Great to hear from you, Banjoman!

2Lt Keers is setting squadron records at No 29. Just not the right kind of records...

Stand straight while Im talking to you, Mr. Keers! Id never seen an officer that colour of purple. Major Dawes had transformed from the decent gentleman Id met scarcely a week ago into a banshee, spraying spittle and grimacing fiercely.

You have done more bloody damage to this squadron than any Hun alive! Do you realise that, Mr. Keers? Do you, hey? I was afraid he was about to spit out something hed need later. What in the name of all thats holy were you trying to accomplish today?

Ah well, its a long story. So lets begin eight days ago when I wrecked my first DH2 stalling after my first patrol as a subaltern with 29 Squadron.


Except for the back pain, Id walked away scot-free from a dreadfully heavy smash-up. I therefore spent my first week at Abeele as duty officer for the week until cleared for flying. This was a pleasant change, as Id only been duty NCO before. In addition to the tasks Id become used to, I got to sleep on a tiny cot in the squadron officer in order to man the telephone at night. I also got to close the NCOs mess, which brought me more than my share of rude but muttered comment. When Id been in the NCOs mess at Clairmarais, wed given nicknames to each of the officers. Now that I was an officer I was keen to discover if Id been graced with such a name, and if so what. Deadeye or Killer Alf would be nice, I thought. But it was one night as I called for everyone to leave the NCOs mess that I overheard my new nom de guerre Splinters.

My DH2 took the better part of that week to repair, needing new wings, undercarriage, propeller, engine mounts, two longerons, and nacelle ribs, not to mention miscellaneous wires and bits.

Finally on 30th August, I was given permission to fly again. That morning we headed to Armentieres for an offensive patrol. Again I was led by a sergeant, Sgt Noakes. We spotted two Hun two-seaters and gave chase. I damaged one, but as I banked away the German gunner scored a lucky hit on my fuel line and I was forced to glide down and land in a field. At least the machine was intact.

I was back at Abeele by afternoon and aloft in a borrowed machine. For the very first time I got to lead a flight. I was ordered to take two sergeant-pilots, Sgt Thomas and Sgt Long, and shoot up a rail station behind the front. We were making a good job of it until two Fokkers dived on us. Thomas got one and I tangled with another. Although my Lewis rattled off a full drum, the Hun did not fall. We headed home to count the number of holes in our machines.
The next day began quietly with an early escort patrol. We nursed a Sopwith Strutter from No 5 (Naval) over to Houplin. The Huns were abed and chose not to disturb us and we returned for a second breakfast with nothing to report. This time I touched down flawlessly, rolled to the hangar, and proudly presented the ack emmas with a machine that required no major surgery. They clapped, though, which was a bit disconcerting.

But there was a second patrol that day. Another low job: same rail yard, same orders. Sgt Noakes led this time, which annoyed me. He was a pleasant fellow and a fine pilot, but I was the one with a pip on the sleeve of my second-hand tunic.

We were passing over LaGorgue at 5000 feet when I heard a sound from the Gnme Id never heard before like bits of tin being spun about inside a metal drum, which is likely a pretty accurate description of what was happening four or five feet behind my head. I quickly switched off and began spiralling down.

Now, the field at La Gorgue is surrounded by trees, so I planned to come in a little higher than normal. The problem is, you see, that as I made my final turn there was a strongish breeze that I had not fully accounted for. The DH2 wallowed a bit. I watched as the speed fell off and the trees passed underneath. All but one...

The left wings hit first and threw the machine around. Good, I thought, the engine wont kill me that way. Then the right wings hit another bit of woods. The longerons caught in some branches and for a moment everything came to a sudden halt forty feet above the ground. Then the longerons snapped, the tail assembly departed, and the wings crumpled backwards. I piloted my mount vertically to the ground. Somewhere on the trip the motor fell out, sideways, thank God. We hit with a violent crunch and I knew Id hurt my back once more. There was a terrible tangle of wood and wire and bits of canvas to crawl through. I staggered several feet out of the tree line and looked at the disassembled mass of the Royal Aircraft Factorys finest work. At least it didnt burn, I thought.

And then it went whoompf.


So back to the office. Major Dawes was standing behind his desk now and stabbing the bit of his pipe in the direction of my nose. You, Mr Keers, are an officer now. You need to set an example. You need to meet a standard. And you are failing, Mr Keers. Sort yourself out and start wrecking more Fokkers than DeHavillands. There, now be a good chap and bugger off smartly.

I saluted and left the office. I needed to get my back looked at.

"Now, the field at La Gorgue is surrounded by trees, so I planned to come in a little higher than normal."