Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - A Thirst Worth Saving and Other Stories

A Thirst Worth Saving 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 Lull, led by A Thirst Worth Saving.

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

A Thirst Worth Saving

During the summer of 1917 our battalion - the 1/5th Buffs - formed part of General Thompson 's flying column operating between the Tigris and the Shatt Al-'Adhaim.

One morning we discovered that the native camel drivers had deserted to the enemy's lines, taking with them the camels that were carrying our water.

No man had more than a small cup of water in his bottle yet we waited orders until dawn the next day, when a 'plane dropped a message for us to return to the Tigris.

I shall not dwell on that 20-mile march back to the river over the burning sand - I cannot remember the last few miles of it myself.  None of us could speak.  Our lips and tongues were bursting.

When we reached the Tigris we drank and drank again - then lay exhausted.

The first man I heard speak was "Busty" Johnson, who, with great effort hoarsely muttered: "Lumme, if I can only keep this blinkin' first till I goes on furlough!"

J. W. Harvey (late 1/5th Buffs, M.E.F.), 25 Queen's Avenue, Greenford Park, Middlesex

Points of View

On a wet and cold winter's night in the hills south of Nablus (Palestine) a sentry heard sounds as of slipping feet and strange guttural noises from the direction of the front line.

He waited with his rifle at the port and then challenged: "Halt! who goes there?"

A thin, dismal voice came from the darkness.  "A pore miserable blighter with five ruddy camels."

"Pass, miserable blighter, all's well," replied the sentry.

Into the sentry's view came a rain-soaked disconsolate-looking Tommy "towing" five huge ration camels.

"All's well, is it? Coo! Not 'arf!" said he.

W. E. Bickmore (late "C" 303 Brigade, R.F.A., 6oth Div.), 121 Gouville Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey

Not the British Museum

The Labyrinth Sector.  Three of us - signallers - having just come off duty in the front line, were preparing to put in a few hours' sleep, when a voice came floating down the dug-out steps: "Is Corporal Stone down there?"  Chorus: "No!"

Ten minutes later came the same voice: "Is Sergeant Fossell down there?"

"Go away," replied our Cockney; "this ain't the blinkin' British Museum!"

G. J. Morrison (late 14th London Regt.), "Alness," Colborne Way, Worcester Park, Surrey

"...and if that don't make a bloke laugh, well, it's 'opeless" (click to enlarge)

Jerry Would Not Smile

I met him coming from the front line, one of "London's Own."  He was taking back the most miserable and sullen-looking prisoner I have ever seen.

"Got a light, Jock?" he asked me.  I obliged.  "'Ave a Ruby Queen, matey?" I accepted.

"Cheerful-looking customer you've got there, Fusie," I ventured, pointing to his prisoner.

He looked up in disgust.  "Cheerful? Lummie, he gives me the creeps.  I've orfered 'im a fag, and played 'Katie' and 'When this luvly war is over' on me old mouf orgin for him, but not a bloomin' smile.  An' I've shown him me souvenirs and a photograph of me old woman, and, blimey, if that don't make a bloke laugh, well, it's 'opeless!"

And then, with a cheery "Mercy bokoo, matey," and a "Come on, 'Appy," to his charge, he pushed on.

Charles Sumner (late London Scottish), Butler's Cottage, Sutton Lane, Heston, Middlesex

"Birdie" Had to Smile

While I was serving with the Australians at Gallipoli in 1915 I was detailed to take charge of a fatigue party to carry water from the beach to the front line, a distance of about a mile.

Our way lay over rather dangerous and extremely hilly country.  The weather was very hot.  Each man in the party had to carry four petrol tins of water.

While trudging along a narrow communication trench we were confronted by General Birdwood and his A.D.C.

As was the general's cheery way, he stopped, and to the man in front (one "Stumpy" Stewart, a Cockney who had been in Australia for some time) he remarked, "Well, my man, how do you like this place?"

"Stumpy" shot a quick glance at the general and then blurted out, "Well, sir, 't'aint the sort of plice you'd bring your Jane to, is it?"

I can see "Birdie's" smile now.

C. Barrett (Lieut., Aust. Flying Corps, then 6th Aust. Light Horse), Charing Cross, W.C.

Next - Their Very Own Secret and four other stories

"Beachy Bill" was the name given to one of the Turkish guns which regularly shelled Anzac Cove.

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Cockney War Stories