Great stories guys. I’m currently running slightly behind in write ups, so this instalment ends on the 21st January. I am particularly enjoying a French perspective Fullofit, even if Voscadeaux’s poor escadrille is taking a hammering. Good claim there Wulfe. Shame about the observer getting a shot in. I do like the report. Superb storytelling as always Raine. You got in your mention of conscription before I did. Stanley's father is in charge of recruitment, so there is something to say there. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Halluin aerodrome was covered by clouds when Stanley arrived. Grumpy Gould had led the flight in at 6000 feet and Stanley could not see a thing. He dropped his bombs on Gould’s cue and hoped that they did some damage. Stanley rather doubted it as the three BE2s turned home. At least the clouds threw off Archie’s aim, Stanley thought and shuddered. Only on Wednesday, Cobbold and Field had been hit directly while on artillery observation. According to witnesses on the ground, the aeroplane had burned all the way down.
Back at Merville the move to La Gorgue was essentially complete. The aeroplanes, repair shops and transport pool had moved across. The officers were still on their barge on the Lys and so Merville was still occupied after a fashion. In their floating mess room, the officers sat as Dowding primly read from the day’s orders. “This is from Brigadier General Trenchard,” the old man (35 years old) announced. “Until the Royal Flying Corps are in possession of a machine as good as or better than the German Fokker it seems that a change in the tactics employed becomes necessary. It is hoped very shortly to obtain a machine that will be able to successfully engage the Fokkers... “In the meantime, it must be laid down as a hard and fast rule that a machine proceeding on a reconnaissance must be escorted by at least three other fighting machines. These machines must fly in close formation and a reconnaissance should not be continued if any of the machines should become detached. This should apply to both short and long distance reconnaissances. Aeroplanes proceeding on photographic duty any considerable distance east of the German line should be similarly escorted.”*
Nearly a week later, Stanley was flying a photo reconnaissance to observe the enemy rear positions near Athies. In principle the BE2c was being escorted by 2 FE2bs from C flight, but the pusher machines were much faster and Stanley could no longer see Tillie or Eastwood. He could however see the Eindekker. It attacked near Thelus and forced Stanley to break off his photography. Now he turned under the black crossed machine, trying to throw off the German’s aim. His gunner today was 2AM Digby, who was normally a fitter for B flight, but was filling in as an aerial gunner. The air mechanic manned the Lewis gun and tried to get a shot at their attacker. There was an opportunity and Digby pulled the trigger, getting three bursts off that seemed deafening to Stanley even over the engine. Of course the muzzle of the Lewis was frighteningly close above his head.
Perhaps Digby hit his mark, or perhaps the German pilot made a mistake in his flying. Whatever the reason, Stanley looked over his shoulder in astonishment as the Fokker tipped its wings over and began a tight spiral that only ended with a sudden crash as the monoplane hit the ground. Grinning madly, Stanley patted Digby on the shoulder in congratulations.
The dinner that evening was a special affair. The officer’s mess on the barge was colourful with the dress uniforms of the varied regiments that pilots and observers had come from before being seconded to the RFC. At the head of the main table, Major Dowding was joined by a Major wearing the dress uniform of the 3rd Northamptonshire regiment. The newcomer was a slightly round faced man who was only a little older than the majority of the pilots. He spoke genially with an educated but slightly rural accent to Stanley’s ears. Like a country squire. This was Major Powell, who was replacing the ‘stuffed shirt’ as commanding officer.** Stanley learned a lot about Dowding in the speeches. When the former artilleryman turned pilot had come to 16 Squadron, it was already at Merville, but struggling to manage flying duties with distant billets in the village of La Gorgue, across the river and to the east. Dowding had somehow acquired a hospital barge for the officers and various other amenities. He had also supervised the development of a cooper bomb rack that had won 16 a prize. Over the winter he had worked on the marshy ground of Beaupré Farm across the river, first to accommodate the FE2s of ‘c’ flight and now that ash runways had been put in, the whole squadron. This site, known as La Gorgue allowed a much longer take take-off run that had proved necessary with faster aeroplanes. Being older than most of his pilots and reserved in nature, Stuffed Shirt cared about the disposition of his men, but had difficulty connecting with them on a personal level. Even tonight, at his farewell dinner, Dowding mumbled his way through speeches and attempted conversations. Stanley felt the air of relief when the senior staff retired and Merton handed him a brandy. “I hear you got a Hun?” ----------------------------------------------------- *This was Sunday 16th of January 1916. ** I have been able to find out surprisingly little about the new CO. I know his regiment, where he lived (down to the house). I know a few things about his family but no photos, and no record of his RFC career save that he was injured in 1915. So the description is fictional.