Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Not Knowin' the Language and Other Stories

Not Knowin' the Language 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 Not Knowin' The Language.

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

"Would you mind trekkin' off up the road?" (click to enlarge)

Not Knowin' the Language

A team of mules in November 1916 was taking a double limber up to the line in pitch darkness on the Bethune-La Bassee road.

A heavy strafe was on, and the road was heavily shelled at intervals from Beavry onwards.

On the limber was a newly-joined padre huddled up, on his way to join advanced battalion headquarters.  A shell burst 60 yards ahead, and the mules reared; some lay down, kicked over the traces, and the wheel pair managed to get their legs over the centre pole of the limber.

There was chaos for a few minutes.  Then the padre asked the wheel driver in a very small voice, "My man, can I do anything to assist you?"

"Assist us," was the reply.  "Yes, you can.  Would you mind, sir, trekkin' off up the road, so as we can use language these blighters understand?"

L. C. Hoffenden (late 483rd Field Co. R.E.), "Waltonhurst," 16 Elmgate Gardens, Edgware

Churning in the Skies

After returning from a night's "egg-laying" on Jerry's transport lines and dumps, my brother "intrepid airman" and I decided on tea and toast.

To melt a tin of ration butter which was of the consistency of glue we placed it close to the still hot engine of the plane.

Unknown to us, owing to the slant of the machine, the tin slipped backwards and spilled a goodly proportion of its melted contents over the propeller at the back.  (Our planes were of the "pusher" type.)

Next day as we strolled into the hangar to look the bus over we found our Cockney mechanic, hands on hips, staring at the butter-splattered propeller.

"Sufferin' smoke, sir," he said to me, with a twinkle, "wherever was you flyin' lars' night - through the milky way?"

Ralph Plummer (late 102 Squadron R.A.F. Night-Bombers), Granville House, Arundel Street, Strand

"Now p'raps you'll know!" (click to enlarge)

Larnin' the Mule

On the Somme I saw a Cockney driver having trouble with an obstinate mule.  At last he got down from his limber and, with a rather vicious tug at the near-side rein said, "That's your left," and, tugging the off rein, " that's your right - now p'raps you'll know!"

E. B. (late Gunner, R.G.A.), Holloway Road, N.7

"Dr. Livingstone, I Presoom"

Early in 1915 one of our Q.M. Sergeants was sent to Cairo to collect a gang of native labourers for work in the brigade lines.

Whilst at breakfast one morning we saw him return from the train at Ismailia, leading a long column of fellaheen (with their wives and children) all loaded with huge bundles, boxes, cooking pots, etc., on their heads.

The Q.M.S., who was wearing a big white "solar topi" of the mushroom type instead of his regulation military helmet, was greeted outside our hut by the R.S.M., and as they solemnly shook hands a Cockney voice behind me murmured: "Doctor Livingstone, I presoom?"

The picture was complete!

Yeo Blake (1st County of London Yeomanry), Brighton

The Veteran Scored

One morning, while a famous general was travelling around the Divisional Headquarters, his eagle eye spotted an old war hero, a Londoner, whose fighting days were over, and who now belonged to the Labour Corps, busy on road repairs.

The fact was also noticed that although within the gas danger-zone the old veteran had broken standing orders by not working with his gas mask in position.

Accordingly the Corps Commander stopped his car and, getting out, started off in his own familiar way as follows:

C. C.: Good moming, my man; do you know who is speaking to you?

O. V.: No, sir!

C. C.: I am your Corps Commander, Sir —, etc.

O. V.: Yes, sir.

C. C.: I'm pleased to have this opportunity of talking to one of my men.

O. V.: Yes, sir.

C. C.: I see you are putting your back into your work.

O. V.: Yes, sir.

C. C.: I also notice that you have evidently left your gas mask behind.

O. V.: Yes, sir.

C. C.: Now supposing, my man, a heavy gas cloud was now coming down this road towards you.  What would you do?

O. V.: (after a few moments' pause): Nothing, sir.

C. C.: What!  Why not, my good man?

O. V.: Because the wind is the wrong way, sir.

Exit C. C.

T. J. Gough, Oxford House, 13 Dorset Square, N.W.1

Next - Old Moore Was Right and four other stories

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

- Did you know?

Cockney War Stories