Sgt. Graham A. Campbell No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
February 5th, 1916.
I was shaken awake by Jimmy Reynard as the sun was beginning its lazy climb into the sky, its rays bathing the land in gold. Overnight, France’s countryside had begun to thaw, the dew flattening the grass and flora with its weight. Nursing a thumping head, I pulled on my tunic and felt my way for the door. “Ach, c’moan, Cammie! We’re gonny be late to briefing!” came Reynard’s impatient voice, and I waved him away weakly. Resigning to my fate, we stepped out into the easy light.
After a brisk walk that turned my stomach, we made it into the briefing room just in time for the Major to grace us with one of his famous disproving looks, as we tried to make ourselves small in our seats. “Okay, chaps, here it is;” he started, once we had settled, and pointed to the blackboard, dressed in flight plans and pre-decided times. “A has the morning patrol over Bapaume at 0900”. There was a collective groan. “Oh, shut up, you lazy devils! ‘B’ Flight, you go up at 1300, and you’re heading to the Hun’s side on an Offensive Patrol over Lens. As for C, you are heading to Arras at 1500. Now, Graves isn’t well today, so, Reid, you’ll be leading ‘B’. That is all”.
Muttering among ourselves, we rolled out of the briefing room, complaining uselessly about our various jobs. Outside, Pearson offered me a cigarette, which I gratefully accepted. “The Lens show again, eh?” he teased. Sighing, I held my arms up. “What can I say, somebody has to go” I responded.
With some time to spare, I decided to head to the mess and write some letters, the first of which was addressed to my parents back in Nottingham. I included the usual information, the state of the squadron and the chaps, some anecdotes of flying. I left out the Aviatik incident, naturally. After sealing the letter and placing it to the side, I produced a second sheet of paper, and mulled over it for a moment. On the table, my lucky charm caught my eye. Of course - I would write Mrs. Baker, back in Salisbury! Leaning over the paper, I penned the following message:
Dear Mrs. Baker,
I hope this letter finds you in good health. You will be happy to hear that we are doing well in France - the Huns don’t bother us much, and the weather has been favourable for flying. Your presents have been well used here. I have only half of my green tea remaining, but I have fashioned myself a lucky charm, a bag of tea wrapped in a napkin, which I refuse to fly without. Young Switch-off puts a similar faith in the scarf you knitted him, and Edith’s brooch has brought him good luck also.
Pearson is still at it in the squadron mess every night, tapping away on the piano, and the sheet music you gifted him has provided us with many enjoyable nights. I have had an idea. Once we are back in England, we should return to your Cafe, and have another sing-song, all of us together.
I must stop writing now, for I am due to go on a patrol soon, but I hope to write you again soon.
Yours, Graham Campbell.
I wrote one more letter, to my old pal Freddie Foster at Hounslow, after realising that I hadn’t yet heard any news of him since his DH2 crash. To him, I wrote: Dear Freddy,
It is your old pal from Hounslow, Graham Campbell. I received word of your crash, and hope you have recovered well. The chaps in France are doing very well, and my Observer and I have already sent two huns crashing down. I eagerly await your arrival at France, as I know you will give it to the Huns proper, as you did with the Ottomans. How is the De Haviland, by the way? It must be awfully exciting to fly such a fighting machine.
All the best, Graham.
After I had sealed each letter, and dropped them off back at my Billet to post later, it was almost time for ‘B’ flight’s show. I met with Normie and Bristow back on the aerodrome. “Afternoon, Graham. What do you reckon, today?” Normie asked, and suddenly I remembered Switch-off’s warnings from the night prior. “You know, I hope it’s a quiet shop today” I responded. Bristow nodded. “Me too, I’m fed up of aerial scraps - did Jimmy ever tell you about all the scraps we’ve had? That red-headed maniac has put me through the ringer, and I am glad to be rid of him!”. Normie and I laughed, and I patted him on the back. “Not to worry, Bristow, Normie here is perfectly sensible in the air. Never out of place”. “Never out of place!” Bristow roared. “Why, he nearly had me boarding Graves’ machine yesterday! You pilots are all mad as hatters, no mistake!”. We roared with laughter.
Ackart appeared not long after, offering me his usual cold hello, after which we headed to the ready line. To my delight, old 6338 was waiting eagerly for me on the field. As we climbed aboard, the Ack-Emma who was to spin my prop appeared by the side of the cockpit. “Tell us how she goes, Sir, for I daresay we’ve made her the best bus in the entire squadron!”. I grinned. “I can hardly wait to get in the air”. I responded, and the Ack-Emma winked, before disappearing back towards the Beardmore. Checking my instruments, I also noticed the small clasp that had been added to my dashboard, to house my lucky charm. Gratefully, I attached the trinket, and sat back, admiring it.
Without further ado our three machines were off, Reid leading Normie and I into the climb. 6338 roared into the wind with a reinvigorated power, and I failed to contain the foolish look of glee on my face, as I opened the throttle wide. After climbing, we headed to the front, crossing the lines at Loos without incident, and beginning our patrol. The skies seemed mercifully empty as we crossed into Hunland, and stayed so for the entirety of our patrol. In fact, it rather seemed like the war had packed-up, and we were the only three left, for not a single aeroplane, nor an artillery burst, was seen for the entirety of our stay.
After landing, I returned to my Billet, and took the letters to post in St. Omer. While in town, I decided to visit the Vincent, expecting to find Jacky-Boy there. Instead, I found only Jeanne and her usual crowd of RFC admirers - whom I may add, had more than once now given Jacky-Boy a hot time in the Waitresses’ absence. Upon my entry, she broke into a grin and skipped over. “Ah, Graham! How are you?” she asked. “Very well, thank you, Jeanne. What are my chances of a cup of coffee?”. In one exaggerated sweep of the arm, she beckoned me to sit by a small table by the front door. The table was covered by a red-and-white gingham check tablecloth, an intricately-woven bread basket, and two ornate candlesticks, with red candles half-melted down to wax. Pulling up a luxurious wooden chair and falling onto its blue velvet seat, I looked up at Jeanne inquisitively. “”C’est Romantique, no?”. She leaned over to whisper in my ear, and I felt myself redden with embarrassment as I felt her breath on my neck, while the scattered pilots all turned as one to drive their dagger-stares into me. “In the evening, I dine at this table with my...favourite guests…”. She pulled away. Trying to hide my flustered appearance, I smiled and nodded. “Jacky-boy must feel very lucky, then” I said. A wry smile appeared on Jeanne’s rouged lips. “Let me fetch you that coffee”.
I didn’t keep Jeanne, instead letting her flit about the Cafe, serving her admirers as I slowly enjoyed my coffee. As I had just taken the last sip, Jacky-Boy came through the door. “Ah, darling, you’re here!” I cried out, and he snapped round to face me. “Graham? What the bloody - “ “Now, come dear, sit with me!” I crooned. He tried at first to appear angry, but was soon laughing out loud at my silliness. “Fancy a drink, old boy?” he asked, sitting down opposite me. “I was just about to dash off, actually. But, tomorrow I will bring the chaps down and we can have a good old-fashioned No. 20 do, eh?”. Jacky-boy grinned, lighting a cigarette. “Alright, well, I will look forwards to it!”. I waved good-bye to Jeanne, affectionately punched Jacky-Boy on the shoulder, and stepped out into the cool, pinkish haze of the early evening.
Back at Clairmarais, we went through the usual evening routine of drinking and singing along to Pearson’s tunes. However, it was a more muted affair than the night before - I think the chaps may be getting sick and tired of rough mornings. I cannot say I mind, and I know that Switch-off certainly doesn’t.