Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Teacup in a Storm 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 Teacup in a Storm.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Teacup in a Storm
We were in support trenches near Havrincourt Wood in September 1917.
At midday it was exceptionally quiet there as a rule. Titch, our little Cockney cook, proceeded one day to make us some tea by the aid of four candles in a funk-hole. To aid this fire he added the usual bit of oily "waste," and thereby caused a thin trail of smoke to rise.
The water was just on the boil when Jerry spotted our smoke and let fly in its direction everything he had handy.
Our trench was battered flat... We threw ourselves into a couple of old communication trenches. Looking around presently for our cook we found him sitting beneath a waterproof sheet calmly enjoying his sergeant-major's tea.
"Ain't none of you blokes firsty?" was his greeting.
R.J. Richards (late 61st Trench Mortar Battery, 10th London Division), 15 London Street, W.2
Jack's Unwelcome Present
Our company were holding the line, or what was a line of trenches a short time before, when Jerry opened out with all kinds of loudspeakers and musical instruments that go to make war real.
We were knocked about and nearly blinded with smoke and flying sandbags. The best we could do was to grope our way about with arms outstretched to feel just where we were.
Eventually someone clutched me, saying, "Is that you, Charlie - are you all right?"
"Yes, Jack," I answer, "are you all right?"
"Well, I don't know fer sure," he says as he dives his hand through his tunic to his chest and holds on to me with the other. I had a soft place in my heart for Jack, for nobody ever sent him a parcel, so what was mine was Jack's. But not the piece of shrapnel that came out when he withdrew his hand from inside his tunic!
"The only thing that ever I had sent me - and that from Jerry!" says Jack. "We was always taught to love our enemies!"
They sure loved us, for shortly after I received my little gift of love, which put me to by-by for several months. But that Cockney lad from East London never grumbled at his hard lot. He looked at me, his corporal, and no wonder he clung round my neck, for he has told me since the war that he was only sixteen then.
A brave lad!
D.C. Maskell (late 20th Battn. Middlesex Regt.), 25 Lindley Road, Leyton, E.10
Goalie Lets One Through
In September 1916 we landed in a portion of German trench and I was given orders to hang on. Shells were bursting all around us, so we decided to have a smoke.
My two Cockney pals - Nobby and Harry, who were a goalie and centre-forward respectively - were noted for their zeal in keeping us alive.
Nobby was eager to see what was going on over the top, so he had a peep - and for his pains got shot through the ear. He fell back in a heap and exclaimed, "Well saved, goalie! Couldn't been better if I'd tried."
"Garn," said Harry, bending over him, "it's blinkin' well gorn right frew, mate."
Patrick Beckwith, 5 Duke Road, Chiswick, W.4
A Good Samaritan Foiled
I was rather badly wounded near Bullecourt, on the Arras front, and was lying on a stretcher outside the dressing station.
Nearby stood a burly Cockney with one arm heavily bandaged. In the other hand he held his ration of hot coffee.
Noticing my distress, he offered me his drink, saying, "'Ere y'are, mate, 'ave a swig at this." One of the stretcher-bearers cried: "Take that away! He mustn't have it!"
The Cockney slunk off.
"All right, ugly," he said. "Take the food aht of a poor bloke's mouf, would yer?"
Afterwards I learned the stretcher-bearer, by his action, had saved my life. Still, I shan't forget my Cockney friend's generosity.
A.P.S. (late 5th London Regiment), Ilford
Proof of Marksmanship
POPERINGHE: a pitch-black night. We were resting when a party of the West Indian Labour Company came marching past.
Jerry sent one over. Luckily, only one of the party was hit.
A voice from the darkness: "Alf! Keep low, mate. Jerry 'as got his eye in - 'e's 'it a West Indian in the dark!"
C. Jakeman (late 4/4th City of London Royal Fusiliers), 5 Hembridge Place, St. John's Wood, N.W.8
The German word "U-Boat" was derived from "Unterseeboot" (undersea boat).
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