A journal of the Great War – By an Anonymous Aviator (Colin Urquhart)
The little Nieuport scout was as light as a feather and nearly as stable. I found that I needed to have a much lighter touch with the demoiselle than I’d been used to with the Strutter, especially in the wind and rain that seemed constant these days.
I’d written home, and my mother wrote back a short but dear note that accompanied a plum pudding and a blue balaclava cap that I immediately found indispensible. To my delight my father wrote a letter a day or two later that begrudgingly conceded that being commissioned in the Royal Navy was not the most dishonourable thing one could do, although he mentioned a friend in Ottawa who could arrange a transfer to the RCN and a nice desk job for me back in Canada. Perhaps, he suggested, the Navy would even support my medical studies after the war.
Back in reality, however, our new squadron continued to “work up” for service despite the foul weather. All through the first week of November we patrolled over the German lines, from Lens in the north to Péronne in the south. Things seemed to have finally petered out along the Somme after truly horrid losses since July. The weather limited activities on both sides to small demonstations. On 7 November, after a week without seeing a single Hun, we returned from shooting up an enemy rail junction and ran into two Rolands. One made off and the other put up a stiff fight. The cloud was so heavy that I became disoriented as I threw my little machine about. Suddenly the Nieuport made a sickening cracking sound. I could see not obvious damage, although the starboard wires vibrated oddly. I throttled back and planed down to a thousand feet, creeping my way back to Vert Galant.
Our base has become quite comfortable. I share a large hut with five others: Galbraith, Hazard, Simpson, Booker, and Soar. Only Galbraith is a fellow Canadian. Soar and Booker are the most experienced. Both have served out of Dunkirk since early in the year. Soar was in the Dardanelles before that. The fellows here were a little cool towards me for a few days. It was disturbing at first, but I learned from Commander Bromet that we had been sent a few poor pilots from other squadrons, chaps who needed got rid of. Things improved once it leaked out that I’d downed four confirmed Huns with 3 Wing. That made me the lead Hun-getter; Flt Comdr Gobel is next, having bagged three while serving with 1 Wing up on the coast.
On 8 November I got to lead a patrol up to the area near Monchy, where we shot up some Hun railroad carriages in a siding. The weather was still poor and we saw no other aircraft except for a lone Vickers or Airco that passed overhead on our way home.
I got permission to go into Doullens with Galbraith that afternoon. We splurged on baths and shaves, and had some very good white wine with a smashing omelette and roast potatoes in a little café off the market square. The table next to us was occupied by two Canadian doctors, one of whom was a French Canadian fellow who knew my father. They were delighted to know we would be flying overhead and shared a bottle of champagne with us. They were part of the advance party for a hospital that is being set up at the Citadelle just outside the town.