Great to be back in the air, although the campaign weather has not cooperated. Wonderful stuff here from Fullofit
, and a special tip of the hat to Dark Canuck
.Diary of 2/Lieut. Geoffrey Corderoy, RFC
Part 18: 1-11 August 1917
1 Aug 1917 – Filescamp Farm
This morning I awoke early, keen to get going, but the splatter of gusting rain on our tin roof told me all I needed to know. There is no flying to be done.
I flew yesterday for the first time in a long while. Captain Bishop led with Major Patrick alongside. Blake, Rutherford, Soden, Pope, and I rounded out the pack. We escorted two RE8s over to Oppy to drop bombs on a Hun crossroad where reinforcements are coming up to try to contain our big push. Blake and I kept our Nieuports fully opened up to keep pace with the others’ SE5s. It was a bumpy ride due to heavy cloud and intermittent rain. We saw nothing, which was just as well given that I was more concerned with keeping station on Bishop’s right.
Today is blissful idleness. Have just finished toast and tea, with Gentlemen’s Relish from Beck’s latest tuck parcel. Topped it off with a pipe of fine Latakia from Horn’s supply. Passed about shortbread biscuits from a lovely Fortnum & Mason hamper my Aunt Margaret, Dad’s sister, has just sent. Uncle Robert, bless his soul, had a fine bottle of Old Pulteney added to the hamper, which I am hiding from the band of marauding riffs that I live with. When the sun is over the yardarm I shall retire to my virtuous couch and partake! God, what a war.
I share a hut with Rutherford, Beck, and Pope. Beck is our latest arrival and a splendid fellow. He has sworn me to secrecy, for I have learned he is only seventeen and his parents do not know he is in France. Jack Rutherford is a lanky Canadian who has grown up in a French-speaking part. He is given to cursing in the style of Quebec, which apparently consists mainly of citing the name of religious objects: “tabernacle”, “host”, “ciborium”, and so forth in a most unusual way. Madame Titus, the wife of the farm’s proprietor, heard him one day and was scandalised.  Rutherford explains that people curse by what they are afraid of – for the French Canadians, God; for the English Canadians, sex. “Poppy” Pope is the comic of the troupe, another tall man and one of those fine officers so common among the Anglo-Irish. Poppy took note this morning of the absence of the three flight commanders from the Nissen by the Mess, the one called the Hotel de Commerce. He obtained some paint and has re-named it the “Abode of Love.” There shall be blood.4 Aug 1917
We have not flown this month, although the war grinds on for the PBI. Major Patrick asked me to run for president of the Mess Committee. PMC is a thankless task, especially as the rowdy element in 60 Squadron smash anything decent one acquires in hours and one must be forever wheedling for money. The Major said he’d listened to Pope and I talking about restaurants in London and thought I’d improve the quality of dining. I said I should be happier as Vice rather than PMC, and I would look after special dinners and events rather than day to day messing. Thus I have taken on a new secondary duty.
There is an Indian brigade training in the neighbourhood. I intend to put on a pukka Indian army mess dinner soon. If the meal can be made genuinely hot, perhaps I shall be relieved of duties.5 Aug 1917
The rain stopped driving horizontally today and simply fell vertically from the sky, so we were ordered over to remove a Hun balloon south of Lens. Molesworth led the way, and only Blake and I flew Nieuports, the rest being SE5s. We rigged out with Le Prieurs for the show. I flew on Bishop’s right and led the way in. As I fired from 200 yards the balloon suddenly ignited. It surprised me, and I was quite sure I’d bagged it. On our return I discovered that Jack Rutherford was also firing when the balloon went up. Lieut. Guy offered to split the kill, but I said to give it to Rutherford as he was apparently only 100 yards from the sausage when he saw it smoke.
The Major later confided that he thought it was damned decent of me in light of my trials with claims at 46.
This afternoon I was on standby with Blake, Beck, Horn, and Pope. The Major gave Bishop a couple of days off and told me to take command of the flight. Nothing stirs like seeing the streamers attached to the tail of one’s machine for the first time.
Oh joy! The klaxon sounds and we hustle to the hangars – enemy patrolling over our lines east of Bapaume! The chaps shout insults to me as I “dot and carry” my bad leg over to my “grid”, as our machines are called here. Twenty minutes later we are at 9000 feet over Mossy Face Wood and still climbing when a flight of Albatri passes directly overhead. The two formations see each other simultaneously and a thrilling scrap begins. I try to stay high and soon find myself a yellow Hun with a black tail. We circle and I manage to put about half a drum in his direction. Suddenly the Hun turns and dives eastward. I turn inside him and am directly behind. The poor fellow is rocking back and forward as he dives. He does not look back. I close to nearly touching the Albatros and then, not without a pang of guilt, thumb the trigger. The tracer seems to plunge directly into the pilot’s back and the EA falls out of control. I lose sight after a few thousand feet. Blake falls in to my left soon after and gives me a thumbs up sign. He has seen the machine crash. I fly low over our airfield and fire a red flare – normally Bishop’s drill, but I am now a two-kill star turn, so I claim the privilege.
We have a modest celebration tonight in honour of my second confirmed victory. The RO confides that the Major has made some special mention of me in his reports. Some day! "The tracer seems to plunge directly into the pilot’s back and the EA falls out of control."6 Aug 1917
Over to Athies to shoot up a rail yard. Major Patrick leads and we do a fine job of scaring the Hun. Poor Blake does not return and no one has seen him fall. We are hoping to get news. Rain all afternoon and evening.
7 Aug 1917
Another balloon raid. Major Patrick leads and spoils the morning for us by flaming the sausage on his first pass before any of the rest gets a go.
Weather clears a bit in the afternoon. Uneventful jaunt over the lines, the Major leading again. It is a squadron show so the Huns stay far off to the east. We turn petrol into noise for two hours and return for tea.
Nothing heard from Blake. He is presumed killed. Rotten luck.
11 Aug 1917
Day four without flying weather. Two nights ago I pulled off my Indian mess dinner. Our stewards were fully kitted out in long white jackets with high collars and turbans. I promised each man a night of free beer in the OR’s mess for playing along. Our two borrowed Indian cooks outdid themselves. We had pakoras, chipati, a savoury chickpea stew, and a curry the cooks called shabdkosh
, which I learned is goat. The meal was a great hit, although breathtakingly hot, and many drinks were poured into the mess piano that evening.
Only after the meal was over did one of the corporals tell me that they had heard a rumour in the village that our Punjabi chefs de cuisine had been seen buying a couple of dogs from some Australians. The rumour has, unfortunately, got around.
Today the squadron received the news that Bishop is to get the VC for his show in early June where he claimed three Huns while shooting up an enemy aerodrome. The evening celebration was, in a word, riotous. Molesworth and Bishop led the festivities and following a dinner of roast beef, Yorkshire, and two veg (culinary adventures now distinctly frowned upon) we played Mess rugger with a cabbage, debagged Caldwell, and passed Brigadier-General Higgins through a window to his car. Lieutenant-Colonel Pretyman escaped soaked in champagne. I slipped away quietly around eleven to share an Old Pulteney with Captain Caldwell, a fine officer and a New Zealander. He gave me to understand that he was not a hundred per cent confident that Bishop’s VC was fully merited and suggested that Fry’s departure was due to his feeling the same way. I recalled the conversation that I’d overheard a couple of week ago between the Major and Sergeant-Major Aspinall. Fry’s name had come up before the CO’s door was shut.
We agreed that Bish was a fine pilot and a great shot, and that he was a top scorer without a doubt. He was simply too focused on his personal record for our taste. “Ours is not to reason why,” we agreed, and poured another whiskey, perhaps two.
It is late. The piano is hammering away and the songs are getting louder and flatter in tone. The weather should break tomorrow. Already there are some stars visible through the cloud. We’ll need the sleep.NOTES:
 Editor’s note
- With apologies and profound thanks to Robert Wiggins, scholar, gentleman, and lover of fine malt whiskey. It was great seeing you last week.
 Les sacrés
are the quintessential Quebecois curse words. In WW2, these religious oaths from French Canadian soldiers shocked the residents of Normandy, who christened the Canadians les bâtards du curé
[the priest’s ba$tards].