A journal of the Great War -- By an Anonymous Aviator (Colin Urquhart)
Norman Prince never recovered from the crash and died on the 15th. All the Americans turned out for a full military funeral, and we sent an honour guard of 25 men and eight officers. The French arranged for a gun carriage and we escorted Prince's coffin to a small cemetery in Luxeuil. After the short service, the six of us repaired to the Pomme d'Or for brandies and stories.
I got to know Charles Chotto, our resident Yank. He had bagged his first Hun that morning and then joined us for Prince's funeral. He is a great favourite with the Escadrille Americaine pilots, as he is a southerner like many of them. Unlike most of that gang, though, he's not a college boy. He was working as a motor mechanic in upstate New York and slipped across the border to Canada to join the RNAS. He was one of the fellows cooling his heels and waiting for flying lessons at Long Branch, just like the fellow I met at Union Station at the start of my journey here. Suffice it to say, he celebrated hard that afternoon at the Pomme d'Or, and then returned to the mess to join in a celebratory binge. He was feeling wretched for several days after. It's terrible what Temperance at home does to ruin one's capacity for liquor!
We flew on a long reconnaissance up the front in the St-Dié sector on 16 October, me and Buck and John Page and Turpin. Three Fokker biplanes jumped us out of the sun and a twisting fight ensued. We were passing over some high wooded hills. As I banked the Strutter, the treetops seemed almost to brush my wingtips. One had to watch the airspeed very carefully. I chased one Hun off to the east and was turning back for home when I saw a Fokker down low, close on Page's tail. Turpin, the gunlayer, was not firing. Page's Strutter wobbled and dipped into a clearing. For a moment I thought he'd put it down safely, but then there came a flash of light and the machine began to burn fiercely. I dived on the Hun, who had turned to admire his handiwork. It was a bad mistake, for I set the Fokker alight with my first burst and saw it drop a wing and curve to the ground below.
I reported the loss of Page and Turpin on my return to Luxeuil and claimed the Hun without much hope of confirmation. To my surprise, just as I was leaving the mess later that evening, the RO stopped to tell me that Page had called in. He was not seriously hurt, although Turpin was dead. And he confirmed my Fokker! That made four confirmed kills to date. Bad weather prevented all flying for the next three days. Captain Elder had a theatre built in one of the hangars and we had motion pictures. Then Chotto and I got leave to Nancy, although we had little time to do anything but shop, have dinner, and enjoy warm baths.
The next two days had us on long bombing runs to aerodromes well back of the front lines. I hated those long flights, as the weather was turning much colder and there was little chance of avoiding a crash over the mountains if the engine cut out.
The Yanks left on the 18th, posted up north to the Somme region. By all accounts, if they wanted action they'll find it there. We were not far behind. On 21 October we got word that we were to transfer to our forward base at Ochey, south of Toul. We were excited, for the country is more open and we will be not too far from all the action around Verdun. There are stories of a new Hun aeroplane called an Albatros. I expect we shall we seeing it soon.
The first operational flights were on 23 October. I was to follow Flt Comdr Draper and Dissette up to the St-Mihiel salient, but a failed obturator ring shut down my engine and I had to put down in a farm field near Neufchteau. This time no one thought I was a sale Boche, but I found it impossible to get any passing soldiery to guard my aircraft until nearly nightfall. At length, two policemen were sent to watch the machine and I walked into town, where a Jesuit priest invited me into his rectory to wash and eat. I ended up spending the night as the guest of one of his parishioners, a lawyer named Villeneuve with an extraordinary pretty wife who spoke excellent English. I was sad when the Crossley came for me after breakfast in the morning.
On 24 October 1916, the new front offered me a taste on excitement. I flew back to the salient with Armstrong and a new lad, Carl Foster. My old gunlayer, Buck, was promoted to Observer Lieutenant and given a ten-day leave. His replacement is very green, a timid English boy named Mark Landon. Just north of Toul we ran into a couple of Hun two-seaters with three Fokker biplanes. The Huns were very keen and gave us a good fight, but Foster downed one and Armstrong drove one down. I chased the third back north, where the three of us forced it to land, unfortunately behind his own lines. Just then three of the new Albatros scouts dived on us. Two singled Landon and me out. The first burst knocked out the Clerget and we drifted down, landing among the trenches. We jumped out and ran to the south, not fully sure if we were in friendly or enemy territory. I'd seen some distinctly Hunnish uniforms in a trench just seconds before touching down.
As it turned out, we had landed between the French forward and reserve trench lines. We huddled in a bunker occupied by Moroccan soldiers while the Huns shelled our machine. We listened to the explosions outside. A piece of metal came thudding down into the mud by the entrance step. It was unmistakably a section of the Strutter's cowling.
"I should think you can forget about returning for the watch, Colin," Landon said.
"The French arranged for a gun carriage and we escorted Prince's coffin to a small cemetery in Luxeuil."
"I dived on the Hun, who had turned to admire his handiwork. It was a bad mistake, for I set the Fokker alight with my first burst and saw it drop a wing and curve to the ground below."