Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Bill Hawkins Fights Them All 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 Action, led by Bill Hawkins Fights Them All.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Bill Hawkins Fights Them All
Whilst on the Ypres front during the fighting in 1918 we made an early-morning attack across the railway line in front of Dickebusch.
After going about fifty yards across No Man's Land my Cockney pal (Bill Hawkins, from Stepney), who was running beside me, got a slight wound in the arm, and before he had gone another two yards he got another wound in the left leg.
Suddenly he stopped, lifted his uninjured arm at the Germans and shouted, "Blimey, wot yer all firing at me for? Am I the only blinkin' man in this war?"
S. Stevens (late Middlesex Regt., 2nd Battn.), 7 Blenheim Street, Chelsea, S.W.
Hide and Seek with Jerry
To get information before the Somme offensive, the new idea of making daylight raids on the German trenches was adopted. It fell to our battalion to make the first big raid.
Our objective was the "brickfields" at Beaurains, near Arras, and our orders were to take as many prisoners as possible, hold the trench for half an hour, do as much damage as we could, and then return.
A covering barrage was put down, and over we went, one hundred strong.
We got into Jerry's trench all right, but, owing to the many dug-outs and tunnels, we could only find a few Germans, and these, having no time to bolt underground, got out of the trench and ran to take cover behind the kilns and brick-stacks.
And then the fun began. While the main party of us got to work in the trench, a few made after the men who had run into the brickfields, and it was a case of hide and seek, round and round and in and out of the kilns and brick-stacks.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, one chap, a Cockney, entered so thoroughly into the spirit of the thing that when, after a lengthy chase, he at last clapped a German on the shoulder, he shouted, "You're 'e!"
E. W. Fellows, M.M. (late 6th D.C.L.I.), 35 Dunlace Road, Clapton, E.S.
Too Much for His Imagination
In the platoon of cyclists I was posted to on the outbreak of war was a Cockney - a "Charlie Chaplin" without the funny feet. If there was a funny side to a thing, he saw it.
One day, on the advance, just before the battle of the Marne, our platoon was acting as part of the left flank guard when a number of enemy cavalry were seen advancing over a ridge, some distance away.
We were ordered to dismount and extend. We numbered about sixteen, so our line was not a long one.
A prominent object was pointed out to us, judged at about 150 yards away, and orders were given not to fire until the enemy reached that spot.
We could see that we were greatly outnumbered, and having to wait for them to reach that spot seemed to double the suspense. Our leader was giving commands one second and talking like a father the next.
He said, "Keep cool; each take a target; show them you are British. You have as good a chance as they, and although they are superior in numbers they have no other superior quality. I want you just to imagine that you are on the range again, firing for your pay."
Then our Cockney Charlie chimed in with: "Yes, but we ain't got no bloomin' markers."
S. Leggs (late Rifle Brigade and Cyclists), 33 New Road, Grays, Essex
"Currants" for Bunn
After we had taken part in the advance on the Somme in August 1916 my battalion was ordered to rest at Bazentin.
We had only been there a day or so when we were ordered to relieve the Tyneside Scottish who were badly knocked about. Hardly had we reached the front lines, when a little Cockney named Bunn (we never knew how he carried his pack, he was so small) got hit. We called for stretcher-bearers.
When they put him on the stretcher and were carrying him down the line, a doctor asked him his name.
The Cockney looked up with a smile and answered: "Bunn, sir, and the blighters have put some currants into me this time."
This gallant Cockney died afterwards.
J. E. Cully (late 13th King's Royal Rifles), 76 Milkwood Road, S.E.24
The Driver to his Horse
The artillery driver's affection for his own particular pair of horses is well known.
Our battery, in a particularly unhealthy spot in front of Zillebeke, in the Salient, had run out of ammunition, and the terrible state of the ground thereabout in the autumn of 1917 necessitated the use of pack-horses to "deliver the goods," and even then it was accomplished with difficulty.
A little Cockney driver with a pair named Polly and Bill had loaded up and was struggling through the mire. Three times Bill had dragged him on to his knees and up to his waist in the slush when a big Fritz shell dropped uncomfortably near.
Polly, with a mighty rear, threw the Cockney on to his back and, descending, struck him with a hoof.
Fed up to the teeth and desperate, he struggled to his feet, covered from head to feet in slime, and, clenching his fist, struck at the trembling and frightened horse, unloading a brief but very vivid description of its pedigree and probable future.
Then, cooling off, he began to pacify the mare, apologised, and pardoned her vice by saying, "Never mind, ole gal - I didn't mean ter bash yer! I fought the uvver one was hot stuff, but, strike me pink, you don't seem 'ooman!"
G. Newell (ex-Sergt., R.F.A.), 22 Queen Road, St. Albans
In slang a "beetle" was a landing craft for 200 men.
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