Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - The Skipper's Cigar 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 High Seas, led by The Skipper's Cigar.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
The Skipper's Cigar
Bradley (a Deptford flower-seller before joining up) was the "comic" of the stokers' mess deck.
He was always late in returning from shore leave. One Monday morning he returned half an hour "adrift," and was promptly taken before the skipper.
The skipper, a jovial old sort, asked him his reason for being adrift again, and Bradley replied:
"Well, sir, Townsend and me were waiting for the liberty boat, and I was telling him that if ever I sees the skipper round Deptford I'll let him 'ave a 'bob' bunch of flowers for a 'tanner,' and we looked round and the blinkin' boat was gorne."
The skipper smiled and dismissed him. On Christmas Day Bradley received a packet containing a cigar in it, with the following written on the box:
"For the best excuse of the year. - F. H. C., Capt."
I saw Bradley three years ago and he told me he still had that cigar in a glass case with his medals.
F. H. (late Stoker, R.N.), 18 Little Ilford Lane, Manor Park, E.12
Breaking the Spell
We were in a twelve-inch gun turret in a ship during the Dogger Bank action.
The ship had been hit several times and big explosions had scorched the paint and done other damage.
There came a lull in the firing, and with all of us more or less badly shaken there was a queer silence. Our captain decided to break it. Looking round at the walls of the turret he remarked in a Cockney, stuttering voice: "Well, lads, this blinking turret couldn't 'arf do with a coat of paint."
J. Bone, 84 Victoria Road, Surbiton
A V.C.'s Story of Friendship
A transport packed with troops and horses for the Dardanelles was suddenly hailed by a German cruiser and the captain was given a few minutes in which to abandon ship.
One young soldier was found with his arms round his horse's neck, sobbing bitterly, and when ordered to the boats he stubbornly refused to move.
"Where my white-faced Willie goes I goes," he said proudly.
His loyalty to his dumb friend was rewarded, for the German cruiser fired twice at the transport, missed each time, and before a third effort British destroyers were on the scene to chase her away.
It was then the young soldier had the laugh over his friends, for they in many cases arrived back on the ship half frozen and soaked to the skin!
A Colonel, who wishes to remain anonymous: he holds the V.C., D.S.O., and M.C.
The Stoker Sums it Up
I was on a large transport (normally a freighter), which had just arrived at a port on the East African coast, very rusty, and with a very un-naval-looking crew.
We were taken in charge by a very small but immaculate gun-boat.
Orders were shouted to us by megaphone, and our men were leaning over the side watching the gun-boat rather enviously, when a Poplar stoker came up from below for a "breather," and summed up his mates' feelings in eight words.
Cupping his hands about his mouth, he shouted in a voice of thunder: "Do yer stop aht all night in 'er?"
R. N. Spence (late Lieutenant, R.N.V.R.), 214 Croydon Road, Beckenham
Channel Swimming his Next Job
During the war I had to fly a machine over to France. I had as passenger a Cockney Tommy who had recently transferred from the infantry to the R.F.C., and was joining his unit overseas.
Half-way over the Channel my engine failed and I glided down towards the nearest boat I could see. The landing was not very successful; the under-carriage struck the crest of a wave and the aeroplane hit the water almost vertically.
We were both thrown out, my passenger being somewhat badly knocked about in the process. We clung to the almost submerged wreckage and gazed hopefully towards the vessel I had sighted. She continued on her course, however.
The machine soon sank and we were left bobbing about in our life-belts. Things began to look far from bright, especially as my Cockney observer was in a pretty bad way by now.
Suddenly the sun broke through the clouds, and the white cliffs of Grisnez, about eight miles away, stood out clearly.
"What's them hills, sir?" asked Tommy.
"Cape Grisnez, where Burgess landed after his Channel swim," I replied.
"Blimey," he said, "if we ever gets out of this perishing mess, and I can't get me old job back after the war, I'll be a blooming Channel swimmer. I know the ruddy way across nah."
"Pilot R.F.C.," London, W.1
"Eggs-a-cook" were boiled eggs sold by Arab street vendors. It was later used by Anzac soldiers when going over the top.
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