Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - The Outside Fare 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 The Outside Fare.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
The Outside Fare
During the Third Battle of Ypres a German field gun was trying to hit one of our tanks, the fire being directed no doubt by an observation balloon.
On the top of the tank was a Cockney infantryman getting a free ride and seemingly quite unconcerned at Jerry's attempts to score a direct hit on the tank.
As the tank was passing our guns a shrapnel shell burst just behind it and above it.
We expected to see the Cockney passenger roll off dead. All he did, however, was to put his hand to his mouth and shout to those inside the tank: "Hi, conductor! Any room inside? - It's rainin'!"
A.H. Boughton (ex "B" Battery, H.A.C.), 53 Dafforne Road, S.W.17
"Barbed Wire's Dangerous!"
A wiring party in the Loos salient - twelve men just out from home. Jerry's Verey lights were numerous, machine-guns were unpleasantly busy, and there were all the dangers and alarms incidental to a sticky part of the line.
The wiring party, carrying stakes and wire, made its way warily, and every man breathed apprehensively. Suddenly one London lad tripped over a piece of old barbed wire and almost fell his length.
"Lumme," he exclaimed, "that ain't 'arf dangerous!"
T.C. Farmer, M.C., of Euston Square, London (late of "The Buffs")
Tale of an Egg
I was attached as a signaller to a platoon on duty in an advanced post on the Ypres-Menin Road. We had two pigeons as an emergency means of communication should our wire connection fail.
One afternoon Fritz put on a strafe which blew in the end of the culvert in which we were stationed. We rescued the pigeon basket from the debris and discovered that an egg had appeared.
That evening, when the time came to send in the usual evening "situation report", I was given the following message to transmit:
"Pigeon laid one egg; otherwise situation normal."
D. Webster, 85 Highfield Avenue, N.W.11
On a bitterly cold, wet afternoon in February 1918 four privates and a corporal were trying to take what shelter they could.
One little Cockney who had served in the Far East with the 10th Middlesex was complaining about everything in general, but especially about the idiocy of waging war in winter.
"Wot yer grumblin' at?" broke in the corporal, "you with yer fawncy tyles of Inja? At any rate, there ain't no blinking moskeeters 'ere nor 'orrible malyria."
There was a break in the pleasantries as a big one came over. In the subsequent explosion the little Cockney was fatally wounded.
"Corpril," the lad gasped, as he lay under that wintry sky, "you fergot to menshun there ain't no bloomin' sun-stroke, nor no earfkwikes, neither."
And he smiled - a delightful, whimsical smile - though the corporal's "Sorry, son" was too late.
V. Meik, 107 King Henry's Road, N.W.3
A "Bow Bells" Heroine
For seven hours, with little intermission, the German airmen bombed a camp not a hundred miles from Etaples.
Of the handful of Q.M.A.A.C.s stationed there, one was an eighteen-year-old middle-class girl, high-strung, sensitive, not long finished with her convent school. Another was Kitty, a Cockney girl of twenty, by occupation a machine-hand, by vocation (missed) a comedienne, and, by heaven, a heroine.
The high courage of the younger girl was cracking under the strain of that ordeal by bombs. Kitty saw how it was with her, and for five long hours she gave a recital of song, dialogue, and dance - most of it improvised - while the bombs fell and the anti-aircraft guns screamed. In all probability she saved the younger girl's reason.
When the last raider had dropped the last bomb, Kitty sank down, all but exhausted, and for long cried and laughed hysterically. Hers was not the least heroic part played upon that night.
H.N., London, E.
"Suicide Ditch" was a term used by British soldiers to refer to the front-line trench.
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