard a lot of talk about men putting themselves in harm’s way with a view to being sent home. But I’m sure that’s not you, is it? We’ll see you back out there very soon I should think.

To read about Robert Graves’s experience on an ambulance train, visit: http://goo.gl/84dL4c

29 September 1915

Walter: What the hell’s happened? Can’t get up – blood everywhere

Fred: Mate, are you still near the line? Can you describe where you are?

 

Later . . .

Walter: Where’s my kit? Rifle’s gone. God I’m in trouble now, my arm hurts like hell – Ma I’m so bloody scared, I don’t know what’s going on.

Mary: Oh god where are you? You’ll be alright love, you’ll be alright – is there anyone there who could help? Can you call out?

Lily: He’s not making sense, Mrs Carter. Something’s very wrong. Please Walter, tell us where you are!

 

Later still . . .

Walter: Me fingers ain’t working right. On one side. I don’t know if it’s there me arm or what but there’s a nurse here. Looks like you Rose. Don’t know what you’re doing here – women ain’t allowed near the line. Keep hearing men calling out for god or their mum… they’re not here, either of them. Can still hear gunfire but the nurse says it’s rain on the roof.

Rose: Well that’s a start – Mary, Lily, Fred, it sounds like at least there’s a nurse with him, unless he’s delirious. I’ll bet he’s been taken behind the line somewhere. Probably a Casualty Clearing Station. If he was part of the offensive at Loos it’ll be somewhere nearby – it’s raining hard where I am too so he can’t be far away. I just hope his arm ain’t too bad.

Lily: He don’t sound right at all though does he? What if he’s had a head wound? God I can’t bear it.

To read an account of the Battle of Loos from a Chaplain at a Casualty Clearing Station, visit: http://goo.gl/nmnBF5

28 September 1915

Mary: Walter, please let us know you’re alright. I’ve been worried since you said you was getting out of the trench.

Fred: You alright mate? Where did you disappear to? We lost you while the Guards was going over. That bloody great blast near us numbed me ears and by the time we got up I couldn’t see you. You’d better not have copped it Walter Carter. You’d better not have. Bert’s taken over for now and we been placed at 15 minutes notice to support the Cavalry Brigade in the attack on Hill 70 but I can’t concentrate – I could really do with you here mate.

Lily: Walter, talk to me! Are you alright?

27 September 1915

Walter: Just seen the first of our reserves coming over the hill behind us in formation – it’s the Guards Division! The German artillery fire suddenly got heavier so we knew something was up before we even caught a glimpse of them, but you should see them swarming over now! Smart as you like and barely breaking step, even for shells. This’ll be the move that sends Fritz under, you can bet. You might have been right about us breaking through Lil! The whole of the battalion is cheering them on! Gawd we’d better clear the way for them – don’t want them having to clamber into our trench and out again on the way… I’m going to get the lads to pull up the duckboards and lay them across the top so they can walk straight over – and cut that barbed wire –

Ed: Won’t that put you in the line of fire Walt? No point putting yourself in danger if you don’t need to mate, I’m sure they’ll get round you.

Mary: Don’t do anything rash love, please.

To read more about the Battle of Loos, visit: http://goo.gl/0h2U2I

26 September 1915

Walter: Battle still going on. Rotten bloody war. Rumour has it there was thousands killed just yesterday, but I can’t get a straight answer off no one. And now we’re stuck in a trench that runs through an old cemetery. I reckon there’s more dead folk here, old and new, than there are us live ones. We’ve been kept back in the old German second line to cover the left flank. Hate hanging back here and not knowing what’s what… but they say the boys up ahead have gained all their objectives, even with the German artillery giving them hell. Our artillery seems like it ain’t got nothing to give – only hear them every so often. Better be over soon.

Fred: I feel for the lads who end up wandering back towards us – lost their leaders and their heads, some of them. I know what it’s like, I been there. For now we’ve steered them all into a trench together to cover the western exits – so they’ve got something useful to do and no one can say they’re deserters. A Regimental Sergeant Major’s just showed up to lead them back to the line again though… poor lads.

Mary: Well the papers reckon it’s not all that bad love – look at this headline. It sounds from here like the Big Push is working. Keep your chin up and stay safe.

To read more about the landscape at Loos and the famous ‘Tower Bridge’ landmark, visit: http://goo.gl/UU6lzz

25 September 1915

Walter: 10.30 now and it’s so bloody noisy you have to shout to be heard. We’ve just had orders to relieve the 17th Londons up ahead. They started the offensive at half six this morning, walking straight into a smoke screen fired by Stokes mortars, and managed to capture the German front line. That’s where we’ve got to get to now. They did a good job to get so far but our first shot at using poison gas has turned into a nightmare – it blew back in the wind and patches of it are hanging over our line. Everyone got in a real panic when we realised. Pulled on our PH gas helmets but it’s almost worse having them on than off – the air barely comes through and the eye windows fog right up so you can’t hardly do nothing useful. Fred got fed up and nearly pulled his off, saying he couldn’t breathe, but I bellowed at him and made him keep it on. It’s raining cats and dogs now. Absolutely bloody miserable. Still, every so often, if you unsteam your eyeholes, you can see our airmen come flying out of the clouds and then back in again. Can’t tell what’s happening up ahead, we’re too far back and can’t see a bleedin thing anyway – suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

To read about the creation of Great War gas masks, visit http://goo.gl/uh4oB4  and to find out what the ‘PH’ stands for, visit: http://goo.gl/q6fvIC 

25 September 1915

Walter: It’s 2am… and we’re at stand-to. Dressed for battle and with bayonets fixed. Just had a message read to us from the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, saying he relies on every man to do his “utmost in the operations.” About to parade and take up positions at a slagheap called Fosse 6 at Les Brebis. Near Loos. Rotten weather – very windy – should be better once we’re sheltered under the slagheaps. Fred’s stood next to me, on about his seventh cigarette. His light keeps going out in the wind. This will be our first major offensive since Givenchy. You said you heard about the ‘Big Push’ Lily? Well this is it.

Lily: Oh god Walter, are you going over the top again? Please please be careful. People here are saying you’ll break through this time… do you think it might mean the end of the war?

To read more about the Battle of Loos, visit: http://goo.gl/AkZAK2

To see a street view map of the area today, visit: https://goo.gl/XGIrYs

23 September 1915

Walter: You won’t believe what we’ve been up to. You remember the dummy trenches we’ve been digging? Well now we’ve got dummy soldiers to go in them! They’re wooden boards, cut out and painted to look like Tommies and you pull ropes to bring them up and down. We’ve had a scheme going: set the dummies up and shout and cheer like we’re starting an attack, which brings Fritz in a panic into his front trenches, then blow him to bits with artillery while he’s there. The idea is that after a while the enemy won’t come when they see the dummies, so if we ever need to launch a real attack with real soldiers they’ll think it’s just another hoax and do nothing. We’ve been giving them a heavy bombardment too – sounds like express trains in a tunnel. Little Will got knocked off his feet with the shaking ground.

Lily: It’s very clever Walt but it’s horrible! Listen to yourself, “blow him to bits…” Is this something to do with the ‘Big Push’ we’re hearing whispers about?

Walter: You just try being out here Lil. You don’t know what it’s like. If we don’t blow him to bits, he’ll do it to us, and you wouldn’t like that… And yes, the ‘Big Push’ is all we talk about. Not long now.

To find out more about dummy soldiers, visit http://goo.gl/CQrBeJ

22 September 1915

Walter: I can’t believe they’re taxing everyone so much. Looks like we won’t be getting so many parcels if they stick with these postage costs. All to pay for what we’re doing out here I suppose. Hope Annie’s alright Ma. Keep your chin up.

Ma: Well I may as well give up trying to feed anyone. They’ve put income tax up by 40%! There’s to be no halfpenny post no more and parcel postage has gone up 1d. And they’ve put up the cost of all of this, look: tea, cocoa, coffee, sugar, dried fruits, chicory, tobacco, motor spirit, patent medicines, imported motor-cars, motor-cycles and parts, hats, plate-glass and cinema films. It’s a good job Ed’s been growing them potatoes in the garden. Poor Annie needs as much food as she can manage while she’s getting her strength back, and now what am I to tell her?

Ed: Taxing tobacco too… that’s low. It said in the paper about how they passed the budget – sneaky if you ask me: “Few remained to hear. It was dinner-time, and the Budget must pass in any case, so the small House dwindled to next to nothing. There and then the Chairman, Mr Whitley, put resolutions to the House imposing the new duties... Thus the Tariff Reform resolutions were passed in one minute… Just before nine o’clock the House rose, with the greatest Budget in history accepted and power given to the Executive to begin at once to collect the new millions of money.”

To read more about paying for the war, visit: http://goo.gl/0fz9mG

21 September 1915

Walter: This tickled me. Bert’s old man sent it to him in today’s post. It says the Australians in Gallipoli can throw bombs “as accurately as they can a cricket ball.”

[This is how the Australians hurl bombs at the Turks. They can throw them as accurately as they can a cricket ball.]

To find out more about an Australian soldier who used his cricketing skills to save lives in WWI, visit: http://goo.gl/9HMSNo

18 September 1915

Mabel: Three weeks now I’ve been working at the munitions factory at Woolwich, making ammo for our boys. It’s a place and a half! Huge. And quite a sight when you first get in there. First thing I saw was the lathes with the belts all running up high – frightening things if ever there was – and then a small boy, only a young’un, pulling at this machine making copper caps. Noisiest place in the world – worse than Clapham Junction station. We has to change into overalls first thing when we get there – no metal is allowed inside (and my corset’s full of wire). Headgear too, to protect our hair and keep it out of the way. And our pockets and bags get checked by the policeman on the gate in case we got matches or anything that might make a spark. The work ain’t difficult, it’s just repeating the same thing over and over, but it’s tiring and you has to be careful to get it right so they don’t give you a hard time during inspections.

Walter: Good on you Mabel. Go careful though – it sounds dangerous…

Mabel: Here’s a picture of us girls at Woolwich – they’re a great bunch. You should come and join us Lily!

ww1 postcard men and munitions girls

Lily: I might you know. This latest Zepp attack has made me think I should be doing more… and heaven knows we could do with the extra money at home.

To listen to a podcast about munitions workers, visit: http://goo.gl/ZRo0cm

17 September 1915

Walter: The battalion’s being changed around again. What with losing so many and gaining replacements and reorganising into two companies and now back to four again… we’re nothing like the group that came out in March. Young Will said to me, “It’s like Theseus’s ship ain’t it?” I looked at him funny and said, “What ship’s that then?” and he said this chap Theseus replaced all the parts on his ship so was it still the same ship or was it not? I clipped him round the ear for being a clever clogs and told him he should keep his mind on the infantry and not go worrying about the Navy. Anyway, a Major Newman from the 17th Londons has been transferred across to us too, so he’s taken command now. And we’re in reserve at Maroc again – exhausted from being kept in the line so long.

14th September 1915

Mary: Well here’s a turn up… Your father’s up from his chair and suddenly has a bee in his bonnet about joining the ‘Volunteer Training Corps’. You know them – the men who can’t go to fight because they’re in a ‘reserved occupation’ or too old or whatnot so they train to protect us at home instead, just in case the Kaiser and his boys get over here. He read about the War Office recognising the VTC now and has got himself all eager about it, bless the man. Ed’s been ribbing him about the ‘GR’ on the uniform standing for "Grandpa's Regiment" or "Genuine Relics" or "Government Rejects"!

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-DuClPpw4NaE/VTP32Tm0yXI/AAAAAAAACDM/GwUFaDSZgqI/s1600/lend-a-hand.jpg 

To find out more about the VTC, visit: http://goo.gl/frG1nA

12th September 1915

Rose: Well I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. The nice house we nurses was living in has been commandeered by a bunch of officers and we’ve got to move quick sharp. They’ve found us an abandoned cottage nearby but it’s still full of the bits and pieces that the owners left behind! They must have left when the fighting got bad. Heaven knows what they’ll think if they ever get back and find we’ve moved everything around. Florence had a look in the bedrooms and says there’s only blankets left with no sheets, so we’ll have to do some commandeering of our own I think. It’s right on the main road out of Festubert as well… which means the noise from the men marching to and from the front all night will be louder than ever. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes - it’s worse than St John’s Hill!

To read more about the refugees who would have left behind a cottage like Rose’s, visit: http://goo.gl/TYutKl

9th September 1915

Walter: Got half a minute to write before a set of new men arrive – are you lot at home alright? Did the Zepps do any damage?

Lily: Morning sweetheart. Well everything’s a real mess today. I went to check with your family and everyone’s alright, thank goodness, but a few parts of town have been blown to bits. We could see the light from a fire over the horizon last night – turns out it was the textile warehouses near St Paul’s. I snuck off up town to get a look at some of the damage – a pub in the centre got hit, so everything up there smells of booze! There’s even bits of paving slabs on the roofs. I hate these Zepps Walt. I get angry just thinking about it…

Walter: What are you doing sneaking off up there by yourself? You ought to go careful Lil. Got to go

Lily: I can take care of myself Walt… I’ve had to, what with you being away.

To read more about the Zeppelin raid of 8th September 1915, visit: http://goo.gl/iUMcEu

8th September 1915

Walter: Just seen this from Ed in London. The Zepps are back. You forget out here that this goes on back home too… Let me know you’re safe.

Ed: Bleedin Zeppelins. Getting me first early night in nearly a week and the warning alarm’s just gone off. Got our Annie sat upstairs with me and Ma’s rushing about from room to room wondering where’s safest and if we should all go down Battersea Town Hall. People are sheltering there she says. Pa’s snoring through it all. And now the searchlights have started up. No bleedin peace.

Walter: And I’ve thought of a way to make your nights quieter Ed – come out here, get used to sleeping any time of day with shells and mortars flying by and a rat eyeing up your ration, on any flat-ish, dry-ish patch you can find… then when you go home it’ll seem peaceful as you like! Hope you’re alright though.

To read more about ‘the first Blitz’, visit: http://goo.gl/5SY3IF

 

4th September 1915

Mary: I’ve sent you a parcel love – put some Brand’s Essence in. They say it’s good for the wounded. I hope none of you get hurt of course but I’ve heard about this ‘bombardment’ that’s going on. Keep safe, won’t you love. I put some other food bits in too – if Germany means what it says to America and won’t attack neutral ships no more then it might mean the end of the blockade. It would be nice to have a bit more to eat.

Walter: Thanks! That’ll cheer us up. We’ve had a rough day – a new lad in my section was wounded trying to reinforce the trench. Not serious I think but I had to get him sent off to the Regimental Aid Post – just when I needed more men too.  Two others killed further down – just pulled Bert into a dugout to find out why he’s been off colour all day and it turns out he knew one of them well. No matter how many mates you lose, the shock when you hear don’t get easier.

To read about the naval agreements and disagreements between Germany and the USA, visit: http://goo.gl/ZmGp0l

1st September 1915

Walter: Getting picks and shovels ready to take a working party out to help the pioneers dig yet more trenches… The whole battalion’s at work on the same thing, watched over by the Royal Engineers – digging saps directly out towards Fritz and then joining them up to make a new front line. There’ll be ‘dummy’ trenches too – you’ll see what they’re for soon enough. Can’t say yet. Plan is to get more than two miles of trenches finished and ready in three weeks… Risky work – got to wait for sundown and hope the enemy’s asleep on the job.

Lily: Seems a bit rich that they get infantrymen doing manual labour… I’m glad you’re getting further forward though.

To see trench maps overlaid on modern maps/satellite images, visit: http://goo.gl/epyd9D

and to read more about pioneer battalions, visit: http://goo.gl/tqSI9N

 

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