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.

Monday, September 19, 2005

To India after the Great War

After Walter's foot injury afforded him a trip back to England for surgery and recovery in April 1915, he shifted from 1st Lincolnshires to the newly-formed Machine Gun Corps as an instructor. He never went back to the Front but did move in and out of several of the MGC camps during the remainder of the war: from Belton Camp, Grantham to Camp Mansfield, Clipstone (1917) to Rugeley Camp, Staffordshire in (1918).

Wife May stayed in Richmond and continued in service until the birth of their first child, Walter Aubrey 31 December 1916.

After the Armistice, Walter had some decisions to make about the army and his future:

In 1919, I had eleven years service, so I re-enlisted for a further four years, on payment of a bounty of £50, made payable at £16 each year. I was granted three months leave, and May had by this time obtained a flat in Mortlake, so I spent my leave there, as her brother Charles was now demobilised and was setting up as a window cleaner. During my three months, I assisted him canvassing for customers, and he had enough custom to get on with for a while. And he used to give me a token payment each week. (He was a mean old thing.)But he was May’s brother and my brother-in-law. Talk about being careful!

In the middle of May 1919, I contracted quinsy, a very bad throat trouble, so I was not able to do any more work. I went into the Grove Road Hospital Richmond, but I was soon better after two weeks. I had to report to my unit in Grantham in June and the doctor allowed me to travel and he gave me a certificate to produce as to my weak state of health. I was excused duty for several weeks until I regained my strength. The air was very bracing in Grantham.

It wasn't long before Walter learned he would be returning to the country he'd left as a small child.

I was eventually sent to the training centre and I was posted to 204 Battalion Machine Gun Corps. We were kitted out for service in India, and there were the 202, 203, 204, and 205 Battalions, all cadre Battalions, which means skeleton Battalions. In September, we left Grantham for Southampton to embark on the SS Merkara, a P.O. Liner bound for Bombay. The journey took three weeks.

Walter left May and young Walter behind in Richmond, as May was pregnant with their second son Douglas (born 1920). The separation took a toll on the young family. Walter would never see his namesake and firstborn again. Young Walter died of meningitis in 1920 at age 3. And Walter wouldn't meet Doug until the child was two years old.
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posted by MaryB @ 10:50 AM  


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