Well - I'm back from my Blighty! Apologies for being gone so long, medical complications and the like, you know! Congratulations on drawing first blood, Lou!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell No. 20. Squadron R.F.C, Netheravon, England.
3: Farewell, England...
January 15th, 1916.
Netheravon was near-silent as I stepped into the shining morning dew. For the past week, our aerodrome has been a manic scene, as the truck convoys set to ferry our equipment to France have been darting to-and-fro like so many ants in a colony, and the aeroplane mechanics have been losing sleep - working into ungodly hours of the night, sometimes only by candle-light, to prepare our machines to be flown over. During this time, naturally, not much flying has been done, and so we have been entertaining ourselves with frequent trips back to the Dorothy Cafe, and the comforts of its tea selection and Piano. It seems that we have our player in Pearson, who has led us into several sing-alongs! At first Missus Baker, the hard-faced, rotund wife of the Dorothy's owner (who is currently in France himself), didn't care much at all for our rowdy antics, but now I rather think she enjoys the homely atmosphere. Funnily enough, she has become almost like an auntie to us, occasionally joining in our sing-songs and fretting over us in an endearing staccato cockney tone. "'Ello, my lovelys!" she says as we arrive each day, "What are you going to play us today, then, Wallace? Oh my, Raymond! You're looking awfully thin - don't they feed you proper in the army?". Raymond, or Switch-off, has become particularly attached to Missus Baker, and I rather think she has become something closer to a mother-figure for him. The poor lad, only fifteen, has been suffering from bouts of homesickness recently. The lord only knows how he will fare in France! While we sit at our table by the piano, Switch-off goes round the back to wash dishes with our welcoming host.
Upon Missus Baker's recommendation, I seem to have developed a particular fondness for green tea, and it has become my regular selection off of the 'Dainty Teas' menu, and she has promised to gift me a tin of the stuff to take with me to France.
All in all, life at Netheravon had become very pleasant indeed! We had settled into our routine, and between Pearson's sing-alongs and Jacky-Boy's scandalous late-night stories, we have all developed a wonderful sense of Camaraderie. This seems to transcend rank, as my observer, Cpt. Edith, has even joined our merry gang at the Cafe! At first this made some of us uncomfortable - we had not previously known a Captain willing to fraternise with the lower ranks, much less a Sergeant such as Jimmy Reynard, Archer or myself! But, the cheery Scotsman has become a welcome addition to our mob. But, yesterday, at Noon, the trucks all abruptly packed up and left for Dover. An hour later, the Major assembled the pilots and observers in the Officers' mess (which - by the way - is a perfect picture of luxury! Unlike our modest Sergeants' mess!), and told us the news. The news.
Tomorrow, we were bound for France.
And so, today we headed to the Dorothy for the final time, to say our good-byes and have one last sing-song. It was a solemn affair - although we were chomping at the bit to finally get to the war, none of us wanted to have to leave behind the comforts of our little Cafe, or the pleasantries of its current owner. For that last song, all of us wrapped in a combination of excitement, sorrow, fear, happiness, homesickness, and other emotions, we (including Missus Baker) sung out loudly to the tune of 'There's a Long, Long trail'. I must admit, I was very moved by the experience. I think we all were - and poor Switch-off had to turn away from us to hide the tears in his eyes.
After a final cup of green tea, much to our surprise, the ever-thoughtful Missus Baker presented us all with a small parting gift. For myself - that tin of green tea, which I must endeavour to ration in France. Jacky-Boy was given a tin of regular tea. For Cpt. Edith, a small brass thistle broach, a small reminder of his home country. Pearson, of course, was given several pages of sheet music, which had previously belonged to Mr. Baker before the war, but perhaps the greatest gift of all was bestowed upon Switch-off, who was given a striking red scarf, which Missus Baker had knitted herself in secret, specifically for the young lad.
Later in the day, as I watched Switch-off and his observer ascend in F.E.2 A6332 and swing around towards France, his red scarf around his neck, I felt a sudden pang of stark terror on the boy's behalf. Oh, how young he was, and there he went, off to war! But, I had no time to dwell on the feeling, for Edith and I were up next. Our orders are to ferry one of the B.Es to No. 1 Aircraft Depot, where we would exchange it for another F.E.2.
By the end of the day, we will be in France, and War.