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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

28th September 1918

Walter: What a day. Finally getting some sleep. Shattered and sore but feeling bloody proud of ourselves. Along with the 36th Division, we’ve just helped to take back the whole of the high ground east of Ypres, back where all the fighting was last year. Not easy getting here though. Zero Hour was 05:30 but our battalion was held back until 15:00, so we could follow on and ‘mop up’. It meant that every concrete dugout we came across (or machine gun nest or arms dump) had to be searched and made safe. Most of them still contained the odd live German. Some gave themselves up as prisoners straight away and some of them put up a fight. Reg was following me into one of these dugouts and maybe some of his luck rubbed off on me because a bullet zipped past us, close enough to feel. When I found the Fritz who fired it, I was half a second away from shooting back before I saw he was just a scared kid. All his mates had scarpered and he was backed into a corner, sobbing. Dropped his weapon the moment I shouted at him. So now he’s one of our 63 prisoners from today. Add that to 16 machine guns, a battery of field guns, a howitzer and a bus and we think we’ve done pretty well.

Bert: You’re getting soft, aren’t you? That hesitation could have cost you your life. I wouldn’t have given him the benefit of the doubt. Nice work on taking the high ground though.

Mary: What wonderful news about the advance! We’re so proud of you. And for sparing that young lad. I know they’re Germans, but I’m glad another mother might be getting her boy back one day.

Ed: That poor kid…

To see a map of the army’s progress in the Fifth (and final) Battle of Ypres, visit https://goo.gl/8Hnsno

26th September 1918

Walter: Crikey. We’ve had word that our troops have begun an attack on the Hindenburg Line. That’s the hugely reinforced German defence line which has been in place since early 1917. It’s got rows and rows of fortifications all set back from each other and is lethal to attacking forces, so breaking through all that will be quite a feat… I hope our boys can stick it. Still, if they can get on as well as the troops in Bulgaria they’ll be alright – the frontier has been crossed and it looks like Bulgaria will be forced to sign an armistice.

Mary: More good news! I’m praying this really is the beginning of the end.

To watch a short video about the Hindenburg Line defences, visit https://goo.gl/qtH9ex

24th September 1918

Lily: There’s so much in the papers about the Turks being done for and the Allies in the Near East taking cities and prisoners left, right and centre. The Express says one of the battles was fought over 3,000 square miles! “The Turks are now dispossessed of practically all of the Holy Land, now in Christian hands for the first time since the days of Richard I.” Have you heard anything about it, Walt?

Walter: We heard this too, Lil – some of my old pals in the London Regiment are out there. It seems General Allenby (or his troops, more like) destroyed two whole Turkish armies in three days. And the Arabs finished off a third after the Allies stirred them up against each other. It was the Indian and Australian cavalry that clinched it (or so says our CO) by working with information from aircraft – so I suppose the new ways and the old ways can work together after all.

Ed: What’ll they do with Palestine once they’ve taken it though? They’ve double promised it to the Arabs and to the Jews…

To find out more about this area in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/dbiu4Y

20th September 1918

Walter: Another busy day of training ahead – this morning it’s mostly on how to attack strong points, so it seems other companies must have had the same trouble we did a couple of weeks ago, with that machine gun nest. Makes sense to update the training now that we’re dealing with isolated troops and redoubts instead of trench lines. Just wish we’d had it sooner.

Lily: I thought training was running about, but you’re all sitting down!

Walter: We have lectures as well. Got one this afternoon on ‘Peaceful Penetration’.

To see Walter’s schedule of training and lectures, visit https://goo.gl/KiE2Cm

18th September 1918

Walter: Training here in Liques and there’s hundreds of Americans coming and going. All full of beans, not just because they’re new out here but because their lot are doing so well down at the St Mihiel Salient. Reg says amongst them they’ve got whole battalions of black soldiers. I’ve not seen that before. Not unless you count the South African labour camps. But seemingly the white American soldiers won’t fight alongside them, so they’ve been put into the French Army with a French uniform and everything.

To find out about the ‘Harlem Hellfighters’ of the 369th Infantry Regiment, visit https://goo.gl/Z4XrWb

 

17th September 1918

Lily: Here in the south of England, when the wind is in the right direction, sometimes you think you can hear the guns on the Western Front. Usually you end up telling yourself you’re just being daft. And then sometimes someone will turn up at work and say they heard something odd and you only need a couple of people to say ‘Me too!’ for it to turn into a fully-fledged story by lunchtime. That’s what happened today. A handful of the girls thought they’d heard or felt something and Winnie said her father, who travels up from Dover, told her a ship had been torpedoed in the harbour and 100 poor souls killed in a huge explosion… Not that you’d hear about it in the papers.

Walter: Haven’t heard anything about this… and the papers are trying to keep everyone’s morale up, so that’s why no one’s read it there either.

To find out what really happened to HMS Glatton at Dover, visit https://goo.gl/KxndDK

 

14th September 1918

Walter: All piling into buses heading for Licques, up away from the line. We’ll be training there for a while. Always glad to be out of immediate danger but still all anyone talks about it is how the advance is going on. Despite getting miserable about the rain and the counter attacks the other day, it does seem things are mostly going our way. We’ve heard the German Drocourt-Queant Line has been broken through and much of the old Somme battleground has been taken back. If we could only get through the Hindenburg Line, I might start believing Reg when he says we’re onto a winner…

Mary: I’m glad you’ll be out of the way for a bit, love. Me and Lily will send some post out to you.

To find out more about the battles of the Hindenburg Line, visit https://goo.gl/cvqNgd

13th September 1918

Walter: Pouring rain and the only one who still manages to be chipper is Reg. He and Defector (that’s the ridiculous name he’s given the dog) seem to keep each other in good spirits. Not only that but he’s found this quote from Lloyd George in the paper. I’d like to think it’s true but it’s daft to get your hopes up, especially when the rain looks likely to slow down our push forward and we’re getting reports of counter attacks along the line.

Reg: If I’d known the lads were going to nickname him ‘Defecator’ I might have thought twice…

10th September 1918

Mary: It seems the world and his wife are either on strike or threatening it. And everyone else has an opinion. Women are striking for equal pay with men and even the police went on strike for the first time ever last week. You can see why – the cost of living has gone up nearly double during the war but the police are still paid less than unskilled labourers. And because so many have gone into the army, the ones that are left are doing nearly 100 hour weeks with only one day off a fortnight. Thomas is with the National Union of Railway Men and Women, who are after better pay. If you ask me, they should hold out for better hours of work too, like the bakers. But I can see the other side of it as well. After all, how are we going to win a war if no one’s working? And I bet you lot, Ed, Rose and Walter, will scoff at people thinking they’ve got it hard back here. All the same, your father has to decide if he’s going in tomorrow or not…

Walter: To be fair, we do more than 100 hour weeks out here… but then, Pa isn’t young like us and if he’s doing the work of the missing men as well as his own then he deserves more pay. Not at the expense of winning the war though, surely?

Mabel: We’re so proud of you boys at the front but winning the war depends on us at home as well as you out there. And where women are doing the same jobs as men, they should be paid the same - simple.

Ed: That’s one of the reasons why this whole thing’s a disaster. We’re away fighting for reasons everyone’s lost sight of, while trade at home goes on the backburner…

To read about labour movements, trade unions and strikes during the war, visit https://goo.gl/XGeaNh

7th September 1918

Walter: Back out into billets so we can clean up and re-equip. All feeling a bit blue until we heard Reg hollering and I looked up from shaving to see he was leading a dog behind him! It’s one his platoon found wandering about, lost, with a German dispatch strapped to its neck. Probably got sent to a post that’s not there anymore, Fritz having scarpered. So Reg brought the message box for me and my Company Commander to have a look at, but of course we couldn’t read a blasted word of it because it’s all in ‘Deutsch’, and coded at that. So I’ve had to get it to the Intelligence Officer at BHQ, double quick. I asked Reg what he plans to do with the dog and it turns out he wants to keep it as a mascot... It can’t have been fed for some time and the old softie is looking after it like it’s his own child. So I suppose there’s one more on my ration roll now.

Bert: Reading things like this makes me wish I was back out there with you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad every day for being home safe, but that’s just the sort of thing I’d have done – picking up a mangy dog.

Fred: I think it would’ve helped too, having a dog about. As long as he ain’t a German spy, eh Walt?

Walter: I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll get Reg to question him! Good to hear from you both. It ain’t the same out here without you. Especially as CSM. I see some of the younger lads in the battalion getting to be good pals and it always puts me in mind of us three.

To see footage of German messenger dogs in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/DDdmvj

5th September 1918

Rose: I’m starting to see things the way you do, Walter – this war is far from over, even if you boys have taken back all the ground we lost earlier this year. And to think we’re heading into our fifth winter! Perhaps it will just drag on until none of us can remember life before it. I hardly do now. Living at the women’s lodging house in London and working quietly in the local infirmary seems a world away…  We’ve had a tide of wounded coming to us here and the trains never come to take them away quick enough. Not only that, but news of our push forward seems to make relatives at home more keen to write to me for news of their sick and dying boys. They each deserve a kind and thoughtful reply – I know my letters are read and reread and likely put on mantelpieces – but, God knows, I’m too busy to take the time for them all.

Walter: I know how you feel, sis. Chin up though – you’re doing a grand job.

Jamie: The thought of a fifth winter of war is hellish enough from a warm room here in Scotland – you must be absolutely dreading it in a tent out there. But don’t lose heart, Rosie, and don’t wear yourself out. Even a firecracker like you has to take a break sometimes.

To read letters home from a First World War nurse, visit https://goo.gl/j9h2GF

3rd September 1918

Walter: The company attacked at 05:30 this morning. All fairly sure of ourselves after running into no resistance over the last few days. Stupid. I was further back with the Company Commander but it turned out a pocket of remaining Germans was hidden around a camouflaged machine gun nest and took the leading section by surprise. Our poor lads had nowhere to run. We’re just starting to regroup now, but the latest word is we’ve lost 13 killed and 26 wounded. Can’t stop to write more – I've got to get them evacuated. Taking them to a German Advanced Dressing Station as that’s the nearest one – out here they treat anyone, the same way Rose has Germans in her CCS. Could do without it bloody raining though.

Lily: Oh Walt, thank God you made it through again. I wish the Germans would just give up and say they’re beaten. It makes no sense to keep fighting when the papers all say they’re on their last legs.

Walter: They’re not beaten though, Lil. Today just goes to show you. After all, we had our backs to the wall in the spring and we fought back – now they’re doing there same. So I wouldn’t count on the war being over any time soon, much as I can’t wait to come home and see you.

To read a first-hand account of an Allied soldier’s attack on a machine gun nest, visit https://goo.gl/ng5GzV

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