Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - "'Arf Price at the Pickshers!" and Other Stories

"'Arf Price at the Pickshers!" 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 six stories from Hospital, led by "'Arf Price at the Pickshers".

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

"'Arf Price at the Pickshers!"

On the way across Channel with a Blighty in 1917 I chummed up with a wounded Cockney member of the Sussex.  His head was swathed in bandages.

"Done one o' me eyes in altergevver," he confided lugubriously.  "Any blinkin' 'ow," he added in cheerier tones, "if that don't entitle a bloke to 'arf price at the pickshers fer the rest of 'is blinkin' natural I don't know wot will do!"

James Vance Marshall, 15, Manette Street, W.1

Twenty-four Stitches in Time

During the 1918 reverses suffered by the Turks on various fronts large numbers of mules were captured and sent to the veterinary bases to be reconditioned, sorted, and shod, for issue to various units in need of them.

It was no mean feat to handle and shoe the worst-tempered brutes in the world.  They had been made perfect demons through privation.

"Ninty," a shoeing-smith (late of Grange Road, Bermondsey), was laid out and savaged by a mule, and carried off to hospital.

At night his bosom pal goes over to see how his "old china" is going on.

"'Ow are ye, Ninty?"

"Blimey, Ted, nineteen stitches in me figh an' five in me ribs.  Ted - wot d'ye reckon they done it wiv?  A sewin' machine?"

A. C. Weekley (late Farrier Staff Sergeant, 10th Veterinary Hospital, Abbassair), 70 Denbigh Road, East Ham, E.6

His Second Thoughts

A blue jacket who was brought into the Naval Hospital at Rosyth had had one of his legs blown off while he was asleep in his hammock.

The late Mr. Thomas Horrocks Oppenshaw, the senior surgeon-in-charge, asked him what his first thought was when the explosion woke him up.

"My first thought was 'Torpedoed, by gum!'

"And what did you think next?"

"I think what I thought next was 'Ruddy good shot!'"

H.R.A., M.D., Ilford Manor, near Lewes, Sussex

Hats Off to Private Tanner

The following story, which emphasises the Cockney war spirit in the most adverse circumstances, and how it even impressed our late enemy, was related to me by a German acquaintance whose integrity is unimpeachable.

It was at a German prisoner-of-war clearing station in Douai during the summer of 1917, where wounded British prisoners were being cleared for prison-camp hospital.

A number of wounded of a London regiment has been brought in, and a German orderly was detailed to take their names and particulars of wounds, etc.

Later looking over the orderly's list the German sergeant-major in charge came across a name written by the orderly which was quite unintelligible to the sergeant-major.

He therefore requested an intelligence officer, who spoke perfect English, to ask this particular man his name. T he intelligence officer sought out the man, a Cockney, who had been severely wounded, and the following conversation took place.

I.O: "You are Number--?"

Cockney: "Yussir."

I.O: "What is your name?"

Cockney: "Fourpence'a'penny."

I.O: "I understand this is a term of English money, not a name."

Cockney: "Well, sir, I used to be called Tanner, but my right leg was took orf yesterday."

The final words of the intelligence officer, as related to me, were: "I could have fallen on the 'begrimed ruffian hero's' neck and kissed him."

J. W. Rourke, M.C. (ex-Lieut. Essex Regt.), 20 Mill Green Road, Welwyn Garden City

The Markis o' Granby

Wounded at Sheria, Palestine, in November 1917, I was sent to the nearest railhead in a motor-ambulance.

A fellow-passenger - also from a London battalion - was wounded very badly in both thighs.  The orderly who tucked him up on his stretcher before the start asked him if he would like a drink.

"No, thanks, chum - not nah," he replied; "but you might arsk the driver to pull up at the ole Markis o' Granby, and we'll all 'ave one!"

I heard later that he died in hospital.

C. Dickens (late 2/10th London Regiment), 18 Wheathill Road, Anerley, S.E.20

A One-Legged Turn

Wounded about half an hour after the final attack on Gaza, I awoke to consciousness in the M.O.'s dug-out.

"Poor old concert party," he said; "you're the fifth 'Ragamuffin' to come down."

Eventually I found myself sharing a mule-cart with another wounded man, but he lay so motionless and quiet that I feared I was about to journey from the line in a hearse.

The jolting of the cart apparently jerked a little life into him, for he asked me, "Got a fag, mate?"

With a struggle I lighted my one remaining cigarette.

After a while I asked him, "Where did you catch it, old fellow?"

"Lumme," he replied, "if it ain't old George's voice."

Then I recognised Sam, the comedian of our troupe.

"Got it pretty rotten in the leg," he added.

"Will it put paid to your comedy act, Sammy?" I asked.

"Dunno," he replied with a sigh in his voice - "I'm tryin' to fink 'art a one-legged step dance."

G. W. Turner (late 11th London Regt.), ro Sunny View, Kingsbury, N.W.9

Next - High Seas section

A "Bangalore Torpedo" was an explosive tube used to clear a path through a wire entanglement.

- Did you know?

Cockney War Stories