Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - "Spotty" the Jonah and Other Stories

"Spotty" the Jonah 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 High Seas, led by "Spotty" the Jonah.

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

"Spotty" the Jonah

On board the s.s. Lorrento in 1917 with me was one "Spotty" Smith, A.B., of London.  He had been torpedoed five times, and was reputed to be the sole survivor on the last two occasions.  Such a Jonah-like reputation brought him more interest than affection from sailormen.

Approaching Bizerta - a danger spot in the South Mediterranean - one dark night, all lights out, "Spotty" so far forgot himself as to strike matches on deck.  In lurid and forcible language the mate requested him "not to beat his infernal record on this ship."

"Spotty," intent on turning away wrath, replied, "S'elp me, sir, I've 'ad enough of me heroic past.  This next time, sir, I made up me mind to go down with the rest of the crew!"

 J. E. Drury, 77 Eridge Road, Thornton Heath

He Just Caught the Bus!

After an arduous spell of patrol duty, our submarine had hove to to allow the crew a much-needed breather and smoke.  For this purpose only the conning-tower hatch was opened so as to be ready to submerge, if necessity arose, with the minimum of delay.

Eager to take full advantage of this refreshing interlude, the crew had emerged, one by one, through the conning-tower and had disposed themselves in sprawling attitudes around the upper deck space, resting, reading, smoking.

Sure enough, soon the alarm was given, "Smoke seen on the horizon."

The order "Diving stations" was given and, hastily scuttling down the conning-tower, the crew rapidly had the boat submerging, to leave only the periscope visible.

The commander kept the boat slowly cruising with his periscope trained on the approaching smoke, ready for anything.

Judge of his amazement when his view was obscured by the face of "Nobby" Clark (our Cockney A.B.) at the other end of the periscope.

Realising at once that "Nobby" had been locked out (actually he had fallen asleep and had been rudely awakened by his cold plunge), we, of course, "broke surface" to collect frightened, half-drowned "Nobby," whose only ejaculation was: "Crikey! I ain't half glad I caught the ole bus."

J. Brodie, 177 Manor Road, Mitcham, Surrey

Dinner before Mines!

"Somewhere in the North Sea" in 1917, when I was a stoker on H.M.S. Champion, there were plenty of floating mines about.

One day, several of us were waiting outside the galley (cook house) for our dinners, and the cook, a man from Walworth, was shouting out the number of messes marked on the meat dishes which were ready for the men to take away.

He had one dish in his hand with no number marked on it, when a stoker rushed up and shouted: "We nearly struck a mine - missed it by inches, Cookey."

But Cookey only shouted back: "Never mind about blinkin' mines nah ; is this your perishin' dish with no tally on it?"

W. Downs (late stoker, R.N.), 20 Tracey Street, Kennington Road, S.E.

A Philosopher at Sea

We were a helpless, sorry crowd, many of us with legs in splints, in the hold of a "hospital" ship crossing from Boulogne.  The boat stopped dead.

"What are we stopping for, mate?" one man asked the orderly.

"The destroyers wot's escortin' of us is chasin' a German submarine.  I'm just a-goin' on deck agin to see wot's doin'."

As he got to the ladder he turned to say: "Nah, you blokes: if we gits 'it by a torpedo don't go gettin' the ruddy wind up an' start rushin' abaht tryin' ter git on deck.  It won't do yer wounds no bloomin' good!"

E. Bundy (late L/Corporal, 1/5th L.F.A., 47th Division), 4 Upton Gardens, Barhingside, Ilford, Essex

Extra Heavyweight

Amongst the crew of our mine-sweeper during the war "Sparks," the wireless operator, was a hefty, fat chap, weighing about 18 stone.

One day while clearing up a mine-field, laid overnight by a submarine, we had the misfortune to have four or five of the mines explode in the "sweep."

The explosion shattered every piece of glass in the ship, put the engines out of action, and nearly blew the ship out of the water.

"Bill," one of our stokers - a Cockney who, being off watch, was asleep in his bunk - sat up, yawned, and exclaimed in a sleepy voice: "'Ullo, poor ole 'Sparks' fallen out of 'is bunk again! 'E'll 'urt 'isself one of these days!"

R.N.V.R., Old Windsor, Berks

Next - Three Varieties and four other stories

"Eggs-a-cook" were boiled eggs sold by Arab street vendors. It was later used by Anzac soldiers when going over the top.

- Did you know?

Cockney War Stories