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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

22nd July 1917

Mabel: With Clifford nearly two months old now, my Ma suggested leaving him and the banana bottle with her just for the evening and going out with Fred to see ‘The Maid of the Mountains’ in town. It was a nice thought but I was worried about it. Not just leaving the baby but taking Fred to a dark theatre. Good news though, we had a great time! A couple of wobbles but almost felt like ourselves again. Then, just when all three of us were finally managing to sleep in at 8.30 this morning, a bunch of bloomin rockets went off. It was bedlam – people rushing down to the stations half-dressed thinking we was being shelled. Turns out there WAS an air raid but not near us and the rockets were the new ‘warning’ system! More than 200 of them all round London. Well, they could have flippin told us! It’s going to take weeks to settle Fred’s nerves again.

20th July 1917

Walter: Training at Westoutre now – practice in the attack, as usual. Can’t say too much but things are getting serious. Well, as serious as you can be when you’ve got Diggers stationed nearby. They always liven things up a bit!

Ed: You’re not wrong there. My mate Saunders got put on Field Punishment No. 1 for talking back to an officer – he was tied up to a gun wheel while everyone marched past but a group of Australians just strolled over and cut him down! They say it’s barbaric and old-fashioned. They don’t feel the need to salute much neither. Partly because they’re all volunteers. In fact, most of them outright disagree with conscription.

To read more about Field Punishment No.1, visit https://goo.gl/Cp2Q6V

18th July 1917

Walter: Back in Poperinghe. We’ve been able to get a day or two off during training over the past couple of weeks. Still working hard, of course, preparing to put Haig’s plans into action, but the lads have had a couple of sports days and I’ve been able to spend a bit of time at ‘Toc H’. That’s what we call Talbot House in Pop. It’s a soldiers’ club where everyone’s on the same footing, whether you’re an officer or a private or whatever… It says “All rank abandon, ye who enter here” over the front door. Today it was full of the news of the royal name change. No more ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ (far too German) so the king announced yesterday that the new name is ‘Windsor’. No one expected that – the Daily Express reckoned it was going to be ‘the Royal House of Britain’ so it’s a good job I didn’t put money on that.

To read about Toc H, visit https://goo.gl/uUi4NI

17th July 1917

Walter: Had another letter from Lily. It’s wonderful to be back in touch but we’re tiptoeing round each other a bit, until we can meet in person. Makes me hate this war even more – I’m longing to see her. Anyway, she says they’ve been trying out different air raid warning sirens from the top of a building near Blackfriars Bridge. The papers say officials were posted in different parts of London to hear how far the sound travelled but Lily wasn’t too impressed – the alarms were short sharp toots and she couldn’t hear them when she got further north. They reckon they’re going to try ‘sound bombs’ instead now. I wouldn’t have thought they’d be able to replace the policemen on bicycles and Boy Scouts with bugles any time soon though…

To find out more about early warning systems, visit https://goo.gl/oaDWbi

14th July 1917

Walter: Sharing this from Ma. What I’d give for some white bread… Still, if we can win this battle and take the Belgian ports then there shouldn’t be so much worry about food. Those U-boats have got a lot to answer for.

Mary: Had the cooking group round again today, despite the difficulty we’ve all had getting hold of food. Mrs Talbot took me up on my offer and brought round nice Mrs Maes, one of the Belgian refugees who’s staying with them. She’s going to teach us some of her own recipes next time. It was all very pleasant until Margaret from next door upset the apple cart by bringing out some white bread! We all make do with the dark War Bread and a few people got uppity with her, asking where she got it and doesn’t she care about the war effort? But she said, you’ll never believe it, she said she has a medical certificate for it! Got it from her husband’s black market mates, more like. Still, her loaf had gone a bit stale so she was good enough to share it round to use for breadcrumbs. Rose, usually I’d give your father the bits we make but he says to send them to you to help get your strength back. Hope you’re feeling better.

Rose: That was sweet of Pa. I’m getting a bit better now, thanks, though a lot of the soldiers who breathed it in directly haven’t been so lucky. And Marcie pulled through but won’t be able to work anymore as her hands were so badly burned, so she’s been sent back home.

Margaret Wiggins:

To read more about Belgian refugees, visit https://goo.gl/CLrY7D

12th July 1917

Rose: Dreadful day. Never seen anything like it. We’ve been working round the clock here at Mendinghem, treating soldiers with horrible, huge blisters and blindness. Not to mention the vomiting and choking. We think it was some foul new type of gas but it’s left behind a dark oily fluid that’s got onto everything – their uniforms, the beds, the floor. And now we nurses have started coming down with symptoms ourselves. I can hardly see to write, my eyes are so sore. And Marcie, my VAD, is being cared for in the acute ward. She was handling the men’s uniforms so got the worst of it. One of the orderlies told me she’s being treated for blindness, burns and breathing problems. Poor thing, I hope she pulls through.

Walter: Can’t believe this. I hope you’re alright, Rose. We’ve just heard about it here. The Medical Officer says they’ve been calling it ‘mustard gas’ because of the smell. He says you have to stay away from the dark liquid too – that’s just what the gas looks like when it’s settled. Evil stuff. Let us know how you are.

Mary: Are you going to be alright, Rosie? Don’t write off your own symptoms because you’re looking after others.

Rose: Thanks, Ma. Don’t worry, I’m resting up and being taken care of. Can’t do much else. I’ve been lucky I think – it doesn’t seem to have affected my lungs. Wherever it got on my skin I have blisters though, and my hair has some very fetching yellow patches. I’m quite a sight. 

Jamie: Just like you to make light of it but I can’t help worrying about you. Take care and if it gets any worse see if you can get sent home for treatment. I’d love to see you, yellow patches and all.

To find out more about mustard gas (WARNING: contains images that may be distressing) https://goo.gl/8YH0Pw

10th July 1917

Walter: All come and go here. Crowds of soldiers heading into the sector but seemingly just as many heading out on leave. Not me though… I was lucky to get those 3 days’ compassionate leave in March. Sorry Lily. I did want to see you in person after everything we’ve said in our letters. I’ll try and get back as soon as I can. Still, I did manage to get a day’s break in ‘Pop’. That’s Poperinghe. They’ve turned the sugar refinery there into a ‘Delousing Station’ with three vats of water inside. One with hot, soapy water (filthy, mind you), one with slightly cleaner hot water and the last with clean-ish cold water. You dunk yourself in each one in turn while your underclothes go in the fumigator. You never get the same ones back. Usually you get ridiculous sizes and have to swap with the fellow next to you. But at least you feel spruced up and lice-free for about half an hour afterwards…

Lily: Well there’s a sight…

Mabel: Blimey!

Mrs Wiggins: Have you no shame?

To find out more about delousing, visit https://goo.gl/ugIjr9

6th July 1917

Walter: Finally had a bit of time to go and get this tooth looked at by a mobile dentist who’s pitched up near Dosinghem CCS. There’s three Casualty Clearing Stations with these daft names – ‘Mendinghem’ (isn’t that where you are, Rose?), ‘Dosinghem’ and ‘Bandagehem’. Get it? “Mending”… them! I wasn’t laughing when he told me I had to have the tooth out though. He reckoned no wonder it had been giving me trouble, it was rotten right through. I’m glad to be rid of it but it hurt like hell when he yanked it out. No pain relief – just a spittoon attached to the chair for the blood.

Rose: Yes, Mendinghem’s where I am. Nice to know you’re not far away. Hope you feel better for having the tooth out!

To find out about mobile dentists in the war, visit https://goo.gl/CIIpDY

4th July 1917

Walter: Trying to keep good relations with the local Belgians isn’t always easy. We use their homes and farms for billets and campgrounds and they’re mostly good sorts about it, but it’s so hot and dry at the moment that everyone’s grumbling about the wells. There’s not enough water to go round so some of the locals have started padlocking their wells to stop us draining them dry in an hour when we need a wash and a drink. Our response is it’s Belgium we’re fighting for so they could spare us a drop or two… but of course they need to drink as well. Anyway, yesterday one officer shot the padlock off a well and let his men use up the water. No surprises, the owner was less than happy and says he’s going to appeal to ‘Monsieur les Clams’. That’s what they call the Army Claims Officer.

To find out more about the soldiers whose stories inform the above, visit https://goo.gl/mwVXCy

3rd July 1917

Walter: Trying to keep everyone focused on training even with the disruption of seeing American soldiers arriving. We call them Sammies when we’re being polite, after Uncle Sam. They won’t be fighting yet – lots of training to get them up to scratch before then. We’ve learnt a lot in the last few years (and learnt it the hard way) so the tactics have to be passed on, no matter how much they insist on doing it their own way. I saw the Poilus teaching an American company how to use sandbags this morning. Hope it saves them reinventing the wheel.

To see footage of American troops in training, visit https://goo.gl/nIwyPV

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