Diary of Maj. Geoffrey Corderoy, 70 Squadron RFC Part 48: 3 to 6 January 1918
3 January 1918 – Poperinghe aerodrome
Very cold and desolate weather again, but at least the sun is out. First patrol this morning is not until eight, when the winds abate at last. We are to marry up with a Sopwith Strutter from a French squadron and attend while it takes photographs east of Vimy. The journey south is pleasant, even though the cold stings our lungs. It is necessary to put five rounds from the Vickers every few minutes and even then my right gun jambs with the cold on two occasions. I am wearing three layers under the sidcot and still find myself shivering uncontrollably. I hold the joystick with one hand while I sit on the other to keep from freezing.
We leave Loos on our left side, bumping along in the rough air above a cloud bank. Suddenly five silver Pfalzes drop on us from directly above and a thrilling scrap begins. Camels and Pfalzes flash past, missing by mere feet. I have a good crack at one Hun, but he drops like a stone and I dare not follow. And then there are Albatri among us! Six or seven of the beggars have joined in and we are truly outnumbered. The Huns, fortunately, do not stick it for long and I catch one circling below me, happily unaware of his situation. I dive on the poor chap. The Albatros is blue with a red nose. He sees me too late and drops vertically down. My machine protests, the wires shriek, the guns hammer away. At a thousand feet above the icy fields I blip the engine and gingerly ease out of the dive. Every bracing wire in the Camel must be stretched and the controls are sloppy, but it holds together. The Hun, however, is not so fortunate, for he has driven himself into the ground. I have saved his mates the work of digging a grave. The EA has simply vanished in a flash of flame. I pull away to the west, chased by sporadic Archie. After a few minutes Howsam and Corruthers, a new man, form on me and we set course for home.
The ack emmas complain bitterly at the shape of the Camel. They will be up all night getting the thing true again. Wing confirms the Albatros as number 39.
"He sees me too late and drops vertically down."
4 January 1918
We do a DOP to Avelin, a good twenty miles into Hunland. The weather, however, is filthy and we see nothing.
At 4 pm there is a tender leaving for Hazebrouck. I pile on with Gorringe and Peverell and we do some shopping and have tea.
5 January 1918
Over to Menen to strafe a Hun ‘drome. Visibility is poor. We hit the target but see nothing. The air could be thick with Huns in this weather and one would see nothing until the collision.
6 January 1918
Attack ground troops and a supply train near Athies. Several Albatri attempt to interfere and I get behind one, green with red trim. Three or four bursts leave the EA staggering about the sky and streaming thick black smoke. He suddenly rolls over and dives under me. By the time I turn about there is no sign of the beggar. I expected at least a column of smoke. On my return I claim him as driven down. None of the other chaps noticed the Hun as each was busy with his own EA. The claim remains merely a “driven down.”
Parcel from home arrived tonight! It was sent before Christmas and is late but very welcome: foie gras, crystallised fruit, plum pudding, and much more. I suppose it is Russian Christmas for me. I have hoarded a bottle of fine Madeira and plan to retire early to my room and begin working on a jolly good case of gout! 
 It appears that Col and Mrs Corderoy have sent their son Fortum and Mason’s “Luxury Box,” which also contained plums, figs, dates, muscatels, “dessert almonds” , and plum cake, all for £1. Times have indeed changed. Today a jar of marmalade at F&M costs £5.
We got into a little tussle with 6 Camels down by our balloons at Messines. I got the only kill. I must have have the pilot on the 1st pass as the e/a went inverted and crashed. I don't know if anyone saw it as we were scattered all over the area. It was the only Kill claimed. for the day.
Worked on the Taylor Stunt today. The leader signals the maneuver, then does a reinversement while the rest of us do sharp right or left turns, depending on our respective places. We made a hash of it first time but got the hang of it by the time we had done four or them.
Wrote my Mother's Day letter, took it to the Red Cross, where they stamped it on the upper right corner, "Mother's Letter." It will be added to the big May 12th mailing from France. There are signs all over the Y and Red Cross canteen about it but I still almost forgot. What a bad son!
May 8th 1918
Yesterday, no flying, rain, mud.
May 9th 1918
We're all ordered to Epiez. What a cheer we gave when we go the news! It's mostly due to the Major's tenacity and the deal he and Major Hartney struck that none of us have had to do the last two courses. I joined in the celebration with everyone else but, in all honesty, I'm more than a little ambivalent about it.. I think there would have been some profit to have worked with the camera gun and done combat practice here with the instructors. But then again, with this slow French training system, we could end up staying here for the duration of the war. Better to get the show on the road. If the Major thinks we're ready then we're good enough.
May 12th 1918
Left Issoudun on the 10th. We all agree that we hope never to see that mud puddle again and they won't miss us either. We were extremely fortunate not to have lost a single pilot there. We had to leave poor Simmy behind because of a mixup in his orders, but he'll be following soon. The 139th is still there, poor boys.
Got to Paris at 7pm. Alk, Harman(1), Gas(2), Frenchy(3), Shawhan, Dewey and I all headed for the Hotel Grand for a breather before reporting to Epiez. First thing we did was jump in a tub of nice hot water. Yesterday we exchanged some good American dollars for cigar coupons(4) and went shopping for uniforms. Now, a sharper looking set of boys you never saw.
The French on the streets greeted us cordially, either with a tip of the hat or by talking to us, not that I understood much of it but many spoke surprisingly good English. There were Ou la la girls everywhere, waving and flirting.
Had a some time to tour the city. Many of the women and children were wearing charms either around their neck, on the wrist or in a pocket for luck against the Gothas and the German Big Bertha guns. The most common charms were a pair of tiny rag dolls called Nanette and Rintintin. The dolls are joined by a piece of yarn or string, which must not be broken, one without the other is no good. Also, they are not lucky for you unless they are a gift from someone else so I bought a pair for Gretchen to send to her next time I write home. Dewey and I bought a pair for each other, so we have that going for us when we get to the fighting. We kept them in our pockets and did'nt show them to any of the others because we believed, with good reason, someone would ask us if it meant we were engaged.
We visited the Cafe de la Paix and the Olympia Bar. Drank a bit more than I intended. Whitey and I were going back to the hotel when we were brought up short by two French girls standing right in our path. One of the girls, a blonde said to Whitey in a barely intelligible accent, "Eef eu av szi moanee, weh av sze tiim. There was a small brunette with huge eyes standing slightly behind her while she talked. She looked me right in the eyes, hypnotizing me, she the snake and I the bird. Whitey, a married man, told the blonde something in the negative in French and started walking past. I just stood there, held in place by the brunette. Whitey reversed himself, grabbed me by the arm and hauled me away, "c'mon Tiger, we've got a train to catch tomorrow." I'm glad Whitey was there...I guess. I suppose it wouldn't do to go home with some shameful disease or get knocked in the head by some French pimp, so yeah, I'm glad Whitey was there.
The Stars and Stripes mentioned Lufberry and another pilot named Chapman from the 94th being killed in air fighting. Five Huns have been brought down by the Americans at Toul, including the first two I read about before, against these two losses. Cpt Bert Hall and Lts Meissner and Rickenbacker, all from the 94th Aero, claimed the other 3. Major Lufberry brought down another before his death but it wasn't confirmed.
Another big news item. We, once again, are required to wear our rank insignia on our monkey caps (6). A whole General Order is devoted to this. Glad someone has time for the important decisions, where would the Army be without them?
(1) 2nd Lt. Edwind T. Harman - C Flight, transferred to St. Jean-du-Monts 13 Oct 1918 (2) 2nd Lt. later Cpt. George A. S. (Gas) Robertson - A Flight, transferred to 141st A.S. 1 Nov. 1918, 1 aerial victory (3) 2nd Lt. Emil (Frenchy) Vadnais - became sick with an earache and was transferred to Base Hospital, Epiez, dropped from the rolls 24 May 1918 (4) Cigar Coupons - slang, French paper Francs. (5) Monkey Cap - Overseas Cap, known by other names, some obscene.
My last victory was confirmed that makes 15.. The Schwarm is being used as a fire brigade, Flew up to Zeldelgem to stop the harassment of our balloons and met heavy enemy activity. The ObLt. led us . We passed over 6 e/a then off to the right came 5 e/a. We swung into a downward turning circle with me in the leed since they were on my side of the formation. Then Chaos the enemy was every where. During the swirling conflict , I saw my flight completing its 90 degree turn into a 180 and going away thus leaving me to my fate. The Spads had me cold. My wings got riddled the the fuel tank got holes in it barely missing me an staring a fire. I went into a fake full spin pulling out near the ground and forced a hard landing on a road as they fired more bullets at my machine. Jumping out, I made for a better hole to hide in
Lovely set of reports Gentlemen. Raine, it is too bad the AI somehow don’t get their crates bent all out of shape during a dive. It would be nice to see them lose a wing from time to time from over cooking it. Collapsed wings is what I miss in WOFF damage modelling. MFair, sorry to hear about Jerod. 70 missions is a nice haul. Good luck with the next chap! Jerbear, really enjoyed that last report. Read like a chapter of a book. Now, about that brunette and her huge “eyes” ... Carrick, do be careful. We don’t want you to end up in a hospital.
"Take the cylinder out of my kidneys, The connecting rod out of my brain, my brain, From out of my arse take the camshaft, And assemble the engine again."
I led six machines for a balloon attack only to get bounced and scattered by a lone Spad Driver. The e/a made a high side attack then headed for the deck with flight in full pursuit By the time that I rounded everyone up ( reformed) we were down 50 % fuel so RTB. I don't think the Spad got scratched
Jerbear, I am really enjoying Goode's memoirs. It has the genuine feel of a first-hand account by a WW1 "Sammie." Very nicely done!
If anyone here hasn't tried AnKor's "No blue triangles" mod, I heartily suggest you get on it! The increase in framerate and general smoothness is absolutely remarkable. I am still catching up with Corderoy's career, but he finally broke the 40 kill mark with his best day ever. Diary of Maj. Geoffrey Corderoy, 70 Squadron RFC Part 49: 7 to 11 January 1918
7 January 1918 – Poperinghe aerodrome
Quigley bagged a Hun yesterday, and today we learned that it was a star turn of theirs named Bulow. We are becoming a first-rate team, and I am immensely proud of all ranks of good old 70! Today we received a letter from General Trenchard, a copy of which went to every squadron in France. It began:
“I have been appointed Chief of the Air Staff in England. This will, undoubtedly, interfere with my close personal touch with the Flying Corps in France, and therefore I would like to take this opportunity of thanking you all for the magnificent service which you have rendered to the great cause for which we are fighting during the past three years in which I have been actively concerned in trying to help and guide the work.”
I spoke with Baring by telephone last week. He confided that the great man is quite cut up about this appointment and is accepting it with some considerable reluctance. They have both already departed for London. We are feeling orphaned.
The gloom is relieved by the news that Quigley’s accelerated promotion to Captain is going through. I am looking forward to being able to give him the news. This morning I had him lead a patrol to escort a camera-equipped Camel from 43 down to the southern sector. En route we were harried by several Pfalzes, one of which I hit quite heavily and saw fall. I was unable to confirm it, though. On the return trip we mixed with some Albatri, and I again drove one down but no one saw what happened to it.
8 January 1918
We have had heavy snow all day, so no flying. Lost a football match in the snow to 29 Squadron, but drank them under the table in revenge.
9 January 1918
10 January 1918
Incredible day! Off the ground just after nine this morning, headed with Le Prieurs affixed for a Hunnish balloon just 25 miles off at Annoelin, southwest of Lille. This was a squadron show, with me leading B and C Flights across the lines at 5000 feet, and A Flight about a mile behind at 8000. While we were still over the torn-up strip of front west of Haubordin, Corruthers spotted a gaggle of enemy machines approaching from the north at about our altitude. I turned our Camels to meet them and a heart-stopping melée ensued.
In seven months at the front there has not been a fight like this one. Twice in the first few seconds I hunched down in the cockpit, wincing at imminent disaster as first an Albatros and then a pair of Camels came within inches of slamming into me. We were circling low over the pockmarked earth and shattered trees. I looked behind and saw two, sometimes three, Huns trying to get on my tail. At length I turned inside the heavier German machines and got a good crack at one of them. I circled to chase off his partner and then turned to find the first, whom I was sure I had damaged. As expected, the EA was staggering eastward, its engine smoking. Closing from behind and above I fired again and the Hun pilot immediately dropped his machine into a muddy track, where it quickly slumped into a shellhole.
Turning back to the fight I spotted another Albatros making its way east. I closed on it, just ahead of Quigley. My opening burst caused its wings to crumple back as the machine exploded in flame. I pulled up so as not to have to contemplate the poor pilot’s fate.
By this time the sky had, in that mysterious way of air fighting, become empty of aircraft. I spotted two distant machines heading west – clearly Camels. I climbed back to 5000 feet and spotted A Flight, which had turned briefly back to assist us against the Albatri, but had arrived too late. Hobson was in the lead position, and I fell in outside his right-hand man. Hobson pointed in the direction of Lille – our target balloon was that way. My Le Prieurs were still aboard.
As we approached our target I took the lead and dived at the balloon at a shallow angle for nearly a mile, firing from 600 yards until the last second. I could see smoke beginning to curl up from the gasbag and I release the rockets at 150 yards, holding my course until the last second. The damned thing exploded in my face, and I had to kick the rudder and pull the Camel hard right to avoid disaster. By the time I levelled off, the balloon was falling in flames like an oil-soaked rag.
On my return, I discovered that both the Albatri were seen by Howsam. Hobson backed up my claim for the balloon. It took only a few minutes for Lieut. Gregg to confirm with Wing my 40th, 41st, and 42nd victories. I am now only three short of Bishop’s total claims!
Telegram of congratulations received this evening from General Rawlinson. 
"Closing from behind and above I fired again and the Hun pilot immediately dropped his machine into a muddy track, where it quickly slumped into a shellhole."
"My opening burst caused its wings to crumple back as the machine exploded in flame."
"By the time I levelled off, the balloon was falling in flames like an oil-soaked rag."
11 January 1918
Defensive patrol north to the coast near Dunkirk. Chased three high-flying Rumplers and we bagged them all. Todd credited with one and the ever-impressive Quigley with two!
 Ltn Walter von Bülow-Bothkamp, a 28 victory Pour le Merite winner.
 MGen Trenchard was appointed Chief of Air Staff in December 1917 in anticipation of the creation of a unified Royal Air Force. His political master, the Air Minister, was the newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere. Rothermere was an enemy of Douglas Haig, and Trenchard was a Haig supporter, so the relationship was poor from the outset. Trenchard simply could not tolerate political infighting and the lack of a free hand in shaping the air service. He would resign his post in April. His battles with Rothermere continued, and following a letter from Trenchard to PM Lloyd George, Rothermere resigned before April was out.
ObLt. Goring was smiling as I got the news. I was transferred out to Jasta 12 a unit in JG 2. ( a group of units sent to Hot Spots on the front ). After arriving, I was assigned an aircraft from one of three Hanger Queens and painted the tail and a # 3 on the side.
Raine, congrats on a hat trick. Too bad we're allowed to claim only one victory. Great action report. Carrick, you are keeping the thread alive with your daily updates. Good on ya!
15 January, 1918 Jasta 18, Avelin
Fresh snow was blindingly bright and kept Aldi alert, despite the sensation of rough sand in his eyes from lack of sleep.
His friend and comrade Paul Strähle left early this morning for his new post with Jasta 57 and most of the outfit stayed up late seeing him off in the Kasino. In fact, none of the Kette members had any sleep last night, but there is a war going on and there is a job to be done. Orders to patrol front lines across from Bailleul saw the Schwarm Zwei cruise at high altitude, keeping an eye for any interlopers. It only took 5 minutes to encounter a flight of Britishers in their fancy new Nieuports. Despite being more nimble than the Albatrosen, the fight was an even match. Aldi got separated from the rest of the flight following one of the Englanders. They circled around, dropping lower and lower. The English pilot finally realized he is losing the battle by fighting low and deep in enemy territory. The decision to turn and run was logical, but the execution left a lot to be desired with Aldi’s Spandaus finding the target and proving the point.
Nieuport’s propeller slowed down, windmilled for a while and stopped.
Schwarzkopf followed the little scout hoping to capture it intact. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Just as it was touching down, the wheels caught on a protruding tree stump, overturning the plane. The impact was severe and the wreck kept on cartwheeling, shedding wings, tail and the engine in the process. The fuselage was a mangled mess with the pilot still strapped in. Aldi saw German infantry carefully approach the wreckage and try to free the body from the heap of wood, canvas and wires. Aldi made another circuit above, turned to point in the direction of Avelin and gained some altitude. At least there was no fire ...
"Take the cylinder out of my kidneys, The connecting rod out of my brain, my brain, From out of my arse take the camshaft, And assemble the engine again."
I know that you've all been hoping for a good Mannock story. So have I. Delays with my source material and creative indecision has caused such a terrible wait that I risk falling too far behind. Also, I have taken steps into scenery modding, thanks to help from Robert Wiggins. I hope to be bringing you something on those lines soon too. But it all causes delays! I promise that I'll publish the story, but it will be something of a flashback. This is more up to date.
------------------------------------------------------------------------ “Its too cold to be sitting around in a field”, Stanley reflected. He was filling in on C flight while Lt Wolff went to visit the dentist. Tudhope and his boys were waiting by the telephone hut, waiting for reports of enemy aircraft crossing the lines.
There was a ring.
“Tudhope... Yes... Bapaume? Yes... Very good sir. We're on out way.” Tud stepped out of the hut. “Come on chaps.”
Five SE5as climbed away from the stacks and smoke of Bruay and turned south. “It's definitely colder up here,” Stanley grimaced in the blast of his propeller, “what was I complaining about before?”
They reached the area of Bapaume twenty minutes later. They were a few thousand feet above the patchy layer of cloud that stretched as far as Stanley could see. These days he was sure that he could see further. For example; why hadn't Tud turned the flight toward the three dots that were south west of them?
As tail end charlie, Stanley's SE5 couldn't quite zoom up to Tudhope's machine. Instead he sat there as the flight turned away from the obviously German aeroplanes. Stanley wondered if anyone else had seen them.
Maybe Tud had spotted them after all. Five minutes later the SE5as were closing on the enemy two seaters. As they got closer, Stanley could see that they were Hannovers, with the characteristic twin tail planes. Now the Hannovers were heading east and speeding toward home.
Stanley trained his sights on the right hand machine and counted down the seconds as his fast scout closed in.
A bump in the air made Stanley's head drop from the Aldis tube. There was a clatter of noise and Bob Stanley felt something smack the top of his head. He pushed the stick forward by reflex.
“Ohf!” Stanley breathlessly exclaimed as the clouds engulfed him. There was nothing but greyness and the bullet holes in the hardened glass of his wind shield. The wind whistled through them to remind Stanley of their presence.
The cloud seemed to go on forever. Stanley was starting to worry. Wasn't it patchy cloud?
The haze thinned out and Stanley had a look around. The gloomy countryside below could have been anywhere. He needed to find a landmark.
A dark winged shape descended behind the lone British machine. Looking around, Stanley spotted the Albatros and swerved away from the attack. His assailant was alone and low. That probably meant that Stanley was over the wrong side of the lines. No German fly like this over the western side of the lines, surely?
In his agitated state, Stanley wasn't flying at his best, but the SE5's engine was performing well and he could avoid the German's attacks, climbing between stalling dips as he mishandled the turn. The Albatros pilot lost interest when it became clear that this wasn't easy prey and disappeared into the murk. Temporarily saved, Stanley wasn't home yet and he was quite lost.
He looked for the brighter patch of the clouds that indicated the sun and headed west.
It was half an hour later that a lone SE5a set down at Lechelle. The brown machine trundled to a halt on the damp earth that pulled at its wheels. The engine cut and silence filled the field like a noise louder than the engine that had preceded it.
The pilot didn't move from the cockpit as the propeller slowed to a halt. As men ran over they saw the pilot pull off his helmet and gingerly touch his soaking wet hair, inspecting his fingers with apparent relief.
“Are you okay?” One of the mechanics asked. “I think so. I was sure I was bleeding, but maybe not.” Stanley looked over at them and smiled weakly, “it got a little hot out there, that's all.”
Diary of Maj. Geoffrey Corderoy, 70 Squadron RFC Part 50: 12-15 January 1918
12 January 1918 – Poperinghe aerodrome
Three DFWs were heading northeast towards Ghistelles as we reached the farthest limit of our patrol across the northernmost tract of the Flanders front. The ground below was white and nearly featureless after a night of blowing snow and freezing wind. Now, at last, the sky was clear and the three Hun machines caught the morning sun like mirrors.
I turned our formation of seven Camels towards the enemy two-seaters and picked out the machine on the left rear. We were closing quickly. At one hundred yards I fired a long burst, holding my aim until close to a collision. When I pulled away I had the impression that the Hun observer was hit. I turned about and searched for our prey. Hobson was firing and the machine was beginning to show a faint stream of grey smoke. Hobson broke away as I closed on it, staying carefully in the DFW’s blind spot. Off to the right, one of the Huns was already falling in flames. I began to fire in five to seven round bursts. At the last second, I pulled up, seeking to fire into the pilot. But the observer was alive and alert and bullets ripped through my left wings. The ones that hit canvas have a dull note, like hailstones striking the canvas of a tent. But the ones that hit wood are completely different, sounding with a piercing crack. One, at least, hit wood. I broke away, scanning each strut for damage and noticing none. The DFW began to spiral earthward slowly. I could not be assured it was out of control, and so I began to spiral down to search for him. My machine had scarcely begun its second circle when there was a loud crack and the outer portion of my left lower plan broke away completely. The Camel yawed and hung left-side-down. It would not straighten except with full right rudder, and even then it did not fly straight or level. I pointed the machine to the west and held my breath.
Alone in the unfriendly sky, I took stock of my situation. The Camel was making barely 80 knots and was crabbing awkwardly. Bits of the left lower plane were breaking away every few seconds. Despite full throttle, I was down to 5000 feet and dropping, and the safety of our lines was still far off to the west.
Minutes passed, although to me it seemed much longer. The grid seemed to hang stationary in the air as it fought against a still westerly wind. The odd farm crawled past below, and then the land became barren. Here in the far northern reaches of the front, the ground was not as torn as elsewhere. The Belgians had opened the polders to the sea in 1914, flooding the valley of the Yser. It was impossible to dig trenches in the broad flood plain, so the lines were far apart.
The ground came up and I braced for a smash-up. The left lower plane was torn away completely, and the Camel barely held the air. Certainly I would land on the left upper wingtip and careen across the barren fields, cartwheeling until the machine disintegrated. But at the last instant a final lateral pumping of the joystick and full right rudder levelled off the grid, and I pancaked onto the snow, bounced, and came to a sudden stop. The fuselage was low to the ground. The undercarriage must have broken away, I thought. There was an ominous cracking sound.
It was ice. My Camel had come to rest on the thinly frozen waters of the Yser valley. The undercarriage had broken through the ice and the cracking was the surface breaking up under the weight of my machine. I unbuckled quickly and grabbed for an emergency bag I carried behind the seat: shoes, extra socks, shaving kit, and a map. The Camel sunk a little as I stood and icy water began to gather in the cockpit floor. I pulled my bad knee up and swung free of the cockpit, dropping onto the right lower wing. The wing served to spread my weight. The machine lurched a little, sinking deeper through the broken ice. I inched along the wing and stepped gingerly onto the snow. I could hear ice cracking beneath me as I took the first few steps.
The flooded Yser front
The landscape was barren, snow and the stunted tops of trees. I walked gingerly towards what I assumed was the west. At times the ground seemed solid, but at other times there were ominous squeaks and cracks, and the ground sagged beneath me. Once my right fug boot broke through the snow and ice, showing black water with the pale strands of grass under the surface.
After several hours I had gone about two miles. I spotted the outline of a roof. It was a farmhouse, entirely swallowed up by the flooding except for the skeletal remains of a roof. I approached cautiously, limping now because my right foot had got soaked and was thoroughly frozen. The roof was half gone, broken beams standing out like ribs against the grey sky. I was able to clamber onto what bit of roof remained. There was an attic floor beneath, standing dry above the water level. I dropped inside and found a corner of the floor out of the wind and with a patch of solid roof overhead. I pulled off my wet fug boot and sock and dried my foot with the emergency bag. I then put on a shoe and both socks in the emergency kit. My sidcot was warm enough, so I laid down to rest, and slipped my right foot, shoe and all, into the dry upper leg portion of the fug boot I’d taken off.
I awoke after dark, shivering uncontrollably. Now I wished I’d not quit cigarettes, because I did not have my pipe with me and I needed something to distract my mind from the hunger, fear, and tiredness. I nibbled a couple of squares of chocolate.
My wet sock was nearly dry. I’d placed it under my sidcot against my underarm. It would be better to keep the two dry socks on my right foot properly dry, so I took them off and put them carefully into my little bag with the shoes and chocolate. I looked at the shaving kit. It would be the proper British thing to do, shaving. But I didn’t fancy using ice water to do it. I pulled on the old sock, which wasn’t nearly as dry as I’d thought, and then slipped back into the fug boot. It took a real effort to get back on my feet.
Across the attic floor I noticed a small table. It had three good legs and a wobbly one, but that wouldn’t matter. Letting myself down off the roof onto the frozen, flooded ground, I dragged the small table behind me. I turned it upside down and pushed it ahead of me, holding the thing by two legs. In this way it acted like a sled, and if I walked bent forward, the table distributed the weight of my upper body over the ice. I’m not sure if it was as effective as I imagined, but I made my way westward with greater confidence.
The night was clear, with pale stars showing between just a few scudding clouds. Moonlight gave the landscape an unearthly blue tinge. In the distance, green and white flares arched across the darkness and hung in the air, casting long black shadows from each stubby tree or clump of grass protruding through the ice. After a while, the flat and frozen floodlands began to be broken by low ridges of higher ground, occasionally tangled with barbed wire, and the little table no longer acted like a sled in front of me. I sat on it and caught my breath, then struggled, shivering, back to my feet. I slung the little emergency bag over my shoulder and moved on.
Around three in the morning the guns ahead of me were noticeably louder, and I began to worry about being shot by our own troops. Soon after, I heard voices a short distance to my left. I fell into the snow and waited. It was a patrol, no more than a half-dozen men. They moved clumsily, grunting guttural curses. Germans! I lay face-down and pulled the collar of my sidcot up as high as it would go over my head. Its pale, off-white shade was better camouflage than my brown leather, fur-lined flying helmet. The damned Huns were coming directly towards me. Of all the rotten luck, to have walked so many miles over the icy Yser, only to be captured so near to freedom!
“Wat is dit?” Someone said. I felt a bayonet prod me between the shoulder blades. I was done for. I slowly stood with my hands up.
“I am an English officer,” I said. “English. Offizier, damn you!” I remember my father’s instruction – when confronted by confounded continentals, just speak English louder. The fellow in front of me wore a long dark greatcoat and a bandolier of sorts, surmounted by a dull, bovine face and a woolen cap. “Kom met mij mee!” he said, gesturing with a bayonet.
“English? You are English?” came a second voice. The shadow approached and I saw another soldier, this one with a pistol. I repeated that I was an English officer, a pilot, and I saw this fellow grin. It suddenly dawned on me that these chaps were Belgians. The Belgians held this whole sector. “Belge?” I stammered in my schoolboy French accent.
“Vlaamsche,” the bayonet fellow said. I began to laugh giddily and shook the hand of the fellow with the pistol, whom I took for an officer. I suggested the other chap put his bayonet away somewhere warm. Three other soldiers approached and I was cautioned to keep quiet. We walked single file back to the west, and after about twenty minutes we heard a soft challenge. The officer signalled for us to halt and went forward. We were waved in, one at a time.
The next hours were a blur. The Belgians were awfully decent, and pressed cigarettes (I gave in) and brandy on me, then bundled me off to an aid station. My right foot was showing early signs of frontbite, and the pain was excruciating when the blood began to circulate. I got a telephone call into the squadron, who dispatched a tender for me at once. By noon I was back in Poperinghe, washed and enjoying a meat pie in the mess. I retired to bed for the rest of the afternoon and that evening.