Flew my 4th mission today and it was a real combat mission; seems like my orientation and coddling phase is over.
A bombing mission was to be carried out by Lt. McNaughton and 2Lt Harrity, both flying FE2's, and because the mission was in an area prowled by Fokkers an escort by our two Bristol's was attached. Major Mills seemed to add me onto the mission as an afterthought (although I am sure he had planned it out well in advance). "McNaughton and Harrity, I think it best if you take along our new fellow. MacKinley hasn't had a chance to throw anything at the Bosch yet so here's an excellent opportunity for him to see how it's done". I found this quite daunting as it seemed a very serious mission with some of our top pilots. MacNaugton, for example, has four kills; almost an ace.
It should have been simple, just follow the FE2's to the target and drop my 4 Cooper bombs when they did. But I cocked it up. I looked away for a few seconds as we formed up after takeoff and I lost sight of the other planes. Damned if they didn't just disappear. Chris was not impressed and indicated we should circle and climb in the hope of finding them again. After nearly 20 minutes we were up to 6000 feet, still near our airfield, and totally alone. Chris was visibly annoyed and I knew this was a major screw-up that the Major would certainly chew me out over. We would obviously have to abort and land.
Suddenly Chris was pointing to the northeast and mouthing the words "Let's go". He was indicating we should carry on with the mission alone! Right, yes, of course ... we have to go on. I knew it was bloody dangerous but I could see Chris had no intention of us looking like incompetants or cowards, and damnit my anger at myself suddenly flaired into a feeling of powerful determination.
The German army positions were easy to find, located just SE of Lake De Blankaart, and we arrived without further incident. From 7000 feet I could see nothing on the ground but churned earth and a few artillery explosions ... we simply dropped our bombs over the general area with no idea of hitting anything specific. Our bombs whistled away, then shockingly we heard another chorus of whistling bombs coming from above. We couldn't believe our luck as MacNaughton and Harris flew right over our heads in their two FE2b's.
What elation on the flight home as I realized we would arrive back at Abeele in formation and having completed the mission. I was sure we (well mostly I) would get a lecture about keeping close to my flight and paying closer attention, but we had redeemed ourselves in the end. Thank God for Chris ... his instinct to press on was brilliant. With men of his calibre we shall have this war won soon enough.