Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - A Very Hot Bath and Other Stories

A Very Hot Bath 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 Very Hot Bath.

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

A Very Hot Bath

During the retreat of the remnants of the Fifth Army in March 1918 two of the six-inch howitzers of the Honourable Artillery Company were in action in some deserted horse-lines outside Peronne.

During a lull Gunner A—, a Londoner, like the rest of us, went "scrounging" in some nearby cottages recently abandoned by their inhabitants.

He reappeared carrying a large zinc bath, and after filling it with water from the horse pond he made a huge bonfire with broken tables and other furniture, and set the bath on the fire.

Just when the water had been heated Fritz opened out with 5.9's.  As we were not firing just then we all took cover, with the exception of Gunner A—, who calmly set his bath of hot water down by one of the guns, undressed, and got into the bath.

A minute later a large piece of shell also entered the bath, passed through the bottom of it and into the ground.

The gunner watched the precious water running out, then he slowly rose and, beginning to dress, remarked, "Very well, Fritz, have it your way.  I may not be godly, but I did want to be clean."

Edward Boaden (late H.A.C., 309 Siege Battery), 17 Connaught Gardens, Muswell Hill, N.20

In Lieu Of -

During a winter's night on the Somme a party of us were drawing rations just behind the front line trenches.

A Cockney chum of mine was disgusted to hear the Q.M. say he was issuing hot soup in lieu of rum.

"Coo! What next?" he grumbled.  "Soup in lieu of rum, biscuits in lieu of bread, jam in lieu—"

While he spoke Jerry sent over two whizz-bangs which scattered us and the rations and inflicted several casualties.

My chum was hit badly.  As he was being carried past the Q.M. he smiled and said, "Someone will have to be in lieu of me now, Quarter!"

T. Allen (late Plymouth Battn., R.N.D.), 21 Sydney Street, S.W.

Putting the Hatt on It

Two brothers named Hatt were serving together in France.

The elder was always saying that he would never be hit, as the Germans, not being able to spell his name correctly, could not put it on any of their shells or bullets.

(It was a common saying among the soldiers, of course, that a shell or bullet which hit a man had the victim's name on it.)

The younger brother was taken prisoner, and two days later the elder brother was shot through the finger.  Turning to his mates he exclaimed, Blimey, me brother's been an' split on me."

W. J. Bowes, 224 Devon's Road, Bow, E.3

Tangible Evidence

WeE were at Levantie in 1915, just before the Battle of Loos, and the rumour was about that the Germans were running short of ammunition.

It was very quiet in our sector, as we were opposite the Saxons, and we strolled about at ease.

A party of us was told off to get water just behind the trenches in an old farmhouse which had a pump.  We filled all the water bottles and rum jars and then had a look round the ruins to see what we could scrounge, when suddenly Fritz sent a shell over.

It hit the wall and sent bricks flying all over the place.  One of the bricks hit my mate on the head and knocked him out.

When we had revived him he looked up and said, "Strewth, it's right they ain't got no 'ammo.'; they're slinging bricks.  It shows yer we've got 'em all beat to a frazzle, don't it?"

J. Delderfield, 54 Hampden Street, Paddington

What the Cornwalls' Motto Meant

A platoon of my regiment, the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, was engaged in carrying screens to a point about 200 yards behind the front line.

The screens were to be set up to shield a road from German observation balloons, and they were made of brushwood bound together with wire.  They were rolled up for convenience of transport, and when rolled they looked like big bundles of pea-sticks about ten feet long.  They were very heavy.

Three men were told off to carry each screen.  One of the parties of three was composed of two Cornishmen (who happened to be at the ends of the screen) and their Cockney pal (in the middle), the screen being carried on their shoulders.

When they had nearly reached the point in the communication trench where it was to be dumped, Jerry sent over a salvo of whizz-bangs.

His range was good, and consequently the carrying party momentarily became disorganised.  The Cornishman at the front end of the screen dashed towards the front line, whilst the man at the other end made a hurried move backwards.

This left the Cockney with the whole of the weight of the screen on his shoulder.  The excitement was over in a few seconds and the Cornishmen returned to find the Cockney lying on the duck-boards where he had subsided under the weight of his burden, trying to get up.

He stopped struggling when he saw them and said very bitterly, "Yus: One and All's yer blinkin' motter; one under the blinkin' screen and all the rest 'op it."

"One and All," I should mention, is the Cornwalls' motto.

"Cornwall," Greenford, Middlesex

Next - Atlas - On the Somme and four other stories

In slang a "beetle" was a landing craft for 200 men.

- Did you know?

Cockney War Stories