It's been a quiet few days for many of us due to the poor weather, but 77_Scout is a major exception. That was a hair-raising escape, and an excellent video. Your poor wingman deserves a VC. The scene of his landing was outstanding.

An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins

Part Eighteen: In which I discover some of Cpl Wilson’s past.

The weather was absolutely filthy all week, but every night at suppertime the dispatch rider would deliver the orders from Wing and Major Harvey-Kelly would retire after the loyal toast to the anteroom and sit with the flight commanders. And every morning we would take off into the rain, or snow, or sleet, or rain and snow and sleet. We completed our assigned tasks and saw not a thing in the air all week.

They call our machines Parasols for a good reason. If you’ve ever gone out in a windstorm with an umbrella, that is good practice for flying a Morane in driving snow in February. On the 12th, for example, I returned with the Major and Sergeant Adams, a new man. The Major was keeping his hand in the game by spotting for the heavies down near Vimy. As we returned home, I kept a wide berth of the other machines. The wind was throwing us all over the sky. More than once I looked down at the ground, only 2000 feet below due to our need to stay under the low cloud, and saw it unmoving. With the engine at full revs we were immobile! Over the aerodrome, I cut the throttle and kept the nose well down to keep control. Levelling out just above the grass, the Morane suddenly shot skyward, lifted by a strong guest. Then it slipped left and I opened the throttle. Three times I came within inches of settling onto the field only to find us fifty feet in the air. In the end we landed at the far extremity of the field, the undercarriage cracked.

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Searching for home

I wondered. Were the Huns up in the air, simply hidden by cloud? Or were they cosily ensconced in some château, sipping brandy by a fire and eating sausages while happily abusing Belgians? Were we the only ones playing silly-bugger in freezing fog and driving sleet? I shall have to have a word with General Trenchard when I see him next.

Swanson is back and is serviceable form! He was up in St-Omer for the past week. We’d been told he was shipped to Boulogne. I told him that I hadn’t met a Hun since he left and that I hoped he did not plan to spoil our luck by returning.

My little hut has brought no end of fun to the squadron. On Friday, I found a pig in the parlour. On Saturday, there were three chickens. On Sunday, I burned my carpet. On Monday, I found a French woman of questionable status in a state of dishabillé – she introduced herself as Madame Foufou. Only on Tuesday, 15 February, was I able to head there after a morning patrol and catch a short nap without farmyard friends or fear of scandal! What’s lovely, though, is the way fellows pop by in ones and twos for a drink and a chat. I’ve offered the Wing Padre the use of the place whenever he needs a quiet chat with someone in the squadron, so that may result in an end to the japes.

Because I do not officially live at the field, I share a batman named Higgins with Theobald and Carruthers, who lived a couple of doors down from my billet in town. Lillywhite, who lived at the Poirier house with me, has been troubled by an injury he received last year when hit by a car. He has been shipped home to England.[1] Talbot, an observer, has taken his place.

All this is to say that my own observer, the indomitable Cpl Wilson, has become a self-appointed batman for my little shack. He drops by periodically to do my boots and buttons. I think mainly he hopes I’ll offer him a drink. I shouldn’t, but I do. I find the man an endless source of interesting anecdotes. On Tuesday I shared a drop of Yukon Gold with him and asked him what he meant when he said this was his second time as a corporal. He explained that he came to France with the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1915. Because he was a strong fellow, good with a rifle, and unwilling to take any rubbish from anyone, over the next six months he was twice promoted. Apparently, his battalion was returning to the lines south of Ypres one pleasant afternoon and the newly-minted Sergeant Wilson was ordered to take twelve men ahead of the main body and post sentries outside the drinking establishments of a town they were about to pass through. The Scots know their soldiering, you see. So Sgt Wilson, ever enterprising, posted his men and then set himself outside the town’s largest beer hall. The only snag was that instead of keeping the passing soldiers out of the place, he charged admission. And when the battalion cleared the town, Sgt Wilson was in the back of the place, paralytic with drink. He rejoined his unit two days later, was charged with several offences, stripped of rank, and given Field Punishment No. 1. After that he was made the company runner, only to learn that the previous two runners that week had been killed by a sniper crossing a section of damaged trench, something they had to do repeatedly.

So inspired to join the Flying Corps, he came to be a fixture about the little shed.[2]


[1] Robert Lillywhite was promoted Captain later that year and killed in an accident in November 1916 while flying a DH2 near Catterick.

[2] Wilson’s story is based on my own grandfather’s tale. My grandfather, however, did not make it to the RFC. He served in the trenches from 1915 to 1918 with the KOSBs and, in the latter part of the war, served with a Labour Battalion. He was already 35 years old when he joined the Army. Working in a Glasgow iron foundry made the trenches look like a good idea.

Attached Files Snow squall.jpg