Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - "A Blinkin' Vanity Box" and Other Stories

"A Blinkin' Vanity Box" 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 Blinkin' Vanity Box".

Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.

"A Blinkin' Vanity Box"

After the terrific upheaval of June 7, 1917, my brigade (the 111th) held the line beyond Wytschaete Ridge for some weeks.

While my company was in support one day my corporal and I managed to scrounge into a pill-box away from the awful mud.  We could not escape the water because the explosion of the mines on June 7 had cracked the foundation of our retreat and water was nearly two feet deep on the floor.

Just before dusk on this rainy July evening I was shaving before a metal mirror in the top bunk in the pill-box, while the corporal washed in a mess-tin in the bunk below.

Just then Jerry started a severe strafe and a much-muddied runner of the 13th Royal Fusiliers appeared in the unscreened doorway.

"Come in and shelter, old man," I said.  So he stepped on to an ammunition box that just failed to keep his feet clear of the water.

He had watched our ablutions in silence for a minute or so, when a shell burst almost in the doorway and flung him into the water below our bunks, where he sat with his right arm red and rent, sagging at his side.

"Call this a shelter?" he said.  "Blimey, it's a blinkin' vanity box!"

Sgt., 10th R.F., East Sheen, S.W.14

"Playin' at statchoos" (click to enlarge)

Playing at Statues

We were making our way to a detached post just on the left of Vimy, and Jerry was sending up Verey lights as we were going along.  Every time one went up we halted, and kept quite still in case we should be seen.

It was funny indeed to see how some of the men halted when a light went up.  Some had one foot down and one raised, and others were in a crouching position.

" My missus orta see me nah playing at blinkin' statchoos," said one old Cockney.

T. Kelly (late 17th London Regt.), 43 Ocean Street, Stepney, E.1

Bo Peep - 1915 Version

In 1915 at Fricourt "Copper" Kingsland of our regiment, the 7th Royal West Surreys, was on sentry on the firestep in the front line.  At this period of the war steel helmets were not in use.  Our cap badge was in the form of a lamb.

A Fritz sniper registered a hit through Kingsland's hat, cutting the tail portion of the lamb away.

After he had pulled himself together "Copper" surveyed his cap badge and remarked: "On the larst kit inspection I reported to the sargint that yer was lorst, and nah I shall 'ave ter tell 'im that when Bo Peep fahnd yer, yer wagged yer bloomin' tail off in gratitood."

"Spot," Haifa, Farley Road, Selsdon, Surrey

Jerry's Dip in the Fat

We were out at rest in an open field on the Somme front when one morning, about 5 a.m., our cook, Alf, of Battersea, was preparing the company's breakfast.

There was bacon, but no bread.  I was standing beside the cooker soaking one of my biscuits in the fat.

Suddenly a Jerry airman dived down towards the cooker, firing his machine gun.  I got under the cooker, Alf fell over the side of it, striking his head on the ground.

I thought he was hit.  But he sat up, rubbing his head and looking up at Jerry, who was then flying away.

"'Ere!" he shouted, "next time yer wants a dip in the fat, don't be so rough."

H. A. Redford (late 24th London Regt.), 31 Charrington Street, N.W.1

Carried Unanimously

Some recently captured trenches had to be cleared of the enemy, and in the company told off for the job was a Cockney youth.

Proceeding along the trench with a Mills bomb in his hand, he came upon a number of the enemy hiding in a dug-out.

"Nah then," he shouted, holding up the bomb in readiness to throw it if necessary, "all them as votes for coming along wiv me 'old up your 'ands."

All hands were held up, with the cry "Kamerad Kamerad!"

Upon which the Cockney shouted, "Look, mates, it's carried unanermously."

H. Morgan (late 4th Telegraph Construction Co., R.E. Signals), 26 Ranelagh Road, Wembley

Next - A Very Hot Bath and four other stories

"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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Cockney War Stories