Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - The "Shovers" and Other Stories

The "Shovers" 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 The "Shovers".

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

"Luv us, 'Arry; look what's shovin' our Army abaht!" (click to enlarge)

The "Shovers"

During the retreat of 1918 I was standing with my company on the side of the road by Outersteene Farm, outside Bailleul, when three very small and youthful German Tommies with helmets four sizes too large passed on their way down the line as prisoners for interrogation.

As they reached us I heard one of my men say to another: " Luv us, 'Arry, look what's shovin' our Army abaht!"

L. H. B., Beckenham

Rehearsal - Without the Villain

A small party with a subaltern were withdrawn from the line to rehearse a raid on the German line.  A replica of the German trenches had been made from aircraft photographs, and these, with our own trench and intervening wire, were faithfully reproduced, even to shell-holes.

The rehearsal went off wonderfully.  The wire was cut, the German trenches were entered, and dummy bombs thrown down the dugouts.

Back we came to our own trenches. "Everything was done excellently, men," said the subaltern, "but I should like to be sure that every difficulty has been allowed for.  Can any man think of any point which we have overlooked?"

"Yus," came the terse reply - "Jerry."

Edward Nolan (15th London Regt.), 41 Dalmeny Avenue, S.W.16

Poetry Before the Push

During February and March 1918 the 1/13th Battalion London Regiment (the Kensingtons), who were at Vimy Ridge, had been standing-to in the mornings for much longer than the regulation hour because of the coming big German attack.

One company commander - a very cheery officer - was tired of the general "wind up" and determined to pull the legs of the officers at Battalion H.Q.

It was his duty to send in situation reports several times a day.  To vary things he wrote a situation report in verse, sent it over the wire to B.H.Q., where, of course, it was taken down in prose and read with complete consternation by the C.O. and adjutant!

It showed the gay spirit which meant so much in the front line at a time when everyone's nerves were on edge.  It was written less than two days before the German offensive of March 21.  Here are the verses:

(C Company Situation Report 19/3/18)

There is nothing I can tell you
That you really do not know -
Except that we are on the Ridge
And Fritz is down below.

I'm tired of "situations"
And of "wind" entirely "vane."
The gas-guard yawns and tells me
"It's blowing up for rain."

He's a human little fellow
With a thoughtful point of view,
And his report (uncensored)
I pass, please, on to you.

"When's old Fritzie coming over?
Does the General really know?
The Colonel seems to think so,
The Captain tells us 'No.'

"When's someone going to tell us
We can 'Stand-to' as before?
An hour at dawn and one at dusk,
Lor' blimey, who wants more?"

The word "vane" in the second verse refers, of course, to the weather-vane used in the trenches to indicate whether the wind was favourable or not for a gas attack.

Frederick Heath (Major), 1/13th Batt. London Regt. (Kensingtons)

"Never mind, 'Erb, perhaps there's a postcard in it for you!" (click to enlarge)

'Erb's Consolation Prize

A narrow communication trench leading up to the front line; rain, mud, shells, and everything else to make life hideous.  Enter the ration party, each man carrying something bulky besides his rifle and kit.

One of the party, a Londoner known as 'Erb, is struggling with a huge mail-bag, bumping and slipping and sliding, moaning and swearing, when a voice from under a sack of bread pipes: "Never mind, 'Erb; perhaps there's a postcard in it for you!"

L. G. Austin (24th London Regiment), 8 Almeida Street, Upper Street, Islington, N.1

Rum for Sore Feet

Whilst doing duty as acting Q.M.S. I was awakened one night by a loud banging on the door of the shack which was used as the stores.

Without getting up I asked the reason for the noise, and was told that a pair of boots I had issued that day were odd - one was smaller than the other.  The wearer was on stable piquet, and could hardly walk.

I told him he would have to put up with it till the morning - I wasn't up all night changing boots, and no doubt I should have a few words to say when I did see him!

"Orl right, Quarter," came the reply, "I'm sorry I woke yer - but could yer give us a tot of rum to stop the pain?"

P. K. (late 183rd Batt. 41st Div. R.F.A.), Kilburn, N.W.6

Next - Two Guineas' Worth and four other stories

"Eggs-a-cook" were boiled eggs sold by Arab street vendors. It was later used by Anzac soldiers when going over the top.

- Did you know?

Cockney War Stories