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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

24th May 1917

Walter: Bright and sunny day here in Bayenghem but I’m stuck inside with mountains of paperwork to be done. I expect I’ll be seeing Army forms in my sleep. Sent quite a few men off to the Medical Officer lately. Mostly small things, like blokes who’ve smashed their thumb with a hammer or got burns or cuts while on fatigues. Nothing you’d worry about too much while you’re in action but we need everyone fit as can be for coming operations. Can’t have infections setting in. Good job the Americans have started sending their medical staff over now – we’ll need as many as possible.

To find out more about American nurses in the war, visit https://goo.gl/Hprq4q

22nd May 1917

Walter: Back from the OC’s Orders Group to some great news – Mabel and Fred have had a baby boy! He’ll be a cracking little lad, Fred, no question. I bet he’ll get into all sorts of mischief, just like we used to. Over the moon for you.

Fred: The little lad’s here! A boy, just like I thought. Mother and baby both well but Mabel’s sleeping now. Said we’re not having any more. I can’t stop staring at him. We’ve named him Clifford John Dickenson, after my Pa. Odd thing though – he’s come out looking a bit yellow, just like his mum. They reckon it’s because of the munitions chemicals. Hope it fades…

Mary: Lovely news, Fred! All my best to Mabel and give little Clifford a squeeze for me. I’ll bring you round some second-hand bits and pieces I have.

Lily: Hooray! I’m glad everyone’s alright. I’ll come and see you as soon as you’ll have me. Very excited to meet him.

John: Congratulations, mate.

Bert: Glad to hear it! Feel free to pop up the drill hall if you ever need a break. I’ll be around.

To read more about ‘canary babies’, visit https://goo.gl/Ez3LkW

22nd May 1917

Walter: Woke up to news from Fred that his and Mabel’s baby is on the way! Fingers crossed everything goes alright. I’ll let you know after my rounds later if I hear anything more.

Fred: This is it, pals. Found myself at 4 o’clock this morning running as best I could over to Palmer Crescent for the midwife. She’s been in with Mabel ever since and I think I’ve smoked more cigs than I ever did in the trenches. Couldn’t stand the screaming, so I’m walking in loops around St Mary’s churchyard in the drizzle. Funny what months in hospital will do to you – I’m shattered. Better head back soon, hadn’t I? How long do babies take?

Lily: YOU’RE shattered? Oh Fred, imagine how Mabel’s feeling! I’m so excited for you both and nervous at the same time. Get yourself back home and let me know how she’s doing.

Margaret Wiggins: Quickest December baby I ever heard of… you sure nothing happened on your August leave, Fred?

Rose: How exciting! Hope everything goes well and you must let us know when little one gets here.

20th May 1917

Walter: Sharing this from Ed. Good job they weren’t gas shells –

Ed: That was close. We’re within range of enemy artillery fire here and were just having some grub when the shells started falling. Good job most of them fell short. First time I’ve been under fire. No surprises – it ain’t fun. Feels like my heart rate won’t ever get itself back to normal.

Mary: What a relief to hear you’re alright. I’d been thinking how it must be quieter for you artillery men, not being in the trenches, but now I’m worried all over again.

19th May 1917

Walter: Ed’s spotted a German aeroplane hanging around. After a while you almost get used to them spying on what you’re doing but it’s more of a worry for the artillery –

Ed: Got the guns located just outside a village but just spotted an enemy aeroplane circling around us. Sergeant Grey says it shouldn’t be anything for us to worry about just yet – it’s probably looking for the heavy artillery behind us.

To read about aerial reconnaissance in the war, visit https://goo.gl/NP8fnN

18th May 1917

Walter: Sitting on the train with Geoff Adams. We’re on our way to Watten, then Bayenghem to be billeted for a while. Geoff’s been bending my ear the whole way about a new lady he’s met. French girl. She works at the depot wrapping puttees so he met her when he was up there sorting out supplies. Anyway, I’d been telling him about Lily and Herb so he says why don’t I come to a dance with him and Simone? That’s this girl. Says she’s got a friend who’s a bit of a looker and doesn’t have a chap of her own. I might take him up on it if I can spare the time.

Ed: You’ll do alright there, Walt. I’ve taken a bit of a shine to the French ladies myself. There’s one at our local estaminet that I’ve got my eye on. Trouble is, her mother runs the place and watches us lot like a hawk.

To see footage of French women working in a munitions factory, visit https://goo.gl/0Tsua2

15th May 1917

Mary: I’d planned out my first cookery group meeting in fine detail. We was going to be doing vegetable recipes for these ‘meatless days’ the government keeps going on about, but now they’ve said there’s to be no more meatless days after all because it means people are eating too much bread instead! So I’m going to have to come up with something else before the ladies come round tomorrow lunchtime. Not only that, but Thomas is in a stinker of a mood since the price of newspapers has been quadrupled. It’s his one treat – coming home and putting his feet up with the paper – but now we’ll only be able to afford it every so often.

12th May 1917

Walter: Bit of a change from the daily grind. One of the sergeants has organised a fancy dress sports day behind the line. Not for a CSM to join in with, of course. I walked past on my way to get on with some paperwork (nice to have the time to get some done while everyone else is occupied) and one lad was there with a wig on and parasol up but still with a cig hanging out of his mouth! What a sight. Good for the men to have a bit of a laugh though and the sun’s come out too.

To see footage of fancy dress and a balloon game at a WWI hospital, visit https://goo.gl/RDXupx

and to see a chaotic game of football between nurses and wounded soldiers, visit https://goo.gl/Jubjhl

11th May 1917

Walter: Seen this from Ed. What rotten news. That’s how the 1/23rd got wiped out too, back in September – getting under our own artillery fire.

Ed: Feeling sick. We started a bombardment at 9.30am to clear the way for the infantry going over near Roeux. A creeping barrage. We’d been at it a little while when the Forward Observation Officer sent a runner back to tell us to hold fire. The dust and smoke had got so bad he couldn’t see ahead properly but he thought he’d seen British helmets far too close to our barrage. Well that made us turn white. We’d stuck to our timings but it seems something had changed up ahead without our knowledge. Hard to get the word back quickly when the telephone lines have been cut by enemy fire. Sure enough, we’ve just had another runner to tell us the boys in the infantry achieved their objectives but one platoon got separated and went too far forward. Right into our barrage. The thought of it makes my head swim.

9th May 1917

Walter: I’ve had a letter off Mabel and it’s knocked me for six. Do you remember that bloke Herb? The rather wet fellow who thought he could nick Lily off me when we were together by bringing her roses and meat pies? Well, he’s back on the scene again. Back in Battersea on leave and Mabel says he’s taken Lily down to Brighton Beach in the hot weather! Down where we used to walk. None of my business anymore, of course, but if I remember rightly he was keen as can be on marriage. And that’s what she wanted, wasn’t it? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already asked her.

Fred: You alright mate? I told Mabel she didn’t ought to say anything but she got her writing paper out the moment she saw them together and you know there’s no stopping my Mabel when she’s got something in her mind. I think she’s hoping you’ll get your act together. None of my business, naturally.

4th May 1917

Ed: After all that work we put into the attack, it hasn’t worked. We were clearing the way for the infantry to take the Chemical Works nearby but they haven’t managed it and now we’ve been ordered to withdraw. Got to leave our guns behind us. Thank God more of our lot are coming to guard them, else we’d have to destroy them in case the Germans gained ground in this direction. It all seems pointless.

Walter: In training behind the line for the next few days. Doesn’t mean we’re safe, of course. Two blokes from the company who were out on a working party got hit by enemy artillery today. Send a few back to the other fellow on their behalf, eh Ed?

Ed: I don’t know how you’re so chipper about it, Walt. I’m sat here wondering if our shells killed anyone for an objective that wasn’t even met.

Walter: You’ll feel the same after a time. If you thought about every mother’s son you might have sent West you’d go mad. Try thinking about your mates around you instead. I’d bet my last tin of plum jam you won’t feel so cosy about Fritz once he’s taken out a few of your pals.

Ed: I like to think I could keep hold of my conscience, even then.

3rd May 1917

Walter: My brother’s finally gone into action. Hope you’re alright, Ed. Go easy on the drink.

Ed: Finally a chance to sleep after our first action. We had orders to elevate the gun to hit a line running North-South through Delbar Wood and to start the bombardment at quarter to four this morning. I was dreading it. It’s one thing firing the gun in training and another knowing you’re aiming for men like us. It went against everything my conscience was telling me but you get caught up in it. You’re so well-trained, it comes natural. My job is to bring the shells from the limber to the gun, so I just kept doing it. It’s afterwards the tiredness and the doubts creep in. That’s when the rum comes in handy.

Rose: Delbar Wood! Near Pelves? That’s right near where I am. We even evacuated our tents of all moveable patients yesterday to make room for wounded from your attack. I’d try to see you if I wasn’t so busy… the infantry don’t seem to have come out of it too well and I’m up to my ears in amputations.

Evan: If it’s going against everything your conscience is telling you, Ed, then that tells you everything you need to know. It feels wrong because it IS wrong. If you felt alright about blowing other human beings to bits, there’d be something wrong with you.

To see footage of a team of British gunners in action, visit https://goo.gl/PIzAd4

and to read more about field guns and their crews, visit https://goo.gl/jsvvHB

1st May 1917

Walter: Long march back into the trenches made better by seeing this from Fred. Chuffed to hear you’re finally getting out of hospital mate. 

Fred: Good news. One of the senior doctors agreed I can be discharged from the hospital. Bit of convalescent leave then the Army will find me another job. Couldn’t go back out to the front with the shakes and twitches I still have. I’d be a danger to everyone. I’m exhausted even holding myself steady enough to write this. Still, a job here means me, Mabel and the nipper can get ourselves somewhere of our own. Just a rented room or two. But it’ll be a start. And I’m one of the lucky ones – some of the other lads here will be sent to asylums when there’s nothing more to be done for them.

To read more about shell shocked soldiers admitted to asylums, visit https://goo.gl/650xzi

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