Alfred Keers is settling in at No 20 Squadron, but whether he will be required to return to the pilot's pool is up in the air.

10 March 1916
20 Sqn RFC, Clairmarais, France

As I write this, I am sitting in the anteroom of the senior NCOs mess, which is in fact one end of a long tent erected over a wooden frame, a space curtained off from our dining area which is itself curtained off from a cooking area (if what they do there can be called cooking). There is a cast-iron stove in the centre of this area, and all the chairs are pulled up around it as it is only a few degrees above frost outside.

Clairmarais aerodrome is a long field with woods wrapping around its southern edge and surround all about with wetlands. It will be a fine place to shoot ducks and geese come spring and if were allowed. We are only a few miles from St-Omer, the headquarters of the RFC and the location of the aircraft park and the pilots pool, to which I may be transferred any day if Major Wilson proves unable to hold onto me. Lieut Alice, the fellow I flew over from England, has already been approved to remain with the squadron, but then hes an officer.

There is only one other NCO pilot here, a fellow named Jeffrey Anderlo. He has been over since mid-February. We share a tent but I rarely see him as I am still Duty Sergeant until the end of the month. I get an awful teasing about it. Anderlo keeps to himself. Actually, its a bit tough being an NCO pilot. Everyone else in the mess is a mechanic or driver or in some other occupation. The fellows look up to the officers, some of them at least, but I have the impression they look at sergeant-pilots as pretenders. Each pilot has a maintenance crew and the ones attached to sergeant-pilots take it badly. Ive begun working alongside my fitters and riggers and helping out in the sheds. I ask everything I can about the Beardmore and other things technical. The ack emmas are beginning to come around. The biggest difference is that Sergeant-Major Ellery, the technical sergeant-major, is making time to talk with me. The disciplinary boss, Sergeant-Major Gooding, still looks at me like something he found on the sole of his shoe.

I have been getting used to war flying, and am fortunate to be paired with Captain Dawson, our senior observer. Yesterday morning we did a close offensive patrol to the Ypres area and then south, but saw nothing. In the afternoon we were back up, only this time we travelled over the lines towards Menen. Again I met Archie, as anti-aircraft fire is called here. But this time I had a new and frankly terrifying experience. We had turned north from Menen towards Staden, then west towards our side of the lines when Capt Dawson suddenly swung his Lewis onto the left mount and I saw Captain Paget Graves, our flight commander, climb hard to the left. I followed him and Captain Dawson began to fire our forward Lewis gun. Then something swept past overhead. I saw a monoplane with black crosses a Fokker.

There were three in all, I am told, but I saw only that one. The flight commander fired a flare to signal a washout and we dived west through some light clouds. The Germans (or Huns as I have learned to call them) did not follow us.

Today I was up twice again. In the morning we were down near Arras. We saw nothing but the engine quit suddenly and we had to put the machine down. Capt Dawson turned about and gave me a broad grin as if to say over to you. He then lay on the floor, there being no seat in the observers pulpit on a Fee. I didnt see him again until we bounced to a stop in a frozen field of stubble. We found some nearby soldiers to stand guard. The officer then brought me to a caf for coffee and brandy. Decent sort, he seems.


"I didnt see him again until we bounced to a stop in a frozen field of stubble."

This afternoon we headed over four-strong for a distant offensive patrol. This jaunt took us fifteen miles into Hunland. After about an hour we turned for home and the flight commander, Capt Alvin, signalled that EA (enemy aircraft) were in sight. It took me a minute to see them, as I had to loosen my strap and lift myself to look back past the throbbing engine. There were six specks a mile or two east of us and heading directly for us. I couldnt make them out, but they seemed to be gaining on us and I assumed they were Fokkers. Thankfully the good captain wasnt out to win glory and he gave us the washout signal. From then on it was like a point-to-point race, every man for himself, throttles full open, vaulting clouds and racing for home. As we approached the lines, the Huns turned back.


"From then on it was like a point-to-point race, every man for himself, throttles full open, vaulting clouds and racing for home."

I returned to letters from home. Father and Mother well. Rosetta has gone off to war work at the old marine engine works in Hartlepool, now a shell factory. Mother wants her to stay with Aunt Florrie, but the factory has a nearby hotel booked as a hostel for the female workers. Now Mother frets that the Germans will come back to shell the city again as they did in 1914. Eliza is done with school and is in service with a good house. Father is holding court in the local, boast about how the family has gone from pitmen to pilots in two generations. The things war does!


"Rosetta has gone off to war work at the old marine engine works in Hartlepool"