Well, guys, here's to another try. My younger son, his wife, and our little granddaughter visited last week, so I took a break from writing and regrouped after losing Demian, who I was just getting to know. The action has been hot and heavy here of late and I am struggling to keep up. Fullofit
, I'm really loving the Aldi story but you gave me a scare with the "red screen of DiD" photo. Robert
, you continue to tear up the Hun. Have you ever lost a pilot? It's amazing what you can do in the virtual skies! Banjoman
, thanks for all you do. And MFair
, old chum, it's great to see to active here again. Finally, Carrick
, you're a glutton for WOFF punishment. Good luck with Helmut!
Meet my new buddy, Edward Rowntree. As I've done before, I have made him a 2Lt in the stories, even though he's a sergeant in the game. He won't get promoted in the stories until his second in-game promotion. I just get tired of the "commissioned from the ranks" stories, and I note that there were only a handful of NCO pilots on active duty in April 1917. War Journal of 2/Lieut Edward Rowntree. RFC
5 to 7 April 1917
I thought the day would never arrive, but now at long last, I was off to France. Contrary to the scene that had played so often in my imagination there were no cheering crowds, no damsel pressing a good luck charm into my hand, no tearful mother or quietly proud father – just a woefully hung-over AM1 and me in the bucket-like nacelle of a new and untested FE2b trundling over the wet grass of Farnborough and lifting off into the stinging spears of rain falling from low cloud.
My name is Edward Rowntree. It was my father’s name before me. Rowntree Pater was an old India hand. He went out in 1888 as a subaltern in the Bengal infantry and later joined the Bengal Police. By 1895 he had risen to become Assistant to the Deputy Superintendant of the force’s Special Branch.  He met and married my mother, Rosalind Crawford Rowntree in 1896. Mother was the daughter of Scottish missionaries. My sister, Madeline, died in infancy. I came along in 1898 and, though plagued by dysentery and somewhat sickly at first, held in. It must have all been too much for them, for I grew up a spoiled only child.
Unlike many of the British in Calcutta, we did not acquire a house in the outskirts. Instead my childhood home was a “mansion,” a sprawling flat on the third floor of an elaborate block on Park Street, only a short walk from the headquarters of the Special Branch.  I have fond memories of the place. The flat came with an entire household of servants. There was an ayah
to look after me, a dhobi-wallah
to do the laundry, a head bearer (who we called “Naik,” which I later learned was Hindi for corporal), an under-bearer, a cook, a driver (for our wonderful Arrol-Johnston tourer), and a sweeper. I grew up with many memories of riding, swimming, and cricket, and strangely few memories of school although I’m somewhat sure I went.
We left India in 1911. The capital moved to New Delhi that year and they wanted us to move there, but father decided to head home, where he served as a consultant to the Metropolitan Police. We lived in a lovely house in Lambeth, and I attended St. Olave’s Grammar School. My ambition was to follow in Dad’s footsteps and join the Met as soon as I turned 18.
Then the war started. I was only 16 and had to wait. At 17 I joined the Territorials and quickly got promoted corporal. There was a call out for transfers to the RFC and I applied. They’d take me early because I’d be of age for service overseas by the time I was done training.
Training was truly enjoyable. I started at Oxford, still a lowly corporal, in the School of Military Aeronautics. It was a lot of swotting – rigging, engines, photography, Morse, bombs and such. Exams were held in the City, at the Corn Exchange, over two days. After all the work I’d put in I was annoyed at how simple they were.
I got my pass on 7 August 1916, and my commission as a probationary Second Lieutenant dated from the same day. Flying training began at Netheravon, Maurice Farman Longhorns. I soloed in two weeks and soon after was posted to Central Flying School in Upavon, a wonderful place with more modern machines. Most importantly, the food was good. Two fellows killed themselves the first week, though.
The course was long. We flew Avros, then BE2s, and then Moranes. Finally we had a couple of weeks of advanced training on Sopwith Pups, absolutely ripping machines. Then shortly before I would get my papers for France I had an engine cut out on takeoff and brought my machine down sideways into a field. The kindly doctor there prescribed rest and leave, so I made it home to London for three weeks. Finally back to the CFS, they had introduced a new course in formation flying, which I did first as a student and then as an instructor.
Then, on 3 April 1917, I received orders to proceed to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, from which I was to ferry a new FE2c to No 1 Aircraft Depot at St-Omer, France. I’d never flown a Fee before, but the machine was easy and stable, but dreadfully slow in the wind we faced that grey morning. That brings me back to the hung-over ack emma. He spent much of the trip getting ill over the side, and the slipstream made the experience hellish. It was a long flight in filthy weather with only a Michelin map as my guide. We flew ESE to Hastings and from there I set course from Dungeness to Cap Griz Nez and thence to St-Omer. I was proud of myself for not getting lost. And I used my new-found rank to order the ack emma to clean my leather flying gear.
St-Omer was home to the dank and depressing pilot’s depot, a place to wait for attachment to a squadron. I was lucky. Because of heavy losses at the front, they shipped me out that very evening to No 23 Squadron at Baizieux, between Amiens and Albert in the Somme region.
23 Squadron had been an FE2 squadron, and I delivered the same machine I’d flown to France in to them. They were in the midst of re-equipping with Spads, French single-seat scouts. The commander, Major Hogg, was ex-Indian Cavalry and knew my father.
On 6 April I flew a fighting mission for the first time. I flew a Fee with an Observer Lieutenant named Jane, our most seasoned observer. I think he went with me because no one likes to be a passenger with a new and untested pilot. It is normal to break a man in slowly when he first arrives at the front, but with the number of casualties lately I was told that would not be possible. We took off, one of four machines, at first light and headed north to Arras where a big push is on. Navigation was simple for the day was clear and the twinkling of a thousand explosions over the front led the way. It was an incredible sight – a pastoral landscape with a broad brown slash across it from horizon to horizon, as if the whole countryside had been crudely turned over by a giant plough. We had scarcely begun our patrol over the front when the machines around me began to turn and twist and I heard machine guns hammering away. Lieut Jane suddenly swung his Lewis onto the right pintle mount and began firing. Then, to my complete shock, a black-and-white single-seater flashed past us and I saw for the first time the nasty black crosses of a real Hun. Jane signalled for me to dive away and I lost no time in diving at full throttle for a convenient cloud bank. Jane stood in front and fired an entire drum back over my head. After a minute or two he gave me a thumbs-up sign and I levelled off and headed home. Hardly the stuff of Boys’ Own Paper stories, but we were alive. "Navigation was simple for the day was clear and the twinkling of a thousand explosions over the front led the way."
That afternoon, though, we were back to Arras. Once again we were bounced by Huns I didn’t see until Jane fired. But this time one HA passed directly to my front and a little above. The Hun was trying to get behind 2/Lieut Morgan’s machine and did not see us. I was able to turn and place our Fee just behind him and directly below. Jane took careful aim and fired a full five second burst into the belly of the Albatros.
The German machine immediately began to tumble earthward. As there seemed suddenly to be no more aircraft around us, I circled and watched it fall in a flat spin for more than 6000 feet before I lost it in the haze and smoke below. We claimed the kill, but in all the drama around us and on the ground, no one saw the HA fall, and the claim remained simply a “driven down.” Back at Baizieux, eager to make a claim
7 April 1917: Oh joy! We received four new Spads today and one was assigned to me. These machines are wonders. They are incredibly fast and strong and beautifully fitted out with instruments, most of which are inscribed in French and therefore of marginal value until I learn a bit more about them. In the morning we flew north again to shoot up a rail station behind the Hun lines near Vimy, where a major attack is underway. We were lead by 2/ Lieut Standish Conn O’Grady – as Irish as he sounds. O’Grady is a superb character. In just two nights in the mess he has impressed me with the drinking prowess his race is known for. The morning flight was another crack-of-dawn show. This time I was the veteran, for we were joined by two new chaps who arrived last night, Bath and Doran (formerly of the Artists Rifles). We made several “strafing” runs, as they are called. It was a horrid thing because every machine gun in Hunland fired on us. Fortunately the Spad is known as a sturdy mount.
On the return trip a sleek Hun two-seater attacked me. I later learned it was a Roland, a nimble thing for such a machine. And I learned at my peril not to try turn-fighting in a Spad. It is a machine built for a quick, slashing attack and hasty departure. It may be quick, but it turns like a pig. Fortunately I had enough height to dive away. The next time I meet a Roland I shall know to leave it alone if I lack the element of surprise.
 The Special Branch was responsible for intelligence and counter-revolutionary policing. In 1905, the Indian state of Bengal was partitioned into Hindu-dominated West Bengal and Muslim-dominated East Bengal. The partition was seen by many as an attempt to pit Indian against Indian, and led to a surge of anti-British activity.
 The Special Branch was situated at 41 Park Street, and moved in 1909 to 7 Kyd Street, about two blocks farther away. I lived in Calcutta when I was a boy, in a flat only a block or two up Park Street from No 41. Our place wasn't built until the 1920s, but was the sort of place Rowntree describes. The driver, incidentally, was always a Muslim. This was on the theory that if, or rather when, you ran over someone on the crowded streets, the mostly Hindu mob might be more interested in attacking the poor Muslim than the white folks and you could run away. Ah, the morality of the colonial mind!
 Thomas Arthur Doran trained with the Artists Rifles and later served with the Manchester Regiment.