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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

22nd June 1917

Fred: They’re doing knighthoods for women now. ‘Dames’ they’ll be called. I showed Mabel the paper while she was making up a banana bottle for Clifford and she just said, “About time too.” I reckon Mabel deserves one herself. It’s hard for her, I know, taking care of both of us. I’m holding down a job alright, lugging sacks at the Home Depot, but it’s at night when the shock gets bad. I wake myself and everyone else up most nights, shouting and screaming in my sleep. We’re all dog tired.

Walter: It sounds like you’re doing a grand job too, Fred. But what in the world’s a ‘banana bottle’? I suppose I’ll find out if I ever get lucky enough to be someone’s Pa.

To find out about ‘banana bottles’, visit https://goo.gl/Q6O6Ws

and to read about today’s improved support for PTSD, visit Combat Stress https://goo.gl/aZuwD7

20th June 1917

Ed: Rotten job today. Firing gas shells. Worse than a bombardment. At least they say ‘you don’t hear the shell that hits you’, but gas takes its time to kill whichever poor blighter doesn’t get his mask on in time. I nearly had a barney with Bombardier Ash because I got angry about it. Thought for a minute I’d rather be court martialled than fire another one. Then I caught sight of Saunders and thought I’d better stick around for his sake. I’m his only pal.

Walter: Told you, Ed. After a while your mates come first.

To read about chemical warfare in WWI, including the ‘poisonous projectiles’ that Ed would be responsible for, visit https://goo.gl/28dPHJ

17th June 1917

Walter: Here goes… I got a letter back from Lily already. She must have written it the same day she got mine. I’ve carried the thing round in my pocket all day and only just worked up the nerve to open it. But then, I could tell a lot even just from where she’d put the stamp. It makes a difference where you put it – sends a different message. She put hers upside down and third in from the bottom left – “I am always true to you”. Which cheered me right up. She said in the letter about how she and Herb had walked out together a bit but it just didn’t sit right with her somehow. Sounds like me and Armelle. Amelle. And she says she’s told him once and for all that she’s not interested! Then she asked when I next had leave so we could talk things though. I reckon that sounds hopeful, don’t you?

Fred: Good on you, Walt. Mabel says she knew it was only a matter of time.

To read more about the ‘language of stamps’, visit https://goo.gl/RBFAmN

13th June 1917

Walter: Heavy day today. Then, just when I thought I’d get a bit of kip, word comes through about this daylight air raid on London. One of the bombs hit a primary school. Horrible. It made me start thinking about everything… about everyone at home and if they’re alright, and about everyone out here. Thought how lucky I’ve been to get through it so far. There’s hardly anyone else left from 1915. Then I got worried about bringing on the shock if I thought about it too long so I decided to write it down instead. Make sense of it somehow. Anyway, I didn’t mean to but what came out was a letter to Lily. And I didn’t think I was going to send it so I just wrote the truth, then found myself sealing it up and giving it to Geoff for posting! Regretting it now, of course, but he won’t give it back to me. Told her exactly how I feel, which could either be the best or the worst thing I’ve ever done. We’ll see.

Mary: The air raid was frightening but we’re all alright so you don’t have to worry. Horrid news about the school, mind. Hope you hear from Lily – I think it was a nice idea to write.

Walter: Thanks, Ma. And thanks for the birthday parcel too! It got a bit held up by the battle. If I’m honest, I’d barely remembered it was my birthday.

To read about the air raid, visit https://goo.gl/I88eKp

12th June 1917

Walter: Horrible relief of the 9th Sussex Regiment in the line last night and still getting heavily shelled. Numbers worse than the offensive. 5 lads from the company killed already and I’ve sent at least a dozen down the line injured. No rest.

9th June 1917

Walter: Able to write now we’re back in the rear area and recovering. I got through uninjured, even if my bad leg gave me some trouble. Things didn’t start too well – to my mind, Zero Hour was about 10 minutes too early, so it was very dark when got up from our forward positions. General Plumer set the time so it would be light enough to see an enemy silhouette at a distance of 100 yards, but it didn’t seem like enough. Hard to keep your direction. Our training actually held up this time though and once daylight started to break everyone got to grips with where they were and what they were doing. I think it helped that I’d taken the company to see the scale model of the landscape beforehand. We made it to ‘Red Line’ behind Oaten Wood and then Don Chapman turns to me and says, “Where’s Fritz?” He had a point. There was hardly even a body lying around. It put the wind up some fellows but we decided they must have all been blown to nothing or buried by the blast so we pushed on, careful to avoid the little clouds of Allied gas that had settled low to the ground. Made our objective but Sgt. Chapman shouldn’t have been so keen to see the Boche. We found a pocket of survivors in a concrete pillbox up by ‘Black Line’ and he took a bullet. Nothing to be done. Bloody shame though. We managed to take most of them prisoner in the end. Counting up, we look to have 7 killed, 14 missing and 36 wounded from our battalion but we’ve captured 5 machine guns. Gained important ground too so it’ll count as a success.

Mary: Wonderful news. We’re starting to hear about it in all the papers. They say you’ve brought the end of the war nearer! And just in time for your birthday tomorrow. We’re very proud of you.

Lily: Happy to hear you’re alright but it’s odd to see the change in how you write about offensives. Compared to when you first went out, I mean. I suppose you have to harden yourself to it. 

Ed: Glad you came out of it alright, Walt. We’re hearing that 10,000 Germans were killed in the mine blasts. I know they say it’s us or them but I’m struggling to get my head around that number.

To see footage from the Battle of Messines, visit https://goo.gl/6hTtYA

7th June 1917

Walter: Can hardly write for the shaking ground. Biggest bloody mines I ever heard just went off under the German trenches. At least 9 blasts I counted – must have been more – each one looking like a huge volcano. Earth and bodies thrown up into the air and now the dust and smoke’s still hanging there, lit up by the fires underneath. Looks like you’d imagine a painting of hell. The company was just catching a bit of sleep before the offensive when they blew. Rude awakening if ever there was one. Some of the men are showing signs of concussion, even from this distance. Worse for Fritz, of course. And now we have to run towards the whole smoking mess. We’re attacking as the right-hand battalion of 124 Brigade and Zero Hour’s nearly here. We’ve moved everyone through the gaps in the parapet that were cut last night. Lying on the start line waiting for the order to advance.

Lily: How horrible. Could that have been what I heard this morning? A few of us here in London thought we were woken by something – a sound or a rumble. I can’t imagine what it must have been like where you are if we heard it in England. I hope you’re alright. I saw your message the other day. Did you mean it or were you just drunk?

Mabel: I reckon you only think you heard it because the prime minister said he did. I didn’t feel nothing here and I was up all night!

To read more about the mines and the ‘sappers’ who laid them, visit https://goo.gl/RTUfX0

5th June 1917

Walter: My head’s feeling a bit better after the other day. Think I’ll stay off the champagne from now on. Glad we had a chance to relax just for that night though, especially before the next few days. And it was nice to see a few civilians – so many have been evacuated lately. Anyway, the battalion is moving into assembly positions in front line trenches now. Will shortly be carrying out what we’ve been training for. Wish us luck.

Ed: Hope you get through the offensive alright. We’re busy too – been carrying out ‘Chinese attacks’ (pretend ones, as you know) and then surprised Fritz with a real one today. Successful, as they put it, but we’re expecting counter attacks. Glad you’re feeling better…

To see a glossary of terms from the time, including ‘Chinese attack’, visit https://goo.gl/llvl5N

2nd June 1917

Walter: Might have had too much cheap wine. Went to that dance tonight with Geoof and his new French missus Simone. She brought her friend Amelle. Armelle. Something like that. So it was a bit of a date I suppose. Went lousy. I mean she’s nice enough but just not.. for me, if you known what I mean. We were at an estaminet in an old dugout and we kept trying to chat but my French isn’t as good as I thought and it got worse the more wine I had. The ladies here turn up their noses if you drink beer – they call it ‘children’s drink’ So we danced a bit but I just got more an more fed up. I miss you Lil

Rose: Oh dear, little brother…

To listen to a podcast on wartime leisure and entertainment, visit https://goo.gl/a2HyZ3

1st June 1917

Rose: Being moved on again. Arras was only temporary and now I’m off to a CCS in Belgium! Jamie, I’ll let you have my new address when I’m there. Your latest letter arrived just in time. What great news about your job. I think working for the local newspaper will suit you better than a factory job, even if they could have made you a prosthetic to attach to the machines. And you’ll have even more interesting stories to tell me in your letters now! Sorry about the phantom limb pain though – I have so many amputees complain of that and it’s horrid because there’s nothing I can do to help them.

Jamie: Thanks, Rosie. I’m delighted about the job and it’ll be good to have a reason to get out of the house. I’m quick on my crutches now, though I’ll only be proofing at the paper because I can’t very well go running about following up leads! Thinking of you anyway, and wishing you a safe trip to Belgium. Do send me your address – it’s our correspondence that’s been keeping me going all this time.

To see footage of amputee veterans, visit https://goo.gl/Hav5bs

and to read about post-amputation pain, visit https://goo.gl/W9sMhA

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