A journal of the Great War – By an Anonymous Aviator (Colin Urquhart)
I was rousted out of bed at 4:30 in the morning of 31 October to accompany Red Flight to escort the 4e Groupe on a raid to Metz. Dissette and I were the only two in the wardroom. The place was starting to take on some character. Edwards had led a scrounging party into Toul and acquired some second-hand furniture, including a wonderful china case which we’d put behind the bar to hold bottles, five overstuffed chairs which would not have been out of place in a Bulgarian bordello, a genuine baize-topped card table, and an assortment of smaller tables, throw rugs, magazine stands, kerosene lamps, ash trays, and a bronze nude of dubious artistic value. Someone had framed lewd pictures from La Vie Parisienne and the inevitable ping-pong table had appeared. Dissette was from Toronto, where I went to school, and we compared notes about favourite spots in the city as we had our tea and toast.
Commander Bell-Davies came in and we both stood.
“Stand easy,” he said, and fell into a chair alongside Dissette and me. “Urquhart, you’re off the Metz job. Take White Flight up to Verdun and hop over to visit the Huns at La Folie Ferme and bomb the place. Our orders came from the French Second Army, so it’s an important show. I can spare only you, Sharman, and Coltrane from the Metz job, so don’t bugger it up.” Thus inspired, I went off to find Lieut Higgins, the RO, to get details on the area and study the maps.
We took off at 7:40 and skirted the salient to the west, passing over the rubble of Verdun and then turned northeast towards the target. Still about five miles out, I spotted a flash of sunlight reflecting off something below, bright against the gloom of the forest of Spincourt. It was hard to make them out, but eventually another faint glint gave away the two aircraft rising to meet us. I put down the nose of the Strutter and made straight for the Hun aerodrome at La Folie Ferme. We unloaded our bombs and, with Sharman and Coltrane close behind, turned and climbed towards our lines.
About three miles east of the muddy smear of the front lines, the Huns engaged us. Two Halberstadt scouts. I was able to avoid their first pass with only one round through our top plane. Landon rattled off a drum and I turned to join the fight. One of the Huns was diving on Coltrane. He didn’t see us coming and I got the Strutter behind him. The Hun had begun to climb, which allowed me to close the distance between us in a few seconds. I caught him from behind and to his left, a little below and only 75 yards away. I fired and held the trigger until we had to break off to avoid collision. The Halberstadt flipped upside down and began a long, inverted spin, crashing into the forest below.
The other Hun had made a run for home. We returned elated, although I rather spoiled it by missing Ochey and taking a twenty-mile tour of the countryside before getting by bearings again. Unfortunately neither Coltrane nor Sharman saw my Hun crash, so my claim awaits the French.
The news at lunch was that the Hun gun-merchant Boelcke is dead, killed by crashing with one of his own people. One less worry... The other news was that I'd been promoted Flight Lieutenant. Five more shillings a week!!!