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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

20th November 1917

Walter: My legs don’t know what’s hit them. We’re fit, of course, but this is tough. Two days ago we started what the staff from Division reckon will be a five day march to get to the Italian line. At first we were supposed to be forming part of the Advanced Guard, then the Divisional Advanced Guard, but both orders were cancelled at the last minute… So now we’re just headed towards the defensive line but even getting there is taking a lot out of us. On the first day, the whole battalion marched for 16 hours and today we’ve done nearly 20 (without much food or rest) because we somehow overshot our billets. A lot of fully grown men nearly cried when we thought we’d reached bed and rest and were told we had to go back the way we’d already come. All dog tired.

Lily: 20 miles! Hope you get there soon. Has the war hit Italy as hard as Belgium?

Walter: Well, not from what I’ve seen so far but we’re nowhere near the line yet. It’s beautiful actually, when I have the energy to look around me. We can even see snow-capped mountains in the distance. I’d like to bring you here one day. Wouldn’t make you march though…

16th November 1917

Walter: Nice distraction from this rotten journey (electric trains with overhead cables from here on so no more riding on the roof or hot water for tea…) – my mother’s becoming a local celebrity! One of the papers in Battersea wants to do a feature about saving food back at home.

Mary: Well, I’ve had a bit of good news despite the wretched weather this week. A young man knocked at my door this morning (frightened the life out of me at first, thinking he had a telegram) and said he was a journalist from the local paper. Seems they’d heard about our little cooking group and they’re looking to do an article on us! Isn’t that something? They want to encourage people not to waste food and thought we were ‘an inspiration’. Just wait till I tell Margaret next door…

Rose: How exciting! Are they going to interview you?

Mary: Yes, me and some of the other ladies. I’ll buy a few copies when it’s done and send one out to you!

Mrs Wiggins: I think you should tell them about my parkin recipe…

To see a timeline of food shortage in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/cZasF1

15th November 1917

Walter: Still on the train in these godforsaken horse carriages. On the plus side, we’ve worked out the driver can pour boiling water from the steam engine by pulling a lever. So, we all stick our dixies under the train and make pots of tea! Tastes a bit stale and oily, but needs must. You have to do it quick though, before everyone starts relieving themselves against the wheels. It’s not for polite ears, this, but we don’t have any sanitary facilities and even when the train has stopped we’re not allowed out of the immediate area of our own carriage, so you can imagine the state of the place whenever we move on.

Mary: Walter Carter, that’s rotten!

Lily: Yuck. Honestly the lengths we Brits will go to for a cuppa… people are fighting over the last boxes of tea in the shops here.

To find out more about the use of railways in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/C5j7Qq

13th November 1917

Walter: What a couple of days we’ve had. Travelling into Italy by train. It’s not exactly luxury… rattling along in trucks marked for ‘Chevaux 8’ or ‘Hommes 40’ and no lamps in the men’s carriages, so it’s pitch dark from late afternoon onwards. Straw on the floor for our comfort. We decided we’d rather ride on the roof! Better view from up here. The officers get it a bit more cushy. Still, we all get a warm welcome from the locals. The ladies bring us cigarettes and fruit whenever we pull into a station for a ‘haltes-repas’ (a food stop) even if it’s in the middle of the night.

Mary: How nice that the locals give you fruit! I hope you’re getting well fed by the army too. We’re all being encouraged to do ‘voluntary rationing’ here. Not sure how well it will work – there’s still queues round the block.

To see footage from the Italian Front, visit https://goo.gl/euyeQf

10th November 1917

Walter: The post arrived today so I got Lily’s letter just before we’re due to leave for Italy. Cheered me right up. And she said there’s going to be a parade of tanks at this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show! That’ll get everyone excited. I don’t suppose they’ve ever seen one back home. Even out here it’s still a bit of a thrill to hear one go rumbling by. That is, if it hasn’t broken down or got stuck.

Mabel: I went to see them! Thought Clifford and I would have a day out. I couldn’t get very close with the pram but aren’t they something? I got used to working with shells in the munitions factory but these looked so deadly I got the shivers.

To see footage from the Lord Mayor’s Show 1917-18, visit https://goo.gl/YZBkwX

9th November 1917

Walter: Well, we’ve found out our mystery destination – Italy! Got the news at the OC’s Orders Group this evening. I’m pleased enough about it. I’ve never been anywhere like that. It’s meant to be warmer over there, isn’t it? Anything that will make a change from the Belgian rain will do me just fine. It’ll make it harder to take home leave though, which will be tough. Sorry Lily, and Ma. The other trouble is we’ve had the American Medical Corps attached to us but the US isn’t at war with Austria-Hungary yet (that’s who the Italians are fighting on their front) so they’re being replaced by the British RAMC. Bit of a shame as the American orderlies are a good laugh.

Rose: Italy! Hope it’s a cushy number for you. I wouldn’t rely on the weather though… it is winter after all. And doesn’t Italy have mountains? Bring your snow shoes.

Lily: I’m so sad it means you’ll get less leave! It’s not enough as it is. And hearing about you going off to Italy just makes me even more frustrated to be stuck here in Battersea. I’d like to do more. Hope you’ll be safer out there…

Walter: I hope so too. I wouldn’t have thought anything could be as bad as the fighting around Passchendaele so I’ll be glad to get away from Belgium at least. Then again, I thought the same thing about France after Loos... And if the Italians are being driven back by the Austrians then it’ll be no picnic. Not looking forward to even longer spells without leave either. I’ll really miss you. Keep writing to me!

Lily: Of course I will. In fact, I sent you a letter the other day, before I knew about Italy. Hopefully it’ll reach you before you have to leave.

To find out more about the Italian Front, visit https://goo.gl/YiK27s

7th November 1917

Mary: Thought you’d like to know your father’s getting on better at the Volunteer Training Corps these days. There was a time last year when he thought he’d pack it in as they were never given anything useful to do but now they’ve been put on firefighting duty during raids as well as guarding the bridges. Plus his lot have got quite a rivalry going with the neighbouring corps. Can’t say I’m happy about him attending fires but it seems to have given him a sense of purpose that I haven’t seen since before we lost Annie. He’s proud as anything to hear the Allies won at Third Ypres too. Keeps telling everyone our Walter was there.

Rose: Tell Pa not to forget I’ve been at Third Ypres too! 1917 can’t be done with quickly enough if you ask me.

To find out more about the Volunteer Training Corps, visit https://goo.gl/4iH1hP

4th November 1917

Walter: Was just resting my sore feet after a long night’s marching to Wormhoudt in Belgium when the Company Commander called a briefing to say the battalion has received an Operational Order. Quite big news by all accounts, and will mean a total change of scene for us. The company commanders have been briefed but all the rest of us know is that we’re ‘wanted’ and we won’t find out exactly where we’re going until the staff deem it necessary. For now we just say we’re going to a place called ‘Oonoesware’. Say it out loud…

Lily: I hope ‘Oonoesware’ isn’t too far away… That made me laugh when I said it!

To look for records of British Army Operations in the Great War, visit https://goo.gl/wTuyh4

1st November 1917

Ed: Thought I’d try my luck with one of the doughnut ‘lassies’ today. That’s what they call the volunteers from the Salvation Army. Thelma’s the name of the one I’ve got my eye on. Trouble is, you can never be sure if she’ll be serving or not. Twice in the last two weeks I’ve geared myself up to speak to her and found she’s not on duty. Then today I caught sight of her from down the end of the queue and my heart skipped a beat.  As I got closer I was rehearsing in my head how to ask about maybe meeting sometime and then I got to her, looked at my feet, took my doughnut and mumbled ‘thanks love’. I don’t know what’s got into me. I always had the gift of the gab with the girls at home but there’s something about these Americans…

Walter: Hard luck, Ed! I expect you’re out of practice – female company is such a rarity out here.

To find out about the Salvation Army donut lassies, visit https://goo.gl/iybLu2

30th October 1917

Walter: Bad news coming from the Italian Front. The Austrians have broken through. Was speaking to George Stone about it this morning. He said it’s because of the defeat at Caporetto last week and now Cadorna and his men are falling back fast.

To find out more about the Battle of Caporetto, visit https://goo.gl/UAgaaF

26th October 1917

Mary: Edward, Walter, I’m sending you each a set of these. Your father says they’re the business.

Walter: Thanks, Ma. We get army issue drawers but I could definitely do with a fresh set. I’ll have to be careful they don’t get swapped if I go through delousing!

Ed: Thanks Ma!

To see British military kit through the ages, including the First World War, visit https://goo.gl/Yj7Dge

24th October 1917

Rose: Hopefully a chance for a proper rest tonight as the fighting seems to have quietened down. I feel like I haven’t slept properly for months. Not just because of the endless casualties but because of the dreadful noise. We were moved to a new CCS closer to the line here in Belgium as an experiment to see if we could keep more men alive if they were treated sooner. Lots of resistance from people who argued that women shouldn’t be this far up but we stuck it, despite being a target for the German bombers and having the Allied artillery so close that every blast shook the ground. After a while there hardly seemed any point in going to bed… Still, I hope we managed to improve the survival rate. The endless funerals would suggest otherwise. For a while I got so used to my patients dying that I stopped reacting, I just thought of it as one more medical failure.

Walter: Glad things have settled down a bit for you. We’re in the line nearer Nieuport now, which is mostly held by the Belgians in case (as they put it) we British ‘forget’ to go home when the war’s over… A bit of enemy shelling as we’re within range of Fritz’s heavy artillery but mostly quiet.

Jamie: Get some rest and don’t be so hard on yourself. You do so much good – think of all the men who’ve made it through under your care. Me included.

To find out more about nursing in the war, including a real nurse in Rose’s position, visit https://goo.gl/sdfs7o

23rd October 1917

Walter: John mate, you were on the Broke, weren’t you? Do you reckon you’ll be in this film? Hope you healed up alright in the end.

John: Good to hear from you Walt. I’m doing alright thanks. Mended up but with a terrific scar. All my lot are excited to see the film…

To see footage from the film, visit https://goo.gl/7krSzu

20th October 1917

Walter: Managed to get hold of a newspaper while I was supervising trench repairs and it was full of stories about spies. First Bolo Pasha, the French bloke they think joined forces with the enemy to fund a peace campaign, he’s on trial, and now ‘Mata Hari’ has been executed.

To read more about Mata Hari, visit: https://goo.gl/45UEPj

18th October 1917

Mary: I know I keep going on about it, but it’s such a trial to get food now. I daren’t think how many hours of my life I’m wasting standing in queues for a measly bit of whatever the shops can spare. We’re hungry all day and night and anything I do get I end up giving most of to Thomas, seeing as he has to go out to work. Not that getting all the hard graft done around the house is any easier. We’re both skinny as rakes. So is everyone. 10-15 large food ships are being sunk on their way here every week and there’s no tea to be got anywhere. Over the weekend some shops who had a tiny bit left were selling it for 4 shillings a pound! No butter neither, though needless to say Margaret next door seems to have got hold of some. If her husband is one of these ‘butter profiteers’ they’re on about in the newspaper then I shall have something to say about it.

Walter: This sounds miserable, Ma. I hope you’re alright. Maybe the government needs to organise something official so everyone gets their fair share. That’s the one good thing about army food, I suppose. All the men get the same amount.

Lily: It’s the same all over. Every shop I go past on my motorbicycle rounds has a queue out the door. And the lack of tea is somehow the worst of it! Even if you haven’t had much to eat you can get by if you’ve got a hot cuppa.

Mabel: Have you tried cocoa instead? Rowntree’s are trying to make the most of the tea shortage…

17th October 1917

Fred: Things have been hard lately. Don’t really like to talk about it but what with no sleep and a baby and a job and my nerves still suffering, I’ve not been on top form. Thought I’d do well to get out of the house this evening so I took a chance and went to see if our mate Bert was down the old drill hall at St John’s Hill, him being caretaker now. It was odd seeing the place again but I was in luck – Bert was just locking up. Nearly didn’t recognise him, but it was just that he’s put on a bit of weight since our army days. He seemed surprised to see me too, but pleased. So we went for a pint and a chat. Him with his missing ear and me with my shakes. What a pair. Great to see him though. Would’ve been good to see you and all, Walt! Seemed odd not to have the three of us together.

Walter: Glad Fred and Bert have managed to meet up. Seems a lifetime ago we were all back at the drill hall together as young Terriers. Just boys, really. Those were good times… Best not to think about it too much.

To see the drill hall as it is today, visit https://goo.gl/EYrNAn

12th October 1917

Walter: 250 of us here at Dunkirk have been attached for work to the 25th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. Not actually in the tunnels, thank goodness, so no felt slippers and rubber-wheeled trolleys for us, but we’ll be on support and security duties. Everyone’s griping again about the tunnellers getting twice our pay…

Find out more, visit https://goo.gl/gYPDiV

11th October 1917

Lily: Fed up today. My good friend Winnie from work has left to join the WAAC to be a cemetery gardener, of all things. I’d love to be going with her. Last I heard they weren’t interested in motorbicycle girls, only motor mechanics, but maybe they’ve changed their minds. Not that I’m any good at gardening either… Wish you were here to talk it through with, Walter.

To find out more about the WAAC visit https://goo.gl/qaaHdy

9th October 1917

Walter: Arrived at Dunkirk Bains, in France. We’re not along the main trench line here, that’s further north at Nieuport in Belgium, but we’re providing defence in case there’s a threat from the sea. If the German troops invade from the water, someone’s got to be there to stop them, haven’t they? After all, whoever has control of the coast could invade Britain… and Germany holds most of the Belgian shoreline as it is. The landscape around here is odd though – we marched past a lot of flooded land. That’s done on purpose as another form of defence. Still, it’s nice to be in a quieter sector, and somehow England doesn’t seem so far away when you can see the Channel.

Lily: It’s nice to know you’re closer. And hopefully safer.

To find out more about defence on the ‘Opal Coast’, visit https://goo.gl/QX7hio

6th October 1917

Walter: On the move today. Glad to be getting away from the recent fighting. Marching to Dunkirk for something a bit different – we’ll be helping with coastal defence. Bit of sea air. So far the march hasn’t been too bad and the lads have mostly kept good formation, not to mention it’s a good chance to get to know George better (my CQMS). He lost a finger at the Somme – could have been a ‘Blighty one’ but he managed to wangle his way back to the battalion. Couldn’t stand to leave the boys in the lurch, as he puts it. Seems a good bloke.

To hear Vesta Tilley singing ‘I’ve a Bit of a Blighty One’ in 1917, visit https://goo.gl/y4cvQN

5th October 1917

Ed: Saddlery inspection today. No chance for mucking about neither, now that I’ve been promoted… Better check everyone’s equipment is in order. Head stall, bridle, saddle (with steel stirrups and D rings polished), reins, spare horse shoes…

Walter: Sounds like Ed’s getting to grips with his new responsibilities. Good for you, Bombardier Carter.

To find out about horse equipment in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/r9EgLL

3rd October 1917

Mary: Five raids in a week… it’s getting exhausting rushing off to the local shelter and back again at all times of the day and night. And to think it’s only a tiny bit of what you’re going through, Walter! How do you stand it? It’s no wonder it sends men mad. We’re getting used to the sight of special constables wearing tin hats like the soldiers though. It makes sense to protect them from shrapnel when they’re up and about looking after us all.

Mrs Wiggins: Here’s an idea – the Huns won’t keep bombing our towns if we retaliate by bombing theirs, will they? The Daily Express says so too. We need reprisals. An eye for an eye.

Evan: Do you honestly think we should bomb civilians? The way it is at the moment, our airmen only aim at military sites. I’m glad of that, even if I don’t agree with the war.

To find out more about air raids and civil defence, visit https://goo.gl/GQnKnj

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