That pesky 'Real World' beckoned! I've been keeping up with training, but haven't had the time for write-ups. But, I was able to catch up on everybody's stories today with a cup of tea - perfect start to a day off!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome December 21st, 1915.
3. The Final Days at the Heath.
The last several days have flown past, for it feels as if we have been whipped up into a training frenzy by Andrews. As a result, I've had no time to write my Diary! But, I have a window of opportunity now to do so.
Each day we have been performing more complicated tasks - gone are the simple days of taking off and landing! Two days ago, we were ordered by the Hellhound to take to the skies and deliberately put our buses into spins! I must admit, I had the wind-up as I kicked the rudder hard in a climb, and had a moment of frozen terror as I was revolved around by the out-of-control machine, but the thought of Freddy so matter-of-factly righting his own self-induced spin only moments earlier allowed me to think rationally, and, remembering Andrews' instruction, I righted the spin and gently pulled out of the dive. Well, I must say, once one performs a stunt and survives it, it very suddenly becomes an absolute novelty! Shakily, but with slightly more confidence, I went about my sheepish acrobatics. But, by the time I was due to come down, I'd discovered yet another joy of flying, and I truly felt that I was up on every trick known by B.E pilots!
A new B.E. came in to replace the one that poor Albie crashed, but this one didn't last long either. This time the victim was poor old Hugo Lane, who failed to get out of the way of a tree in time while hedge-hopping behind the barracks. He survived the crash, but died yesterday in hospital. Poor old Hugo! He never was the most able flyer. We were all very sorry to have to bury another friend this morning, but as usual our Kiwi, Freddy, saw us through. That being said, despite my sadness, I accepted Hugo's death almost immediately...
Yesterday, Hugo's smash nastily lingering in our heads, we did our first (and hopefully last) night-flights. Being surrounded by the impossible dark, with no sensation other than the uneasy floating and the roar of the wind and engine, is truly disturbing. I have heard that in clear moonlight night-flying is far easier, but we flew on a cloudy night and so had to suffer in tense uncertainty for the duration, until we were thankfully back on the ground (At Netheravon at first - then we had to fly back!). Jacky-Boy crashed his B.E on landing at Netheravon, but the damage wasn't so bad, and the mechanics say that the machine will be ready to fly again in two days. As for Jacky-Boy, well, I think he has been turned off of night-flying forever! He was positively terrified, and Teddie Lawson and I had to lift him from the wreck! He was still white as a sheet as he arrived back at the Heath by car today (mercifully after we'd laid Hugo to rest).
I have yet to mention a relative newcomer to the training mob, who arrived on the 15th, a lad of just fifteen! The softly-spoken youngster is now known to us as Switch-off.His real name being Raymond Holtcombe, he earned the nickname 'Switch-off' when he nearly had Cpl. Knight's hand off on his very first day at Hounslow. Just before the lucky Corporal was about to swing the propellor, the lad seemed to snap out of a daydream he had been having and cried out, in a shrill voice (which, ashamedly, gave us all a real chuckle) "Wait! Let me switch off!". Needless to say, the dubious mechanics now stare daggers into his back. Unfortunate young Switch-off was met with Andrews' full fury for the stunt, and was shaking in his fug-boots by the end of the ordeal!
2nd. Lt. Raymond 'Switch-off' Holtcombe, post flight training.
As it turns out, Switch-off happened to be a marvellous pilot and has already caught up to the usual mob. When he's on the ground, he follows Teddie Lawson around like a nervous pup. We never did figure out why, but we suspect it's because Teddie was the first to speak to him. Not to mention his natural charm, of course!
By any means, we have but one task ahead of us, before we are to head to France - bombing drills. We are finally to use real weaponry, and to learn how to use the B.E. as an instrument of war! Jacky-Boy and I are terribly braced, despite the warnings by Andrews that many a foolhardy trainee has died when failing to get clear of the blast of the bombs. I only hope that my Observer should have been properly trained on his machine gun, so that we can knock a few Huns out of the sky, too!
As I write, I am observing the pilots of No. 24 mock-dogfighting with each other. What a fascinating sight - I only wish I end up on a DeHav myself! As I found out from one of their mob, Lt. Wells, 24 has just received orders to make ready for their departure to France in February. They must be terribly excited - especially while they possess such incredibly manoeuvrable machines!
That's all for now - as I write, Andrews is summoning Freddy and I for our bombing practice. I must prepare, it isn't a short flight to the target range.