Congratulations, Gaston, on moving up to Scouts! May you go on to be France's Ace-of-Aces!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell No. 20 Squadron R.F.C., Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
February 3rd, 1916.
After our return yesterday, I headed into the Vincent alongside Jacky-Boy. My compatriot certainly had a spring in his step, practically bounding through the door, and I soon discovered why as Jeanne came bounding into his open arms. After their embrace, we were shown to our table, and sat down for a delicious lunch, consisting of an omelette, freshly fried mushrooms and, of course, a cup of green tea for myself.
As Jeanne glided from table to table, pouring coffee and making eyes at the smitten Jacky-Boy, I nudged his arm and gestured with my eyebrows at the waitress. “Well? How did you manage it, you dog?” I asked, with a smirk. With a grin that made it look as if his entire face would split in two, he leaned in close. “I’ll never tell”. He said, and I almost fell out of my seat. “What! You must!” I responded, as the sly fox fell back in his chair, laughing his head off. Three tables away, Jeanne was laughing too.
Lucky Jacky-Boy. I had, too, developed something of a fondness for Jeanne, only I had not acted upon it. By any means, if I was to retain any sort of morality, the opportunity was lost. Jacky-Boy and I finished our lunch, idly chatting among ourselves about our various trips out over the front, as I pushed my disappointment to the back of my mind.
We returned to our Billet, only to find Switch-off dragging a packed suitcase down the front steps. “The C.O says we have to move closer to the aerodrome!” he explained to us, and Jacky-Boy let out a groan, called the Major a ‘Bloody Bore’, and skulked off inside to begin packing up his things.
Our new Billet was a cozy little stone cottage that sat down a road a short walk from the aerodrome, which the four of us were to be bundled into. Pleasantly, it was next-door to a three-storey building which housed some more of our fellows, including Archer and Pearson. Jimmy Reynard was off on the ‘C’ flight show, so we decided that we’d pack his things and bring them along, on his behalf.
It didn’t take us long to settle in and make the place our own. Switch-off’s lucky scarf found a home on the hat-rack by the door, and his gramophone was placed in the corner, on top of an old empty crate. The furniture was hastily rearranged with our future card-games in mind, and Jimmy Reynard decorated the wall above his bunk with several raunchy pictures of young ladies that he’d procured in various magazines in St. Omer. Magazines, I may add, that only Reynard seemed to be able to locate.
After a night of wagering over card-games, in which young Switch-off was made poorer but wiser by us all, we retired for the evening.
The morning rolled in, and once more I marvelled at the frost-touched land as we made our way, sharing cigarettes between us, to the briefing-room. Being far closer to the aerodrome than we were used to, we were even early, to the visible surprise of half of our pilots. Even the immovable Major’s eyebrows raised slightly.
‘B’ flight had the morning show - we were being sent back to Bapaume, this time on a Reconnaissance. Happily, Reynard would be accompanying us as one of the two covering Fees - the other being flown by McNaughton. As we walked towards our machines, Graves & Reid idly discussed the route towards the target - what landmarks to use, et cetera. Reynard, with Bristow (his Observer), sidled up alongside me. “Ho, Cambell, A’ve nivver been that far doon the lines, what’s it like doon there?” he asked, cautiously. I patted him on the back, grinning. “Not a Hun in the sky, Jimmy! And the archie gunners are half-asleep. Save for the length of the trip, it’s a perfectly pleasant show!”. This seemed to reassure Reynard, who breathed a happy sigh of relief as he pulled his flying cap over his red mess of hair.
At my machine I again found Capt. Ackart waiting for me. “Morning, Campbell”. He said, with a slight air of contempt in his voice. It was no secret that the Captain-Observers didn’t care one bit for the idea of flying with a Sergeant-Pilot at the controls. I merely nodded, as I climbed into the Cockpit of A6333, tying my tea-bundle charm around the flight stick. Down the flight-line, I caught Reynard’s eye, and he cheerfully waved to me. The Ack-Emmas presently had our engines purring over, and the Verey light went up. Down the airfield we went, our Beardmores roaring out Forty, Fifty, Sixty miles an hour, and soon we were all up, five machines, soaring into the blue.
We made the usual climb around St. Omer, into a beautifully blue sky with lazy high cumulus rolling forth. One cloud in particular caught my eye, for to me it looked just like one of the four lion statues that stood at the feet of Nelson’s Column in London. I cannot explain why I saw this, but there it was! We passed SOuth under the Lion’s feet, and headed out past the Foret de Nieppe, and towards our target at Bapaume.
After a long and eventless flight, with Reynard & McNaughton flying quite a ways ahead of us, the lines came into view as we crossed over the top of Arras, passing by a pair of B.E’s, who’s crews cheerily waved to us. As our shadows crept into the mud, Ackart and I sharpened up. Above us, a lone French Nieuport wheeled across the sky. Below, our boys in the trenches were having a hard time - every now and then, the ground would rear up as German shells came down around the front-lines. I grimaced in sympathy as I watched one such shell land in the centre of a British trench. Leaving the Tommies to their own war, we crossed into Hunland and Reid’s bus manoeuvred into position to photograph his target. We begun to hear the now-familiar ‘woof-woof’ of Archie around us, as we indifferently glided over the German lines at 5,500 feet, but the fire was just as lazy and inaccurate as yesterday, and we made our rounds without much trouble, and turned for home.
On the return trip, 6333’s engine suddenly begun to splutter, and quickly died. I switched to the Gravity tank, and the engine thankfully coughed into life. Checking my map, and my position, I decided to put in at Izel Les Hameux aerodrome. The Ack-Emmas looked over our machine, and found that a seal on the fuel line had deteriorated and broke away, assuring Ackart that we would be on our way by the early evening. After telephoning Clairmarais, I was invited by a cheery-faced pilot, Lieutenant Lawrence, to join him in No. 13 Squadron’s mess. As it turns out, theirs were the two B.E’s we’d seen coming across the lines. They, too, had been photographing German troop positions around Bapaume, and we discussed the possibility of an upcoming push in the area. We stayed to have our dinner with the chaps of No. 13, who later came out to enviously scrutinise 6333, some of them even asking to climb aboard and get a feel for the cockpit. Ackart allowed this, and after a warm goodbye we headed home, for an evening of songs in our own mess, with Pearson tinkling pleasantly away on the piano.
No pictures this time, I'm afraid! Storytelling may be a little scarce, that pesky 'real world' has been running interference again >:(