A journal of the Great War By an Anonymous Aviator (Colin Urquhart)

Part 2

Luxeuil-les-Bains has to been the most beautiful field in all of France. It is situated in an open plain of grass surrounded by the Vosges Mountains. We are not far from the Swiss border to the south, and within range of the Rhine and Germany. The advance party came out here in June to put the place together and we have fine, albeit rustic, huts with wood stoves so we shall we comfortable enough come winter.

Our crowd is very largely Canadian. The Wing Captain, Daddy Elder, is British as is the operational commander, Wing Commander Bell-Davies. There are a few other Brits, like Flt Commanders Chris Draper and Norman MacGregor. But a lot of the rest are Canucks. I share a hut with John Sharman from Manitoba; Jimmy Glen from Enderby, British Columbia; John Page from Brockville, Ontario; Ray Collishaw from Nanaimo, BC; and Arthur Dissette from Toronto. Even a good number of our gunlayers are Canadian.

As tolerably comfortable as we are, we are no match for the Americans across the way who have installed themselves in a fine villa in the town. The town of Luxeuuil is pretty little place with a thermal spa that dates back to Roman times, they say. There are a number of good shops and little cafs and restaurants. The Yanks are a crowd to be reckoned with, mostly rich and a few truly unusual, including one fellow who has already been at war with the Foreign Legion. Their mascot is a lion, which I was assured is quite friendly, although I did not try to test the proposition.

The Americans invited us to dinner on the 27th. They have set up their mess in the restaurant of the Hotel Lion dOr, the poshest place in town. The night began with many toasts. Wing Commander Elder toasted President Poincar. Captain Thnault, the Frenchman who leads the American escadrille, toasted the King. Raoul Lufbery, one of the earlier Americans to join the French, toasted one of their fellows killed last Saturday. It descended rapidly from there, with toasts to Marie Dressler of Canada and Theda Bara of the USA (we conceded they won that match) and to the losers of the war of 1812. It was the debate over that last point that started the chinaware flying. The aubergiste of the place couldnt stop the madness and we shall all be out much money this month. We have resolved to settle the 1812 question over a baseball game.

We are flying training missions while we await more Sopwith 1 Strutters to arrive from England. Then we shall begin operations with Capitaine Happes 4e Groupe de Bombardement and the Escadrille Americaine. On 28 September we flew two long patrols up to the lines near Thann, practising formation flying. It is far more difficult that I thought it would be because the mountains here force us to climb and there is not too much difference between stall speed and maximum speed, and one must be careful when adjusting the throttle or mixture.

On 29 September, Wing Commander Bell-Davies assigned me the task of leading three machines north to Luneville to practise joining up with some French Farmans. Just south of Luneville, however, we saw three monoplanes a few miles off to the west. I suspected they were Moranes, but decided to take a closer look. We soon found ourselves in a topping mix-up with three Fokkers of the latest two-gun type. And to boot, I got above one and dived on it, firing all the way. As I zoomed up and around to come back at the HA, I whooped with delight to see his machine streaming white smoke and its propeller windmilling. I fired at it again and saw the Fokker tumble out of control and crash into a wood five thousand feet below. Sharmans machine was below, circling another Hun. I flew to assist him, but he bagged his Fokker before I got there. The third enemy machine escaped.

There was much yelling and singing on our return. We are still waiting for someone to confirm my Hun, as Sharman saw him tumbling but not crash.

That afternoon we were given an operational show! Four machines, led by F/S/L Dissette, were bound for a rail junction near Colmar, well behind the enemy lines. We are not really supposed to engage in more than training for the moment, so orders were to bomb from 11,000 feet. We dropped our bombs, some of which actually hit the field, and began to regroup. My gunlayer, Buck, suddenly opened fire and I saw a lone Fokker approaching from behind and below. I headed west as I didnt fancy a long fight this far over and the other Strutters were a long way off. Near the lines the Hun caught up with us and I turned the aircraft around to engage him. We circled a long time, diving and zooming and trying to turn under one another. It was dodgy, because there were very high mountains all around and the trees sometimes came up on us in a hurry. Then I got a long distance burst at the Hun. A few moments later I saw him lose control, whether because of my fire or simply because of a stall I cannot tell. In any event, the HA crashed into a wooded hillside and burned. It will take some luck to get my claim confirmed as it was still some distance from our lines. We had a balloon up, so who knows. The RO will try to get in touch with the balloonatics to see if they saw anything.

"The town of Luxeuuil is pretty little place..."

"As I zoomed up and around to come back at the HA, I whooped with delight to see his machine streaming white smoke and its propeller windmilling."