William Does His Bit

The facts

“Go to sleep,” said Mrs Brown. “It’s long past your bed-time.”
Sleep?” echoed William in disgust. “I jolly well wouldn’t waste an air raid sleepin’ in it.”
He stopped and listened for a few moments. “That’s a Dornier,” he pronounced with an air of finality.
“On the contrary, it’s a cow,” said Mr Brown, without looking up from his paper.

  • Number: 23.7
  • Published: 1941 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: William collects scrap iron.


William’s family shares its Anderson shelter with the insufferably chatty Mrs Beverton and her daughter Bella. They grate on Mr Brown’s already thin wartime temper:

“Can’t I have some chocolate?” asked William.
“Not yet.”
“I think you might let me have a bit of chocolate. I might be blown up any minute, an’ you’d be jolly sorry afterwards that you’d not let me have a bit of chocolate.”
Mr Brown glanced up from his paper. “Your nuisance value, William,” he said, “is so inestimably high that I’m sure you’re the last person in
England Hitler would wish to bomb.”

The maid entered.
“It’s that there William Brown, ’m,” she said. “He
says, thank you very much for the scrap iron an’ he’s come back for the lot he left here.”
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” groaned Mrs. Brown. “I had a feeling all along that William was at the bottom of it.”

William finds the Bevertons a little irritating too, but he is excited to overhear Mrs Beverton’s prattle about how important it is that people gather scrap iron to help the war effort.

What follows is a brilliant Williamesque chain of events taking in an exhibition, Miss Milton, Mrs Monks, cross-purposes and many more classics.

The facts

“Our cook’s cousin’s a ’contamination man. He wears things jus’ like a diver.”
“I’d sooner be a Home Guard man. I’d like to shoot through the little holes.”
“Our gardener knows a man what’s got a friend what knows someone what caught a·parachutist dressed up as a woman.”
“They do that, you know. They dress up as women.”
“Yes, if ever you see a woman what looks like a man you c’n be jolly sure it’s a parachutist.”

  • Number: 23.6
  • Published: 1941 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws believe they’ve caught a parachutist.


Enthused by yet another idea to help the war effort, the Outlaws block a road and wait for a German parachutist to arrive.

Because they know that German parachutists sometimes disguise themselves as women, when they see a man in obvious drag walking towards them, they are sure that their time has come. When they knock their suspect out and find that he is carrying an admission pass to Marleigh Aerodrome, this only adds to their suspicions.

The facts

“Mother,” William said, “you know Father’s always grumblin’ about my school bills?”
“Yes, dear,” sighed Mrs. Brown. “He says the fees are scandalous.”
“Well,” said William, “I’ve been thinkin’ about how I can help.”
“You mean, work harder, dear?” said Mrs. Brown.
“N… no,” said William. “I wasn’t thinkin’ of that so much. No, I was thinkin’ that if I didn’t go to school, he wouldn’t have to pay the scand’lous fees… No, listen,” he pleaded, as he saw an indignant negative already forming itself on his mother’s lips. “I don’t want to grow up ign’runt same as you say I will if I don’t go to school. I don’t want that.” His tone expressed righteous horror at the idea. “But I can easy learn by myself.”

  • Number: 23.5
  • Published: 1941 (1940 in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: William enters the black market.


A ‘corner’ was apparently a wartime word for a stockpile of a vital good (oil, pepper etc) maintained by a profiteer.

William, learning this, decides that it would be a sensible business line for him to enter into – and, after overhearing someone’s comment that timber is in short supply, he immediately collects a bunch of sticks and twigs and starts hawking them in the neighbourhood.

“Have I ’tributed to the war economy of the household?” William asked.
“Decidedly,” said Mr Brown.
“You said you’d eat your hat if I did,” William reminded him.
“I used that expression, my boy,” said Mr Brown, “in a purely figurative sense.”

His profiteering business proves less than profitable, but he does manage to help his friend Miss Jones oust some unwelcome houseguests…