Bad weather here too. Fullofit, I am worried for Gaston's virtue. But heck, he's French, so I guess he can go for it. MFair, now I'm starting to understand Jericho's "circumstances." 77_Scout, your hangar 1 is intriguing. I'm suspecting a dead alien...
Here is Collin's latest....
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Nineteen: In which I become a teacher
The snow returned with a vengeance, ending all flying from the 16th on. We had a series of briefings and lectures that first day, and after a particularly arcane treatise on the characteristics of various types of ammunition given by the armaments officer, Major Harvey-Kelly asked me into his office.
“The Technical Sergeant-Major is asking for his blacksmith’s assistant back,” he began. I was to lose Cpl Wilson, it seemed. The Major went on to explain that, while I had flown mainly as escort to himself or Capt Mealing, the day would be soon upon us when I should need an observer trained to do more than fire a Lewis gun. “Our principle task as a squadron is artillery cooperation, after all,” he explained.
“Begging your pardon, sir, but who says that the Corporal can’t spot for the guns. Or at least learn.”
“I’m sorry, Collins, but you’ll need an officer observer, I’m afraid.”
I begged shamelessly, because I’d come to harbour a strange trust for the big Scot. And I’d hate to lose him as a batman and occasional secret drinking companion. It was true that I couldn’t understand a third of what came out of his mouth, yet I knew that he was committed to giving the Hun a good fight. In the end, I managed to secure a commitment that I could retain Cpl Wilson for two more weeks and was welcome to train him myself. After that time, if he could convince the commanding officer that he could handle Morse, operate a Stirling wireless set, conduct target indication and adjustment, and operate a conical box camera. At the end of month, the Major and Senior Observer Officer would examine him.
I went to find Wilson and give him the news. He went pale but nodded and agreed that he’d be up for the challenge. Because I thought artillery spotting would be the greatest challenge, that was where we began. I had to review my notes from Reading and consult with some of our observers to refresh my memory.
On the morning of 17 February, I drew a six-foot-wide coloured pencil sketch map of a typical section of Hunnish reserve trenches, as seen from 5000 feet. It ended as a real work of art, with lovely shaded hills and roads, rail lines, gun pits, crossroads, and villages. We set up a table on sawhorses in a spare hangar and there I began with the theory of target indication.
“Your task, Corporal Wilson, is to signal your artillery battery, located off the map in this direction…” I rapped a corner of the map, “…to bring its guns to bear on a Hun battery located here.” I rapped the map again, indicating a row of tiny gun symbols next to a wood.
I handed Wilson a smaller version of the map, which I’d gridded off.
“What map square is the target battery in?” I asked.
“Awa’ wi’ ye, sir. The big map on the table doesna ha’e a grid, sir,” said Wilson. And so we began…
It took about an hour before Cpl Wilson could quickly relate his small gridded map to the “ground” below. From there we began the task of spotting the fall of fire. I gave the corporal the simple code we used. Once our friendly battery had laid out a letter “L” on the ground to show us they were ready to begin, his first task was to give a personal code and the map reference for the target. Briefing would have given us the time of flight, so I would call “boom” and count off the seconds. I then placed a cotton ball on the map to show the location of the first round.
I explained the use of the clock face system, with twelve o’clock facing true north (a concept that took some explaining). Around the target, one had to imagine a series of concentric circles at 25, 50, 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards from the target, labelled Z, A, B, C, D, and E respectively. Thus, a round falling 350 yards off target at the four o’clock position (i.e. ESE) would result in the signal E4. And once the rounds were nearly on target, the final adjustments were indicated with Y (10 yards) or Z (25 yards). After the last adjustment, the observer had to signal OK and the battery would then fire for effect.
We practiced all day and before long, Cpl Wilson was averaging only four or five rounds to bring the guns onto the target. Now he had to do it on a wireless set. Our wireless NCO set up a learner’s telegraph set with a transmitter in the hangar beside the big map and a receiver in my little hut. I was able to recruit a trained observer to receive and call out the bearing and distance of each adjusted shot. Or that was the plan, at least. Cpl Wilson struggled to learn Morse. I drilled him mercilessly all day on the 18th and all he knew with confidence were the numerals and letters A through E. It was a start.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a parcel from Canada. Mr. McCready (with whom I’d left control of the Collins Distilling Company) had sent a case of our new medicinal tonic, which was essentially Collins’ Yukon Gold Whiskey with a touch of cayenne pepper and cinnamon. He enclosed a letter from Mr. Carson, our comptroller, who thought we would not have to relocate from Ontario despite the looming threat of temperance laws. The tonic became a bit of a novelty in the mess. Smith from C Flight suggested that we make better tonic than whiskey.