A close call, Raine! Great work repelling that devilish Hun!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, An Unknown Field Hospital, France.
January 28th, 1916.
After a deep and dreamless sleep I slowly faded into consciousness, before remembering yesterday's events and bolting upright. "Easy, boyo..." said a familiar voice, beside me, and I turned to face Edith, his arm in a sling. I laughed out loud at seeing he was okay, but then felt ashamed that my piloting had gotten him shot. "I'm sorry, Edith, I shouldn't have got so-" he cut me off with a wave of his bearlike palm. "Ach, A' thought the observer wis a goner, tae! He tricked us, but we paid him back, eh?". A grin broke out across his face. In my mind, I saw an image of the terrified Hun pilot as he was swallowed alive by smoke. Faintly smiling, I nodded. "Yes, we gave him the right stuff" I agreed. Edith handed me a Woodbine, and as I produced my match-box I was surprised to find that my hands were shaking. I struck once, then twice, but the match wouldn't light. Edith pretended not to notice, to his credit. Seeing my plight, a nurse quickly came over. "Here," she offered, gently taking the offending match out of my hands and striking it, holding it up to my cigarette. "Thank you, nurse" I mumbled, embarrassed, as I inhaled deeply.
As it turned out, we had been awfully lucky. His machine suddenly bursting into flames seemed to have thrown the Hun observer's aim, causing him to fire left of his intended mark. As a result, despite being point blank, Edith had taken a bullet cleanly through the left shoulder, and I had only been grazed, a thin semicircle of flesh being cut from my arm as the bullet sailed past. Fortunately, the wound was not deep enough to damage the nerves, and the medic had little trouble in sewing it shut. From what I understand, the pure shock of the situation was enough to render me unconscious, at which point I'd been carried by stretcher to the Field Hospital, with Edith walking alongside. How embarrassing that I should do that, when Edith's wound was worse than my own!
Unluckily, we hadn't quite been injured enough to be sent back to England (an infliction nicknamed by the boys at the squadron as "Getting a Blighty"), but, I felt no need to complain when I had pretty nurses attending to me. Edith shared this sentiment, that wide grin of his failing to diminish throughout the morning. Around noon, the head nurse appeared and told us that we were bound for No. 33 C.C.S, in Bethune. After a brief trip by road, we arrived and were shown to our beds. The C.C.S was a grim sight, rows of wounded soldiers, some horribly disfigured. One man, a Private with his face completely bandaged and both arms in slings, asked me as I passed if I could scratch the itch in his shin. Feeling sorry for the poor sod, I agreed, but was shocked to find that, when I lifted the bedsheets, his legs had been reduced to stumps above the knee. Feeling sick from the surprise, I hastily asked "Is that okay?", to which the man replied "Much better. Cheers, Guv!". Disturbed, I hastily continued down the row of beds.
Stuck in amid the horrific afterimage of trench warfare, Edith and I shared a cigarette, feeling rather glum. Surely we were only taking up unnecessary space, we were only slightly wounded! Eventually, Edith came to the realisation that we hadn't yet telephoned Clairmarais! He at once called a nurse, and asked to use a telephone. Upon his return, I was surprised to learn that we had both been reported as missing, presumed killed. I only hope they haven't sent the telegram to my poor mother! By any means, Edith relayed the position of A6338 to Maj. Wilson, who said he would dispatch a breakdown crew to retrieve the machine. We were also ordered to return to the aerodrome as soon as we were able. We welcomed the order, as the C.C.S was a gloomy sight, and had made us feel rather glum. Edith, after a considerably impressive bout of sweet-talking, was able to convince the nurse to allow us to leave, and we were able to bribe a corporal who was heading to No. 10 Stationary in St. Omer for supplies, to give us a lift.
We arrived around 4:30 PM, looking like the stereotypical war heroes, in our field-dressings and slings, and made our way towards the Major's office, in the Chateau behind the hangars. On the way we passed Jacky-Boy, who broke into an ear-splitting grin when he saw us. "Ah, here they are! The damned fools who got themselves shot down!" he teased, and I playfully punched him on the arm. "Glad you're both okay". He said, in a softer tone, before patting me on the back and going about his business.
Sheepishly, we entered Major Wilson's office, who turned to face us. For what felt like hours, he stared over us with his ice-blue gaze, taking in every detail of our appearance in an unnerving, methodical manner. "Shot down, eh?" he finally said, and we both reddened. To my immense gratitude, Edith replied. "Aye, sir. We wir' bein' stupit, it'll nae happen again, Sir". Another unbearable silence. "You are not to break formation, unless you have encountered engine trouble or your flight leader has instructed you to do so. If you do so once more, I will send you to the front-lines. We don't need any dud crews around here. As for the state of you both", he gestured to our field dressings, "You can't fly like that. I'm grounding you for the remainder of the month. You'll be assigned to the Adjutant's office, as Clerks, in the meantime". Swallowing nervously, we both echoed "Yes, sir".
Maj. Wilson nodded in approval, and then slowly sat down in the luxurious leather chair that had found its way into his office (no doubt through some tasteful pillaging by a lower rank looking to get in the C.O's good books). Reclining back, he produced a pipe, which he swiftly packed and lit, blowing out great clouds of smoke that hung just above our heads. We saluted, and turned to leave. "One more thing, gentlemen," he called after us, and we froze, turning round to face him and dreading another chewing-out.
"Graves reported you going down out-of-control". We braced ourselves for another lecture. "But, he also saw your Aviatik fall in flames. An excellent show! I congratulate you on your confirmed victory, and I will need your full reports on the matter". Our eyes widened. Dumbfounded, we saluted once more and staggered out of his office. Once we thought we were out of earshot, we began to whoop and cheer, throwing our caps into the air and acting like a pair of giddy schoolchildren. We had officially gotten our Hun! Enthusiastically I trotted off towards the NCO's Mess to type up my report.
Later that night, when I returned to my Billet, Jimmy Reynard and Switch-off gave me a warm welcome. "Ach, Whit did'ye expect, sittin' right oan an Aviatik's tail, ya loonie?" Reynard laughed, while crouching over and observing my bandaged-up arm. I shrugged. "I thought Edith had gotten him!". Switch-off cut in, chirping that "You need a lucky charm, Arthur! I won't fly without my scarf, and my luck has been up!". He proudly waved Missus Baker's red scarf in front of my face. "Perhaps you should take your tin of tea?". I pondered on the thought. "You know, that's a fine idea, Switchy...". He beamed, nodding his head like a puppy. "...but I can't very well take the entire tin! I know what I'll do". Going into the pocket of my tunic, I produced my silk handkerchief. After some rifling around the Billet, I eventually found a small ribbon. Scooping some tea from the tin, I tied it in the handkerchief so that it resembled a miniature bindle. "I shall hang it from the dashboard!" I announced, presenting it to Switch-off. "It's perfect!" he cried, a broad grin spreading across his youthful face.
"Ye's are a pair o' superstitious dafties..." Reynard scoffed in response, before clapping his hands together. "Awricht! Enough O' this heebie-jeebie business! Drinks are oan me, fir' Killer o'er here!". And, so, the events of the night were decided. We headed out into St. Omer for a night of celebratory decadence.