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Walter Carter
WW1 Soldier's Tale

17th August 1918

Walter: Nice bit of distraction from constant patrols – Thelma the doughnut girl wrote to my brother Ed after all!

Ed: Been relieved by another battery and finally had a chance to pick up some post. Got a letter with handwriting on that I didn’t know. So I got a bit jumpy in case it was from my American girl, Thelma. It was and all. I must have read it 20 times already. And to top it off, she said she misses seeing me and hopes I’m alright. Because of the big advance and everything. How about that? Got to work out what to write back now.

Lily: That’s so nice that she wrote! What do you think you’ll say?

Ed: Thought I’d tell her a bit about the pigeons.

Lily: Pigeons?

Ed: I’m being sent on a pigeon course. The signallers have all been for carrier pigeon instruction so they reckon us gunners should know about it too.

Walter: Romance runs in the Carter genes, Lil, you should know that by now.

15th August 1918

Walter: Good to hear from my sister Rose. She’s following the advance now. Interesting that Fritz doesn’t seem to be using his artillery –

Rose: Thought I’d send you all a bit of an update, now that I’ve been back out here nearly a month. I’m with a Field Ambulance near Le Hamel, not far from where you were lately, Ed. The boys are still pushing forwards and we’ve been told we’re to follow them, to keep the evacuation chain as short as possible. I’m caught between being happy that we’re making progress and upset about what it’s taking to get there. The wounded that come back to us are almost all machine gunned rather than shelled now. After all, as one of the VADs put it, ‘his big guns are busy running away’.

Mary: I keep reading about this advance in the papers. Do you think this could be the end of it?

Ed: Not yet, Ma. He’s still putting up a fight and we’ve only had success in one part of the line. Plenty to do yet.

To read more about the Hundred Days Offensive, visit https://goo.gl/8wGcj3

13th August 1918

Walter: You’ll like this, Lily. Looks like my chances of home leave might be getting better. They’ve agreed to let 6,000 of us per week go on leave from France. Just got to hope my turn comes around soon. Still, at least I get to see you all when I do get home. Bob and me were sharing a cigarette this morning and he was telling me about his wife and kids in Westchester. Near New York, he says. So, what with them being so far away, he won’t see them until the war’s over. He has to spend his leave (or furlough, as he calls it) here in France. But the Yanks all seem to love Paris so they don’t mind it just yet. Give it another four years and they’ll change their minds.

Lily: Don’t say ‘another four years’! I miss you so much. Mabel’s round today, as it’s her birthday, and we were saying how much we want this stupid war to be over so everything can go back how it was.

To see a short film about the American home front that Bob had left behind, visit https://goo.gl/egqaEA

9th August 1918

Walter: Patrol sent in to probe the enemy line overnight. A few of us were required to bring our attached Americans too, to show them the ropes, so I had Bob along for the ride. He stuck it really well – crept across with me, ducking and crouching like an old hand – but we got a surprise when we were almost there. There’d been a recce done on the position a few days ago which showed it was barely manned, but Fritz must have got wind of something because there was a whole load of him waiting for us tonight. Bob and I got ourselves and our nearest neighbours back but further along they lost a machine gun and had 7 casualties with 3 missing. Not our finest hour, which is maddening when we’re trying to show the Yanks what we’ve learned. Still, maybe it’s a good lesson even so – ‘Fritzes are shifty blighters. Never assume the coast is clear’.

Reg: It’s because the Sammies have been firing too much. That lets the enemy know they’re facing fresh troops, don’t it? Us veterans know you fire as little as possible, and only when you’ve pinpointed a target.

Walter: Top marks, Sergeant.

Lily: What an awful night for you. I hope the missing are found. And I’m glad you got back safe at least.

To find out more about the 27th American Division’s time on the front line, visit https://goo.gl/DqH2sH

8th August 1918

Ed: No time to write much as we’re keeping up artillery fire. Infantry advancing miles at a time. Streams of prisoners being brought in.

Walter: Just seen this from Ed and have had bits of news coming up the line too, about the Allies advancing near Amiens. Hope they can stick it. Starting to feel like this might come good… and all of us here wish we were part of it. But then, I suppose the Germans must have felt like this when they were pushing forward in March. Best not to lose our heads just yet.

Rose: Busy here in the Field Ambulance too. All the boys who are able to speak can’t stop talking about the advance –

To watch a video about what General Ludendorff dubbed ‘the black day of the German Army’, visit https://goo.gl/7GZQM8

6th August 1918

Mary: Mabel, I saw this and thought of you and Clifford. They say if you stir Bird’s custard powder into milk, it adds 25% to the ‘solid food value’ of the milk and gives you five times more ‘scientific calories’. Might be a good way of building the little fellow up.

Mabel: Thanks, Mrs C. Clifford’s not doing too bad but it’s hard to keep a baby nice and fat with all this rationing. I’ll try the custard powder if they reckon it’ll do him good.

Walter: Cor, what I’d give for a bowl of hot custard… Didn’t know it was important for your health though!

To find out more about the origins of eggless custard, visit https://goo.gl/tx17pM

4th August 1918

Walter: Four years now since we stayed up late cheering the war announcement, Fred and Bert. I wish we’d known better back then. You remember Bob, the American First Sergeant who’s been attached to me? Well, he means well but he’s been going around saying, ‘Four years of sitting in a goddamn hole in the ground! What the hell were you cheering about?’ Still, it looks like the French do have something to celebrate today – Fritz has been turned around so the pressure’s off Paris. People are daring to hope I think. But we’ve got to keep even more secret about our movements now. Every one of us has had a new notice pasted into our pay book:

'Keep your mouth shut. The success of any operation we carry out depends chiefly on surprise. Do not talk—when you know that your unit is making preparations for an attack, don't talk about them to men in other units, or to strangers, and keep your mouth shut, especially in public places. Don't be inquisitive about what other units are doing; if you see or hear anything, keep it to yourself. The success of the operations and the lives of your colleagues depend on your silence'.

Fred: I hardly remember what it was like to think that way. We was different folk back then.

To watch a video about what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive, visit https://goo.gl/qHzBuK

To see what Walter posted when war was announced, visit https://goo.gl/2BPhed

3rd August 1918

Leonard: What a blow to hear about the ‘Warilda’. It was an Aussie ship, full of our Diggers. Marked as a hospital ship, on its way from Le Havre to Southampton and sunk by a German U-boat. That was the same route I took when I was on my way to you, Mary Carter. Hope you’re all doing well. It’s the middle of winter here in Australia, so the weather’s making me nostalgic for London!

Walter: Nice to hear from Len, Ma and Pa’s Australian lodger from last year. And Rose’s friend. Shame it’s news about another hospital ship though.

John: We’re still losing ships quicker than we can build them. It’s getting us all worried.

Mary: How nice to hear from you, Leonard. And I’m so sorry to hear about the Warilda. It makes me so cross when they sink ships that are clearly displaying the Red Cross. I hope you didn’t have any friends on board.

To find out more about the SS Warilda, visit https://goo.gl/t6auiW

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