Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Getting His Goat 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 Getting His Goat.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Getting His Goat
Sandy was one of those whom nature seemed to have intended for a girl. Sandy by colour, pale and small of features, and without the sparkling wit of his Cockney comrades, he was the butt of many a joke.
One dark and dirty night we trailed out of the line at Vermelles and were billeted in a barn. The farm-house still sheltered its owner and the remainder of his live-stock, including a goat in a small shed.
"Happy" Day, having discovered the goat, called out, "Hi, Sandy! There's some Maconochie rations in that 'ere shed. Fetch 'em in, mate."
Off went Sandy, to return hastily with a face whiter than usual, and saying in his high treble: "'Appy, I can't fetch them. There's two awful eyes in that shed."
Subsequently Jerry practically obliterated the farm, and when we returned to the line "Happy" Day appropriated the goat as a mascot.
We had only been in the line a few hours when we had the worst bombardment I remember. Sandy and the goat seemed kindred spirits in their misery and terror.
"Happy" had joined the great majority. The goat, having wearied of trench life and army service, had gone over the top on his own account. The next thing we knew was that Sandy was "over" after him, shells dropping around them.
Then the goat and "Sandy Greatheart" disappeared behind a cloud of black and yellow smoke.
S.G. Bushell (late Royal Berks), 21 Moore Buildings, Gilbert Street, W
Jennie the Flier
It was my job for about two months, somewhere in the summer of 1917, to take Jennie the mule up to the trenches twice a day with rations, or shells, for the 35th Trench Mortar Battery, to which I was attached. We had to cover about 5 kilos. from the Q.M. stores at Rouville, Arras, to the line.
When Jerry put a few over our way it was a job to get Jennie forward.
One night we arrived with a full load, and the officer warned me to get unloaded quick as there was to be a big bombardment. No sooner had I finished than over came the first shell - and away went Jennie, bowling over two or three gunners.
Someone caught her and I mounted for the return journey. Then the bombardment began in earnest.
You ought to have seen her go! Talk about a racehorse! I kept saying, "Gee up, Jennie, old girl, don't get the wind up, we shall soon get back to Renville!"
I looked round and could see the flashes of the guns. That was the way to make Jennie go. She never thought of stopping till we got home.
W. Holmes (9th Essex Regiment), 72 Fleet Road, Hampstead, N.W.
A Mission Fulfilled
On August 28, 1916, we were told to take over a series of food dumps which had been formed in the front and support lines at Hamel, on the Ancre, before a general attack came off.
On the following night Corporal W--, a true and gallant Cockney who was in charge of a party going back to fetch rations, came to my dug-out to know if there were anything special I wished him to bring.
I asked him to bring me a tin of cigarettes. On the return journey, as the party was crossing a road which cut through one of the communicating trenches, a shell struck the road, killing two privates and fatally wounding Corporal W--.
Without a word the corporal put his hand into his pocket and, producing a tin, held it out to an uninjured member of the party.
I got my smokes.
L.J. Morgan (late Capt., The Royal Sussex Regiment), 1 Nevern Square, S.W.5
He Saved the Tea
On the night before our big attack on July 1, 1916, on the Somme, eight of us were in a dug-out getting a little rest. Jerry must have found some extra shells for he was strafing pretty heavily.
Two Cockney pals from Stratford were busy down on their hands and knees with some lighted grease and pieces of dry sandbag, trying to boil a mess-tin of water to make some tea.
The water was nearly on the boil when Jerry dropped a "big 'un" right into the side of our dug-out.
The smoke and dust had hardly cleared, when one of the Stratfordites exclaimed, looking down at the overturned mess-tin, "Blimey, that's caused it."
Almost immediately his pal (lying on his back, his face covered with blood and dirt, and his right hand clasped tightly) answered "'S'all right. I ain't put the tea and sugar in."
J. Russ (Cpl., late 6th Battn. Royal Berkshire Regt.), 309 Ilford Lane, Ilford, Essex
Old Dutch Unlucky
After a week in Ypres Salient in February 1915 we were back at a place called Vlamertinghe "resting," i.e. providing the usual working parties at night.
Going out with one of these parties, well loaded with barbed wire, poles, etc., our rifles slung on our shoulders, things in general were fairly quiet.
A stray bullet struck the piling swivel of the rifle of "Darkie," the man in front of me.
"Missed my head by the skin of its teeth," said "Darkie." "Good job the old Dutch wasn't here. She reckons she's been unlucky ever since she set eyes on me - and there's another pension for life gone beggin'"
B. Wiseman (late Oxford and Bucks L.I.), 12 Ursula Street, Battersea, S.W.11
Bulgaria mobilised a quarter of its male population during WW1, 650,000 troops in total.
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