Gone a day ahead, as I may not be able to write tomorrow! As per usual, brilliant stuff from everyone.
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell No. 20 Squadron R.F.C Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
February 8th, 1916.
On the morning of the 6th, I was called into the Major’s office. Sheepishly knocking on the door, I heard the gruff rumble of the Major as he commanded me to “Step in”. Following his order, I stood nervously to attention at the foot of the grand oak desk, in which the Major stood behind, a glass of scotch rolling around in his hand. “Campbell. I have some things for you”. Me? I thought. “Firstly, your wound stripe” he continued, and produced a small patch, laying it flat on the table”. My eyes flicked downward at it, and I felt strangely prideful. “Secondly, good news for you. I have here for you a 48 hour pass, a small reward for getting the squadron’s first confirmed Hun”. A small, square piece of paper was placed next to the wound stripe. I stood dumbly, staring down at the sheet. After an uncomfortable half-minute, the Major raised his eyebrows. “Well? That’s all!” he said. “Thank you, sir,” I mumbled, scooping up the pass and the stripe and clearing out.
Outside, a broad grin broke out across my face. A 48-hour pass! Without further ado, I found a Corporal idle enough to drive me to St. Omer, where I was dropped off outside Jacky-Boy’s hotel. Inquiring at the front desk, I found out which room was his, and climbing the ornate marble stairs I found it, knocking on the door. Jacky answered, and a surprised smile crossed his face. “What’s this? Moving in?” he asked, gesturing to the small suitcase I had brought with me. “But of course! I’m on leave, don’t you know!” I replied. He laughed, and stepped aside to let me in. Jacky-boy’s own suitcase had already been packed, as he was due to return to Clairmarais later in the day. We lounged about indoors until it was time for him to leave, at which point I escorted him downstairs, and wished him luck back at the squadron.
That evening, I walked through the tall rows of houses and shops, hunting for souvenirs to send home, and to take back to the squadron. Stumbling upon a vineyard, I decided to purchase two bottles of red wine for the Ack-Emmas, to thank them for breathing new life into 6338. For my rigger and engine fitter, I bought a third bottle, for them to share. Next, I found a knitting shop, and purchased myself a cozy scarf, striped red, white and blue, which was thicker and longer than the old knackered white scarf I currently owned. After finding an establishment to have my dinner, which was an exquisite meal of chicken, potatoes, vegetables and a small amount of silverskin onions, doused in a thick gravy, I retired to the hotel, where I informed them that I had taken ownership of Jacky-Boy’s room. They seemed not to mind - the halls had seldom been filled since the outbreak of war.
On the 7th I had a most welcome surprise, as somebody rapped upon my door. I opened it to find the familiar beaming face of Edith, his cap cocked lazily to the side of his broad brow. “Morn’ boyo! The Major’s given me two days aff. A’m next door to ye!” he boomed, and I grinned. As he placed a hand on my shoulder, I noticed that he, too, wore a wound stripe.
We visited Jeanne in the Vincent for our lunch that day, stepping in past the little gingham-check table and sitting by the unoccupied piano. The Cafe was surprisingly quiet, with only two or three other people dotted around the tables. Jeanne sat with us a while, as she had no work to keep her. She was very curious about flying. “So, Graham, what is it like to soar above the sky?” she asked me, wistfully, as if in a dream. “Well, it’s very cold, and unless you’re in a pusher then it’s quite filthy, too”. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Pusher?”. “Oh, yes, our Fees - the aeroplanes we fly, that is - have the propeller in the back, and it pushes us through the sky”. She nodded, beaming. “I see!”. Now, she turned to Edith, her eyes quickly running over him. Not turning her gaze, she then asked me “and who is your friend? We have not met before, I don’t think?”. “Oh, of course, where are my manners! Jeanne, this is Ken Edith. Ken, this is Jeanne”. Edith smiled, extending a bear-like paw towards her. “Charmed, hen”. Before she took his hand, she jumped up in her seat, wearing a look of surprise. “Oh, Capitane Edith! It was you who flew with Graham and shot down the Hun! Jack has told me about it!”. Edith’s smile faded slightly. “Aye, terrible shame, that. Poor devils burnt aw the way doon”. His gaze became distant, as Jeanne shook his hand.
After a pleasant lunch, we returned to the hotel. As we passed, the receptionist called out to us. “Monsieur Campbell? The telephone went for you. A Monsieur Reynard says you must call the squadron immediately”. Puzzled, I thanked her, and took up the phone, dialling the Adjutant’s phone.
“Adjutant, 20 Squadron”. A sharp voice barked. “Yes, hello, it’s Sergeant Campbell. Sergeant Reynard called me earlier?”. “Yes, that’s right. Hold - I’ll fetch him”. After several minutes’ waiting, the familliar voice appeared at the other end of the line. “Cammie?”. “Yes, Reynard, what is it?”. I heard a tired sigh from the other end of the line. “Bristow’s been shot. So has Burr. They got the Loos show the day, and ran inty a Fokker. They got their bus hame, and were bustled inty an ambulance as soon as they got doon. I don’t ken how bad it is. I thought you should know, is aw”. I went cold, my feet suddenly being made of lead. “What! That’s awful! Do you know where they were taken?”. “Naw - A’ve been trying to ask aroond, but nothin’ so far. A’ll ring if I find oot”. The initial shock begun to pass, and I cleared my throat. “Well, thank you for calling, Jimmy. I do hope they are both okay. See you soon”. I hung up.
Edith looked at me, questioningly. “Bristow and Burr are shot” I explained, “had a scrap with a Fokker over Loos”. Edith’s head lowered, and he sighed deeply. Finally, he muttered “Hard luck, poor buggers”.
In the early evening, Edith and I resolved to head back to the aerodrome, to see if there was any news. To our shock, we found the mess in an uproarious state, with a binge in full swing. Faces drunkenly grinned as they belted out tunes to Pearson’s piano, and Switch-off appeared, staggered into me, hugged me, and handed me a drink. “What the bloody hell is this?” I demanded of him, and he pointed over to Reid, and his observer, Billinge, who were being hoisted up by some of the chaps. “They’ve gotten a hun! A Fokker!” Switch-off cried, before breaking into a fit of inebriated laughter and skipping back into the folds of the binge. Edith and I looked at each other, and let out a mighty cheer. No. 20 Squadron had shot down a Fokker! It felt exactly like we had pushed a needle into the heart of the Kaiser himself.
As Reid later explained to me in his drunken excitement, two of our machines had been charged with ferrying a B.E over Roulers on a Reconnaissance show. The B.E crew had been ordered to take aerial photographs of the various roads and rail junctions in which the Hun was supplying reinforcements and munitions to his troops. As they had circled overhead, Billinge spotted no less than five Hun machines coming towards them. Two were Eindeckers, and the other two were Biplane machines.
“Aviatiks?” I asked him, and he shrugged. “Well, we didn’t have a chance to find out, dear boy! As soon as we had seen them, one of those brutish Fokkers went straight after the poor old B.E! Well, the Hun made the mistake of crossing our front, and Billinge gave him a burst as he went. Immediately he slipped away, and his engine begun to smoke - he dove down, and was gone! The second Fokker was a cheeky fellow, and potted away at us, but he was a bad shot and didn’t stick around for our reply. Just now, the Adjutant came by to tell us that it’s been put down as an Out-of-Control!”. Grinning, I heartily congratulated him, and decided that the mess was as hot a place as any to spend the remainder of my 48 hours. Shamefully, poor old Bristow was completely forgotten during the celebrations.
Today, ‘B’ flight had the morning reconnaissance show over Loos. Normie flew the camera Fee, with Bristow’s seat being occupied by Carey Winchcombe. It was half past Eight when we crossed the lines, making our way into Hunland. The sky was shrouded in an ominous cloak of dull grey, and the wind seemed to be offended by our intrusion, as it whipped harshly into our faces as our buses strained to push forwards. More than once, our machines were nearly stalled by the force. As I scanned downward, I noticed that the ground war was no less miserable, as between the gaps in the looming grey clouds below, the occasional staccato flash of an exploding artillery shell would appear, followed by a rolling cloud of debris.
Our Fee received a particularly hard knock from the furious air, which sent us pitching towards Normie. Yelping in surprise, I ducked under him, the undercarriage of his plane sailing over my head, before breaking out to the right and pushing the throttle full forward. I could still see my flight by the time I had recovered, and strained against the weather to settle back into position. Before long, Graves fired the wash-out signal, and we all hastily retreated home.
On February 7th, 1916, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C's first victory was recorded by 2.Lt. G.P.S. Reid (Previously of the Seaforth Highlanders) & Lt. F. Billinge (previously of the Manchester Reg't). The victory was recorded at around 9AM, and was awarded as an out-of-control. Reid & Billinge were crewing FE2b A6331 at the time. The nature of the victory matches the description in this installment of Graham's career! The victory would mark the first of many for 20 Squadron.