Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Mons, 1914 - Not Moscow, 1812! and Other Stories

Mons, 1914 - Not Moscow, 1812! 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 Mons, 1914 - Not Moscow, 1812!.

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

"Napoleon's retreat from Moscow ain't in it wiv this!" (click to enlarge)

Mons, 1914 - Not Moscow, 1812!

In 1914 we of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade were going up to support the infantry somewhere near Mons, and when nearing our destination we saw several wounded being carried from the line.

Following them, seemingly quite unconcerned, was an infantry transport driver, who cut a queer figure.  He was wearing a stocking hat, and was mounted on an old mule.  Thrown over the mule, with the tail-end round the mule's neck, was a German's blood-bespattered overcoat.

One of our troop addressed the rider thus: "Many up there, mate?"

He answered: "Millions!  You 'ave a go.  We can't shift 'em.  They've took root, I fink."

He then dug both heels into the mule and, looking round with a bored expression, exclaimed: "Talk about Napoleon's blinkin' retreat from Moscow, it ain't ruddy well in it wiv this!"

And he rode on.

W. Baker (late 3rd Hussars), 35 Tunstall Road, Brixton, S.W.9

The S.M. knew "Mulese"

During the Somme offensive in 1916 I was one of a party carrying rations up to the front line.  We came upon a mule which was having a few pranks and pulling the chap who was leading it all over the road.

This man turned out to be an old Cockney pal of mine in the East Surreys.  I said, "Hello, Jim, what's the matter?"

"Blimey," he replied, "'e won't do nuffink for me, so I'm taking 'im back to our sergeant-major, as 'e talks the mule langwidge."

C. A. Fairhead (late R.W. Kent Reef.), 16 Council Cottages, Ford Corner, Yapton, Sussex

Lost: One Star

We were on our way to the front line trenches one wet and dreary night when our subaltern realised that we were lost.

He asked our sergeant if he could see the North Star.  My Cockney pal, fed up, as we all were, turned to me and said: "Pass the word back and ask if anyone 'as got a Nawth Star in his pocket."

H. J. Perry, 42 Wells House Road, Willesden Junction, N.W.10

Simpler than Sounding It

After leaving Gallipoli in December 1915 our battalion (4th Essex) were in camp near the pyramids in Egypt.

"Pro Tem." we reverted to peace-time routine, and brought the buglers into commission again.  One bugler was making a rather rotten show at sounding the "fall-in" - his "lip" being out of practice, I suppose - when a bored Cockney roared out, "Go rahnd and tell 'em."

H. Barlow, 5 Broaklands, Abbs Cross Lane, Hornchurch

Under the Cart

The place was a rest billet, which we had just reached after a gruelling on the Somme. T ime, 12.30 a.m., dark as pitch and pouring with rain.

A despatch-rider arrived with an "urgent" message from H.Q., "Must have the number of your water-cart."

Out of bed, or its substitute, were brought the regimental sergeant-major, the orderly-room clerk, and the quartermaster-sergeant (a director of a London shipping firm bearing his name).

All the light we had was the end of a candle, and as the Q.M.S. was crawling in the mud under the water-cart trying to find the number the candle flickered, whereupon the Cockney sergeant-major exclaimed: "For Heaven's sake, stop that candle from flickerin', or our blinkin' staff will think we're signalling to Jerry!"

The look on the Q.M.S.'s face as he sat in the mud made even the soaked despatch-rider laugh.

"What's the number of your water-cart?" became a byword with the boys.

W. J. Smallbone (late R.M.S., 56th Field Ambulance, 18th Division), 22 Stoneycroft Road, Woodford Bridge, Woodford Green, Essex

Next - The Lion Laughed Up His Sleeve and four other stories

"Gas Bag" was a slang term for airships.

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Cockney War Stories