Fullofit, thanks for the continuing chronology! Lederhosen, great photos! And thank you, Banjoman, for keeping the stats up to date.

I have a lot of writing to catch up on. Here is the next chapter of Alfred Keers's career. He has recently passed the 100 hour mark.

The end of June saw 70 Squadron acquire some spit and polish: the fields were mowed, the paths between the tents and huts and hangars were freshly gravelled and outlined with lovely whitewashed rocks, uniforms were inspected, and stores were inventoried for the umpteenth time. For this was the week the circus came to town, or at least the ringmaster. General Trenchard and his headquarters moved into the village of Fienvillers on 27 June, setting up in a fine house in the centre of the village.

Our third flight was still in England, as the navy had absconded with their Strutters and they were waiting for new ones. Accordingly, Cruickshank and I, together with Patrick, flew far more often than we had a right to (or a need to, in my view). Nearly every day we were loaded up with Cooper bombs and packed off to annoy ground Huns. I longed for a bit of free-lance scouting, but Major Dowding at Wing had more mundane tasks in mind. It was clear that the big push was nigh.

On 29 June 1916 we were assigned the task of conducting a deep reconnaissance beyond Messines, up in the Ypres salient. It was a three-machine show me, Cruikshank and Sergeant Trollope. I had a new gunner, Lieutenant David Aldridge, a public school boy from Lancashire. We got into a scrap with several Fokkers and he handled himself well despite putting two rounds through our stabiliser. One particularly good Hun got amongst us and made himself difficult for several minutes before I got a crack at him. After that he tried to break off, but I got another long burst from no more than twenty yards range. The Hun machine tumbled beneath us. I could not take the time to watch it fall, but by the following day Wing phoned to confirm its destruction. I had my 20th confirmed victory.

The guns had been firing continuously for several days. I thought of Rosetta making shells in the old engine works in Hartlepool and wondered if it was some of her handiwork keeping us awake all night. Likely it was. But in the early hours of 1 July, the deadly orchestra reached for a new crescendo. The ground shook. You could feel the force of the barrage in your teeth and chest, and the eastern sky flickered orange with a new intensity. I arose at three-thirty and went for tea and an egg. The word was out now that this was the day. We flew five hours that day, attacking railway sidings and assembly points behind the German lines. We lost Sgt Dunleavys machine. He returned that night, but his observer, Lieut Glasgow, had been killed by shrapnel from Archie.

On 2 July we flew a very long distance south in support of the French. Over a place called Ham we bombed a Hun aerodrome. As we were regrouping several Fokkers surprised us. The fight was fierce and short, and I got one Hun down low and saw his propeller stop. The claim was seconded by Cochrane-Patrick, so it went down as number 21.

Later that morning we went north to Ypres and were jumped by a group of Fokkers west of Messines Ridge. I forced one Hun to land just behind its lines, but it was under control and I could not have it confirmed as destroyed, although Im sure our artillery finished the job. As we were tangling with the Huns, our own shells were ripping through the air and throwing our machines about in a terrifying way.

3 July saw us perform two attacks on rail yards in the Ypres sector. We hit our targets well both times, once seeing an ammunition waggon go up among a large group of de-training soldiers.

That evening we got a visit from General Trenchards aide, an odd sort of fellow named Captain Baring. Apparently he is the GOCs dogsbody. I thought him to be a bit poofy at first. Hes very well spoken and is able in something like five languages, and he likes to talk about Italian poetry and such. Hed come to inform me that Id been gazetted for an MC and a DSO both! That will be a first for any of the lads from the Seaham Harbour Dock Company (or at least for any of the lads in the engine shop there). Baring turned out to be a bit of all right, though. Hed brought a small keg of good double beer. The French in these parts arent the brewers the Belgians are, and for the most part the stuff they turn out is weak petit beer. I suspect they water it down for the soldiers. This stuff was a fine dark beer.

It turned into a bit of a binge and Baring held forth with a fine repertoire of filthy songs, then capped the evening off by balancing a champagne bottle on his head, lying on the floor, and getting up all without toppling the bottle or spilling a drop. Only the wealthy can afford to learn such a trick.

"One particularly good Hun got amongst us and made himself difficult for several minutes before I got a crack at him."

"The fight was fierce and short, and I got one Hun down low and saw his propeller stop."