Sounds like hard times are befalling poor old Esc. C.17! Good job on beating back that Fokker, and commiserations to your fallen colleagues. The No.3 Boys continue to astound me with their skill in those Parasols! Now those are some proper pilots... as always, some of the writing on display here just blows me away! Also, thank you Gents for the encouraging comments
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
January 22nd - 26th:
We decided to have our breakfast at the Vincent the following morning, before making our way to the aerodrome. Jacky-Boy didn’t come, still sore from being turned down the night before and not yet ready to attempt another pass on the young mademoiselle. At the door, Jeanne greeted us with her usual alluring cheer, and we took a seat near the back of the establishment, wading past the brown flying-coats, left either folded on the floor or draped over the backs of chairs, of the few R.F.C pilots that had stopped by early, like us.
I watched Jeanne as she skipped off to fetch the Coffee Pot, a faint smile betraying me, before turning back to my colleagues. Across the table from me, Reynard’s eyes flashed with malicious intent above a telling smirk. I reddened, but held his gaze. “What?” I asked, irritatedly. His smirk broke into a grin. “Ye told Jacky that ye fancy his waitress?” he teased. “Don’t be absurd, Reynard!” I retorted, which only elicited a hearty laugh from my red-haired tormentor. “Dinnae worry, it’s only you and half of the RFC!”.
The 23rd was a miserable affair. A day of torrential rain ambushed us early in the morning, and whereas Jacky-Boy and Jimmy Reynard didn’t seem fazed, merely throwing on their flying coats and heading out for the day, Switch-Off and I stayed in to write letters to Blighty and listen to records on a Gramophone for most of the daylight hours. A particular favourite of mine was “Roses of Picardy”.
The morning of the 24th saw us all scrambling madly out of our Billet and high-tailing towards the aerodrome. We had slept in, and were on track to miss our morning briefing! The Major was thoroughly unimpressed as we bundled into the briefing room, just as he had begun speaking. Like school children awaiting the cane, we stood before him sheepishly in a row. He merely sighed, and pointed his riding-crop towards a row of empty seats at the rear of the room. Our ears burning as our colleagues snickered away, we slumped down into the chairs, as Major Wilson cleared his throat. Just as he was about to start speaking for the second time, a telephone behind him rung. He let out another deep sigh, and for a moment I thought he was going to banish the telephone to the back row of seats as well. But, up it came off the receiver, and he spoke in a gruff voice. “Major Wilson, 20 R.F.C”. We sat with baited breath, as if watching a Shakespeare, as Wilson’s brow furrowed, and his moustache twitched. “Yes. Very Well. Good day”. The phone came down with a slam, as the Major whipped round to face us. “B Flight, a Hun machine’s been sighted over St. Omer. Go and get after him!”.
Immediately we bolted up out of our seats and ran towards the door. “Lucky git”, Jacky-Boy grunted as I flashed past him grinning. Edith and I quickly linked up outside, and Edith barked at the Ack-Emmas to roll out A6338. The ground crews had drilled scrambles back in Netheravon, and I was astounded at the speed in which our Fees were ready to go. Graves gave the signal, and we were off.
Not wanting to get caught underneath the marauding Hun, Graves led us to Cassell in order to climb. Frantically, we clawed our way up to 6,000 feet and turned South for St. Omer. Of course, as I’d half-expected, there was no Hun machine to be found. He’d probably cleared off before we’d even lifted! That wouldn’t stop Graves, however, who led us on a wild goose chase, going as far as Dunkirk, and the coastline, to try and find the offending Hun! Or, perhaps he fancied a joy-ride, and our searched provided a good excuse to do so. By any means, it was an eventless search.
That night, Jacky-Boy came back from a patrol of the lines, raving about getting into a fight with an Eindecker - the scrap was inconclusive, but he is the first of us to encounter the dreaded Hun monoplane. Most of us have seen the devilish machines from afar, but have wiseley avoided them. Not Jacky-Boy! As he tells the story, he rushed right at the hun upon spotting him over the lines. Switch-off swears it’s true as well.
It seemed that, after our four days rest, ‘A’ Flight and ‘B’ flight had switched roles. We now took the morning patrols and recons, while ‘A’ took the afternoon patrols. This has given Jacky-Boy plenty of time to visit Jeanne at the Vincent - a fact he wants us all to know! Every time he mentions it to me, I shoot Reynard a wary glance (much to his amusement). By any means, I was not concerned with Jacky-Boy’s antics as Edith handed me the all-too-familiar tub of grease. We donned our flying gear and applied the whale grease to our faces, before Edith readied the reconnaissance camera and we stepped out onto the airfield, headed for our trusty old bus, A6338. We had our final cigarettes of the morning, and climbed aboard.
We adopted our usual strategy, of putting the Recon Bus, flown by McNaughton, in between Graves & myself. Reid & Edwards stayed high and above us, scanning for any enemy machines. After climbing up around St. Omer, we headed towards Armentieres. By the time we reached the lines, the wind had picked up to the point where we were being blown two and fro like autumn leaves. Ahead of me, I saw Edith gripping the forward Lewis gun tightly, as if he feared the wind would carry it away. To our dismay, we also realised that our reconnaissance target was almost completely obscured by thick cumulus clouds, stretching on for several miles into Hunland, as if the Bosche had conscripted them! I made my contempt known to the Hunnish clouds, who responded by throwing another almighty gust of wind up at us.
Suddenly, ahead of me, three specks appeared just above the clouds. I strained my eyes, and it felt as though my stomach had fallen out of the nacelle like a bomb. Eindeckers! Two of them, beside an Aviatik. Edith had seen them too, and now he was gripping the Lewis gun not for balance, but in preparation. With baited breath, we watched as the Huns came right over the top of us, looming above our heads like hawks. Graves turned us away from them - now our top wings obscured them from view. Tensing up in my seat, I watched in bitter anticipation as Edith kept his eyes glued on the threat. At that moment, Archie begun to burst around us. The wind had carried us into German lines!
Edith remained fixed in position - the Huns either hadn’t seen us, or didn’t care to attack us. I thought back to the first time he had spotted the Hun, over St. Omer. Two Eindeckers & an Aviatik. Were these the same artists, I wondered? That time, they had ignored us, too. By any means, we were over our target, and I could see McNaughton’s observer readying the camera. I held my breath as his observer leaned out of the Nacelle to take the photographs, keeping one eye upwards. To our joy, the Huns abruptly swung to the South and disappeared towards Haubordin. We all collectively breathed out, before McNaughton finished his run and we headed for home.
Lucky old Pearson was approved for a 48 hour pass later that day, and, much to the disappointment of those of us hoping for a sing-song later, early this morning he took the train to Armentieres to revel in some of the city life. No such luck for the rest of us. Today we are off to Arras, on another recon. Maj. Wilson was unimpressed with the photographs that Carey Winchcombe (McNaughton’s observer) had taken, and to “Make up for it”, to quote our fierey C.O, we were being sent back over into Hunland again. We crossed at St. Vaast, our eyes peeled for the dreaded Fokkers. Below us lay St. Vaast, a desolated city of rubble and horror, eerily still in the morning fog. As I stared down at it, I saw the face of a building slowly fall away into the street, kicking up a cloud of dust. As I watched, I wondered where the inhabitants of this skeleton-city had gone, and felt a stab of remorse for the French Civilian, who had had war thrust upon their doorstep for a reason they probably would never fully understand. But, I had no time to dwell on the thought. McNaughton was beginning his run. As before, we watched from our machine as Winchcombe stood up, camera in hand, and leaned dizzyingly over the nacelle’s edge. I shall never envy the Reconnaissance observer. We made our run over the target (a small grouping of factories just outside of Monchy-le-Preux), and McNaughton signalled to us that he wanted to go around again. Fortunately, the skies seemed clear in all directions as Graves obligingly tilted his wings to the right and begun to circle.
As we banked lazily to the right, Edith suddenly turned to face me, pointing out ahead of us. I stared forwards, and...there! I couldn’t believe it! Slightly lower, crossing into our lines, two Fokkers, and an Aviatik! Why, it was the same Huns as before! They crossed underneath us, and to my annoyance Graves again failed to respond. Edith turned to me, staring intently at me. Without a word, I nodded, and brought our bus around to face the unaware Germans. My heart begun pounding as we crept up behind their formation, but, to my dismay, Graves and McNaughton had continued on with their second run. Well, nothing for it, then. We would attack the Hun alone.
Diving below the pack, I crept up on the trailing Fokker. Edith fired upwards into him and he immediately broke away, diving for the safety of his lines. We let him go, and settled in on the still-unaware Aviatik. In the observer’s seat, I saw the exact moment the Hun looked up at us, back down into his cockpit, and then suddenly back up at us in shock. Too late! Edith fired upwards into the Aviatik at point-blank range, and the observer jolted up in his seat, before slumping down, the rear gun falling silent. With the danger removed, I pulled up to sit on the same level as the Aviatik. It was then that I saw a sight I shall never forget. As Edith fired, the German pilot turned to face us with a look of stark terror on his face. He was young - perhaps eighteen or nineteen. A second later, there was a terrific flash, and the young Hun’s face disappeared behind a thick black wall of smoke, as the Aviatik burst immediately into flames.
An Aviatik's End
Just as this happened, the Observer, who had only been wounded, suddenly reappeared at his gun, and fired off one final defiant burst at us. I jerked in my seat, and skidded away to the right in alarm, hastily making for our lines. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw the Aviatik fall into a nosedive just West of Monchy. I turned back to see Edith behaving strangely in his Nacelle, rocking back and forth. I tapped him on the shoulder, and reeled back in shock as he turned to me, revealing a blood-soaked tunic. By god, he had been hit! He smiled apologetically as I pulled my map from my pocket, to look for the nearest Aerodrome to land at. As I unfolded it, I noticed that it, too, was red with blood. Suddenly I was aware of a dull ache in my left arm. I looked down, and my head spun as I saw my own tunic. Soaked, just like Ediths. I’d been hit, too!
We came down just South of Arras, behind the rear trenches, and fell out of our Fee. Immediately we were escorted to safety by a group of infantrymen, who had watched us coast in. Around this point, I must have passed out, for I only remember waking up in a casualty clearing station, in a bed alongside Edith’s, who was in a restless sleep. I hoisted myself up, crying out in pain as I did so, at which point a pretty young nurse arrived. “Just lay down”, she said in a soothing tone, “You’ve only been grazed. You’re very lucky”. I was in no position to fight her. As she lay me down, I mumbled “My observer…”. She smiled. “He’s okay, too. Just rest, now”.
My eyelids suddenly felt incredibly heavy, and I sunk into blackness.
Uh-Oh! Sgt. Campbell, and his roguish Scots associate have landed themselves in the CCS for five days each! Those boys want to be more careful...