Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - The Altruist and Other Stories

The Altruist Published in London in 1921, The Best 500 Cockney War Stories comprised, in the words of its newspaper publisher (The London Evening News) "a remembering and retelling of those war days when laughter sometimes saved men's reason".

The collection of short memoirs, some 500 in total, is divided into five categories - Action, Lull, Hospital, High Seas and Here and There.  This page contains five stories from Action, led by The Altruist.

Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.

The Altruist

One afternoon in July 1917 our battalion was lying by a roadside on the Ypres front waiting for night to fall so that we could proceed to the front line trenches.

"Smiffy" was in the bombing section of his platoon and had a bag of Mills grenades to carry.

Fritz began to get busy, and soon we had shrapnel bursting overhead.

"Smiffy" immediately spread his body over his bag of bombs like a hen over a clutch of eggs.

"What the 'ell are you sprawling over them bombs for?" asked the sergeant.

"Well," replied Smiffy, "it's like this 'ere, sergeant.  I wouldn't mind a little Blighty one meself, but I'd jest 'ate for any of these bombs ter get wounded while I'm wiv 'em."

T. E. M. (late London Regt.), Colliers Wood, S.W.19

"Minnie's Stepped on my Toe!"

We were lying in front of Bapaume in August 1918 awaiting reinforcements.  They came from Doullens, and among them was a Cockney straight from England.

He greeted our sergeant with the words, "Wot time does the dance start?"

The sergeant, an old-timer, replied, "The dance starts right now."

So over the top we went, but had not gone far when the Cockney was bowled over by a piece from a minnenwerfer, which took half of one foot away.

I was rendering first aid when the sergeant came along.  He looked down and said, "Hello, my lad, soon got tired of the dance, eh?"

The little Cockney looked up and despite his pain he smiled and said, "On wiv the dance, sergeant!  I'm sitting' this one aht, fer Minnie has stepped on my toe."

E. C. Hobbs (late 1st Royal Marine Battn.), 103 Moore Park Road, Fulham, S.W.

In The Dim Dawn

Jerry had made a surprise raid on our trenches one morning just as it was getting light.  He got very much the worst of it, but when everything was over Cockney Simmonds was missing.

We hunted everywhere, but couldn't find him.  Suddenly we saw him approaching with a hefty looking German whom he had evidently taken prisoner.

"Where did you get him from, Simmonds?" we asked.

"Well, d'yer see that shell 'ole over there 'all full o' water?"

"Yes," we said, all craning our necks to look.

"Well, this 'ere Fritz didn't."

L. Digby (12th East Surreys), 10 Windsor Road, Holloway, N.7

Beau Brummell's Puttees

March 1918.  Just before the big German offensive.

One night I was out with a reconnoitring patrol in "No Man's Land."  We had good reason to believe that Jerry also had a patrol in the near vicinity.

Suddenly a burst of machine-gun fire in our direction seemed to indicate that we had been spotted.  We dived for shell-holes and any available cover, breathlessly watching the bullets knock sparks off the barbed wire.

When the firing ceased and we attempted to re-form our little party, a Cockney known as "Posh" Wilks was missing.

Fearing the worst, we peered into the darkness.  Just then a Verey light illuminated the scene, and we saw the form of "Posh" Wilks some little distance away.

I went over to see what was wrong, and to my astonishment he was kneeling down carefully rewinding one of his puttees.

"Can't get these ruddy things right anyhow today," he said.

H. W. White (late Royal Sussex Regt.), 18 Airthrie Road, Goodmayes, Essex

Plenty of Room on Top

On December 4, 1917, we made a surprise attack on the enemy in the Jabal Hamrin range in Northern Mesopotamia.

We wore our winter clothing (the same as in Europe), with tin hats complete.  After stumbling over the rocks in extended order for some time, the platoon on my left, who were on higher ground, sighted a Turkish camp fire on the right.

We swung round in that direction, to find ourselves up against an almost blank wall of rock, about 20 ft. high, the enemy being somewhere on top.

At last we found a place at which to scale it, one at a time.  We began to mount, in breathless silence, expecting the first man to come tumbling down on top of all the rest.

I was the second, and just as I started to climb I felt two sharp tugs at my entrenching tool and a hoarse Cockney voice whispered, "Full up inside; plenty o' room on top."

I was annoyed at the time, but I have often laughed over it since.

P. V. Harris, 89 Sherwood Park Road, S.W.16

Next - Nearly Lost His Washing Bowl and four other stories

A Flechette was an anti-personnel dart dropped from an aircraft.

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Cockney War Stories