Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Cricket on the Somme 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 Cricket on the Somme.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Cricket on the Somme
"Spider" Webb was a Cockney - from Stepney, I believe - who was with us on the Somme in 1916. He was a splendid cricketer.
We had had a very stiff time for six or seven hours and were resting during a lull in the firing. Then suddenly Jerry sent over five shells. After a pause another shell came over and burst near to "Spider" and his two pals.
When the smoke cleared I went across to see what had happened.
"Spider's" two pals were beyond help. The Cockney was propping himself up with his elbows surveying the scene.
"What's happened, Webb?" I said. "Blimey! What's happened?" was the reply. "One over - two bowled" (and, looking down at his leg) - "and I'm stumped."
Then he fainted.
George Franks, M.C. (late Lieut., Royal Artillery), Ilford, Essex
M'Lord, of Hoxton
We called him "M'lord." He came from Hoxton - "That's where they make 'em," he used to say. He was a great asset to us, owing to the wonderful way in which he went out and "won" things.
One night, near Amiens, in 1916, "M'lord" said, "I'm going aht to see wot some uvver mob has got too much of." One or two of us offered to accompany him, but he refused, saying, "You bloomin' elephants 'ud be bahnd to give the gime away."
About three hours later, when we were beginning to get anxious, we saw him staggering in with a badly wounded German, who was smoking a cigarette.
Seeing us, and very much afraid of being thought soft-hearted, "M'lord" plumped old Fritz down on the fire-step and said very fiercely, "Don't you dare lean on me wif impunity, or wif a fag in your mouf."
Jerry told us later that he had lain badly wounded in a deserted farmhouse for over two days, and "M'lord" had almost carried him for over a mile.
"M'lord" was killed later on in the war. Our battalion was the 7th Batt. Royal Fusiliers (London Regt.)
The Tall Man's War
In our platoon was a very tall chap who was always causing us great amusement because of his height. Naturally he showed his head above the parapet more often than the rest of us, and whenever he did so ping would come a bullet from a sniper and down our tall chum would drop in an indescribably funny acrobatic fashion.
The climax came at Delville Wood in August 1916, when, taking over the line, we found the trench knocked about in a way that made it most uncomfortable for all of us.
Here our tall friend had to resort to his acrobatics more than ever: at times he would crawl on all fours to "dodge 'em." One shot, however, caused him to dive down more quickly than usual - right into a sump hole in the trench.
Recovering himself, he turned to us and, with an expression of unutterable disgust, exclaimed, "You blokes can laugh; anybody 'ud fink I was the only blighter in this war."
C. Bragg (late Rifle Brigade, 14th Division), 61 Hinton Road, Herne Hill, S.E.24
Germany Didn't Know This
One night in June 1916, on the Somme, we were ordered to leave our line and go over and dig an advance trench. We returned to our trench before dawn, and shortly afterwards my chum, "Pussy" Harris, said to me, "I have left my rifle in No Man's Land."
"Never mind," I said, "there are plenty more. Don't go over there: the snipers are sure to get you."
But my advice was all in vain; he insisted on going. When I asked him why he wanted that particular rifle he said, "Well, the barrel is bent, and it can shoot round corners."
He went over...
That night I saw the regimental carpenter going along the trench with a roughly-made wooden cross inscribed "R.I.P. Pte. Harris."
W. Ford, 613 Becontree Avenue, Chadwell Heath, Essex
Better than the Crystal Palace
One night, while going round the line at Loos, I was accompanied by Sergeant Winslow, who was a London coster before the war.
We were examining the field of fire of a Lewis gun, when the Germans opened up properly on our sector. Clouds of smoke rose from the surrounding trenches, crash after crash echoed around the old Loos crassier, and night was turned into day by Verey lights sent up by both sides.
Suddenly a lad of 18, just out, turned to Sergeant Winslow, and in a quivering voice said: "My God, sergeant, this is awful!"
Sergeant Winslow replied: "Now, look 'ere, me lad, you'd have paid 'alf a dollar to take your best gal to see this at the Crystal Palace before the war. What are yer grousing abaht?"
A.E. Grant (late 17th Welch Regt.), 174 Broom Road, Teddington
A 'whizzbang' was a high-velocity, low-trajectory shell that made a shrill approach noise and then a sharp explosive report.
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