MFair, good to see you here!

Sgt Alfred Keers gets a surprise promotion, and makes a mess of his first day at his new home. He's out for six days.

We were grounded by foul weather from the 17th to the 20th of April 1916. I went with Jeff Anderto into St-Omer most days, but there was little to do. The town had some cafs and restaurants, but many were reserved for officers. There were a number of hospitals, both for men and animals, and there were headquarters, of course. We visited the building that had been until recently Gen Haigs headquarters. I expected something more imposing.

One day we got terribly lost and stopped to ask directions of a woman who was sweeping the pavement outside her home. She generously invited us in and insisted we drink coffee with her and her husband, who was some sort of town official. We struggled to communicate but found the French very friendly and accommodating. They are also very religious compared to us, crossing themselves and praying before eating. Little shrines to the Virgin or some saint seem to adorn every room. That said, there is a certain sort of woman here who is doing a roaring trade in town. The Army turns a blind eye to it all. In fact, their main concern is that officers and other ranks should avoid using the same establishments!

I was up twice on the 21st, the morning flight a distant patrol over the lines several miles past Thlus. The cloud was heavy and we saw nothing. On days like that the Fee is the coldest machine you can fly, as there is no protection from the elements and no heat from the engine, which is behind you. We flew a second distant patrol over Haubourdin in the late afternoon, but again we saw nothing. Mr Whieldon was on leave for a few days, so my observer was Lieut Pearson.

The rain returned on the 22nd, but the day was not without excitement. After lunch, the CO called for me. I reported to his office and saluted smartly, wondering what Id done. Instead putting me through the facings, he invited me to take a seat.

Youve had quite a start to your service, he began. It was not quite two months since Id arrived here.

I did my best as duty sergeant, sir, I said, referring to the punishment duty the major had given me for looping a Fee on my arrival at Clairmarais.

Well, he said, if youre to be sorted out next time, well have to make you duty officer, Mr. Keers.
It took a moment before I realised what hed said. Officer?

You are getting a commission. It should be gazetted tomorrow. Let me be the first to congratulate Second Lieutenant Keers. The major stood and offered his hand. I reciprocated and he motioned that we should sit back down.

Its a difficult thing to serve as an officer in a unit where you were an NCO, so youre to transfer tomorrow to 29 Squadron at Abeele theyre flying DeHavillands. That will give you a fresh start in your new role. He had something else. Major Wilson had laid claim to an officers service dress tunic with RFC badges. It already had the lonely Bath stars of a subaltern on the sleeve. He said he wished me more luck that the tunics previous owner, and suggested it would do me until I could get properly kitted out. There were no breeches. Id have to pick those up in St-Omer.

I was slated for the early patrol in the morning, and got permission to keep my sergeants stripes up until after the flight was done. As it happened, our original patrol was scrubbed and we were dispatched to Coudekerque to hunt for some reported intruders. We took off at six, myself and Mr Pearson behind Captain Paget-Gravess machine and Lieut Grangers.

I was the first to spot them, two silver-white two-seaters dodging eastward among thick clouds. I signalled and gave chase. We became separated in the clouds and I emerged from a wall of cumulus directly below an Aviatik. Mr Pearson fired. We were scarcely fifty yards away. The Hun machine shed a wing and began tumbling earthward. Mr. Pearson pointed. A second Hun was just ahead, probably five hundred yards away. We quickly got under it and within seconds it broke up in the air. Unfortunately both Huns fell over the lines and were not seen, so we were denied the victories. It would have been a great send-off.

I arrived at Abeele, near Ypres, just before lunch, wearing a dead mans tunic and NCOs breeches. The CO, Major Dawes, seemed a very decent sort, and introduced me to a few fellows whose names did not stick. I learned I was to fly a two oclock on a familiarisation jaunt to the lines near Armentires. I had time for only a twenty minute circuit on the DH2 before possibly going into action!

I wasted no time in getting the machine up. It was tiny and light compared to the Fee, and if possible, it was even colder. By the time I put the machine down there was no sensation in my hands.

Should I be concerned, I wondered? Id been assigned to fly alongside two sergeant-pilots. Sergeants Noakes and Thomas were first-rate men, but I questioned if Id been sent around to the service entrance by the officers. The thought disturbed me, but I shook it off. It was a beautiful afternoon and I guided the nimble little pusher into the air and took my position on Sergeant Noakess wing. He would lead this patrol.

My experience did not last long. Two minutes after takeoff the Gnme began to miss badly. I gave Sgt Noakes the wash-out signal and began to glide down. I had enough altitude to turn back and gingerly brought the machine around, keeping the nose well down. The motor died and I glided in. The field was still 300 yards off and I had a fence to clear. I was coming in too low. Suddenly and without warning the left wing dipped as the machine stalled. I nearly recovered but it was too late. There was a loud snapping of splintered wood as the left wingtip touched ground and the undercarriage crumpled. The machine spun around on the broken wing and fell to the right. The right wings shattered and the motor shifted on its mounting. I hit the ground hard and knew immediately that Id done something to my back.

The DH2 was a complete write-off. It had arrived in France the day before. At least I spun the machine so that the motor didnt fly forward and decapitate me, I thought. Pain shot down my right leg and up into my neck.

Id made a right mess of this job.

"A second Hun was just ahead, probably five hundred yards away."