Wulfe, an excellent chapter, which is what we've come to expect from you!
Fullofit, I'm glad Gaston has had a few peaceful patrols and hope he get a real scout soon. Lou, good to see you too have a patrol without Eindeckers. and congratulations on the fourth confirmed victory. Scout, same to you. A long patrol into Hunland is no fun in a BE. Loftyc, welcome aboard! Lederhosen, some great photos again. How long are you out for? I haven't tried the bombsight yet, but it looks pretty impressive. MFair, Jericho is quite the personality. Let's see what happens next. Collins has a surprise for him. And he's out until 10 March.
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Twenty-Two: In which I ruin my new coat
The weather turned fair, with cloudless skies the colour of sapphire. Orders came for another raid on Bertincourt-Vélu. It was quite one thing with the protection of foul weather, but in this glorious sunshine it would be like driving through Berlin in a London bus emblazoned with signs saying “shoot me.” Of course Captain Mealing volunteered that he and I would go.
It was a long flight for we crossed the lines at 10,000 feet and approached the target in a long and shallow dive. Wilson and I let the bombs go at the same time as the captain, and we immediately headed west for our lines. Miraculously, the only other aeroplane in the sky seemed to be a lone Hun two-seater which passed high above, oblivious to our presence.
At lunch that day we received repayment for our time at the Curtiss School, and I thought of planning an outing – perhaps if the weather turned bad long enough we could get to Paris! And then, after the meal, I retired to my little shed to write letters. A knock came at the door, and Jericho came in. “Howdy, pard,” he said. I’d read of cowboys saying such things, but I’d never really heard them before Jericho. The cowhands in Saskatchewan when I was a boy were more likely to say “Hey, pal.” Jericho sat in a chair and waved off an offer of a drink. I put on a pot of coffee and he insisted on “doing it proper,” taking the spoon and coffee tin out of my hands.
“I got you something,” he said. He placed 25 pounds on the table.
“What is that for?” I asked.
“That little binge in Bethune a couple of weeks back when I caused a little disturbance.”
“Take that money back,” I insisted. “That was a heck of a night and I wouldn’t have missed it.”
Jericho stared at me, just like the Wild West gambler in the motion pictures before he shoots a fellow across the table. He insisted he owed me. And I was fairly sure he’d be insulted if I said no. We shook hands, had a coffee, and talked about the leave schedule. We each had at least another month to wait, I more than he. And then he left.
The following afternoon, after a late morning patrol up the lines, I went to see Major Harvey-Kelly. After some bartering I wrote a cheque to the squadron recreation fund, and acquired the fine horse Jericho had named Moon, plus a spare saddle and bridle and a year’s supply of fodder. I went to the stable, saddled the big gelding, and found Jericho.
“I have something for you,” I told him, and led him to Moon. “He’s yours, my friend. There is no way anyone else is going to have a say about this horse.” Jericho protested. “Fair enough,” I said. “I’ll put one condition on it. You have to ride with me when we get a chance, and help me improve. I ride like a sack of potatoes, I’m told.” Jericho stood stroking the horse’s muzzle for a long time before looking over his shoulder and saying it was too much.
“Not really,” I told him. “With your Puritanical temperance leanings, I’ll probably save a couple of hundred quid buying drinks in the mess before this war’s done.”
The next day, 28 February 1916, I shall remember. We were to photograph the Hun lines at Messines, for Cpl Wilson it was something of an examination. Both our machine and Captain Mealing’s would take photographs and the results would be compared. We approached close to our assigned patrol area when, about two miles off, two Fokkers headed directly at us. I turned away and made for our lines, but Mealing’s machine turned north instead. I saw both Huns turn towards the captain, so I turned back east and began to climb towards him.
Mealing now was heading west and he passed over our heads with a lone Fokker giving chase. Wilson fired a long-range burst at the Hun, who left Mealing and dived on us. We had a rare time for nearly ten minutes. It reminded me of a bullfight, for the Hun would charge us head on and I’d slip to one side to avoid his fire. Wilson would fire a few rounds as the Hun passed. Then we’d turn and do it all again and again.
We were losing altitude and the wind was blowing us farther over the lines. The time came for us to make a run for it. The Fokker closed in and Wilson got a few good cracks at him. I thought once the Hun was going down, but within a minute or two he was behind and below and we took a raking from his Spandau. A searing pain burned my right cheek and blood flowed freely over the long white goat fur of my new jacket. I put a gloved hand to my face and it felt odd. The Hun was behind us again and firing. I lurched our Morane from side to side. Wilson got only a few rounds off, as the poor fellow was being thrown about. I took off my glove and touched my face. I felt my teeth without opening my mouth and knew something was seriously wrong. The blood kept pouring down and I felt quite faint.
"The time came for us to make a run for it."
It was a lucky thing that the Hun got windy and headed home, for I’d forgotten all about him in my desire to put the machine down on the first bit of friendly level ground, a field southwest of Armentières. The Morane, as was its custom, floated upwards at the last moment and nearly stalled. I stopped blipping the engine in time for it to recover. We touched down and I blacked out. Unable to focus, I held the blip switch down long enough for the engine to cut out. We stopped on a deep rut, the tail rose, hung in the air a moment, and crashed back down with a splintering crunch.
Some Tommies appeared and helped Wilson get me out. I felt sick to my stomach, having swallowed a great deal of blood. My lovely new goat-fur jacket looked like the remnant of a pagan sacrifice, thoroughly sodden and matted with crimson.
“Where are we?” Wilson asked.
“Just got here ourselves,” a soldier answered. “They call the village over there Sally-on-the-Loose.”
Sailly-sur-la-Lys, I realised. I laid down on the frozen ground and felt my face. There was a large flap of skin hanging down from my cheek. The underlying cheek, teeth, and jaw seemed fine. It was cold.