After a week on the road, it is great to get back into WOFF! There are so many great tales developing and the personalities are wonderfully real. Lederhosen, sorry to see the Blue Dragon dented! I'm glad you found a good place to put it down in the Alsace. Maeran, I always feel a little sorry for Stuffy Dowding. He was a truly great man cursed with terrible shyness. Your description of his dining-out and the new Major putting his stamp on 16 Squadron is first-rate stuff. 77_Scout, it will be interesting to see how Marshall develops. Congratulations on outflying the Fokker with your BE2. It goes to show us that aggression in the air is your best defence. MFair, thanks for the iron work for Collins's hut! I loved the story of Swaney's visit to him while recuperating and how he trained at the Stinson School in Texas. Great stuff. And I thought the story about Captain Chambers' apology was terrific. Get well soon.
Carrick, sorry to see your wingman go down. Please don't take too many chances in that BE. Lou, the tale of the burning Morane was a nail-biter.
Fullofit, the tale of Gaston Voscadeux just keeps getting better. Too bad the Fokker wasn't confirmed. Seeing two Caudrons collide must have been horrific. And once again, congratulations on your posting to N37. Finally, hats off to Wulfe. Every one of your characters is drawn expertly, and you can almost hear the mess piano playing as you read the stories. Also, the photos are really outstanding. Do you retouch them to make them so crisp?
Here is Jim Collins's next chapter...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Fifteen: In which I meet the ferryman who will escort me over the River Styx one day. His name is Corporal Wilson.
On 30 January my old observer, Russel, failed to return from a patrol with one of our new pilots. We have heard nothing and expect the worst. I became a fixture on Captain Mealing’s left wing, opposite Sergeant Bayetto. For a few missions I flew with a very nice fellow named Hoskins, but then fate intervened in the person of Sergeant-Major Street.
It was on the morning of 3 February, an unseasonably warm morning when the ice and frost was nearly gone and newly-thawed middens filled the air with the sweet odour of dung and dead grass. Swaney and I were laying out the posts for my hut at the far end of the field. We had measured and plumbed and such things, and then Swaney pretty much took over. Mealing had nominated himself managing director of the construction firm and was lending critical observations, mainly of my work. I was lighting a cigarette and considering a tea break when Major Harvey-Kelly and the good Sergeant-Major sauntered up.
“I do hope this will all be done in good taste,” the Major offered. I assured him that the hut would be a fine addition to the efficiency of the squadron and had been carefully designed to conform to the overall aesthetic of its surroundings -- two parts RFC maintenance shed to one part grimy French pit-head, with a dash of Klondike cathouse to make it mine.
“We’re a tad short of observers at present,” the Major said. "Russel’s replacement is delayed and Theobald and Carruthers are on leave. The Sergeant-Major has a solution, though.”
“Corporal Wilson,” the Sergeant-Major said. “You know him, I assume.”
“Haven’t the foggiest.”
“He’s the blacksmith’s helper. Scot. Glasgow man. Ex-P.B.I.”
I smelled a rat. “Why him, Mr. Street?”
“Indeed,” came the cryptic reply. “He’s a keen one, our Corporal Wilson. I’ll send him over before lunch.” We were on for a two o’clock patrol, a run over to Haubourdin to drop bombs on the Hun field. I hoped Cpl. Wilson was a good shot, for the place was rotten with Fokkers by all accounts.
Swaney quickly framed the walls and set the rafters while I did my bit by carrying heavy objects and swearing at splinters. By eleven, the hut had taken shape and Swaney was eying the corrugated sheets we’d pinched from a Welsh division that was in training near Bethune. As they say, if it stays in the Army, it’s not theft. A tall fellow with thin blond hair shambled up to us. He was wearing coveralls and a split-arse cap. He stood somewhat to attention. As I was not wearing headgear he did not salute.
“Surr,” he said. “Ah’m Corporal Wulson. Yon big bugger o’ a Sergeant-Major says ah’m tae learn t’ be a gunner fer ye, surr. If ye dinna mind me sayin’, it’s no my idea o’ fun, surr.”
“Wilson?” I looked him over. His eyes looked bright enough, but he was a big, formless soul with a drinker’s lip and a fairly scruffy bearing. “How long have you been a corporal?”
“Nine months the first time,” he replied. “Two months this time.”
“This time?” I asked.
“Aye, surr. It’s a guid tale. Ah wis a sergeant for a wee bit. But they wisna fair and a’, no surr.” I would get that story later, I decided.
“Can you fire a Lewis gun. Corporal?”
“Aye, sir. Ah’m a regular dead-eye wi' a machine gun, surr.”
That afternoon the Major and Talbot led our patrol, while I took Wilson up with me for the first time. The man managed to get caught on the gun mounting, and in so doing introduced me to a wondrous dockside vocabulary, followed by a meek “Sorry, surr.”
We flew north toward Choques and circled for height before turning east. No sooner had we come in sight of the lines that the engine began a terrible rattle and seemed fit to separate itself from the rest of the Morane. I shut off and looked for a place to put down. The field as Hesdigneul was visible off to the south, an easy glide. I took the descent in a straight line and waited until I was just short of the field to begin weaving in broad esses to lose speed. We settled easily onto the aerodrome and rolled up to the Bessoneaux. I unbuckled and turned to check on Wilson. He was staring straight ahead, pale as a sheet, his hands clamped to the sides of his cockpit.
"We settled easily onto the aerodrome..."
“Well, Corporal, I think that calls for a drink, don’t you?” It was then that I noticed the Lewis. There was no drum on the gun. I asked Wilson what he thought he was doing, and the man told me he was waiting for the order to load.