Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - An American Hustle and Other Stories

An American Hustle 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 Here and There, led by An American Hustle.

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

An American Hustle

I was on the extreme right of the British line on March 22, 1918, and was severely wounded.

I was picked up by the U.S. Red Cross.  There was accommodation for four in the ambulance, and this was apportioned between two Frenchmen, a Cockney gunner, and myself.

Anxious to keep our spirits up, the kindly Yankee driver said, "Cheer up! I'll soon get you there and see you put right," and as if to prove his words he rushed the ambulance off at express speed, with the result that in a few moments he knocked down a pedestrian.

A short rest whilst he adjusted matters with the unfortunate individual, then off again at breakneck speed.

The Cockney had, up to now, been very quiet, but when our driver barely missed a group of Tommies and in avoiding them ran into a wagon, the Londoner raised himself on his elbow and in a hoarse voice said, "Naw then, Sam, what the 'ell are you playing at?  'Aint yer got enough customers?"

John Thomas Sawyer (8th East Surreys), 88 Wilcox Road, S.W.8

Truth about Parachutes

Most English balloon observers were officers, but occasionally a non-commissioned man was taken up in order to give him experience.

On one such occasion the balloon burst in the air.  The two occupants made a hasty parachute exit from the basket.  The courtesy usually observed by the senior officer, of allowing the other parachute to get clear before he jumps, was not possible in this instance, with the result that the officer got entangled with the "passenger's" parachute, which consequently did not open.

Fortunately the officer's parachute functioned successfully and brought both men safely to earth.  Upon landing they were rather badly dragged along the ground, being finally pulled up in a bush.

The "passenger," a Cockney sergeant, was damaged a good deal, but upon being picked up and asked how he had enjoyed his ride he answered, "Oh, it was all right, but a parachute is like a wife or a tooth-brush - you reely want one to yourself."

Basil Mitchell (late R.A.F.), 51 Long Lane, Finchley, N.3

"Moi - vous - 'im - avec Allah!" (click to enlarge)

The Linguist

An Indian mule driver had picked up a German hand grenade of the "potato masher" type, which he evidently regarded as a heaven-sent implement for driving in a peg.

Two Tommies tried to dissuade him, but, though he desisted, he was obviously puzzled.  So one of the Cockneys tried to explain.

"Vous compree Allah?" he asked, and raised his hand above his head.

Satisfied that the increasing look of bewilderment was really one of complete enlightenment, he proceeded to go through a pantomime of striking with the "potato masher" and, solemnly pointing in turn to himself, to the Indian, and to his companion, said: "Moi, vous, and 'im - avec Allah."

J. F. Seignoir (Lt., R.A.), 13 Moray Place, Cheshunt, Herts

A Bomb and a Pillow

During part of the war my work included salving and destroying "dud" shells and bombs in the back areas.  On one occasion in an air-raid a "dud" bomb glanced through the side of a hut occupied by some fitters belonging to an M.T. section of R.E.'s.

This particular bomb (weighing about 100 lb.), on its passage through the hut had torn the corner of a pillow on which the owner's head was lying and carried feathers for several feet into the ground.

We dug about ten feet down and then, as the hole filled with water as fast as we could pump it out, we gave it up, the tail, which had become detached a few feet down, being the only reward of our efforts.

While we were in the midst of our operations the owner of the pillow - very "bucked" at being unhurt after such a narrow shave - came to look on, and with a glance down the hole and a grin at me said, "Well, sir, if I'd known it 'ud give yer so much trouble, I'd 'a caught it!"

Arthur G. Crutchfield (late Major (D.A.D.O.S. Ammn.) R.A.O.C.), Hill Rise, Sanderstead Road, Sanderstead, Surrey

Athletics in the Khyber Pass

During the Afghan operations I was resting my company on the side of the road at the Afghan entrance to the Khyber Pass.

It was mid-day and the heat was terrific, when along that heat-stricken road came a British battalion.  They had marched 15 miles that morning from Ali Musfd.  Their destination was Landi Kana, five miles below us on the plain.

As they came round the bend a cheer went up, for they spotted specks of white canvas in the distance.

Most of the battalion seemed to be on the verge of collapse from the heat, but one Tommy, a Cockney, broke from the ranks and had a look at the camp in the distance, and exclaimed: "Coo! If I 'ad me running pumps I could sprint it!"

Capt. A. G. A. Barton, M.C., Indian Army, "The Beeches," The Beeches Road, Perry Bar, Birmingham

Next - Jack and his Jack Johnsons and two other stories

A Battery was a group of six guns or howitzers.

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Cockney War Stories