Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - A Long Streak of Misery 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 A Long Streak of Misery.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
A Long Streak of Misery
Dusk was falling on the second day of the battle of Loos.
I was pottering about looking for the other end of our line at the entrance to Orchard Street trench. A voice hailed me "'Ere, mate! Is this the wayaht?"
It came from a little Cockney, a so-called "walking" wounded case. Immediately behind him there hobbled painfully six feet of complete abjection.
I gave them directions, and told them that in two or three hundred yards they should be out of danger.
Then Jerry dropped a "crump." It tortured the sorely-tried nerves of the long fellow, and when the bricks and dust had settled, he declared, with sudden conviction: "We're going to lose this blinkin' war, we are!"
His companion gave him a look of contempt.
"You ain't 'arf a long streak of misery," he said. "If I fort that I'd go back nah an' 'ave another shot at 'em - even if you 'ad to carry me back."
"-- Lines," (33 (S) Bty), 24 Clifton Road, Maida Vale, W.9
"Smudger" Smith, from Hoxton, had just returned off leave, and joined us at Frankton Camp, near Ypres.
Not long after his arrival "Jerry" started strafing us with his long-range guns, but "Smudger" was more concerned with the tattooing which he had had done on his arms on leave.
I said they were very disfiguring, and advised him to have them removed, giving him an address to go to when he was again in London, and telling him the probable price.
Not very long after our conversation "Jerry" landed a shell about forty yards away from us and made us part company for a while.
When I pulled myself together and looked for "Smudger" he was half-buried with earth and looked in much pain.
I went over to him and began to dig him out. Whilst I was thus engaged he said to me in a weak voice, but with a smile on his face:
"How much did yer say it would corst to take them tattoos off? And when I told him he replied: "I fink I can get 'em done at harfprice nah."
When I dug him out I found he had lost one arm.
E. R. Wilson (late East Lancs Regt.), 22 Brindley Street, Shardeloes Road, New Cross, S.E.14
Importance of a "Miss"
Soon after the capture of Hill 70 an artillery observation post was established near the new front line. A telephone line was laid to it, but owing to persistent shelling the wire soon became a mere succession of knots and joints.
Communication was established at rare intervals, and repairing the line was a full-time job.
A Cockney signaller and I went out at daybreak one morning to add more joints to the collection, and after using every scrap of spare wire available made another temporary job of it.
Returning, however, we found at a cross-over that the wire had fallen from a short piece of board that had been stuck in the parapet to keep it clear of the trench. As my pal reached up to replace it his head caught the eye of a sniper, whose bullet, missing by a fraction, struck and knocked down the piece of wood.
The signaller's exclamation was: "Blimey, mate, it's lucky he ain't broke the blinkin' line again"
J. Hudson (late R.G.A.), 6 Ventnor Road, New Cross, S.E.14
"In the Midst of War --"
A battalion of a London regiment was in reserve in Riviere-Grosville, a small village just behind the line, in March 1917.
Towards midnight we were ordered to fall in in fighting order as it was believed that the Germans had retired.
Our mission was to reconnoitre the German position, and we were cautioned that absolute silence must be preserved.
All went well until we reached the German barbed wire entanglements, that had to be negotiated by narrow paths, through which we proceeded softly and slowly, and with the wind "well up."
Suddenly the air was rent by a stream of blistering invective, and a Cockney Tommy turned round on his pal, who had tripped and accidentally prodded him with the point of his bayonet, and at the top of his voice said:
"Hi, wot's the blinkin' gime, Charlie? Do that again and I'll knock yer ruddy 'ead off."
Charlie raised his voice to the level of the other's and said he'd like to see him do it, and while we flattened ourselves on the ground expecting a storm of bullets and bombs at any moment, the two pals dropped their rifles and had it out with their fists.
Fortunately, rumour was correct, the Germans had retired.
H. T. Scillitoe, 77 Stanmore Road, Stevenage, Herts
A Case for the Ordnance
A pitch dark night on the Salonika front in 1917.
I was in charge of an advanced detachment near a railhead. A general and a staff officer were travelling by rail-motor towards the front line when in the darkness the rail-motor crashed into some stationary freight trucks, completely wrecking the vehicle and instantly killing the driver.
I rushed with a stretcher party to render help. The general and his staff officer were unconscious amid the wreckage.
Feverishly we worked to remove the debris which pinned them down. Two of us caught the general beneath the shoulders, and one was raising his legs when to his horror one leg came away in his hand.
When the general regained his senses, seeing our concern, he quickly reassured us. The leg turned out to be a wooden one! He had lost the original at Hill 60.
The tension over, one of the stretcher-bearers, a Cockney from Mile End, whispered into my ear, "We can't take 'im to the 'orspital, sarge, he wants to go dahn to the Ordnance!"
Sgt. T. C. Jones, M.S.M., 15 Bushey Mill Lane, Watford
"Coffin Nails" was a term used by British soldiers to describe cigarettes.
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