Sgt Alfred Keers is back in action!

20 March 1916

The time at Depot passed quickly. There were several other sergeant-pilots and we had a jolly little fraternity for a few days. Each day or two, one or the other would be posted out. It seemed like all of them were bound for Corps cooperation squadrons. Id flown the BE long enough to pity them. It was a wonderful machine for sport and comfort, but nothing Id want to face a Hun in. The gun had practically no field of fire and the thing handled like a tramp steamer.

My wound was little more than a scrape and healed quickly. On the evening of 17 March 1916, I was summoned to see the OC Depot, Lieut Kennedy-Cochran-Patrick.

It seems that Major Wilson wants you back, he said with a wry smile. Must be a dud lot over at No 20.

Aye, sir, I replied. The gentleman knows quality when he sees it, Im thinking. Patrick laughed and cautioned me to take care of myself. I was to gather up my kit and wait for transport outside the mess after Id had lunch.

The Crossley dropped me off back at Clairmarais and, much as Id begun a week or two before, Sergeant-Major Goddard marched me before the CO. The major eyed me up and down like a sheep with the mange, sighed, and commented that it seemed I was official now. He told me that I would be assigned to pilot Lt Whieldons machine.

May I resume my duty NCO task after tea, sir? I asked.

That wont be necessary, Sergeant. I have found a new man for that duty. I smiled. Either I was redeemed or someone else had blotted his copybook far worse than I did when I looped a Fee on arrival at the squadron. I went over to claim my billet. Sergeant Andarto and I still shared a tent. Tonight would be my first time sleeping there, as until now Id kipped in the guardhouse as Duty NCO.

I wandered out to the sheds and met the ack emmas. There was a hearty and genuine welcome back, and I was secretly please to learn that the chief rigger, Sergeant Dooly, was the new Duty NCO, having come back from leave mildly drunk enough to get caught peeing in the ROs rose bushes. The new machine was in fine shape, and my gunner Lieut Whieldon was considered a fine and fair man.

The next two days, 18 and 19 March, were uneventful. We patrolled south towards Arras both mornings without seeing a sign of the enemy.

On the morning of 20 March 1916, three machines, led by Second Lieut McNaughton headed back to Arras. We crossed the lines around eight oclock flying into the burning sunlight above a cloud layer. Over Monchy we turned north and doddered along at 8000 feet, crossing over Vimy where the Huns were well bedded in. Our guns were laying down some morning hate on the poor Fritzes.

Suddenly Mr Whieldon stood up and grasped the staunchion that supported the rear-firing Lewis. He rattled off around twenty rounds. Mr Reids machine put its nose down and dived west. Mr McNaughton closed up on us. I could see that his gunner, Lieut Rowle, was standing.

I turned left gently so as not to unbalance Mr Whieldon. He dropped into the nacelle. Once he was down I banked more sharply, searching for the Hun. There were two of them, but only one was at all close. We headed towards the Fokker, which was above us and to the left. As we approached, Mr. Whieldon fired a full drum from his forward Lewis.

We turned again, looking for the Hun. He was gone! I forced myself up against the lap belt and searched backwards over the engine. Visibility was limited, but there was nothing. Then I saw Mr. Whieldon pointing down over the left side of his pulpit and pounding the breech of his Lewis with his mitt. A yellow Fokker was falling in a flat spin. We watched it as it hit the ground near Thlus. Whiedon replaced the tip of his mitt over his bare fingers and punched the air. Possibly, just possibly, wed get credit for a kill.

"We watched it as it hit the ground near Thlus."