Memoirs & Diaries - The Best 500 Cockney War Stories - Urgent and Personal! and Other Stories

Urgent and Personal! 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 High Seas, led by Urgent and Personal!

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

Urgent and Personal!

THE ss. Oxfordshire, then a hospital ship, was on her way down from Dar-es-salaam to Cape Town when she received an S.O.S. from H.M.T. Tyndareus, which had been mined off Cape Agulhas, very near the spot where the famous Birkenhead sank.

The Tyndareus had on board the 26th (Pioneer) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, under the command of Colonel John Ward, then on their way to Hong Kong.

As the hospital boat drew near it was seen that the Tyndareus was very low in the water, and across the water we could hear the troops singing "Tipperary" as they stood lined up on the decks.

The lifeboats from both ships were quickly at work, every patient capable of lending a hand doing all he could to help.  Soon we had hundreds of the Middlesex aboard, some pulled roughly up the side, others climbing rope-ladders hastily thrown down.  They were in various stages of undress, some arriving clad only in pants.

On the deck came one who, pulled up by eager hands, landed on all fours with a bump.  As he got up, hands and toes bleeding from contact with the side of the vessel, I was delighted to recognise an old London acquaintance.

The following dialogue took place:

MYSELF: "Hallo, Bill!  Fancy meeting you like this!  Hurt much?"

BILL: "Not much.  Seen Nobby Clark?  Has he got away all right?"

MYSELF (not knowing Nobby Clark): "I don't know.  I expect so; there are hundreds of your pals aboard."

BILL: "So long.  See you later.  Must find Nobby; he collared the 'kitty' when that blinking boat got hit!"

J. P. Mansell (late) 25th Royal Fusiliers

"Where's your station?"  "Victoria, if only I could get there." (click to enlarge)

Victoria! (Very Cross)

While I was an A.B. aboard H.M.S. Aboukir somewhere in the North Sea we received a signal that seven German destroyers were heading for us at full speed.  We were ordered at the double to action stations.

My pal, a Cockney, weighing about 18 stone, found it hard to keep up with the others, and the commander angrily asked him, "Where is your station?"

To which the Cockney replied.  "Victoria - if I could only get there."

J. Hearn, 24 Christchurch Street, S.W.3

He Saw the Force of It

In February 1915 we beat out our weary patrol near the Scillies.  Our ship met such heavy weather that only the bravest souls could keep a cheery countenance.  Running into a growing storm, and unable to turn from the racing head seas, we beat out our unwilling way into the Atlantic.

Three days later we limped back to base with injured men, hatches stove in, winch pipes and boats torn away.  Our forward gun was smashed and leaned over at a drunken angle.

Early in the morning the crew were taking a well-earned rest, and the decks were deserted but for the usual stoker, taking a breath of air after his stand-by watch.

A dockyard official, seeing our damage, came on board, and, after viewing the wrecked gun at close quarters, turned to the stoker with the remark: "Do you mean to say that the sea smashed a heavy gun like that, my man?"

The stoker, spitting with uncanny accuracy at a piece of floating wood overside, looked at the official: "Nah," he said, "it wasn't the blinking sea; the ryne done it!"

A. Marsden (Engineer-Lieutenant-Commander, R.N.), Norbrook Cottage, Leith Park Road, Gravesend

New Skin - Brand New!

Two mines - explosion - many killed - hundreds drowned.  We were sinking fast.  I scrambled quickly out of my hammock and up the hatchway.

On deck, leaning against the bulkhead, was a shipmate, burned from head to foot.  More amazing than fiction was his philosophy and coolness as he hailed me with, "'Cher, Darby! Got a fag? I ain't had a 'bine since Pa died."  I was practically "in the nude," and could not oblige him.

Three years later I was taking part at a sports meeting at Dunkirk when I was approached by - to me - a total stranger.  "What 'cher, Darby - ain't dead yet then.  What! Don't you remember H.M.S. Russell?  Of course I've altered a bit now - new skin - just like a two-year-old - brand new."

Brand new externally, but the philosophy was unaltered.

"Darby," 405 Valence Avenue, Chadwell Heath, Essex

A Zeebrugge Memory

During the raid on Zeebrugge, one of our number had his arms blown away.

When things quietened a little my chum and I laid him on a mess table and proceeded to tend his wounds.  My chum tried to light the mess-deck "bogey" (fire), the chimney of which had been removed for the action.

After the match had been applied, we soon found ourselves in a fog.  Then the wounded man remarked: "I say, chum! If I'm going to die, let's die a white man, not a black 'un."

The poor fellow died before reaching harbour.

W. A. Brooks, 14 Ramsden Road, N.11

Next - Another Perch in the Roost and four other stories

"Bellied" was a term used to describe when a tank's underside was caught upon an obstacle such that its tracks were unable to grip the earth.

- Did you know?

Cockney War Stories