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

Part 4

6 October was cloudy and cold in the morning. FSL Dissette was selected to lead me and Stearne Edwards north to shoot up the Hun aerodrome at Buhl. We were crossing the lines about forty minutes out when Dissette spotted three Huns climbing to intercept us. Following orders, he turned away and we dropped our bombs on the German front line positions and headed home. Were not supposed to get into any major scraps in Hunland until we are fully up to strength. Commander Bell-Davies is bending the rules, but he doesnt want to take any losses well over the lines.

I was delighted to learn at divisions that I had been credited with a second kill. The Fokker Id hit with a long range shot the day before had fallen into the French lines in the hills near Thann. We they found the wreck the pilot had a bullet hole in his head, and it was the only round that had hit the man or his machine! It was complete luck. That gives me two confirmed victories, more than any other of our front line pilots.

We played ball against the Yanks in the afternoon. They were pretty good, too. They didnt count on Dissette, though. The fellow was a well-known rower and rugby player back in Toronto and he handles a baseball bat like a toothpick. He single-handedly kept us in the game. Jimmy Glen got a lucky hit or two, and it all came down to the final inning. Flt Comdr Draper had a little wager on the game with Captain Thnault of the Escadrille Americaine. Neither was that interested in the sport otherwise, but the bet made it worth watching. Draper had the wardroom stewards make up bowls of punch for each team. Ours was largely fruit, selzer, and champagne, while the one he made the Yanks was mainly cognac. We won in the final inning only because the Yanks were pretty much paralytic by that time.

Captain Elder invited them for drinks in the wardroom that evening. It was perhaps the wrong occasion to extend our hospitality. Theyd vowed revenge for the ribbing theyd taken at the Lion dOr a few nights ago and for the defeat at their national game (and they had by then discovered the punch bowl stratagem). All of a sudden at some secret signal, all hell broke loose and the Yanks went on a wild rampage, nearly destroying the mess and going through our cabins like a tornado. The little partitions that divided our sleeping areas were reduced to matchwood in the fracas. The row ended only with the sound of gunshots. We raced outside to find Joe Fall, our resident Yukoner, firing a Webley at a copy of the drill regulations held by a none-too-steady Raoul Lufbery! Fall had placed a perfect five-round grouping in the manual without shooting off Lufberys thumb. He gave each of the Yanks a page out of the book to remind them what would happen if they touched his abode again.

We made a short jaunt over the hills to shoot up a rail junction south of Mulhouse on 7 October. Buck and I took some rounds into our machine from ground fire. We made it away nicely after scaring some ground Huns half to death.

On 8 October 1916, it nearly all came to an end for us, though. Flt Comdr Draper led FSL Nathanial Bath and me on a long patrol. We had permission to nose over the lines in the direction of Colmar. The cloud was heavy and fairly low, so we had to squeeze over the mountains and under the cloud as we headed northeast. We had scarcely crossed the lines when I spotted a faint grey speck moving left to right above and in front of my machine, probably two miles off. Even looking directly at it I kept losing sight of the object, which I was certain was a hostile aircraft. I waggled by wings at Draper and made directly for it, alerting Buck (my gunlayer) by means of our speaking tube.

We drew closer. It was a juicy great two-seater, but it was heading home now and was skirting over the hilltops, so I could not get below. I lined him up carefully and began firing from a long way off. From 200 yards down to 100 I fired in short bursts. The Hun did not answer back and I began to feel as thought Id killed or wounded his gunner. I fired again and saw bits fall away from the machine, an Aviatik. Then to my alarm, the Hun gunner came to life and immediately hit our machine. Oil began to smear my windscreen and goggles. I quickly broke away and headed west, clambering for altitude.

It took about five minutes to reach the French lines. There was no open ground ahead for ten miles, so I turned north, hoping to reach the open ground near Saint-Di. It was no good. The Clerget began to misfire and lose power. I was barely a thousand feet above the trench lines and broken trees on the hilltops below and had only seconds to find a place to put down. Off to our left there was a pockmarked slope studded with shattered stumps. It was our best chance. I sideslipped down and hit the ground at 90 miles an hour. The Strutter bounced, floated, and settled back. We snapped branches of the low shrubs and hit a stump. The field fell away to the left and our right wing hit the torn ground and a section of the lower plane broke away. The machine slewed around and stopped. Buck and I unfastened our belts and climbed down.

Done for today, Colin? Buck asked. I answered rudely. A German mortar round interrupted us, exploding only fifty yards away. We ran for the other side of the ridge and the safety of the trees beyond.

"Off to our left there was a pockmarked slope studded with shattered stumps. It was our best chance."