Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Top-hatted Piper of Mons 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 Top-hatted Piper of Mons.
Other sections within the collection can be accessed using the sidebar to the right.
Top-hatted Piper of Mons
During the retreat from Mons it was a case of "going while the going was good" until called upon to make a stand to harass the enemy's advance.
After the stand at Le Cateau, bad and blistered feet caused many to stop by the wayside. Among these, in passing with my little squad, I noticed a piper belonging to a Scottish regiment sitting with his blistered feet exposed and his pipes lying beside him.
Staff officers were continually riding back and urging the parties of stragglers to make an effort to push on before they were overtaken.
In the late afternoon of this same day, having myself come up with my unit, I was resting on the roadside when I heard the skirl of bag-pipes.
Before long there came into sight, marching with a fair swing, too, as motley a throng as one ever saw in the King's uniform. Headed by a staff officer were about 150 men of all regiments with that same piper, hatless and with one stocking, in front.
Beside him was a Cockney of the Middlesex Regiment, with a silk hat on his head, whose cheeks threatened to burst as he churned out the strains of "Alexander's Rag-time Band" on the bagpipes.
Being a bit of a piper himself, he was giving "Jock" a lift and was incidentally the means of fetching this little band away from the clutches of the enemy.
"Buster" Brown (late Bedfordshire Regt.), Hertford
Two Heads and a Bullet
Early in 1916 ten of us were going up with rations - chiefly bread and water. In one part of the trench there were no duck-boards and the vile mud was thigh-deep.
Here we abandoned the trench and stumbled along, tripping over barbed wire and falling headlong into shell-holes half-full of icy water.
A German sniper was at work. Suddenly a bullet pinged midway between the last two of the party.
"Hear that?" said No. 9. "Right behind my neck!"
"Yes," replied No. 10, "right in front of my bloomin' nose!"
C. A. Davies (late 23rd R. Fusiliers), 85 Saxton Street, Gillingham, Kent
Spoiling the Story
We were billeted in the upper room of a corner house north of Albert, and were listening to "Spoofer's" memories of days "dahn Walworf way."
"Yus," he said, "I ses to the gal, 'Two doorsteps an' a bloater.' "
At that moment a "coal-box" caught the corner of the house, bringing down the angle of the wall and three-parts of the floor on which we had squatted.
Except for bruises, none of us was injured, and when the dust sub-sided we saw "Spoofer" looking down at us from a bit of the flooring that remained intact.
"Yus," he continued, as though nothing had happened, "as I was saying, I'd just called fer the bloater..."
Came another "coal-box," which shook down the remainder of the floor and with it "Spoofer."
Struggling to his hands and knees, he said, "Blimey, the blinkin' bloater's cold nah."
F. Dates, 62 St. Ervan's Road, North Kensington
Afraid of Dogs
Towards the end of October 1918 I was out on patrol in front of Tournai on a dark, windy night.
I had a Cockney private with me, and we were some distance from our lines when we heard a dog barking. All at once, before I could stop him, the Cockney whistled it.
I threw the Cockney down and dropped myself. A German Verey light went up - followed by a hail of machine-gun bullets in our direction.
As the light spread out, we saw the dog fastened to a German machine-gun!
We lay very still, and presently, when things had quietened down, we slid cautiously backwards until it was safe to get up.
All the Cockney said was, "Crikey, corp, I had the wind up. A blinkin' good job that there dawg was chained up. Why? 'Cause 'e might 'ave bitten us. I allus was afeard o' dawgs."
J. Milsun (late 1/5th Battn., The King's Own 55th Div.), 31 Collingwood Road, Lexden, Colchester
The Song of Battle
At the first Gaza battle we had to advance 1,700 yards across a plain in full view of the Turks, who hurled a terrific barrage at us.
We were in artillery formation, and we marched up until within rifle range. With machine guns and artillery the Turks were depleting our ranks, so that less than half of us were still marching on at 500 yards range.
In my section was the Cockney "funny man" of the company. When things were bad, and we were all wondering how long we would survive, he began singing lustily a song which someone had sung at our last concert party behind the lines, the refrain of which was "I've never heard of anybody dying from kissing, have you?"
Before he had started on the second line nearly everyone was singing with him, and men were killed singing that song. To the remainder of us it acted like a tonic.
Good old Jack, when he was wounded later he must have been in terrible pain, yet he joked so that at first we would not believe he was seriously hit.
He shouted, "Where is 'e? - let me get at 'im."
J. T. Jones (late 54th Division), 37 Whittaker Road, East Ham, E.6
The USA suffered 57,476 fatal army casualties during the war.
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