12 January, 1916 Toul Sergent Gaston A. Voscadeaux
Gaston knew each flight over the lines was dangerous with the Fokker monoplanes prowling the unfriendly skies. Thankfully they were sparse in these parts and the odds of encountering one were low. Besides, Gaston figured that the odds were in his favour anyway. He had two pairs of wings. Fokker had only one. He had two engines. Fokker had only one. He had two guns. Fokker just one. And finally he had the use of two pairs of eyes and the Fokker had only one. Why was he so preoccupied with the enemy scouts so much? It was because today would be his first flight over the lines into the lion’s den. Capitaine de Bondy was satisfied with Gaston’s ability to follow orders and put him on the active duty roster. His first combat mission would be to bomb factories at Pont a Mousson. He quickly marked the target on his map when it was announced at the briefing. Gaston listened carefully and learned he will fly as the wingman for Adjutant Mezergues. He was an agreeable chap from Dijon. The son of a banker, whose father was hell-bent on marrying him off, in order (as he put it) to settle down and cut down on the embarrassing affairs with women of questionable standing. The amount of suitable girls was staggering, but Mezergues wasn’t ready for matrimony and instead chose the military, with the war starting at the most opportune time. As he he cavalry has not seen much action ever since the trenches have been dug, he decided to join L’Aeronautique Militaire and try his luck there. Amazing that with his busy life of l’aviateur he was still able to keep three ladies in Toul. None of them had any idea of the existence of the other two. The lucky dog! Life of a military aviator has its privileges, but it definitely was not the life for Gaston. He was now following Adjutant Mezergues over the Toul aerodrome having had just taken off and feeling for the first time the full weight of actual bombs slung underneath his Caudron. The bird didn’t feel as sprightly with the additional load, but Voscadeaux didn’t have too much trouble keeping up with the leader. Their two machines were approaching the initial waypoint when all of a sudden one of the leader’s engine begun to smoke. Gaston saw Mezergues make a quick turn back to the aerodrome trailing white smoke. He hoped his leader will make a safe landing. He would hate to see the Adjutant disappoint all three ladies at the same time. But what next? Should he also turn back, or fly to the front solo? He looked to his gunner for an answer. As if he had read his mind Ernest turned around to face him and gave a slight nod of his head in the direction of the Front. Gaston winked back at him and kept the machine on course. Yellow teeth flashed beneath the bushy beard of his gunner. Gaston was pretty sure Ernest was smiling. Adjutant Becquerel propped his elbows on the edge of the nacelle in the same fashion one would do when watching a street parade from the balcony of their apartment. Voscadeaux followed the train tracks east and then north. Once they’ve reached the front lines he turned east again and aimed for the woods across the NML that he had marked on his map as the area where the factory would be located. He saw the trenches below, but it was quiet and no one paid any attention to the solitary flying machine. Becquerel checked his machine guns and took up his position. It was time to go to work. They have reached the area marked on the map but the factory was nowhere in sight. Gaston flew over once, twice and checked the map again. The factory wasn’t there. How he wished for some smoke from the chimneys to mark the spot, but there was nothing. Ernest looked back at Gaston perplexed and shrugged his shoulders in puzzlement. He couldn’t see it either. Clearly they were in the wrong spot. Gaston desperately started making circles over the target area, hoping to find the factory by chance. The circuits became larger and larger. The Caudron eventually flew too close to the enemy observation balloon and the anti-aircraft artillery below started to pepper the air around them with exploding shells leaving black pockmarks. This was a wake up call for Gaston and a lesson not to hang around the target for too long. He admitted defeat and decided to return to base with full armament. They were followed by angry Flak all the way to NML, reminding them of their failure. Gaston found his way back home easily by following the same train tracks that took him to the target. He was not proud of himself, blaming himself for this failure. Capitaine will certainly have something to say about that. He will have to do better next time. On arrival he saw the machine of Adjutant Mezergues sitting near one of the hangars being fussed over by the mechanics. The Casanova was alright.
"Take the cylinder out of my kidneys, The connecting rod out of my brain, my brain, From out of my arse take the camshaft, And assemble the engine again."