War Stories from the Battle of the Somme
Recently, I have been flicking through a great little book from Amberley Publishing called ‘The Best 500 Cockney War Stories’. The book is chock full of little tales and stories from the front line, mostly centering on men from the east-end of London. The stories are both funny, sad and inspiring and give a great human insight into what the ordinary soldier had to deal with on a day-to-day basis both whilst being in the thick of it at the front line, or being behind the lines during a lull in the fighting. Here are a couple of my favourite short tales relating to the Battle of the Somme…
‘Spider’ Webb was a Cockney – from Stepney I believe – who was with us on the Somme in 1916. He was a splendid cricketer. We had had a very stiff time for six or seven hours and were resting during a lull in the firing. Then suddenly Jerry sent over five shells. After a pause another shell came over and burst near to ‘Spider’ and his two pals.
When the smoke cleared I went across to see what had happened. ‘Spider’s’ two pals were beyond help. The Cockney was propping himself up with his elbows surveying the scene. “What’s happened, Webb?” I said. “Blimey! What’s happened?” was the reply. “One over – two bowled” (and looking down at his leg) “and I’m stumped.” Then he fainted.
George Franks, M.C. Royal Artillery
During severe fighting in Delville Wood in August 1916 our regiment was cut off for about three days and was reduced to a mere handful of men, but still we kept up our joking and spirits.
A young cockney who was adept at rhyming slang, rolled over, dead as I thought, for blood was streaming from his neck and head. But he sat up again and, wiping his hand across his forehead, exclaimed: “Strike me pink! One on the top of me loaf of bread (head), and one in the bushel and peck (neck).” Then, slinging over a Mills bomb, he shouted: “’Ere, Fritz, many thanks for a Blighty ticket!”
A. Dennis, East Surrey Regiment
On July 1, 1916, the 56th (London) Division attacked at Hebutern, and during the morning I was engaged (as a lineman) in repairing our telephone lines between Battalion and Brigade H.Q. I had just been knocked out by a flat piece of shell and had been attended by a stretcher-bearer, who then left me and proceeded on his way back to a dressing station I had previously passed, whilst I went farther on down the trench to get on with my job.
I had not gone many yards when I met a very young private of the 12th Londons. One of his arms was hanging limp and was, I should think, broken in two or three places. He was cut and bleeding about the face, and was altogether a sorry slight.
He stopped and asked me, “Is there a dressing station down there, mate?” pointing along the way I had come, and I replied, “Yes, keep straight on down the trench. It’s a good way down. But,” I added, “there’s a stretcher-bearer only just gone along, shall I see if I can get him for you?”
His reply I shall never forget: “Oh, I don’t want him for me. I want someone to come back with me to get my mate. He’s hurt!”
William R. Smith, Royal Engineers
If you liked these stories then you will like the rest of the book – there are hundreds of similar little tales, with loads more from the Battle of the Somme as well as other battles such as Arras, Ypres, Mons, Gallipoli etc. Many stories are accompanied by illustrations from the famed Bert Thomas. The book is prefaced by an introduction by Sir Ian Hamilton, the British Commander-in-Chief who oversaw the Allies’ unhappy campaign in Gallipoli. You can buy the book from Amazon.