I have spent this morning reading all the wonderful stories posted in this thread. Like I wrote earlier, the bar has been set really high for this DID campaign!
The year is approaching its end, so I think it's a good time for me to post the first entry in my pilot's (hopefully long) saga.
Julius Alexander Schreck was born in Königsberg, East Prussia, on April 2, 1895, as the second son of army career officer Georg Wilhelm Schreck. The birth was difficult, and Julius’s mother Helga never fully recovered from the ordeal, passing away when her baby boy was only a few months old. Julius’s father, who was already working long hours in the service of the Prussian Great General Staff, began spending even more time away from home. The job of raising Julius and his elder brother Hermann was mostly left to their father’s sister Emmi, who was the wife of a school inspector in Königsberg and herself also a teacher. Tante Emmi, as the boys called her, became like a mother to them, while their relationship with their father always remained somewhat distant and formal.
Julius excelled at school and was fascinated by modern technology, including aviation, which in those days was still in its infancy. He also had more romantic interests, such as the exploration of distant countries and their foreign cultures. Reading Karl May’s adventure stories ignited in young Julius a desire to see the world outside Germany. His good grades opened him the way to the prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin, where he went to study law in the fall of 1913. Julius hoped to become a civil service officer and gain a position in the German Empire’s colonial administration. Meanwhile, his brother Hermann had chosen a different road, becoming a cadet in the Prussian army. Hermann had already graduated as a Leutnant in the infantry when Julius was only beginning his studies.
Then came the fateful summer of 1914. In August, Hermann marched with his regiment towards Paris in the ranks of the powerful German First Army, while the father of the boys, now an Oberstleutnant, helped with the mobilization effort in the War Ministry at Berlin. Julius had had his military service postponed because of his studies, but now he too was swept away by the events and decided to join the army as a volunteer. Julius wanted to become a pilot, but he was instead sent for artillery training into East Prussia. He was gravely disappointed by the army’s decision, but resigned to his fate, expecting the war would be over anyway before he managed to see any action.
As the battles raged across Europe, Julius was learning to become an artillerist. Because of his academic background, he was chosen for officer training, with the promise of a quick promotion to the rank of Leutnant after completion of the course.
But in early January of 1915, Julius fell seriously ill with pneumonia. He was sent for treatment to a military hospital in his old home city of Königsberg. For a while Julius’s life hang in the balance, but after several weeks of intensive care, he finally began to recover.
In March, as Julius’s health was steadily improving, a new patient was brought into his room - an army pilot suffering from a lung injury, which he had received when his plane crashed down somewhere on the Eastern Front. Julius quickly befriended the unlucky aviator and did his best to help him recover from his injuries. Inspired by the man’s stories of flying (and not discouraged by his severe accident!) Julius was encouraged to again apply for pilot training. This time he also enlisted the help of his father, hoping that a recommendation from a moderately high ranking professional officer would help his chances.
Time passed and Julius was finally able to return to his artillery training unit. However, recovery from the pneumonia had took him so long that his coursemates had already graduated and Julius was left in a limbo of sorts, not yet ready for front service. Bored nearly to death while waiting at a depot for the next course to begin, in May 1915 Julius finally received welcome news from Berlin: he was ordered to report to the Flugfeld “Mars” at Bork near Berlin to begin his military pilot training!
"Upon my word I've had as much excitement on a car as in the air, especially since the R.F.C. have had women drivers."
James McCudden, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps