Walter: How you getting on, Ma? And Pa? We just polished off the remains of that cake you sent. Handed the lozenges and scones around but Geoff and I hung on to the cake! It was a corker. Thanks.
Mary: Glad you enjoyed it. We’re alright, except the house is a bit quiet. We have Leonard here still, which is a help, but he’ll soon be back off to Australia now that his treatment’s done and then I’ll be by myself doing the housework all day while your father’s out working and training with the VTC. I’ve had an idea though, to stop me getting mopey about everything. I thought about starting a group for the ladies round here – a cooking group. To share tricks and recipes using the new ingredients lists. Especially if they’re threatening to bring in ‘compulsory rationing’. What do you think?
Walter: Sounds great! Anything that means we get more of your cakes. Within government limits, naturally…
To find out more about sending trench cakes in the post, visit https://goo.gl/sjiR3X
and for the recipe, visit https://goo.gl/M4YVVx
Walter: They’ve just got the post out to us and not only do I have a parcel from home (thanks, Ma) but a letter from Lily! Nothing like the letters she used to write me of course but just an update on her news and seeing if I was alright after everything with Annie. Bit out of the blue but nice all the same. She says she tried to sign up for the WAAC but they only wanted motor mechanics, not motorbicycle girls. That many women have tried to sign up that the authorities can be picky, I suppose. For now, she’s wondering about going back to the idea of teaching, like she always wanted to do. She put in this cutting from the paper about the new education ideas they’re talking about in parliament… Imagine having to stay in school till you’re 14!
To read about education changes in the early 20th century, visit https://goo.gl/ILhXNc
Walter: I’m tired, I’m cold, I’m muddy and I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Goodness knows there’s enough dead ones around. It doesn’t get to me often – too busy – but today I’m just plain fed up. Company Sergeant Majors can’t be tired and fed up though, so I haven’t let on. Probably just harder than I ought to be with the boys. I’ve put two lads on extra fatigues already this morning. And then Geoff shows me this! Well, I don’t know how you lot back home are going to manage without crumpets… better console yourselves with some lobster salad and a plate of scones! Now excuse me while I fish some hardtack out of my pack…
Mary: Lobster salad, indeed! I should like to see some of that round our way. Fat chance. Sorry you’re struggling though love. I’ll work out a cake recipe with the new ingredients list and send you out a parcel.
Walter: Thanks, Ma. That’s made me feel better.
Rose: While you’re making it…
Mary: Yes, I’ll make you all a cake! You too, Ed. You’ll all have to wait your turn though as I won’t be able to get hold of that much flour at once.
Walter: Got a look at a newspaper after it had done the rounds and they’ve got a bit in there about the revolution in Russia. They reckon the Czar is “confined to three rooms at his palace”, poor bloke. I know how he feels – I’m confined to a palatial muddy hole.
To read about events at the Alexander Palace, visit https://goo.gl/EpF9ZO
Walter: Well, the sunshine didn’t last long enough to dry out the ground. Now it’s pouring rain again and the company’s been tasked with pushing empty food cans into the mud, upside down, to shore up the roadways. Don’t see the point really – they just sink after a couple of days and then it’s as bad as ever and you have to source new cans. By the time we leave, Belgium will be made of tin…
Ed: Same here, Walt. Ever tried dragging a field gun through this kind of mud? A bunch of tin cans wouldn’t stand a chance.
Rose: It’s worse than anything I’ve seen so far. We’ve got wounded coming in with mud caked on their teeth and under their eyelids…
To read about the muddy landscape of the Western Front, visit https://goo.gl/qyWkKH
Rose: Finally a bit of sunshine after all the blizzards and I’ve been moved to a camp behind the line as temporary back-up. No wonder they needed extra sisters – they’re first in line for all the casualties from Arras here and everyone’s been working 18hrs on, 6 off. The doctor who gave me a quick tour round said they did 70 operations in 24hrs yesterday. I’ve taken charge of two of the worst wards and have set up another tent as a stop-off point before operations. Stops the patients being sent to the wrong area and helps us make sure they’re operable. For example, I just took off a man’s boot and half his foot came with it. In the rush to get him seen for his other injuries, no one had even thought about his taking his boots off.
To see footage from the Battle of Arras, visit https://goo.gl/LcKB28
Walter: About to go into the trenches in support. Feeling a bit off-colour since I realised it would have been Annie’s 10th birthday today… Geoff gave me a look this morning. He could tell something was up but, good on him, he didn’t ask too much. Just gave me a thump on the back when we set off. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Mary: I’m glad you’ve got a friend out there. We’ve put a bunch of daffs in the front window for Annie today and, would you believe it, Margaret next door dropped us round a pie for dinner. Nice of her to remember.
To read more about attitudes to bereavement and mourning at the time, visit https://goo.gl/n6K40Z
Walter: Bit of news from Vimy Ridge – word is the Canadians have captured it off the Germans! Good work, lads. That won’t have been easy. Hope they can hold it.
Fred: Great news.
To read more about the capture of Vimy Ridge, visit https://goo.gl/XP3UF2
Walter: Easter already! Hard to believe with all the snow we’ve had. The QM told the CQMS of each company that grub-wise they could lay on something a bit special today. Nothing grand, mind you, but Geoff Adams has done a good job sorting out the extra rations. It must be strange back home without Annie… she loved Easter. I remember painting eggs with her before this whole rotten war started. Can’t think about it too much.
Mary: Thank you for thinking of us, love. We didn’t feel much like celebrating without your little sister so Len, our Australian, took your father and me down to see her spot in the cemetery. The stone’s in place now and it does look nice. I’m glad we spent a bit on it. The waxed flowers are all there from the funeral too. I felt a bit better for going. I know it’s silly but I hated the thought of her lying there in the cold by herself. Just couldn’t bring myself to visit until today.
Ed: Would you lay some flowers down for me next time you go? We’re near the front line now and there’s barely a flower or tree to be seen. Everything’s smashed to bits.
Walter: Arrived at Chippewa Camp in the sleet and just heard the news from America – they’re joining the war! We thought it was coming but just needed them to announce it. We seem to be on track for peace regardless, what with the Germans low on men and dropping back, but hopefully this will be the final straw. Welcome to the war, lads. We’ve saved a spot on the fire step for you.
To see footage of America’s 1917 entry into the war (from a 1950s programme), visit https://goo.gl/elVp0S
and to see Walter’s approximate location, visit https://goo.gl/PvNMQM
Walter: Practising battalion attacks in preparation for the next offensive. This will probably go on for a few days. Always a lot of ‘rush to to wait’ but it has to be done… Good news coming up the line about the German withdrawal though. Word is they’re back to the Hindenburg line and might fall back even further. Except they’ve destroyed everything as they’ve gone, so if we move forward it’ll be difficult ground for us to hold and we’ll need to rebuild roads, buildings and bridges on the way. Tough for the locals too – believe it or not, there’s still some here who’ve stuck it out all this time. Good reminder of what we’re fighting for.
To read about the withdrawal to the Hindenburg line, visit https://goo.gl/aadg5E
Walter: Brushed up smart for a medal presentation yesterday. A couple of lads from the battalion were given awards and the rest of us went along to watch. Made it a bit of an occasion. I put a black silk cover on one of my brass buttons (in memory of Annie) and burnt the lice out of my seams with a lighter. Helps to get rid of the blighters when you have to stand still at an event like that…
Mary: Nice to hear you’re wearing a black button for Annie. Your father has one on his VTC uniform too. I got my other black dress out – the one I dyed when Charlie passed – but I found myself itching and discovered that we have lice in the house. In my lovely clean house! That’ll be you children, coming home in your lousy uniforms. I’ll try burning them out of the seams, like you say.
Rose: Oh that’s probably me Ma, I’m sorry. Even after a few days at home I’m still lousy! I seem to have carried a whole battalion of them back to France with me though, so hopefully you’ll only have a unit or two to fight. If the burning doesn’t work, try rubbing soap along the seams and ironing them.
To find out more about black mourning buttons, visit https://goo.gl/uMxGn2