Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Two Kinds of "Shorts" 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 Two Kinds of "Shorts".
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Two Kinds of "Shorts"
August 1916, Delville Wood.
We had been brought specially from rest camp to take the remainder of the wood, which was being stoutly contested by the Germans and was holding up our advance.
The usual barrage, and over we went, and were met by the Germans standing on top of their trenches. A fierce bombing fight began. The scrap lasted a long time, but at last we charged and captured the trench.
One of our men, quite a small Cockney, captured a German about twice his own size.
The German was so surprised at being captured by a person so insignificant looking that he stood and stared.
Our Cockney, seeing his amazement, said: "Yus, yer needn't stare, I'm real, and wot's more, I got a good mind ter punch yer under the blinkin' ear fer spoiling me rest!"
F. M. Fellows, M.M. (late Corporal, 6th Batt. D.C.L.I.), 33 Dunlace Road, Clapton, E.5
Mespot - On 99 Year's Lease
I was in Mesopotamia from 1916 till 1920, and after the Armistice was signed there was still considerable trouble with the Arabs.
In the summer of 1919 I, with a party of 23 other R.A.S.C. men, was surrounded by the Arabs at an outpost that was like a small fort.
We had taken up supplies for troops stationed there. T here were about 100 Indian soldiers, and a few British N.C.O.'s in charge.
It was no use "running the gauntlet." We were on a hill and kept the Arabs at bay all day, also the next night.
The next day all was quiet again, but in the afternoon an Arab rode into the camp on horseback with a message, which he gave to the first Tommy he saw.
It happened to be one of our fellows, a proper Cockney. He read the message - written in English - requesting us to surrender.
Our Cockney pal said a few kind words to the Arab, and decided to send a message back.
He wrote this on the back of the paper: "Sorry, Mr. Shake. We have only just taken the place, and we have got it on 99 years' lease. Yours faithfully, Old Bill and Co., Ltd., London."
W. Thurgood (late R.A.S.C., M.T.), 46 Malden Road, Southend-on-Sea, Essex
"Fro Something at Them!"
There was a certain divisional commander in France who enjoyed a popularity that was almost unique. He was quite imperturbable, whatever the situation.
Unfortunately, he had an impediment in his speech, and when first one met him he was difficult to understand. But heaven help anyone who asked him to repeat anything. A light would come into his eye, and he would seize hold of his victim by the shoulder-strap and heave and tug till it came off.
"You'll understand me," he would say, "when I tell you your shoulder-strap is undone!"
The Division he commanded had just put up a wonderful fight just south of Arras in the March '18 show, and, having suffered very heavy casualties, were taken out of the line and put into a cushy front next door to the Portuguese.
The morning after they took over the Germans launched a heavy attack on the Portuguese, who withdrew somewhat hurriedly, so that the whole flank of the British division was open.
The general was sitting eating his breakfast - he had been roused at six by the bombardment - when an excited orderly came into the room and reported that the Germans had got right in behind the Division and were now actually in the garden of the general's chateau.
The general finished drinking his cup of coffee, the orderly still standing to attention, waiting instructions.
"Then you had better 'fro' something at them - or shoo them away," said the general.
F. A. P., Cavalry Club, Piccadilly, W.
Missed His Mouth-Organ
During the Battle of the Somme our trench-mortar battery was going back after a few days' rest.
It was very dark and raining. As we neared our destination it appeared that Jerry and our chaps were having a real argument.
We were going up a road called "Queen's Hollow." Jerry was enfilading us on both sides, and a rare bombing fight was going on at the farther end of the Hollow - seventy or a hundred yards in front of us.
We were expecting to feel the smack of a bullet any moment, and there was a terrible screeching and bursting of shells, with a few "Minnies" thrown in.
We were in a fine pickle, and I had just about had enough when my pal (a lad from "The Smoke") nearly put me on my back by stopping suddenly.
"I don't like this, Bomb," he said.
"What's wrong with you? Get on," I replied, "or we'll all be blown sky high."
"Oh, all right," he said, "but I wish I'd brought me mouf orgin. I could then have livened fings up a bit."
"Bombardier" (R.A.), late T.M.B., 7th Division
There must be at least six men still alive who remember a certain affair at Kemmel.
During the latter part of April 1918 our machine gunners had been having a bad time, and one old Cockney sergeant found himself and his party isolated miles in front of our line.
The cool way in which he gave orders, as he told his men to make their way back - lying down for a bit, then making a run for another shelter - would have been humorous if conditions had not been so terrifying.
He himself kept his gun working to protect their retreat, and when he saw they had reached a place of safety he picked up his gun and rejoined them unhurt.
One of his men, describing the action afterwards, said, "Carried his gun three miles - wouldn't part with it - and the first thing he did when he was able to settle down quietly was to start cleaning the blessed thing!"
H. R. Tanner, "Romsdal," Newton Ferrers, S. Devon
"Bellied" was a term used to describe when a tank's underside was caught upon an obstacle such that its tracks were unable to grip the earth.
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