Sgt. Graham A. Campbell. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome December 4th, 1915.
Hugo Lane is missing, and one of our training B.E's has vanished with him.
As per Andrews' instruction, he was to fly to Beaulieu, land, and return. However, after three hours of impatient waiting, Andrews finally telephoned the Adjutant's office there, only to find out that Lane (and, more importantly in Andrews eyes, the B.E.2!) had never arrived. The ever-optimistic Fisher reckons he simply had some kind of mechanical failure, and put down en route, and assures us all that Lane will make a reappearance by the end of the night. Weston thinks he's gotten lost, and ended up in some farmer's field. I could believe either of them readily enough!
It is, for now, a mystery. We still have one B.E.2 left, and I am scheduled to go up in it shortly. Andrews wants me to stay up for a full fifteen minutes this time, and complete a wide circuit of the Heath. Although I shall only be up for less than an hour, I am very well braced, for it shall be the longest individual stint I've spent in the air to date! that being said, the weather was markedly less favourable than my first two trips into the sky - there was a fairly strong wind coming in from the South, and above the airfield a large flock of Seagulls circled and cried out. As my father had taught me, seagulls this far in-land meant that a storm was imminent. On the grass outside the barracks sat Weston and I, switching our attention between watching the wheeling birds and scanning the skies for a sign of either of our B.E.2s. By the way - our remaining accounted-for machine, in which I was scheduled to fly, was currently up somewhere in the air nearby, being flown by 2nd. Lt. Freddy Foster, our resident Kiwi.
Freddy was, by no doubt, one of the most interesting chaps in the trainee's barracks. Allow me to explain. Not only had Freddy been a relatively well-known Boxing champion in Nelson, a town on the Northern coast of New Zealand, but he had also landed with the ANZACs on Galipoli, as a Sergeant, in May. Only four days after the landing at Helles, he was twice wounded, in the left knee and hip, by machine-gun fire, which led to him having a severe limp. He was invalided back to New Zealand soon after, but, refusing to let his injuries deprive him of serving the Empire, travelled to England, and the Flying Corps, to continue his war on grounds that accommodated his debilities.
His image seemed to match his history. Cresting sharply-defined cheekbones and a squared-off jawline, his slightly curling dark hair was cut in a practical short back-and-sides, combined with a thick moustache, parted in the middle, curling upwards and away from the corners of his mouth, gave him an impossibly stern appearance. Above his curling moustache and slightly-flattened nose sat two piercing blue eyes, which seemed to stare through you as you spoke. In fact, they seemed to stare through the landscape, into some deeply hidden memory.
Sgt. Freddy Foster,
Naturally, we all expected this dangerous-looking Colonial to throw his weight around from the onset, and bully us all around. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that, in actuality, Freddy was as delightful as you'd like, a real top fellow! He'd always offer his own time on the B.E. to the pupils in need of extra flight hours, and was always first to help out a fellow in need. On top of that, he had a wicked humour, and would often do an impression of Cpt. Andrews in the evening that would have us rolling in fits of laughter! 'The Hounslow Hellhound', he called the act. It was only after we had learned of Freddy's true nature that we begun to notice, hidden behind the battered boxer's features, the laugh-lines around his eyes and mouth. We simply could not fathom that a seemingly born-fighter would be so jovial!
Anyway, I don't mean to ramble on. By any means, here came Freddy now, elegantly touching down in our remaining B.E, before taxiing to face West again and dismounting the machine. From underneath his scarf and helmet appeared his beaming face, red with cold, and he shouted across the airfield to me "She's all yours, mate! Ethan's got her running like a dream!". Cpl. Ethan Knight was the engine fitter for our B.E's, and took the care of our machines very personally.
I smiled back, and thanked him from afar, as I pulled my own flying coat on. I made for the B.E, but was intercepted by Andrews, who had yet again appeared from thin-air as I've known only R.F.C instructors to do. "Campbell. Fifteen minutes' flying around the area. Don't take her above 3,000 feet, and remember! If your engine misses, don't you dare turn back!". I nodded solemnly, but the memory of Wyatt's close call was all the reminding I needed. I clambered into the B.E, as one of the mechanics jogged over to my nose, grabbing the prop and beginning to twist it. "Switch on!" came the call. I fingered the magnetos upwards, and repeated the phrase. In response, the mechanic cried "Contact!", and I was instantly wrapped in the pleasant vibrations of the engine.
Once the mechanic and the Captain had stepped clear, I confidently pushed the throttle lever forwards, and the machine answered eagerly, and in a few seconds we were airborne. At first I was slightly un-nerved by the way the wind was buffeting me about, but I had soon eased to the sensation and was enjoying the thrilling roar of the wind as I climbed, banking gently North, towards London. I followed the great winding Thames river until I reached the Capital. Of course, I had visited London twice before, but from this elevated point I was amazed by the size of the city. By the time I was crossing over the top of Hendon, I had reached 2,000 feet. Below me, I watched in delight as an Avro stunted close to the ground. Peering over the side of my cockpit, I almost forgot that I was piloting a machine myself, but this was soon made apparent to me again as a particularly harsh gust of wind knocked me almost onto my side! Alarmed, I righted the machine and vowed not to shun her again.
Although I was thoroughly enjoying my view from the edge of London, I had to make sure that I didn't lose sight of the aerodrome, as I had no map, and so I turned the B.E. South, crossing on the other side of the Heath towards Esher, and the stunning lakes beyond them. Feeling exhilarated, I almost considered stunting over the water, but I feared that the omnipresent Andrews may catch me! The thought of the Captain reminded me that I was to be back in fifteen minutes, and I had been up for just over twelve now. Reluctantly, I came back down (having reached 2,800 ft in total) and turned back for Hounslow.
When I arrived, Lane had returned with his own B.E. As Weston had predicted, he'd gotten himself lost on the trip. Incidentally, this led to Weston winning a wager with Fisher. It also led to an almighty chewing-out of Lane by Cpt. Andrews!