Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Stalls at "Richthofen's Circus" and Other Stories

Stalls at "Richthofen's Circus" 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 three stories from Action, led by Stalls at "Richthofen's Circus".

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

Stalls at "Richthofen's Circus"

A New Zealander was piloting an old F.E. 2B (pusher) 'plane up and down over the lines, observing for the artillery, when he got caught by "Richthofen's Circus."

The petrol tank behind the pilot's seat was set on fire and burning oil poured past him into the observer's cockpit ahead and the clothes of both men started to sizzle.

They were indeed in a warm situation, their one hope being to dive into Zillebeke Lake, which the New Zealander noticed below.

By the time they splashed into the water machine and men were in flames; and, moreover, when they came up the surface surrounding them was aflame with the burning oil.

Treading water desperately and ridding themselves of their heavy sodden flying coats, they made a last bid for life by swimming under water, that flaming water, and at last, half-dead, reached the bank.

There a strong arm gripped the New Zealander by the scruff of the neck and he was hauled to safety, dimly aware of a hoarse voice complaining bitterly, "Ours is the best hid battery in this sector, the only unspotted battery.  You would choose just 'ere to land, wouldn't yer, and give the bloomin' show away?"

Our Cockney battery sergeant-major had, no doubt, never heard of Hobson or his choice.

E. H. Orton, 9 High Grove, Welwyn Garden City, Herts


A cockney infantryman of the 47th Division was on the fire-step on the night preceding the attack at Loos.  He was huddled up in a ground-sheet trying to keep cheerful in the drizzle.

Suddenly a British 12-in. shell passed over him, and as he heard its slow rumble he muttered, "Catch that one, you blighters."

Just then it burst, and with a chuckle he added, "Oh, butter-fingers, yer dropped it!"

Henry J. Tuck (late Lt., R.G.A.)

"D'yer fink we wants ter be scalded ter death?" (click to enlarge)

Getting into Hot Water

We were in the front line, and one evening a Battersea lad and myself were ordered to go and fetch tea for the company from the cookhouse, which was in Bluff Trench.

It was about a mile from the line down a "beautiful" duckboard track.  With the boiling tea strapped to our backs in big containers, both of which leaked at the nozzles, we started for the line.

Then Jerry started sniping at us.  There came from the line a sergeant, who shouted, "Why don't you lads duck?"

"That's right," replied my chum.  "Dyer fink we wants ter be scalded to death?"

H. G. Harrap (23rd London Regiment), 25 Renfrew Road, S.E.

Next - Lull section

The German word "U-Boat" was derived from "Unterseeboot" (undersea boat).

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Cockney War Stories