Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Another Perch in the Roost and Other Stories
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 High Seas, led by Another Perch in the Roost.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Another Perch in the Roost
On the morning of September 22, 1914, when the cruisers Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy were torpedoed, we were dotted about in the water, helping each other where possible and all trying to get some support.
When one piece got overloaded it meant the best swimmers trying their luck elsewhere.
Such was my position, when I saw a piece of wreckage resembling a chicken coop, large enough to support four men. I reached it just ahead of another man who had been badly scalded.
We were both exhausted and unable to help another man coming towards us. He was nearly done, and my companion, seeing his condition, shouted between breaths: "Come along, ole cock. Shake yer bloomin' feavers. There's a perch 'ere for anover rooster."
Both were stokers on watch when torpedoed, and in a bad state from scalds. Exposure did the rest. I was alone, when picked up.
W. Stevens (late R.M.L.I.), 23 Lower Range Road, Denton, near Gravesend
(A 12-inch shell weighs about 8 cwt. High explosives were painted yellow and "common" painted black.)
In October 1914 H.M.S. Venerable was bombarding the Belgian coast and Thames tugs were pressed into service to carry ammunition to ships taking part in the bombardment.
The sea was pretty rough when a tug came alongside the Venerable loaded with 12-in. shells, both high explosive and common.
Deck hands jumped down into the tug to sling the shells on the hoist. The tug skipper, seeing them jumping on the high explosives, shouted: "Hi! dahn there! Stop jumping on them yaller 'uns"; and, turning to the Commander, who was leaning over the ship's rail directing operations, he called out: "Get them yaller 'uns aht fust, guvnor, or them blokes dahn there 'll blow us sky high."
A. Gill, 21 Down Road, Teddington, Middlesex
Good Old "Vernon"
Several areas in the North Sea were protected by mines, which came from the torpedo depot ship, H.M.S. Vernon. The mines floated several feet below the surface, being kept in position by means of wires attached to sinkers.
In my submarine we had encountered very bad weather and were uncertain of our exact position. The weather got so bad that we were forced to cruise forty feet below the surface.
Everything was very still in the control room. The only movements were an occasional turn of the hydroplanes, or a twist at the wheel, at which sat "Shorty" Harris, a real hard case from Shadwell.
Suddenly we were startled by a scraping sound along the port side. Before we could put our thoughts into words there came an ominous bump on the starboard side.
Bump!... bump!... seven distinct thuds against the hull. No one moved, and every nerve was taut.
Then "Shorty" broke the tension with, "Good old Vernon, another blinkin' dud."
T. White, 31 Empress Avenue, Ilford
Any Time's Kissing Time!
A torpedo-boat destroyer engaged on transport duty in the Channel in 1916 had been cut in two by collision whilst steaming with lights out. A handful of men on the after-part, which alone remained afloat, were rescued after several hours by another destroyer, just as the after-part sank.
A howling gale was raging and some of the survivors had to swim for it.
As the first swimmer reached the heaving side of the rescuing ship he was caught by willing hands and hauled on board.
When he got his breath he stood up and, shaking himself to clear the water somewhat from his dripping clothes, looked around with a smile at the "hands" near by and said: "Well, ain't nobody a-goin' ter kiss me?"
J. W., Bromley, Kent
The Fag End
The captain of the troopship Transylvania had just called the famous "Every man for himself" order after the boat had received two torpedoes from a submarine.
The nurses had been got off safely in a boat, but our own prospects of safety seemed very remote.
Along came a Cockney with his cigarettes and the remark, "Who'll 'ave a fag afore they get wet?"
A. W. Harvey, 97 Elderfield Road, Clapton, E.5 (late 10th London Regiment)
A Battery was a group of six guns or howitzers.
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