Charles Dickens said it best when he said, "it was the best of times it was the worst of times". He definitely had today in mind when he wrote that great quote, this was the best day for me and the worst day for me. Let me fill you in on what happened today, dear reader. This morning started out no different than any other morning in our squadron, I was assigned the morning observation flight that was being led by my good friend Flight Lieutenant Justin Bell and his observer Lieutenant Dick Stephens. We had breakfast as usual, we took off as usual, as a matter of fact everything about the flight was usual. As we were climbing to reach our patrol altitude, Lt. Bell signaled that he had some kind of trouble and was heading back. This in itself was not unusual because our buses have a tendency to go 'belly up' on us from time to time. I acknowledged his signal and moved into the lead position. We continued on and completed our mission without incident. We turned for home and were landing in no time. As we were walking back up to the Operations shack, we all noticed that something dreadful must have happened, but I couldn't imagine what it was. Before we could even ask what had happened, the operations officer blurted out, "They're dead!'. Well, naturally my first question was, "Who?" He stammered, "Lt. Bell and Stephens, they crashed short of the field, burned up, nothing left." I felt like the life had been sucked out of me, I knew that we would eventually suffer causalities, but for my friend to die in such a needless waste was something I wasn't prepared for. This was our first causality and we weren't handling it well, it's situations like these where real leaders are necessary. The CO took over and got each one of us focused on some necessary task to take our minds off of our shock and grief. That was the worst of times. The best of times would occur in the afternoon and Justin would've been proud, but it was still very bittersweet. Our afternoon sortie was going to be a line patrol and I wanted to do something that I could memorialize Justin's memory. By the way, Justin had already managed seven victories and that is another reason his death was so senseless, he was really accomplishing something out here. Anyway, we arrived at our patrol area and it isn't long before a Hun flies right over us. I turn and pursue and I close just east of Niewpoort where Thayer gives him a couple of good bursts from his Lewis after which his engine starts smoking and begins the long plunge to Earth.
"That one is for you, Justin." and I turn and rejoin our flight. We land, I fill out the paperwork and the victory is quickly confirmed because Lieutenant Edwards is within 300m distance and saw the entire engagement. Later that evening after mess, I'm informed by the CO that I've been promoted to Flight Lieutenant, awarded the Military Cross and I'll be flying the Morane from now on. I'm so glad to get rid of the BE.2C. So, dear reader, you now see why I quoted that dear quote from Dickens. What should have been a stellar day for me was marred by the senseless and untimely death of a dear friend. Justin Bell had the same sort of combative drive that I do and I'll try my best to make him proud of what I do out here. Since we were such close friends, the CO suggested that it would be very meaningful if I would write something to his mother, Oh Lord, what do I say.
Member and provider of banjo music for the Illustrious BOC