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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

Thank you for following WW1 Soldier’s Tale. Here is a short summary of what happened to our characters after the armistice:

Our protagonist, Walter, along with fellow members of the Queens Royal West Surreys, formed part of the Army of Occupation, which was sent to secure former German land west of the Rhine. Five full years after first arriving in France, he eventually returned home in March 1920, to the delight of his family, friends and especially Lily. They were married a few weeks later, with Fred, Mabel, Bert, John and all the family in attendance. The Sabine Road cooking group provided excellent catering.

Employment opportunities for returning soldiers (especially those who had been detained in the warzone) were few. With a return to his teenage job as a railway porter his only other option, Walter could not turn down the promotion to Regimental Sergeant Major offered by the Regular Army. While his continued service frequently kept him away from wife Lily and, later, their three children, he fared better than many of his peers and came to enjoy the responsibilities offered to him by the military. After years of saving, his higher salary meant he could finally show Lily where he served in Italy, though he kept his word and didn’t make her march.

Alongside his Military Medal, Walter received the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. These were given to any soldier in the war zone during that time – even those who had never seen action. No campaign medals were available for his part in battles such as the Somme and Ypres.

Mary and Thomas (Ma and Pa), though heartbroken that their eldest son Charlie was never found, were delighted to see Ed, Rose and Walter return to Battersea one by one. Thomas’s Voluntary Training Corps disbanded at the end of the war and he returned to working solely on the railways, where he told anyone who would listen about Charlie, Ed, Rose and Walter. Mary was kept on as a recipe consultant by the local newspaper, as rationing was kept in place until 1920, and continued to enjoy her minor local celebrity.

Lily gave up her ambulance driver role at the end of the war but stayed working as a motorbicycle courier until she was forced to hand the position to a returning soldier. Living in married quarters, taking care of children Reginald, Alice and Peter and teaching First Aid informally kept her busy and happy. However, later in life she managed to get hold of a motorbike again and resumed her status as a terror on the roads.

Ed struggled to reconcile his principles with the military work he had been forced to perform during the war and became increasingly politically active. Joining the nascent Labour Party, he aligned his views with pacifist leader Ramsay Macdonald. He never found Thelma again, but (after being fitted with dentures) married another American living in Britain.

Rose left the war zone only shortly before Walter, arriving home in December 1919. True to character, however, she didn’t stay put for long and soon moved to Scotland, where she married Jamie Aitken. Society dictated that she had to give up her nursing job after marriage but, undeterred, she set up a charity-run clinic for amputee veterans like her husband and worked there as a volunteer. Determined to make a difference to the lives of those affected by the war, she still frequently had to be reminded to take a break.

In April 1919, Fred watched the 1/23rd London Regiment return home to little fanfare. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he never spoke of the war again and lived with a lasting tremor and flashbacks caused by what we now recognise as PTSD. However, he was able to maintain a job with the postal service and enjoyed occasionally meeting up with his old Territorial pals, Walter and Bert, for a pint and for meetings of the 23rd London's Old Comrades Association. While their lives took different directions, Fred, Mabel, Walter and Lily continued to write to each other as they had done throughout the war.

As campaigners for women’s rights became active again after the war, Mabel re-joined the movement and was delighted to see the Equal Franchise Act brought in in 1928. Despite taking on a traditional role as wife to Fred and mother to Clifford, she never missed an opportunity to fight for the latest cause.

11th November 1918

Walter: Watching the CO’s watch tick round in a small dugout near the Dendre. 10.50am. 10.53. Had to step out into the air for a minute to catch my breath. 10.57. 10.58. 10.59… Just heard the cheers go up outside. God, it’s sunk in this time round. It’s really, truly over. Germany has been forced to agree to retreat from all the land they’ve taken in France and Belgium, and to give up all German land west of the Rhine. They’ve surrendered 5,000 canon, 1,700 planes, all of their U boats… and 30,000 machine guns. So we won’t have to face one from today onwards. Or another shell. No one will. Not ever again.

So, listen. I’m signing off now. Thanks for sticking it with me. Heaven knows how I made it through, but I made a promise to myself that, if I did, I’d do this one last thing… you ready?

Lily Howes, will you marry me?

Lily: Do you mean it?! Really? I know we’re so different from the kids we were four years ago but I love you all the more for it. And I can’t quite believe that one day soon, maybe next year, you’ll get to come home for good so we can start a new life together. Oh, did I say yes? YES!

Mary: Good heavens, what a day. What wonderful news you two, and about time! Your father says congratulations too. We’ll be delighted to welcome you to the family, Lily. Though of course it feels like you’ve been one of us for years already. I hope you and your mum are safe at home today. Everyone’s celebrating the armistice here Walter but there’s nothing organised – no bands or parades – so people are doing their own thing and it’s turning into a riot. I’m scared to step out of the front door! They’re all drunk as skunks, burning things and setting off fireworks…

Ed: Thank God this stupid war’s over. What a bloody waste. And I’ve just had a young artilleryman who arrived last week moaning about never getting the chance to be under fire! I had to be held back from knocking some sense into him. Anyway, congratulations Walt. Maybe one day I’ll find Thelma again and ask her. Our billet owner has just dug up some wine he buried in 1914 so I’ll have a drink for you.

Mabel: I’m sure Fred would want me to say on his behalf that we’re over the moon for you both. It’s a strange day in our house. I think he’d been hanging on for the end of the war, hoping he might get some peace in that poor head of his too. But somehow he’s struggling worse than ever. Well, we’ll keep on trying.

Rose: Well done Walter and Lily! I hope I can get home for the big day. Everyone’s been at the wine here too, Ed. I just found one of my walking patients slumped in a corner and asked him if all was well. He just said, ‘What’s to become of us? We have lived this life for so long. Now we shall have to start all over again.’

 

11th November 1918

Walter: A few minutes ago we were stopped while marching and told to gather in front of the Commanding Officer. Had a sheet of paper in his hand. Wished us a good day. Then he paused and said, “It is 10am. Men, I am pleased to tell you that in one hour the Armistice comes into force.” Well, we didn’t make a sound. Everyone just stood there looking at him and he started saying, “What are you, mutes? Let’s have a cheer!” so a few of the lads gave a whistle or two, but mostly we just stood there and could hardly move a muscle. It’s a strange feeling. Like your elastic snapped. I think we just can’t truly believe it. And now they’ve told us we’re supposed to keep pushing forward to secure the River Dendre before the hour is up! I hope to God we don’t take any more casualties.

Lily: Walt it’s wonderful! Isn’t it wonderful? I’ve had a job to stop the tears since I heard. I can’t wait for you to come home.

Rose: We can’t believe it either. Such wonderful news and I’m having to dodge all the soldiers and orderlies trying to kiss me. I know what you mean about feeling strange though. Part of me is all at sea about it. I think it’s starting to sink in that all those boys, including dear Charlie, aren’t ever coming back. And of course my ward is as full of the sick and dying as it ever was. It will be a long time before I can come home I think.

Walter: Me too, Rosie. I’m so sorry Lil, but they’re talking about us staying out here until well into next year. Someone has to clear up, after all. And some of us will be needed to secure what was German territory. I think that’s part of the reason I’m not jumping for joy. It’s all over, but I can’t come home and see you. I can’t think about it too much or I’d be a mess. I’m sorry, sweetheart.

To see a documentary about how the armistice came about, visit https://goo.gl/dtQCs2

10th November 1918 - later

Walter: I’m alright. Sorry everyone – we’ve been working ourselves into the ground trying to get the wagons over the River Scheldt. We’d all but resigned ourselves to what was coming and then got to the riverbank to be told by the Regimental Police that the enemy had completely disappeared! Got the shakes with relief but couldn’t let the men see. Still had to get across it, mind. And that wasn’t even the hardest part. Everything around here has been smashed to rubble in the retreat, so it was near impossible to get anything with wheels over the debris. Could do with a bloody good drink now.

To read about Jack Martin, who experienced this advance, visit https://goo.gl/CJ5wGZ

10th November 1918

Walter: Just been told that we’re continuing the advance, despite the good news coming out of Germany. Can’t deny I’m a bit worried. We’re supposed to be crossing a river but there’s a chance we’ll find enemy soldiers still waiting for us. It’s bad enough attacking on dry land, but when you’ve got to get across a wide, fast-flowing river on a pontoon bridge… if the German Rear Guard get wind of it and direct all their attention on that one point then our chances will be slim to none. One of my platoon sergeants told me he’d heard mutterings from a few of the boys about refusing to go over, but I’ve made sure they know the consequences of desertion are worse. Listen – Ma, Lily… I don’t want you getting too worried. In the end, no matter how I feel about it, it’s my duty. That’s all. If it helps to protect you, I’m proud to do it. Got to go – we’re off. I love you.

Lily: Walter, don’t you dare write things like that! Please let us know you’re alright?

Mary: Oh love. I don’t know what to say. I’m so proud of you. Please let us know as soon you can.

Ed: Bloody hell Walt.

Rose: Has anyone heard anything?

9th November 1918

Mary: Kaiser Bill is gone! Abdicated. About time too. And he can take his rotten war with him. They say revolution is breaking out in Berlin. It can’t last much longer, surely?

Walter: Sitting here with Reg’s dog (who seems to be mine now), and reading this from Ma. It’s a strange feeling knowing the Kaiser’s abdicated. He’s the one we’ve all been angry at these past four years. Well, good riddance.

Ed: This had better mean the end of it. I was more hopeful when Ludendorff stepped down though. Wasn’t it him and von Hindenberg who ran the show, really?

Rose: I heard the Kaiser’s disappeared to the Netherlands. They’ve been neutral through all of this.

To see a short video about Kaiser Wilhelm, visit https://goo.gl/1fb4Xw

6th November 1918

Walter: Hard rain still. Took a burial party back to the site of yesterday’s ambush but the rain made it nearly impossible to bury the bodies properly. But we managed to get them all in the ground. Struggled to pull Defector, Reg’s dog, away. He was desperate to stand guard. At least the grave, if it survives, will be far into what was German-held territory. That should make Reg’s family proud, however this war goes. I’ll write to them. He told me once he has eight sisters. Anyway, we’ve had news of a German naval mutiny at Kiel, so all the more reason to think the fighting can’t last much longer. We’ve been told to look out for emissaries with white flags here on the Western Front. Not sure that happens anymore, does it? We’re hearing stories from other parts of the line where our soldiers are outnumbered twenty to one by Fritzes walking over to give themselves up. Nothing as formal as white flags though.

Lily: His poor sisters – and the little dog too. I’m so pleased so many German soldiers are giving up. Can’t help but hope you might be coming home soon.

To find out more about the Kiel mutiny and its after-effects, visit https://goo.gl/bNbqP2

5th November 1918

Walter: Well, I don’t believe in luck anymore. Just when you start to get hopeful, something like this happens. We were resting in the Vichte area when we got word that Fritz was retreating all along the line to our front, so our battalion was to move forward. We couldn’t move fast because of the heavy rain but we weren’t too worried – we were following a retreat and our advance patrols had found no sign of enemy activity for at least five miles. Well, you know what I’m going to say, don’t you? They were wrong again. The German Rear Guard must have known we were coming and lain in wait. I was way back, fighting through the rain and mud, when they opened up. I could see the lads up ahead hitting the decks but the point platoon managed to throw their grenades and then rush the Germans with a bayonet charge. Cleared the way for the rest of us to press on. Got a rotten shock as I reached them though. Stepping around the lads lying still in the mud I caught sight of Reg’s face. Hauled him out of a puddle and looked for signs of life but there was absolutely bloody nothing. He was gone. The war’s all but over and Reg, who made it through years of fighting, who was a better platoon sergeant than I ever was, who’s always been ‘lucky’ and made you feel like things might actually go alright, gets killed. I tell you what, if I didn’t have to keep it together for the rest of the men, this would be the last straw.

Ed: Really sorry to hear it Walt. I still miss my mate Saunders.

To read about the last soldiers to die in WWI, visit https://goo.gl/8NrmMd

3rd November 1918

Walter: Austria-Hungary has signed an armistice with Italy! Can’t believe it. They were the first to declare war in 1914 – the ones who asked Germany to step in in the first place. So now we need Germany to follow their lead again. Mind you, there’s a lot of people who still think we should beat them outright with no truce agreements.

To read about the military collapse of the Central Powers, visit https://goo.gl/mSCUho

2nd November 1918

Walter: We’re back in the line but enemy infantry and artillery seem to be almost non-existent. Inactive, at least. And I’ve noticed men starting to bet on when the war will end. Most are saying 4 weeks, 6 weeks, that sort of thing (Reg reckons tomorrow – of course he does). I think they’re being too optimistic. If anything, this is only the beginning of the end, not the end itself. And I definitely wouldn’t put money on it. Is it the same down your way, Rose?

Rose: Yes! The feeling that we might finally see the end of the war is sending my VADs barmy. Having the Americans around doesn’t help either. The main problem is that British nurses aren’t allowed to dance at the rare parties we have here, but the Americans are. Now, usually I feel sorry for them having to stand around the edges and watch, but I’ve just poked my head in to one of these dos and seen a handful of my girls dancing along with the Americans and Canadians! As the Sister, it’s my job to report them. But if we’re that near the end, is it worth it?

Mabel: Oh what harm can it do? Let them have a dance and burn off some of the fret and worry.

Rose: I could lose my job over it. But you’re right – they’ve earned it. Better hope Matron doesn’t find out.

To find out more about the lives of nurses during the war, visit https://goo.gl/32Doz8

To read Edith Appleton’s diary entry about a similar party, visit https://goo.gl/1f3ohe

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Now available as a Paperback and on Kindle
Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale