Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Dust in 'Indenburg's Sauerkraut! 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 Dust in 'Indenburg's Sauerkraut!.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Dust in 'Indenburg's Sauerkraut!
To all those thousands who remember Shrapnel Corner and the sign: "DRIVE SLOWLY! SPEED CAUSES DUST WHICH DRAWS THE ENEMY'S SHELL FIRE" this incident will appeal.
I had rounded the corner into Zillebeke Road with a load of ammunition, and had gone about 200 yards along the road, when Fritz let go with a few shells.
"Rum Ration" (my mate's nick-name) looked out of the lorry to observe where the shells were falling.
"Nah we're for it," he exclaimed, "our dust must 'ave gorn into ole 'Indenberg's blinkin' sauerkraut."
J.H. Clarke, ex-Pte., M.T.A.S.C.
A Valiant Son of London
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! - and men falling with each crack. It is terrible; we are faced with mud, misery, and despair. A German machine-gun is taking its toll.
It seems impossible to get at the gunners, and we spend hours lying in wait. This waiting proves too much for one of us; single-handed he takes a chance and crawls away from my side. I keep him covered; minutes roll by; they seem hours, days; and, as he is now out of sight, I begin to give up hope for him, my Cockney pal.
Some instinct warns me to keep watch, and I am rewarded. I feel my eyes start from my head as I see the approaching procession - four Germans, hands above their heads, and my pal following, carrying the machine-gun across his shoulders.
I marvel at his courage and wonder how it was done... but this I am never to know. As I leap from the trench to give him assistance I realise his number is nearly up. He is covered with blood.
I go to relieve him of his burden, and in that moment one of the Germans, sensing that my pal is almost out, turns on us with his revolver. We are held at the pistol-point and I know I must make a desperate bid to save my pal, who has done his best in an act which saved a portion of our line.
I drop the gun and, with a quick movement, I am able to trip the nearest German, but he is quick too and manages to stick me (and I still carry the mark of his bayonet in my side).
The realisation I am still able to carry on, that life is sweet, holds me up, and, with a pluck that showed his determination and Cockney courage, my pal throws himself into a position in which he can work the gun. Crack! and Crack! again: the remaining Germans are brought down.
I am weak with loss of blood, but I am still able to drag my pal with me, and, aided by his determination, we get through. It seems we are at peace with the world. But, alas, when only five yards from our trenches a shell bursts beside us; I have a stinging pain in my shoulder and cannot move! Machine-guns and rifles are playing hell.
My pal, though mortally wounded, still tries to drag me to our trench. He reaches the parapet... Zip... Zip. The first has missed, but the second gets him. It is a fatal shot, and, though in the greatest agony, he manages to give me a message to his folks...
He died at my side, unrewarded by man. The stretcher-bearer told me that he had five bullet-holes in him. He lies in France to-day, and I owe my life to him, and again I pay homage to his memory and to him as one of England's greatest heroes - a Valiant Son of London.
John Batten (late Rifleman, 13 Bn,, K,R.R.C.), 50 Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park, W.2
A Hint to the Brigadgier
Alec Lancaster was a showman at the White City in pre-war days. Short in stature, he possessed a mighty heart, and in the ghastly days in front of Poelcapelle he made history as the sergeant who took command of a brigadier.
The brigadier had been on a visit to the front line to inspect a new belt of wire and, passing the -- headquarters, paused to look around.
Just then a few shells came over in quick succession and things looked nasty.
Alec Lancaster took command and guided the brigadier somewhat forcibly into a dug-out with the laconic, "Nah, then. We don't want any dead brigadiers rahnd 'ere."
Geo. B. Fuller, 146 Rye Road, Hoddesdon, Herts
"Salvage? Yus, Me!"
On the third day of the German offensive in March 1918 a certain brigade of the R.F.A. was retiring on Peronne. A driver, hailing from London town, was in charge of the cook's cart, which contained officers' kits belonging to the headquarters' staff.
As he was making his way along a "pip-squeak" came over and burst practically beneath the vehicle and blew the whole issue to pieces. The driver had a miraculous escape.
When he recovered from the shock he ruefully surveyed the debris, and after deciding that nothing could be done, continued his journey on foot into Peronne.
Just outside that town he was met by the Adjutant, who said, "Hullo, driver, what's happened - where's cook's cart with the kits?"
DRIVER: Blown up, sir.
ADJUTANT (anxiously): Anything salved?
DRIVER: Yus, sir, me!
F.H. Seabright, 12 Broomhill Road, Goodmayes, Essex
The London (47th) Division, after a strenuous time on the Somme in September 1916, were sent to Ypres for a quiet (?) spell, the depleted ranks being made up by reserves from home who joined us en route.
The 18th Battalion (London Irish), were informed on taking the line that their opponents were men of the very same German regiment as they had opposed and vanquished at High Wood.
Soon after "stand down" the following morning Rifleman S-- mounted the fire-step and, cupping his hands to his mouth, shouted, "Compree 'Igh Wood, Fritz?"
The words had hardly left his lips when zip, a sniper's bullet knocked his tin hat off his head and Rifleman S-- found himself lying on the duckboards with blood running down his face.
Picking himself up, he calmly gathered his souvenirs together and said as he made his way out, "Cheerio, boys, I've got a Blighty one, but don't tell the colonel it was self-inflicted."
A.C.B., Iljord, Essex
"Toc Emmas" was slang for trench mortars.
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