A journal of the Great War – By an Anonymous Aviator (Colin Urquhart)
During the first week at Ochey I flew daily patrols up to the big salient southeast of Verdun, where our French allies were once again on the offensive. I was becoming frustrated with the Strutter these days. For one, the new Fokker biplanes seemed a bit more manoeuvrable than my machine, and the Albatros scouts (or “Albatri,” as they were invariably known) were in another league altogether. For another, it suddenly seemed that my Vickers gun had become impotent. On 26 October we met a lone Hun two seater as we made our way home from the Verdun area. I fired nearly two hundred rounds at the thing without apparent effect.
Ochey was reasonably comfortable. We had well-constructed huts built on the same lines as the quarters we’d had at Luxeuil. We kept to our same groups, and my American chum Choto took the space across from mine. But the camaraderie was short-lived. The next day he failed to return from a flight up to the lines. His flight mixed it up with a group of Fokker biplanes and in the melee his machine touched Ray Collishaw’s. Collishaw suffered nothing more than a start, but poor Choto’s upper plane came apart and he crashed. His body was recovered by the French and he was buried up near Bar-le-Duc.
Ochey, however, offers a great deal more comfort than Luxeuil, for we no longer have to traverse the mountains in sleet, rain, and fog. They say we shall probably fly from here until the spring at least. The aerodrome is on a low rise just outside a meagre village of forty-odd houses. An even smaller hamlet called Thuilly-en-Groseilles lies just to the east of the field and offers a very cozy little café. You can get anything you need in Ochey’s shops, but you have to go to Toul for anything you want. The old fortress town of Toul is about eight miles to the northwest.
On 25 October, Collishaw had an entertaining day. While ferrying a machine to Ochey (without his gunlayer) he was attacked by several Hun scouts. He destroyed one but got well shot up by the others. One enemy round shattered his goggles and he got bits of glass in his eyes. In all his wild turning and diving he wandered well into Hunland before he shook free of his assailants. He then made his way homewards and landed at the first friendly field he saw. As he trundled up to the hangars, he was stunned to see that the “French” aeroplanes all bore black Maltese crosses! He immediately took off again and made it to a real French aerodrome, where he spent several days letting his eyes recover.
On 30 October 1916, I flew with my new gunlayer Landon, Dissette, and Flt Lieut Foster up the salient. We ran into three Fokkers and got into a ripping good scrap. My Hun tried to escape and I followed him for a good distance over the lines. I managed to put more than a hundred rounds into him from as close as ten yards [picture below], but again with no obvious effect. He spun down over the German trenches and made his escape.
There are rumours about some new naval scout squadrons being formed and I let Wing Cmdr Bell-Davies know that I was keen to try a single-seater some day. He offered little encouragement, but I am clinging to the hope that he is simply taciturn.