Dawes stopped Stanley as he was heading to the waiting car with his valise.
“I have a letter for you, Stanley,” the adjutant said, waving an envelope. “I thought I'd give it to you before the old man saw it and blew a gasket. 'The honourable
Second Lieutenant R.A.W. Stanley'? He would have loved that.”
Stanley looked at the envelope. “It's papa. He's very formal, especially when telling me off. Well, take care adj. Look after Hurst if you can, get him a good pilot.”
As the Wolseley headed north out of Acq and into the flat French countryside, Robert opened his father's letter. It had been written on his fathers' personal stationary and the flash of blue and gold at the top felt homely, but the tone in the words below were sterner.I was most surprised to learn that Maj. Tyson had taken action against you, and so soon after giving such a glowing recommendation for a transfer as a scouting pilot.
Bob smiled to himself. He knew why, and it was clear that his father guessed as much too, but the accusation was never made bluntly. It simply hovered over the letters.the news about poor Neil. He was much loved by all that knew him. Both Asquith and LG lamented his loss. I ask you, Robert, who will weep for you? You would do well to emulate your late brother in law, and make a considerable change for the better.
Stanley looked up at the large wood that guided the road that they were on westwards. Did his father really mean that he should die in a foolish cavalry charge? That sort of thing might work in Palestine, but it wasn't done much these days. Waste of good horses, Robert mused.
As the car descended into more hilly country near Gauchin-Legal, the letter warmed in tone. His father had moved on to passions shared with his wayward son.As you know, Phalaris has had a most excellent season, what the war has permitted of it. I hope that the war will end soon so that he can have a good career on the track before going to stud. I most certainly will put him to that task as such a handsome horse will prove popular and profitable. Especially if he can have his day on the field.
The letter ended but the journey had not. A final hill was crested and Stanley was looking at the coal fields of Bruay.
He was rather glad that they had remained hidden for so long. Sooty collieries were surrounded by red brick terraces that reminded him of his trips to the family estates in the north. What was different were the giant conical coal heaps. In Lancashire, the 'rucks' were long flat topped hills of debris from the industry of winning coal from the earth. Here, the Artois coalminers seemed to dump it all in one spot, the resulting cones dotted the horizon like tawdry pyramids for the modern age.
Stanley hated them immediately.
Before the towns, the aerodrome lay around the road.
Stanley was quite surprised to find that the landing field was immediately on his left, with several hangars beside what was supposedly still a public highway. Further up it became even more muddled as barracks, messes and offices spread along two lanes that crossed this, the public road between Bruay and Houdain.
He had to suppress a chuckle as he realised that security must be a nightmare.
The squadron office was a little way up the left road on the other side of an empty Bessonau hangar. Stanley pulled his valise from the back seat of the car and gave the driver a handful of francs.
“Thank you for your excellent driving, Jacobs. I shall write to Lord Redesdale and thank him for the use of such a splendid car. Perhaps I shall call on him when next we are both in England.”
As the car pulled away, Stanley thought to himself, “and perhaps I shall call on Lady Redesdale when he's not!”
Walking into the squadron office, Stanley was shown over to Major Tilney. His new CO was a young man with fair hair and a long thin nose. He was rather pleased to see the new arrival and shook his hand as soon as they had exchanged salutes.
“Aren't you Oliver Stanley's little brother? He and I were friends at back at Eton. Is he well?”
“He's doing alright in the artillery,” Stanley replied. “I remember you from HBr.”
“Splendid times eh? And not much different now. Although the bully is a bit rougher than usual! Now, let's get you settled in with the chaps.”
Tilney gestured across the room at one of the clerks. “Funnel! Come here!”
The clerk got up and crossed the office. “Yes sir?”
“This is second lieutenant Stanley. He will be joining B flight. Please show him his quarters and the location of the mess.” The major clapped his hands, “I have to get on with reports, but I shall see you at dinner, Stanley.”
“Yes sir. Thank you sir.” Bob saluted and left the office with private Funnel.
The Other Ranks had their mess and barracks across the road from the squadron office. Funnel led Stanley 800 yards back down the road, across the crossroads and into a smaller lane. Now they passed some workshops before going into one of the buildings on the right. Funnel opened the door of a small room with two beds in it. One bed had pyjamas folded neatly on it.
“Here you are sir,” the red faced clerk told him. “You are sharing with second lieutenant Wallwork. You will find the mess at the bottom of the lane, just turn right coming out of here and you will see it.”
“Thank you Funnel.” Stanley grinned and tossed him some money. “That's for a drink in the mess.”
“Thank you sir,” Funnel's hand closed over the coins and he turned around and headed back to the office.
There were a few hours before dinner, so Stanley sat down on the empty bed and wrote a few letters. One to father, to thank him for his continued support in the form of concern. One to Baron Redesdale to thank him for the loan of the car. Finally one to the baroness, thanking her for pressing her husband give Robert the use of the car.
A corporal tapped gently at the door.
“Come in,” Stanley called.
“Do I have the honour of addressing second lieutenant Stanley, sir?”
“I am corporal Crichton, sir. Batman to second lieutenant Wallwork and now also yourself, sir.”
“Excellent! I am delighted to meet you, Crichton. Post these would you?” Stanley handed Crichton the letters and went off to the mess.
It was still an hour until dinner when Stanley arrived at the officers mess. The first impression Robert got was that he had arrived at a crash site. Pieces of aeroplane were mounted everywhere. Mostly bearing iron crosses; these were the trophies of a hunting squadron.
Four officers were sharing a pre-dinner drink on a motley collection of chairs around a coffee table.
“Hello chaps. I'm new in. The name's Stanley.”
A round faced South African put down his glass. “'Stanley?' Is that your first or second name?”
“My surname. I'm a Robert too, although my friends call me Bob.”
“Nice to meet you Robert. I'm Tudhope. Around here they call me Tud.” Tudhope indicate around the table. “Harrison - we call him Harry- is the skinny Canadian. Perhaps you can teach him how to grow a decent moustache instead of that silly effort.”
“Hey!” Harry protested.
Tud carried on ignoring him, “next to him you've got Shaw. He's a Kiwi and another new boy. And messy haired herbert there is McElroy. We call him McScotch.”
“To tell me apart from McIrish of course,”McElroy replied.
“MacLanachan. He's Irish you see. So is Mick, and don't let him tell you otherwise.”
Stanley felt like he was being played for a fool. “This would be Mannock then?”
“That's right. Hates the Irish, so we call him Mick. Do be sure to ask him about it.”
MacLanachan and an affable pilot called Napier (“Old Naps, if you like”) came in just before dinner was called. The famous Mannock was with them. Stanley was a little surprised by how quiet he was. Or was it sullen? Mannock had looked him over and then got on with his soup after the most basic of introductions.
For a few days, Napier had Stanley flying around the aerodrome in the SE5a. Naps told him that he didn't want anyone who couldn't handle a scout properly.
Finally on the 19th of November, Napier took Stanley along on a balloon hunt.
“But for heaven's sake don't try to shoot it yourself!” Naps told Stanley. “Leave that to the seasoned hands. You watch how its done and make a distraction for the ground guns.”
The balloon was popped and Stanley followed B flight home. He had followed instructions and Naps nodded at him in recognition of that.
It was a few days after that Stanley got to experience aerial combat as a fighter.
He was escorting RE8s from 15 squadron, with Naps in the lead and Tud, Shaw and McScotch making up the rest of the flight.
They were at 6000 feet over Monchy when Naps waggled his wings. 3 Albatros scouts were diving straight for the Harry Tates below them. The SE5s dived.
They headed off the Albatri and the fight became a whirl that Stanley couldn't understand. Wings and chattering guns flashed everywhere.
He saw one Albatros try to run. Unnoticed by the fray, the green-tailed machine turned east.
Stanley dived and was impressed by the speed of his aeroplane. He was very close to the German machine now.
He crept up under the tail of the fleeing Albatros and pulled on the triggers. Flecks of wood flew off the German scout and after only 10 rounds it dived away. Stanley watched as it hit the ground in an eruption of mud and splinters.
Grinning like a Cheshire cat, Stanley climbed to rejoin the RE8s. Shortly, the rest of the flight reappeared and they continued their escort.
Stanley was giddy with excitement when they landed. He climbed out of his scout and ran over to the others.
“Did you see mine? I got one!”
Tudhope nodded. “I did see. Well done. They won't all be sitters like that.”
Good stories gentlemen. I've been stressing all week about doing an arrival at 40 justice. I hope I have.