Sgt. Graham A. Campbell. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome December 14th, 1915.
On the morning of the 13th, we were all up bright and early, excited at the prospect of the day's activities. For the pilots on the roster, a day of jubilant flying! We were getting along well in our training, and were now spending more time in the air. For the pilots not on the roster, London awaited! Andrews, to reward our progress, had begrudgingly allowed non-rostered pilots to continue their decadent day-trips into the Capital. Hugo Lane and Jacky-Boy had set out shortly after our breakfast (the usual Ham and Eggs - the delicacy of Hounslow) in a flat-bed truck to undergo one of their favourite past-times, watching the soldiers come to and from Kings' Cross Station. I don't know why they enjoyed this so much, although we are all young, and perhaps it is the remnants of childish make-believe, playing at soldiers in the back yard. By any means, they would not be seen again until the evening.
Freddy Foster, with his trademark confident grin, set out at 10 O'Clock on his next training flight; Andrews had instructed him to take a B.E.2 on an hour-long flight in the direction of his choosing, where he would then land, taxi back around, and make the trip back. I was scheduled to do the same today. Doyle Weston and Teddie Lawson were sharing the second B.E. to make short solos around the Heath, and Albie Chapman, one of the more advanced students, was allowed a 'free flight'. Once he returned, I would then take the bus up and do the same.
As I was idly chatting with Julian Davies, one of the more shy recruits whom I'd not had much contact with, there was a horribly familiar crashing sound, and I turned round to see one of our B.E's crumpled on the ground in flames. Inside was poor old Albie, burning away with the machine. In horror, I realised that, although I was mortified, I was not surprised, nor did I turn away as they pulled Albie's body from the doused wreck. Had death really become so known to me? Of course, later, when the moment had passed, I cracked up and nearly cried out in fear. It all seemed like some sick part of my training - First seeing Webb's near-miss, then the D.H.2's spin, and now Albie, a friend, burnt up in a crash. It felt as if I was being built up, one step after another, towards being nonplussed by death and horror, to view it as an unfortunate matter of fact.
Teddie Lawson, who had been up on the opposite side of the aerodrome, was pale as a sheet when he landed, and could scarcely stay on his feet as he wobbled away from the B.E, clearly in shock. He didn't say a word for the rest of the night, apart from one chilling phrase he uttered as we made for our bunks; "I saw the whole thing". When Freddy tried to soothe him, he reverted into his blank, unresponsive state. I fear he may wash out, as Webb did. Hugo and Jacky-Boy were equally shaken by Albie's sudden and random death, but Freddy pulled us all together and calmed us down. I suppose he had a great many of his friends die in Galipoli, and was attuned to the reality.
This morning, we held a funeral for Albie, in which I was a pallbearer. Even through the solid wood coffin, I could pick up the nauseating smell of burnt skin and bone. For the sake of the fellows, I retained my composure, but once the affair was over with I was violently ill. Andrews saw this, and ordered me grounded for the day. Jacky-Boy is up at the moment, but his bus is very much reserved in its manoeuvres.
Training has become a strange ordeal for me. On the one hand, the camaraderie is wonderful, and the flying itself is exhilarating, but the occasional sudden and violent death, possibly of a friend, hangs over us all. I suppose, in many ways, this is a premonition of what our lives will be like in the war. I must put Albie out of my mind, sad as his passing is, and focus on completing my training, if I am ever to earn my wings.