The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Rosary and the march to Mons

Well, World War I has come back to the top of the Wildgoose pile. I've mentioned the Great War Forum before as a terrific place to interact with people who have knowledge and interest in WWI. Yesterday, I put forth a question on the forum about a list of blogs that concentrate on the First World War. I haven't had much luck finding sites via the regular search engines - including the blog search engines. If anyone knows of anything, let me know. The best one I've found so far is relatively new called Trench Fever. Take a look.

As for Walter's story, it continues with the march to
Mons. He receives a special gift from a Mother Superior that he feels impacted his time at the Front. The story also reveals a lot about Walter, I think. The man I knew was friendly (but not falsly so), had a dry sense of humor and keen mind. But he did keep to his own counsel and didn't fraternize too much with the other Pensioners. His recounting of the journey from Le Havre to the Front bolsters this "lone wolf" image - while the other men were tossing out their pins and badges, Walter held on to his - until, of course, the Mother Superior made her request:

We finally reached a town called Cuesmes on the evening of the 22nd August, and we were billeted in the village and mostly under bivouac. The 23rd August was Sunday, and the weather was beautiful. It didn’t seem real that all the nations were at war with each other on this peaceful Sunday. We were then allotted our positions during the calm of the afternoon. My company “C” Cy. was in the grounds of a convent. We just kept under the shade of the trees so the German planes couldn’t detect us. The nuns and the Mother Superior came into the grounds from Mass, and they passed between our ranks. I had all my buttons, badges, and regimental titles in my jacket and cap. All the others had given theirs away en route to the French children. When the Mother Superior reached me, and saw my cap badge, she pleaded with me to give it to her. I hesitated, but my pals said, “Go on Goosey, give it to her.” I couldn’t resist her kind but pleading face, so I took my cap off and removed the badge and I placed it in her hand. She then took a black ebony rosary from off her neck and put it over my head and tucked the beads into my front part of my shirt. She kissed me, and made the sign of the cross. I still have that rosary in my son’s home. I look upon that as Fate, as it has brought me luck in many ways. Shortly after this interlude we were called out to take up our positions in some fields, and soon we were to withdraw, as the German Cavalry had spotted us. And we were on the march once more.

I love this story. When I visited Walter's son Ron in May, I asked if he had the rosary. It seems that the rosary and the cross were separated (long family story). One of Ron's children has the rosary, but he's not sure what happened to the cross. Well, at least it served its purpose in its time, protecting Walter at Mons, Le Cateau (minor leg wound here), Ypres I and II.
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posted by MaryB @ 9:52 AM  


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