Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Nearly Lost His Washing Bowl and Other Stories

Nearly Lost His Washing Bowl 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 Nearly Lost His Washing Bowl.

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

Nearly Lost His Washing Bowl

In March 1917 we held the front line trenches opposite a sugar refinery held by the Germans.

We got the order to stand to as our engineers were going to blow up a mine on the German position.

Up went the mine.  Then Fritz started shelling us.  Shells were bursting above and around us.  A piece of shrapnel hit a Cockney, a lad from Paddington, on his tin hat.

When things calmed down another Cockney bawled out, "Lumme, that was a near one, Bill."

"Blimey, not arf," was the reply.  "If I 'adn't got my chin-strap dahn I'd 'ave lost my blooming washing-bowl."

E. Rickard (late Middlesex Regt.), 65 Apsley End, Hemel Hempstead, Herts

Bath Night

The trenches on the Somme were very deep and up to our knees in mud, and we were a pretty fine sight after being in the front line several days over our time.

I shall never forget the night we passed out of the trenches - like a lot of mud-larks.  The O.C., seeing the state we were in, ordered us to have a bath.  We stopped at an old barn, where the R.E.'s had our water ready in wooden tubs.

Imagine the state of the water when, six to a tub, we had to skim the mud off after one another!

Just as we were enjoying the treat, Jerry started sending over some of his big stuff, and one shell took the back part of the barn off.

Everybody began getting out of the tubs, except a Cockney, who sat up in his tub and shouted out, "Blimey, Jerry, play the blinkin' game.  Wait till I've washed me back.  I've lorst me soap."

C. Ralph (late Royal Welch Fusiliers), 153d Guinness Buildings, Hammersmith, W.6

Back to the Shack

Whilst on the Somme in October 1916 my pal Mac (from Notting Hill) and myself were sent forward to a sunken road just behind Les Boeufs to assist at a forward telephone post which was in communication with battalion H.Q. by wire and with the companies in the trenches by runner.

During the night a false "S O S" was sent up, and our guns opened out - and, of course, so did the German guns - and smashed our telephone wire.

It being "Mac's" turn out, he picked up his 'phone and went up the dug-out steps.  When he had almost reached the top a big shell burst right in the dug-out entrance and blew "Mac" back down the stairs to the bottom, bruised, but otherwise unhurt.

Picking himself up slowly he removed his hat, placed his hand over his heart, and said, gazing round, "Back to the old 'ome agin - and it ain't changed a bit."

A. J. West (late Corpl., Signals), 1/13th London Regt.), 212 Third Avenue, Paddington, W.10

His Last Gamble

One night in July 1917, as darkness came along, my battalion moved up and relieved a battalion in the front line.  Next morning as dawn was breaking Jerry started a violent strafe.  My platoon occupied three fire-bays, and we in the centre one could shout to those in the bays on either side, although we could not see them.

In one of the end bays was "Monte Carlo" Teddy, a true lad from London, a "bookie's tick-tack" before the war.  He was called "Monte Carlo" because he would gamble on anything.

As a shell exploded anywhere near us Teddy would shout, "Are you all right, sarge?" until this kind of got on my nerves, so I crawled into his bay to inquire why he had suddenly taken such an interest in my welfare.

He explained, "I gets up a draw larst night, sarge, a franc a time, as to which of us in this lot stopped a packet first, and you're my gee-gee."

I had hardly left them when a shell exploded in their bay.  The only one to stop a packet was Teddy, and we carried him into the next bay to await the stretcher-bearers.  I could see he would never reach the dressing station.

Within five minutes I had stopped a lovely Blighty, and they put me alongside Teddy.

When he noticed who it was he said, "Well I'm blowed, just my blinkin' luck; licked a short head and I shan't last long enough to see if there's a' objection."

Thus he died, as he always said he would, with his boots on, and my company could never replace him.

Wherever two men of my old mob meet you can bet your boots that one or the other is sure to say, "Re-member 'Monte Carlo' Ted?"

E. J. Clark (late Sergeant, Lincoln Regt.), c/o Sir Thomas Lipton, Bart., K.C.V.O., Osidge, Southgate, N.14

That Infernal Drop-Drip-Drip!

We were trying to sleep in half a dug-out that was roofed with a waterproof sheet - Whale and I.

It was a dark, wet night.  I had hung a mess tin on a nail to catch the water that dripped through, partly to keep it off my head, also to provide water for an easy shave in the morning.

A strafe began.  The night was illuminated by hundreds of vivid flashes, and shells of all kinds burst about us.  The dug-out shook with the concussions.  Trench mortars, rifle grenades, and machine-gun fire contributed to the din.

Whale, who never had the wind up, was shifting his position and turning from one side to the other.

"What's the matter?" I asked my chum.  "Can't you sleep?"

"Sleep!  'Ow the 'ell can a bloke sleep with that infernal drip-drip-drip goin' on?"

P. T. Hughes (late 21st London Regiment, 47th Division), 12 Shalimar Gardens, Acton, W.

Next - "A Blinkin' Vanity Box" and four other stories

"Gas Bag" was a slang term for airships.

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Cockney War Stories