Tough week for everyone it seems. Sorry to hear about Bernard, Fullofit. And Carrick, that's a long time out. Best of luck for your return. Banjoman, thank you for the chart.

After a short break for real life, I have started a new career in the Warbirds Rising group. Meet Blaise St John-Cottingham. In the game and in my online report he is a Sergeant, but for the sake of the story below, he is a commissioned 2Lt and will remain so until the game promotes him past that rank.

War Journal of 2/Lt Blaise St John-Cottingham
Savy, France
20 November 1916

20 November 1916: Posted at last. Its been a long innings getting here. A few autobiographical notes are in order, just in case Im not around to fill in that part of the tale. I was born in Church Stretton, a lovely place. The St Johns have lived in the place since the Flood, Im told. My great-grandfather built one of the earlier woolen mills in the area, shearing fortunes from the black-faced sheep that dot the high heaths of the Long Mynd. The Cottingham side of the family came along in the presence of my paternal grandmother, whose father recognized the economic potential of the healthy air and mountainous scenery. He built hotels, spas, and acquired property. Between the two families, they did rather well, becoming little tin gods on their own island. The family names acquired a hyphen, and in 1880 my grandfather acquired a baronetcy, which has since passed to my father. Father is horse-mad and was until recently Master of the South Shropshire Hunt.

I came along in 1896, a boy at last after three girls. My sisters, all of whom are annoying, are married. I boarded at Shrewsbury School. Cricket and rowing and riding captured most of my attention, Im afraid. Father intended to see me off to Oxford, but the war saved me from having to explain that they would be unlikely to take me. I took a commission into the Shropshire Yeomanry in August 1914. We had a wizard time playing soldier in the fields about Peterborough. In November 1915, however, our brigade was dismounted. Having pleaded with Father to speak with someone to get me into the RFC, I made a dash for London. Father had talked with a fellow he knew who owned newspapers and who was owed a favour by someone in Asquiths government. All very confusing, but I was in without too much bother.

Staying in was a bit more of a concern. I was quickly packed off to the Vickers flying school at Brooklands, but had not progressed beyond classroom instruction before being sent to Upavon. There I took a Rumpety (a Maurice Farman machine of the pusher type) up six times in four days. With about 150 minutes of dual time in my book, I was allowed to solo. Unfortunately I soloed into a line of trees, surviving much more intact than my machine. I was on the infirm list for about three months after the crash.

On my return I was welcomed with various dire threats, but a week later I got the bloody machine up and brought it down safely on the third bounce. I did better on the classroom work, for once an attentive student. From that point life became more interesting. We got to fly BE2s, a real combat aircraft, and then Avros. Before shipping out to France, I managed nearly two hours on a Nieuport 10C.

My first stop was the depot at St-Omer, where for two weeks I had my fill of bad food and good flying. On 20 November 1916, a year to the day after leaving the cavalry, I was posted to No 60 Squadron, RFC, stationed at Savy, near Arras. The squadron commander here is a severe looking chap, Major Smith-Barry. The squadron was on Moranes until a month or so ago. It has taken its share of casualties, but it has had its share of victories, too. Most notable among the old boys was Captain Ball, who has gone home on leave.
We are billeted in the fine home of the village mayor, directly across from our field. There is a world of livestock about us, so I fear the mayor will have to look out for his property. I share a room with a fellow named Willie Fry, a former bank clerk who started here a while back on Moranes.

My machine is a Type 16 Nieuport. It is very light and nimble and mounts a Lewis gun on the upper wing. My flight commander, Captain Gilchrist, warned me that the thing is also liable to break up if handled roughly. I got to take the machine up three times this first day in order to learn a little about the countryside and how to find my way home.

21 November 1916: At eight-thirty this morning, Captain Gilchrist took our flight down towards the Somme but stayed behind the lines. Several enemy aircraft had been reported west of Albert, but we saw nothing. By previous arrangement I left the formation over Doullens and navigated home. The Nieuport lacks a compass, so I must carry my own. I promptly dropped the thing to the floor and from that point I picked my way from landmark to landmark, finally recognizing the rail line that runs west from Arras towards Savy. I was thrilled to arrive back before the others. 2/Lt Oliver Phillips was gazetted for an MC today, so there was a party in the mess a binge its called. Im learning a little more about my fellow pilots, which I shall record when I have more time.

22 November 1916: To my horror, Major Smith-Barry told me I must lead a flight of five machines north of Ypres to our lines near Diksmuide, there to patrol for an hour. It took a long time to climb to ten thousand feet, just high enough to clear a rather heavy cloud layer. On our second circuit in the patrol area, Phillips pulled ahead of me and led the others in a sweeping turn to the north. I followed them, annoyed at Phillips usurping my lead when I was doing nicely, or so I thought. Seconds later a strange cigar-shaped machine swept past me to the left. It bore big nasty black crosses!

For the next three or four minutes I struggled to follow the action. I believe there were two Huns, as the enemy is universally called, and I was told later they were Roland two-seaters. The things were astoundingly nimble. I fired most of a drum away in short bursts, but I saw no effect and eventually lost sight of everyone. I climbed westward, as the wind was carrying us over the lines below. Then out of thin air emerged first one Nieuport, then another, then another two, until all four had taken up formation once again. It chilled me that four machines could take station on my wing without my noticing their approach. If they were Huns, I thought.

I managed to find Savy without too much trouble and regained a little confidence. Willie Fry claimed one of the Rolands, and I bought him a drink after dinner. Off to bed. I have an early wake-up in the morning.

"I promptly dropped the thing to the floor and from that point I picked my way from landmark to landmark, finally recognizing the rail line that runs west from Arras towards Savy."