HarryH, very much enjoying your man's journal - very interesting to have a Home Front perspective!
Lederhosen - now that's a nice crate...dangerous things, Rolands...
Bloody hell, Lou, Swany's a killing machine!! I can't wait to see him in a scout...
Fullofit - woah! If ever there was a good spot for your engine to cut out...
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
March 12th, 1916.
The winds tore about us, as 6338 was tossed around like a ragdoll. Being thrown sideways through a thick cloud, I became disoriented, all sense of direction leaving me. The wind begun to feel faster, more bitter, on my face - we were diving! Ahead of me, Rickard gripped the sides of the Nacelle tightly, looking back at me pale-faced. I pulled the stick hard into my stomach, and 6338 shuddered and groaned in protest as we finally broke through the cloud. Ahead of me, an F.E.2 fell in flames, sparks splintering away from the smoke before quietly fizzling out. Suddenly, Rickard cried out, pointing upwards.
My eyes turned in the direction he indicated, and I went cold. Above us wheeled a mass of Fokkers. Five, no, Seven, at least. On all sides they swarmed, and I saw the mad grins of anticipation on their pilots’ faces, smelled their bloodlust on the wind. Five came down at once, sending torrents of gunfire at us. Rickard tried to reply with the Lewis gun, but I watched in helpless terror as the right eye of his goggles exploded into glass shards and blood. His head jerked back sickeningly, and he slumped away into the Nacelle, out of sight. Feeling like I was choking, I swung the Fee back into the cloud. Hyperventilating, I tried to think of an escape route, a way out, anything….but my mind was blank. The aircraft nearly stalled as I lost my way in the cloud again - and then a realisation hit me. “That’s it!” I cried, and released the stick.
6338’s nose came up, and she lazily turned over into a spin. Through the bottom of the clouds I dropped, waiting until I had fallen about 1,000 feet to recover. The trick worked - at least, in part, and several of the Fokkers still wheeled above the clouds, angrily searching for me, but three of them had realised my deception and come down after me. Inexplicably, I heard machine-gun chatter once more from the Nacelle, and one Fokker burst into flames. “Pay attention, Cammie!” a familiar voice cried, and I swung my head forwards. In the front seat, Jacky-Boy relentlessly beat off our attackers with the Lewis gun, a look of fury on his face. Ahead of him I saw an Aviatik - startlingly familiar - with flames bursting from its cowling and consuming the pilot. For a moment everything was frozen in place, and I stared into the eyes of the terrified German observer, his face affixed in an eternal scream as, in unnaturally slow time, the smoke wrapped around him and claimed him, before the Aviatik’s nose pointed down.
I heard both Germans screaming in agony as their machine plummeted into oblivion, and in horror I realised it was my first victim - the one Edith and I had dispatched. Ahead of me, Jacky-Boy screamed out at me over the howling wind - “Break, Campbell! He’s going to get us!”. In dread, I looked behind us. Squarely on our tail was the dreaded Green Fokker, so close I could make out every feature of the pilot’s face - he looked at me in pity. Again came the cry, “He’s going to get us!!”. I watched the first flash of the Spandau as it barked into life, and saw the first sparks of flame licking out from my engine…
...Drenched in sweat, I bolted awake with a cry. At the writing-desk in our Billett, Jimmy Reynard swung around in surprise. “Graham?” he asked, as I looked around frantically, my eyes still wide with terror. My gaze fixed on his surprised face, and the realisation came to me. Letting out a deep sigh, I slumped back onto my bunk. “Whit’s wrang?” Jimmy asked. “Nothing. Just a dream” I responded, before lethargically swinging my legs out of bed and sitting upright.
After Jimmy, Switch-Off, McHarg and I had shared our cigarettes and had our morning coffee, we stepped out into the wintry morning, making our way down the dirt path towards the aerodrome, and the briefing room. ‘B’ flight was the unfortunate mob today - four of us were going to Fokkerland; We were to fly over Ypres on a reconnaissance sortie. Stepping back out onto the aerodrome, I met with my fellow ‘B’ pilots, Normie, Graves and Reid, and we headed to the mess to secure some breakfast - tinned bully beef and eggs bartered from a local farm, with tea of course. As we ate, Normie relayed his plans for the show. “Tweet has the most experience with the camera, so I want you flying the reconnaissance bus” he said to Reid, who nodded in agreement. “Campbell and Graves, you bracket the recon machine”. We were then joined by Kris Bristow and Ricard, who were laughing and joking among themselves as they sat down with us. Having covered our plan, our conversation took on a more casual tone, and we flitted away our morning swapping stories of encounters with young English ladies back home.
At 10 O’Clock we parted ways to prepare for the show. Rubbing whale grease on my face as Edith had taught me, I donned my long brown flying coat, tied my dirty green scarf around my neck, and pulled on my flying cap, before sliding into my fug-boots (which inevitably led to me tripping up and cursing, as it always did). Holding my gauntlets under my arm, I lit a cigarette and made for the aerodrome, where our machines were being wheeled out and checked-over by the Ack-Emmas. I met with Ricard and we boarded our machine - as we did so, the afterimage of my dream flashed in my head. Pushing it down, I checked my dashboard to ensure that my lucky charm was in place. It was.
Our propellers were swung, and four Beardmores awoke from their sleep, purring in earnest. Looking down the flight line, I watched the Very light soar into the sky, and a moment later Normie’s machine let out a growl and lurched forwards. The rest of us followed, and one-by-one we left the ground, before turning East and climbing into the inviting blue.
The winds were thankfully tame as we turned towards Ypres, and we kept good formation as we cruised while gently climbing. However, at around 5,000 feet the wind became more aggressive, and several times it caught under the tilted nose of my bus, nearly stalling the machine. Nonetheless, Graves and I kept on either side of Reid’s reconnaissance bus as we crossed over the top of Poperinghe, the mud laid out before us. As the ruined town came into sight, Rickart perked up in his cockpit, resting an arm on his Lewis and scanning the skies for enemy machines. I did the same, slanting my eyes as I watched the horizon.
To our delight, we found that the Ypres Archie gunners had apparently decided to take the day for themselves, as not a single shell burst troubled our work. After we had circled for ten minutes or so, as Tweet took photographs, I spotted a lone Aviatik flying towards Hunland from our own lines, listing from cloud to cloud and using the base of them as cover. It was a tempting target, but too far off to bother our flight. I watched the little white Aeroplane quietly sail across the lines for a moment, before diverting my attention back to the task at hand. After two more turns, Normie fired the washout signal, and we all turned for home, grateful for a quiet day’s work.
March 13th, 1916.
I arose early from a thankfully peaceful sleep and, accompanied by Switch-Off, headed to the mess to have an early breakfast before briefing. As we stepped into the mess, we noticed that a large group of airmen were gathered around Pearson, excitedly chatting among themselves. Walking over, I spotted Edith and placed a hand on his shoulder. “What’s this?” I asked, and he grinned. “Comic Cuts! Wait ‘til ye read this!” he exclaimed, and tapped Pearson on the back. “Pearson, show Graham!” he chirped excitedly, and a sheet of paper was thrust into my face. It was taken from the R.F.C. Communiques. One addition had been circled roughly in pencil. Taking the sheet, I read aloud: “Second Lieutenant Swanson and his Observer, Captain Craig, of No. 3 Squadron R.F.C, reportedly today triumphed over two Fokker Monoplanes while fighting alone at three-to-one odds. To date, Swanson has amassed five air victories, with these two Fokkers set to become his sixth and seventh, and is No. 3 Squadron’s Star Turn”.
I looked up from the sheet at Pearson. “3 Squadron? I thought they were on Parasols?”. Pearson broke into an ear-splitting grin. “They are! And this Swanson fellow has been knocking Fokkers out of the air like nobody’s business!”. My eyes widened, and I burst into laughter. “Fantastic!” I cried, picturing in my head the anemic Morane sending the terrifying Fokkers down in pieces. “The man needs a VC - his observer, too!” Tepes chimed in, which was met with whoops of approval from us all.
Switch-Off and I sat down and ate breakfast, before heading to briefing. As we sat down, the Major regarded us with a wary eye, before beginning to tell us our assignments. ‘B’ had an easy show today - a patrol of our own lines near Bethune. However, after listing off ‘C’ flight’s assignments, he continued to speak: “Campbell. Today you have a special assignment”. I looked up in surprise, as several pilots’ heads swung around to face me. “You are to head to the front-lines at Fricourt, alone, and scout for targets of opportunity. You are free to attack what you find”. My jaw dropped. A lone patrol? With Fokkers plaguing the skies?
Dazed, I stepped out of the briefing room. Switch-Off immediately came to my side, a nervous look on his face. “A lone patrol?” he asked me in a hushed tone, echoing my thoughts. I just looked at him. “Dammit, Campbell, you just be careful…”. I composed myself, for my young friend’s sake. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Switchy, I shan’t venture any further than our trenchlines”. Switch-Off attempted a smile.
Gearing up, I met Rickard on the aerodrome, and I was not surprised to learn that he shared the same apprehensions as me. “Just keep a bloody good lookout” I told him, as he clambered into the nacelle. I looked over my maps as the Ack-Emmas checked my machine over, then stared up at the position of the sun. It was still early - the sun was in the East. Dammit. After having my prop swung, I tapped Rickard on the shoulder. “Remember - a good lookout!”. He nodded, a serious look on his face. “Well then, nothing for it. Here we go” I muttered, and pushed the throttle forwards.
I climbed to 10,000 feet. I would take no chances. At the lines I turned for Loos, avoiding Ypres. From there, I decided to cruise down the lines towards Arras, scanning the horizon as my paranoia rose. Nothing made itself apparent until I turned back North, at which point I spotted two Aviatiks on high, being pestered by Archie. Rickard saw it too, and turned back to me. I looked at him firmly, and nodded.
The Aviatiks were coming towards us from above. This suited me well, I wanted to be under their tails. As they came overhead, I swung underneath them and positioned myself. Our strategy was the same as before - Rickard fired upwards as I stayed below the Aviatik’s line of fire. As he shot, the startled Aviatiks broke away in opposite directions. I pressed my attack on the rearmost machine, Rickard firing furiously at the Hun. Realising our tactic, the Hun rolled steeply to the left, the observer firing backwards at us, but another burst from Rickard smashed into them and we watched as the Hun went spiralling down out-of-control. Immediately I turned for the second Aviatik, which had turned tail for Hunland. I chased him over the lines towards Vimy, and we had nearly gotten close enough to attack when Rickard suddenly turned back, pointing intently away to our Two O’clock. I looked in the direction he had indicated, and to my horror I saw the shape of three Fokkers, almost upon us. I felt their murderous intent. I saw only one escape - upwards. The Fokkers were not quite at our level yet. We spiralled upwards in a climb, the Fokkers following suit. In dismay I realised that it was no good - the Fokkers were faster in the climb. I looked at Rickard, who stared back. In an instant, we understood that we would have to fight our way out.
Immediately I tightened my turn, and spiralled down, taking the Fokkers by surprise. Getting behind one, Rickard begun to whip the gun around, but to our horror the mount jammed, the Lewis refusing to point forwards. Cursing, I immediately dove for allied lines as Rickard yanked on the Lewis gun, trying to free the gun’s movement. Two of the Fokkers swung around to give chase, relentless in their pursuit. I reached our lines, hoping that the Fokkers would finally give up, but on they came, determined to kill us both. Suddenly, the forward Lewis gun jerked around, as an almighty tug from Rickard freed it. Scarcely believing the situation, I swung around again to face the Fokkers once more. Tracer flashed past us as I circled below them, and soon we were looping and rolling across the sky. Old 6338 manoeuvred magnificently as we danced with the two Huns, and soon I had gotten behind one. The second endeavoured to get behind me in turn, as I tried desperately to chase down his companion.
The first straightened out, and I realised his game - if I were to stop turning to fire at him, the second would have a free shot at me. I continued circling, now battling against my pursuer for the upper hand. Soon I realised the folly of our situation - as soon as we would get behind one Fokker, the other would get behind us. But then - salvation! One Fokker became to eager in the turn, spinning away and becoming stuck below the fight. With my tail finally clear, I was able to stick behind one of the brutes, at which point Rickard fired a burst at him, which clearly gave him the wind-up as he dove down for home. I dropped on the second Fokker, who upon seeing his comrade fleeing had also turned away, and dove below his tail. Rickard swung the Lewis around and pressed down on the trigger. The gun barked into life, but then abruptly fell silent. Looking confusedly at Rickard, my heart sank to see him wrestling with the charging handle. The gun had jammed! The Fokker began to spiral upwards, attempting to escape. Seeing my chance, I spun around and flew further into our lines. Over my shoulder, I watched the Fokker as he disappeared back into Hunland. Breathing a shaky sigh, I turned us for home.
That night in the mess, I recounted the story of my desperate lone battle against the two Fokkers, to the delight of my colleagues - save for Switch-Off, who was horrified at the tale. Jimmy offered to buy my drinks for the night. I informed the pilots that all three machines were green - it seems that 'Greeny' may be more than one artist, after all.
I think I'll leave the Fokker-fighting to Lou / Swany...