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

It has been two weeks since I have brought this journal properly up to date, and it would be wonderful to say that I have been too busy giving hell to the Hun to bother with writing. In truth, it has been anything but busy. We have had snow and freezing rain with low clouds and high winds for most of the past fortnight. As a consequence one is kept busy with mundane duties imposed by higher. God be praised that I got out of the cavalry, as the ground forces are suffering as much from the cold and wet as from the enemy. I made some scratch notes each day, so this entry is put together from those notes and from memory.

16 December 1916: Flew close offensive patrol to Coucellette, but got lost in driving snow. Patrolled the assigned sector for an hour at 1000 feet, taking miscellaneous rounds from friend and foe. Saw nothing and went home.

17-20 December 1916: Dud weather. Sgt-Major Aspinall decided I would learn Rugby, and the RO.

21 December 1916: We were assigned to down a balloon south of Lens, but did not find it. C Flight got it instead. I have been in combat for a complete month now.

22 December 1916: Patrolled in semi-darkness north to Ypres. As dawn broke, we spotted two Rolands in a break the heavy cloud and engaged them. I overstressed the right lower wing, which turned in its sockets in a horrid way, so I put my machine down at La Lovie. Our South African, Lieut Meintjes, bagged a Roland.

A new CO arrived, a Major Paget-Graves. He was a Fee jockey with 20 Squadron, where he damaged himself rather severely. He will be a non-flying squadron commander, it seems. Major Smith Barry leaves day after tomorrow for England. His relentless badgering of the GOC has paid off with his appointment to start a School of Advanced Flying at Gosport, and he is certainly over the moon about the whole thing. A dinner is planned for tomorrow night.

23 December 1916: Dud weather again. We had a send-off dinner for Major Smith-Barry tonight, a wonderful spread in the large dining room of the mayors house where we are billeted. Three turkeys and two pigs were done up for the meal, and Captain Dobson, our RO who fulfilled his secondary duties as PMC by laying down a fine supply of wines of all shade. The brigade commander, General Higgins, sat on one side of Smith-Barry and Lieut-Col Pretyman, our wing commander, sat on the other. Our local archie regimental commanders attended, as did a number of commanders of other squadrons. I had drinks before dinner with the actor, Robert Loraine. He was delighted to hear that I had seen him in Man and Superman at the Criterion during my Christmas holidays back in 1911. He is close with Bernard Shaw, who is sending him some short plays to put on at 40 Squadron, which he commands.

Our squadron band played for the dinner. Conducted by Captain Vincent and featuring the piano virtuosity of Sergeant Nicod, they did a smashing job.

24 December 1916: Took off at 7:00 in the morning, pitch black. Flew to Courcellette again, arriving as the black turned to grey. Snow stung us all the way there and back. Burned the requisite amount of fuel and went home.

A parcel arrived from Mother and to my delight contained a pair of the fine sheepskin thigh boots from Harrods. At last I shall be able to feel my feet while flying!

25-26 December 1916: Dud weather. I got 48 hours leave to go to Doullens. Not much to do, but had a good night in a hotel with a hot bath and fine meal.

27 December 1916: The morning flight was cancelled, but the weather broke by late morning. Captain Cole led four of us down to Brayelles, near Cambrai, providing cover for a couple of BEs. Again, we saw nothing.

Received a letter from Margaret, my second sister. Her husband Hugh has been sent to France with the Blues. He has had to give up his mount and commands a machine gun squadron. Margaret believes that he will be safer in that position.

28 December 1916: To my surprise, Major Paget-Graves had himself dropped into a Nieuport and led a five-machine flight to escort a BE2 on a photographic shoot of Hun positions along the Somme valley sector. On our return, two passing Rolands mixed with us for several exciting minutes, but then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. At one point the gunner of one of the Hun machines put a round through the cowling that surrounds my windscreen. The bullet must have missed my face by only an inch or two. But a miss is as good as a mile, as they say.

And then the snow returned...

"At one point the gunner of one of the Hun machines put a round through the cowling that surrounds my windscreen. The bullet must have missed my face by only an inch or two."