Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - "Well, He Ain't Done In, See!" 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 "Well, He Ain't Done In, See!".
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
"Well, He Ain't Done In, See!"
During the great German offensive in March 1918 our company was trying to hold the enemy at Albert.
My platoon was in an old trench in front of Albert station, and was in rather a tight comer, the casualties being pretty heavy. A runner managed to get through to us with a message. He asked our sergeant to send a man to another platoon with the message.
One of my pals, named Gordon, shouted, "Give it to me; I'll go."
He crept out of the trench and up a steep incline and over the other side, and was apparently being peppered by machine-gun fire all the way. We had little hope of him ever getting there. About a couple of hours later another Cockney cried: "Blimey! He's coming back!"
We could see him now, crawling towards us. He got within a dozen yards of our trench, and then a Jerry "coalbox" arrived. It knocked us into the mud at the bottom of our trench and seemed to blow Gordon, together with a ton or so of earth, twenty feet in the air, and he came down in the trench.
"That's done the poor blighter in," said the other Cockney as we rushed to him. To our surprise Gordon spoke:
" Well, he ain't done in - see!"
He had got the message to the other platoon, and was little the worse for his experience of being blown skyward. I think that brave fellow's deed was one of many that had to go unrewarded.
H. Nachbaur (late 7th Suffolks), 4 Burnham Road, St. Albans, Herts
"Baby's Fell Aht er Bed!"
The day before our division (38th Welch) captured Mametz Wood on the Somme, in July 1916, our platoon occupied a recently captured German trench.
We were examining in a very deep dug-out some of Jerry's black bread when a heavy shell landed almost at the entrance with a tremendous crash. Earth, filled sand-bags, etc., came thundering down the steps, and my thoughts were of being buried alive about forty feet underground.
But amid all the din, Sam (from Walworth) amused us with his cry: " Muvver! Baby's fell aht er bed!"
P. Carter (late 1st London Welch), 6 Amhurst Terrace, Hackney, E.8
Stamp Edging Wanted
During severe fighting in Cambrai in 1917 we were taking up position in the front line when suddenly over came a "present" from Jerry, scattering our men in all directions and causing a few casualties.
Among the unfortunate ones was a Cockney whose right hand was completely blown off.
In a sitting position he calmly turned to the private next to him and exclaimed "Blimey, they've blown me blinkin' German band (hand) off. Got a bit of stamp edging, mate?"
T. Evans, 24 Russell Road, Wood End Green, Northolt, Greenford
"Oo's 'It - You or Me?"
It was our fifth day in the front line in a sector of the Arras front. In the afternoon, after a terrible barrage, Jerry came over the top on our left, leaving our immediate front severely alone.
Our platoon Lewis gun was manned at that time by "Cooty," a Cockney, he being "Number One" on the gun. We were blazing away at the advancing tide when a shell exploded close to the gun.
"Cooty" was seen to go rigid for a moment, and then he quickly rolled to one side to make way for "Number Two" to take his place. He took "Number Two's" position beside the gun.
The new "Number One" saw that "Cooty" had lost three fingers, and told him to retire. "Cooty" would not have that, but calmly began to refill an empty magazine. "Number One" again requested him to leave, and a sharp tiff occurred between them.
"Cooty" was heard to say, "Look 'ere, oo's 'it - you or me?"
"You are," said "Number One."
"Then mind your own blinkin' business," said "Cooty," "and get on with shelling these peas."
Poor "Cooty," who had lost his left foot as well, passed out shortly after, was a Guardsman at one time.
D.S.T., Kilburn, N.W.
The Stocking Bomb
We were a desert mobile column, half-way across the Sinai Peninsula from Kantara to Gaza. Turkish aeroplanes paid us a daily visit and pelted us with home-made "stocking-bombs" (old socks filled with nails, old iron, and explosives).
On this particular day we were being bombed and a direct hit on one gunner's shoulder knocked him to the ground, but failed to explode.
Sitting up in pain he blinked at the stocking-bomb and then at the plane and shouted: " Nah chuck us yer blinkin' boots dahn!"
He then fainted and we helped him, but could not resist a broad smile.
A. Crose, 77 Caistor Park Road, West Ham, E.15
Russia mobilised 12 million men during the war; France 8.4 million; Britain 8.9 million; Germany 11 million; Austria-Hungary 7.8 million; Italy 5.6 million; and the USA 4.3 million.
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