Alfred Keers is on a hot streak...dance

Now that the winter was over, the great military mind that plans such things thought we might enjoy moving out of our tents and into huts. A row of Nissen huts was erected, with officers billeted at one end and sergeant-pilots at the other. 29 Squadron had a surfeit of sergeant-pilots. There were only four flying officers other than the major: me, Lieutenant Tom Pillings, and Second Lieutenants Rick Bolster and Rob Dinton. We all shared a single Nissen.

Pillings was from Derbyshire, a cherub-faced, short fellow with a silly sense of humour. He could play the piano. Rick was the son of a station master in Dorset. He claimed to know ninety-nine ways to make love, but I dont believe he knew any women. He should make a fine consultant one day. Rob Dinton was our resident toff, a Cambridge student who vowed it his lifes work to make teach me the works of Shakespeare and Milton. I vowed to make it my lifes work to frustrate his efforts. Our typical conversations sounded like this:

Dinton: Shakespeare and Milton. You absolutely must know them, Keers.

Me: Shakespeare and Milton...arent they the lot that did that funny bit about the vicar and the flower girl and opened for Vesta Tilley at the Royal Variety last year?

Let me describe our home at Abeele. A dirt road ran along the south end of the field where our huts were built. Every night vehicles, waggons, and men plodded along it going to or from Ypres, just a short way to the east of us. To the north of our huts lay a cluster of farm buildings. Our squadron office was set up in the main house and the officers mess in an outbuilding. Beyond the farm were a number of sheds, used mainly for vehicles and equipment storage. Our gunnery officer, Captain Bowlby, had done himself an office and billet in one of them. Hed fitted it out with all manner of buckshee furniture and ruled over his little kingdom like a tin god on his own island.

The hangars and landing ground were just west of all this, in a long field across a north-south dirt lane. All in all, Abeele was a comfortable spot even if the guns were a bit too close for sound sleeping. Looking east on a clear day, you could see the Hun balloon lines from the aerodrome.

17 and 18 May 1916 offered a bit of adventure. I was up twice each day, and on all four occasions, Major Dawes had me leading a three-aircraft patrol. On the morning of the 17th we shot up another rail siding near Lille. I flew so low I rolled the wheels of my DH2 on the top of a Hun railway carriage! On our return, I patrolled north through deepest Hunland, seeing nothing. We spotted a pair of two-seaters on our way back, Aviatiks or Albatros types, but we gave up the chase as fuel was getting low.

In the afternoon we escorted a pair of naval Sopwith Strutters to bomb the enemy aerodrome at Ghistelles. Things got interesting. Three Fokkers dived on the Strutters, obviously not noticing our DeHavillands perched above them. We charged to the rescue, each picking our target. My opening shots obviously hit the engine of the Fokker Id selected, for the machines propeller stopped and it drifted down and turned over in a field. We were now very low down. A second Fokker tried to get behind me, but I gave him the slip and dropped behind and below him. He lost me and made the mistake of flying straight for a few seconds too long. I popped up on his tail and fired until the machine tumbled out of the sky. Sergeant Thomas was right behind me and saw the whole thing. The two Huns Id downed in less than five minutes brought my official tally up to six kills! I began to feel like a bit of a star turn.

The 18th began with an attack on the German balloon line near Passchendaele. It was cloudy and I became unsure whether the first balloon we spotted was our assigned target. We attacked it anyway. I emptied a drum into it without result, but Sergeant Long flamed it. Then we turned north and spotted another gasbag. As I was well ahead of the others I got two passes at it and set it alight before the others arrived. Kill number seven!

We were up again in the afternoon, an uneventful escort of a group of Fees down to Lille. The highlight of the week was a binge in my honour that evening. I have a vague recollection of playing rugby in the mess with a cabbage. It will take a couple of days pay from each of us to replace the furniture we destroyed.


"My opening shots obviously hit the engine of the Fokker Id selected, for the machines propeller stopped and it drifted down and turned over in a field."


"I popped up on his tail and fired until the machine tumbled out of the sky."