Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Not an Acrobat and Other Stories

Not an Acrobat 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 Not an Acrobat.

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

Not an Acrobat

In a communication trench on the Somme, near Guillemont, in August 1916, we were halted for a "blow" on our way up when Jerry opened with shrapnel.

Private Reynolds, from Marylebone, had his right hand cut off at the wrist.  We bound his arm as best we could, and whilst doing so one man said to him, "A sure Blighty one, mate - and don't forget when you get home, drop us a line to let's know how you are getting on in hospital."

"Yus I I'll write all right," said Reynolds, and then, suddenly, "'Ere, wot d'yer fink I am, a blinkin' acrobat?  'Ow can I write wivout a right arm ter write wiv?"

A. Sharman (late 12th Royal Fusiliers), 177 Grenville Road, N.W.2

A Story Without an Ending

Our gun position lay just behind the Ancre, and Fritz generally strafed us for an hour or two each day, starting about the same time.  When the first shell came over we used to take cover in a disused trench.

One day, when the strafe began, I grabbed two story magazines just before we went to the trench, and, arrived there, handed one to my Cockney pal.

We had both been reading for some time when a shell burst uncomfortably near, and a splinter hit my pal's book and shot it right out of his hand.  At which he exclaimed: "Fritz, yer blighter, I'll never know nah whether he was goin' to marry the girl or cut 'er bloomin' froat."

G.W. Wicheloe (late 138th Heavy Battery, R.G.A.), 162 Stevens Road, Chadwell Heath, Essex

"...an explosive bullet, sir!" (click to enlarge)

Cause and Effect

A 5.9 had burst on the parados of our trench, and caused - as 5.9's usually did - a bit of a mess.

A brand-new officer came around the trench, saw the damage, and asked "Whatever caused this mess?"

Without the slightest suspicion of  a smile a Cockney private answered: "An explosive bullet, sir!"

C.T. Coates, 46 Hillingdon Street, London, S.E.17

The Cockney and the Cop

During the final push near Cambrai Jerry had just been driven from a very elaborate observation post - a steel constructed tower.  Of course, we soon occupied it to enable us to see Jerry's hasty retreat.

No sooner had we got settled when, crash, Jerry had a battery of pipsqueaks trained on us, firing gas shells.  A direct hit brought the building down.

By the time we had sorted ourselves out our eyes began to grow dim, and soon we were temporarily blind.  So we took each other's hands, an ex-policeman leading.

After a few moments a Cockney friend chimed out, "Say, Cop, do you think you can find the lock-up now, or had you better blow your whistle?"

H. Rainford (late R.F.A.), 219 The Grove, Hammersmith, W.6

In the Drorin' Room

It was on "W" Beach, Gallipoli, some months after the historic landing.

It was fairly safe to picnic here, but for the attentions of "Beachy Bill," a big Turkish gun.  I was with six other R.F.A. details in a dug-out which was labelled, or rather libelled, "The Ritz".

"Smiler" Smith gave it that name, and always referred to this verminous hovel in terms of respect.  Chalked notices such as "Wait for the Lift," "Card Room," "Buffet," were his work.

A dull thud in the distance - the familiar scream - and plomp came one from "Bill," a few yards from the Ritz.

Only "Smiler" was really hurt.  He received a piece of shell on his arm.  As they carried him away, he called faintly for his tobacco tin.

"Where did you leave it, 'Smiler'?"

"In the drorin' room on the grand pianner," said "Smiler" faintly.

Gunner W. (late 29th Division, R.F.A.)

Next - Getting His Goat and four other stories

'minnie' was a term used to describe the German trench mortar minnenwerfer (another such term was Moaning Minnie).

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Cockney War Stories