Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - What Paderewski Was Missing 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 What Paderewski Was Missing.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
What Paderewski Was Missing
It was on the night of October 27, 1917, at Passchendaele Ridge. Both sides were "letting it go hell for leather," and we were feeling none too comfortable crouching in shell-holes and taking what cover we could.
The ground fairly shook - and so did we for that matter - with the heavy explosions and the din was ear-splitting.
Just for something to say I called out to the chap in the next shell-hole - a Brentford lad he was: "What d'you think of it, Alf?"
"Not much," he said, "I was just finkin' if Paderewski could get only this on 'is of jo-anner."
M. Hooker, 325A Md. Qrs., Henlow Camp, Bedford
A Target, but no Offers
During the battle of the Somme, in September 1916, our Lewis gun post was in a little loop trench jutting out from the front line at a place called, I believe, Lone Tree, just before Combles. Jerry's front line was not many yards away, and it was a very warm spot.
Several casualties had occurred during the morning through sniping, and one enterprising chap had scored a bull's-eye on the top of our periscope.
Things quietened down a bit in the afternoon, and about 4 p.m. our captain, who already had the M.C., came along and said to our corporal, "I believe the Germans have gone."
A Cockney member of our team, overhearing this, said, "Well, it won't take long to find out," and jumping upon the fire-step exposed himself from the waist upwards above the parapet.
After a minute's breathless silence he turned to the captain and said, with a jerk of his thumb, "They've hopped it, sir."
That night we and our French friends entered Combles.
M. Chittenden (late "C" Coy., i/16th London Regt., Q.W.R.), 26 King Edward Road, Waltham Cross, Herts
Their Own Lord Mayor's Show
In April 1918 our unit was billeted near Amiens in a small village from which the inhabitants had been evacuated two days earlier, owing to the German advance.
On the second day of our stay there Jerry was shelling the steeple of the village church, and we had taken cover in the cellars under the village school. All at once we heard roars of laughter coming from the street, and wondering what on earth anyone could find to laugh at, we tumbled up to have a look.
The sight that met our eyes was this: Gravely walking down the middle of the street were two of the "Hackney Ghurkas," the foremost of whom was dressed in a frock coat and top hat, evidently the property of the village maire, and leading a decorated mule upon the head of which was tied the most gaudy "creation" which ever adorned a woman's head.
The second Cockney was clad in the full garb of a twenty-stone French peasant woman, hat and all, and was dragging at the end of a chain a stuffed fox, minus its glass case, but still fastened to its baseboard.
They solemnly paraded the whole length of the street and back again, and were heard to remark that the village was having at least one Lord Mayor's Show before Jerry captured it!
And this happened at the darkest time of the war, when our backs were to the wall.
A.C.P. (late 58th London Division), Fulham, S.W.6
Pill-Box Crown and Anchor
In the fighting around Westhoek in August 1917 the 56th Division were engaged in a series of attacks on the Nonne Boschen Wood, and owing to the boggy nature of the ground the position was rather obscure.
A platoon of one of the London battalions was holding a pill-box which had been taken from the Germans during the day. In the night a counterattack was made in the immediate vicinity of the pill-box, which left some doubt as to whether it had again fallen to the enemy.
A patrol was sent out to investigate. After cautiously approaching the position and being challenged in a Cockney tongue, they entered the pill-box, and were astonished to see the occupants playing crown and anchor.
The isolated and dangerous position was explained to the sergeant in charge, but he nonchalantly replied, "Yes, I know all abaht that; but, yer see, wet's the use of frightenin' the boys any more? There's been enough row rahnd 'ere all night as it is."
N. Butcher (late 3rd Londons), 43 Tankerville Drive, Leigh-on-Sea
"C.O.'s Paid 'is Phone Bill"
On the Somme, during the big push of 1916, we had a section of Signallers attached to our regiment to keep the communications during the advance.
Of the two attached to our company, one was a Cockney. He had kept in touch with the "powers that be" without a hitch until his wire was cut by a shell. He followed his wire back and made the necessary repair. Three times he made the same journey for the same reason. His mate was killed by a shrapnel shell and he himself had his left arm shattered: but to him only one thing mattered, and that was to "keep in touch." So he stuck to his job.
The wire was broken a fourth time, and as he was about to follow it back, a runner came up from the C.O. wanting to know why the signaller was not in communication. He started back along his wire and as he went he said, "Tell 'im to pay 'is last account, an' maybe the telephone will be re-connected."
A permanent line was fixed before he allowed the stretcher-bearers to take him away. My chum had taken his post at the end of the wire, and as the signaller was being carried away he called out feebly, "You're in touch with H.Q. C.O.'s paid 'is bill, an' we'll win the war yet."
L.N. Loder, M.C. (late Indian Army), Streatham
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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