Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - "Oo, You Naughty Boy!" 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 "Oo, You Naughty Boy!".
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
"Oo, You Naughty Boy!"
In front of Kut Al-'Amarah, April 1916, the third and last attack on the Sannaiyat position, on the day before General Townshend capitulated. Days of rain had rendered the ground a quagmire, and lack of rations, ammunition, and shelter had disheartened the relief force.
The infantry advanced without adequate artillery support, and were swept by heavy machine-gun fire from the entrenched Turks.
One fellow tripped over a strand of loose barbed wire, fell down, and in rising ripped the seat nearly off his shorts. Cursing, he rejoined the slowly moving line of advancing men.
Suddenly one sensed one of those fateful moments when men in the mass are near to breaking point. Stealthy looks to right and left were given, and fear was in the men's hearts. The relentless tat-tat-tat of machine guns, the "singing" of the driven bullets, and the dropping of men seemed as if it never would end.
A Cockney voice broke the fear-spell and restored manhood to men.
"Oo, 'Erbert, you naughty boy!" it said. "Look at what you've done to yer nice trahsers! 'Quarter' won't 'arf be cross. He said we wasn't to play rough games and tear our trahsers."
L.W. Whiting (late 7th Meerut Division), 21 Dale Park Avenue, Carshalton, Surrey
Cool as a Cucumber
Early in 1917 at Ypres I was in charge of part of the advance party taking over some trenches from another London battalion. After this task had been completed I was told of a funny incident of the previous night.
It appeared that the battalion we were due to relieve had been surprised by a small party of the enemy seeking "information". During the melee in the trench a German "under-officer" had calmly walked over and picked up a Lewis gun which had been placed on a tripod on top of the trench some little distance from its usual emplacement. (This was done frequently when firing at night was necessary so as to avoid betraying the regular gun position.)
A boyish-looking sentry of the battalion on the left jumped out of the trench and went after the Jerry who was on his way "home" with the gun in his arms. Placing his bayonet in dangerous proximity to the "under-officers" back, the young Cockney exclaimed:
"Hi! Where the 'ell are yer goin' wiv that gun? Just you put the 'coocumber' back on the 'barrer' and shove yer blinkin' 'ands up!"
The "under-officer" lost his prize and his liberty, and I understand the young sentry received the M.M.
R. McMuldroch (late r5th London Regt., Civil Service Rifles), 13 Meadway, Bush Hill Park, Enfield
The Sergeant's Tears
One afternoon on the Somme our battery received a severe strafe from 5.9's and tear-gas shells. There was no particular "stunt" on, so we took cover in a trench behind the guns.
When the strafe had finished, we found our gun resting on one wheel, with sights and shield smashed by a direct hit. There was tear gas hanging about, too, and we all felt anything but cheerful.
Myself and detachment were solemnly standing around looking at the smashed gun, and as I was wiping tears from my eyes, Smithy, our bright Walworth lad, said:
" Don't cry, Sarg'nt, they're bahnd ter give us anuvver."
E. Rutson (late Sergeant, R.F.A., 47th London Division), 43a Wardo Avenue, S.W.6
"But Yer Can't 'Elp Laughin'"
There were a bunch of us Cockneys in our platoon, and we had just taken over some supports. It being a quiet sector, we were mooning and scrounging around, some on the parapet, some in the trenches, and some at the rear.
All at once a shower of whizz-bangs and gas shells came over; our platoon "sub." started yelling "Gas." We dived for the dug-outs.
Eight of us tried to scramble through a narrow opening at once, and we landed in a wriggling mass on the floor. Some were kneeling and some were sitting, all with serious faces, until one fellow said:
"Phew, it's 'ell of a war, but yer carn't 'elp laughin', can yer?"
B.J. Berry (late 9th Norfolk Regt.), 11 Rosemont Avenue, N. Finchley, N.12
"Only an Orphan"
He came to the battalion about three weeks before going overseas, and fell straight into trouble. But his Cockney wit got him out of trouble as well as into it.
He never received a parcel or letter, but still was always the life of our company. He never seemed to have a care.
We had been in France about a fortnight when we were ordered to the front line and over the top. He was one of the first over, shouting "Where's the blighters." They brought him in riddled with bullets.
When I asked if I could do anything for him, he said: "Are there many hurt?" "Not many," I replied. "Thank Heaven for that," he replied. "Nobody'll worry over me. I'm only a blinkin' orphan."
W. Blundell (late N.C.O., 2nd East Surreys), Cranworth Gardens, S.W.9
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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