Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - The Old Soldier Falls 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 Old Soldier Falls.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
The Old Soldier Falls
After my battalion had been almost wiped out in the 1918 retirement, I was transferred to the 1st Batt. Middlesex Regt.
One old soldier, known to us as "Darky," who had been out since '14, reported at B.H.Q. that he wanted to go up the front line with his old mates instead of resting behind the line.
His wish was granted. He was detailed to escort a party of us to the front line.
All went well till we arrived at the support line, where we were told to be careful of snipers.
We had only gone 20 yards further when the old soldier fell back into my arms, shot through the head. He was dying when he opened his eyes and said to me, "Straight on, lad. You can find your way now."
A.H. Walker, 59 Wilberforce Road, Finsbury Park, N.4
Not Meant For Him
At the end of September 1917 my regiment (5th Seaforth Highlanders) were troubled by bombing raids by enemy aircraft at the unhealthy regularity of one raid per hour.
We were under canvas at Siege Camp, in the Ypres sector, and being near to a battery of large guns we were on visiting terms with some of the gunners, who were for the most part London men.
A Lewisham man was writing a letter in our tent one day when we again had the tip that the Germans were flying towards us. So we all scattered.
After the raid we returned to our tent and were surprised to see our artillery friend still writing his letter. We asked him whether he had stayed there the whole time and in reply he read us the following passage from his letter which he had written during the raid:
"As I write this letter Jerry is bombing the Jocks, but although I am in their camp, being a Londoner, I suppose the raid is not meant for me, and I feel quite safe."
W.A. Bull, M.M., 62 Norman Road, Ilford, Essex
An Extra Fast Bowler
During the defence of Antwerp in October 1914 my chum, who was wicket-keeper in the Corps cricket team, got hit in the head.
I was with him when he came to, and asked him what happened.
"Extra fast one on the leg side," was his reply.
J. Russell (late R.M.L.I.), 8 Northcote Road, Deal, Kent
"I'll Call You a Taxi, Sir"
During an engagement in East Africa an officer was badly wounded. Bill, from Bermondsey, rode out to him on a mule. Whilst he was trying to get the officer away on his mule the animal bolted. Bill then said, "Me mule 'opped it, sir. 'E's a fousand miles from 'ere, so I'll giv yer a lift on my Bill and Jack (back)."
The officer was too heavy, so Bill put him gently on the ground saying, "Sorry, sir, I'll 'ave ter call a taxi." Bill then ran 500 yards under heavy machine-gun fire to where the armoured cars were under cover. He brought one out, and thereby saved the officer's life.
After the incident, Bill's attention was drawn to a bullet hole in his pith helmet. "Blimey," he said, "what a shot! If he 'adn't a missed me 'e'd a 'it me."
Bill was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
W.B. Higgins, D.C.M. (late Corpl. Mounted Infantry), 46 Stanley Road, Ilford
Attack in "Birthday Clothes"
We came out of the line on the night of June 14-15, 1917, to "bivvies" at Mory, after a hot time from both Fritz and weather at Bullecourt. When dawn broke we were astonished and delighted to see a "bath." Whilst we were in the line our Pioneers had a brain wave, dug a hole in the ground, lined it with a tarpaulin sheet, and filled it with water.
As our last bath was at Achiet-le-Petit six weeks before, there was a tremendous crowd waiting "mit nodings on," because there was "standing room only" for about twenty in the bath.
Whilst ablutions were in progress an aeroplane was heard, but no notice was taken because it was flying so low - "one of ours" everybody thought. When it came nearer there was a shout, "Strewth, it's a Jerry plane."
Baths were "off" for the moment and there was a stampede to the "bivvies" for rifles. It was the funniest thing in the world to see fellows running about in their "birthday suits" plus only tin hats, taking pot shots at the aeroplane.
Even Fritz seemed surprised, because it was some moments before he replied with his machine gun.
We watched him fly away back to his own lines and a voice broke the silence with, "Blinkin' fools to put on our tin 'ats. Uvverwise 'ole Fritz wouldn't a known but what we might be Germans."
I often wonder if any other battalion had the "honour" of "attacking the enemy" clad only in tin hats.
G.M. Rasnpton (late 12th London Regt., "Rangers"), 43 Cromwell Road, Winchester
Britain introduced conscription for the first time on 2 February 1916.
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