Finally had a chance to catch up on the story. The weather has been terrible!

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


4 December 1916: Shortly after my last entry on 27 November we received news that Captain George Parker, who had joined us and taken over A Flight only four days earlier, had been shot down. His flight met up with some of the new Albatros type scouts, which are the Huns latest devilry.

We have had snow and high winds every day for a week. Flying was impossible. We put up two flights (not mine, thank God) and lost four aircraft to bad landings in the winds. Several aircraft were damaged when their tail skids shattered on the frozen turf.

Major Smith-Barry is complaining unceasingly about the poor abilities of our new men. This week he wrote a long letter to the GOC outlining his ideas about how pilots needed to be prepared for France, the latest of several essays on the topic.

Smith-Barry is one of those types who become very concerned about morale when men are idle. To be sure, idleness has never bothered me greatly. I rather enjoy it, actually, especially when the alternative is to lather oneself in whale oil, don more sheepskin than a Cossack warlord, and take off into a hundred mile an hour blast at minus twenty degrees to test whether frostbite or the spray of burnt castor oil will do you in first.

We got up this morning to fine but bone-wrackingly frigid day. The flight was led by the New Zealander, Captain Caldwell (We call Caldwell Grid. Its an Anzac name for a bicycle and he calls all aircraft grids. Some of the others have taken to it as well.) The job was to waltz over to Douai and strafe the Hun aerodrome there. By the time we turned onto our final leg, approaching the target field from the south, I could not feel my hands. They were mittened lumps of insensate blubber. I loosened by belt and tried sitting on one hand, then the other, but it did no good. Before arriving over the Hun field I tried placing my right hand inside my flying coat and under my arm. That succeeded only in letting the icy wind get at my upper body.

I made a firing pass over the hangars and saw several mechanics running about in panic. Great fun. Then off to one side there appeared a lone Halberstadt approaching the field. He must have spotted some of us for he turned away. He never saw me approach. I tried changing drums but dropped the spare one over the side due to my frozen hands. With just 15 or 20 rounds left in the first pan I closed to mere feet from the Hun machine and fired. There was no chance of missing. In a few seconds the Lewiss cocking handle slammed forward into the number one position -- no more ammunition. My Halberstadt blithely sailed away, seemingly unharmed! I was separated now from the others and returned home alone.

I have read a great deal the past few days. Mother sent me several volumes of Walter Scott, and a rather good novel by Wells. Tried my hand at a bit of poetry for the first time since Shrewsbury School, but still produced pure rubbish.

11 December 1916: Lieut Cole took up four of us in driving snow to patrol deep into Hunland. We headed south towards the Saint-Quentin area. Naturally we saw nothing, but I had several harrowing moments as white Nieuports disappeared and reappeared only feet away in the cloud and muck.

Despite the weather, Sergeant-Major Aspinall, driven to action no doubt by the good major, rousted me out of the warm mess to join the football team for a match against 11 Squadron from Izel. The side from No 11 had the advantage of a larger mess, being a two-seater outfit, but we had a secret weapon in our stores sergeant, who had been a league midfielder before the war, and we won handily. I was filthy by the time we were done and the water at the village bath house was cold. If I die of pneumonia, please take the matter up with Smith-Barry.

14 December 1916: Have not flown since the 11th. Last night the squadron orchestra put on a concert for all ranks. The OC declared it a parade, so I spent ninety minutes in C Flights draughty hangar having my morale improved. Sergt-Major Nicod, our technical sergeant-major, is rather a good pianist, and some of the other ranks were fine violinist. The squadron commander announced that we have the finest orchestra in the RFC. He is a musician himself, and without his help all this would not be necessary.

For my part, give me a squadron commander who loves horses, hounds, wine, and women. Then well have some entertainment.


"We got up this morning to fine but bone-wrackingly frigid day."