Some really terrific and colourful tales here these days. I loved the western hootenanny, MFair!
I'm on the road with work, but managed to squeeze in a short installment of Collins's memoir...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Twenty-Three: In which I am sewn up and meet our General
I must have fallen fast asleep in the field, for the next I knew was when I awoke in a loud room where a fellow was holding a mask over my face, and the next after that was awakening in the middle of the night in a bed to find my face bound up with gauze. I tried to get up but was very dizzy. The room was lined with beds down both sides and men were coughing or snoring and one fellow was quietly having a good cry. I went back to sleep.
In the morning a large and plain nursing sister woke me with a cheery greeting and proceeded to unwrap my dressings to see how we were doing this fine day. “We’ll have you out of here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” she breezily announced. An orderly brought me a mug of wonderfully strong, sweet tea but denied me a cigarette. Before long, a young doctor arrived with an older doctor in tow.
“Feeling a little better this morning?” he asked and I nodded. Then he asked me to blink. I blinked. Apparently this was an achievement. He asked me to smile and I smiled, so he went on to ask me to wiggle my nose, frown, flare my nostrils, and pout. After all these facial gymnastics he nodded. “You’re a lucky fellow. Something sliced your cheek open as if with a razor. A bit of metal of some sort, clearly. We had to stitch you inside and out, so it’s clear broth for a couple of days, I’m afraid. The good news is that there appears to be no damage to the facial nerves. You likely came within an eighth of an inch of having a permanent droop on the right side of your face. As it stands, there will be nothing more than a dashing sabre scar once you’ve healed.”
“When may I leave for my squadron?”
“We’re going to watch you for a day or so to ensure there is no infection. You’ll have to stay on the ground for at least a week, though. Can’t put grease on your face, and there may be an elevated risk of frostbite when flying. I should think your own MO should be able to clear you for duty after the stitches are out. No need to take a bed away from someone who’s really hurt, what?”
I was very relieved. The next morning I was discharged and was picked up by one of the squadron motorcyclists. A kind sister had washed off my leather coat and my clothes had been laundered. The feeling of cold wind in my face as I bounced along in the sidecar, clinging to the envelope with my discharge papers.
I arrived in time for lunch, which consisted of sausages and eggs for the others and bouillon for me. The place was in fine fettle as we’d had a run of success with the Huns of late. Swany Swanson had bagged his fifth confirmed kill and Mark Jericho had dedicated a fallen Fokker to me as well. It surprised me how much this felt like a true homecoming. The Major made me duty officer for a couple of days, which at least kept me busy, although it necessitated my sleeping in the squadron office. But what made it more bearable was learning that the duty NCO was Sergeant Wilson. My faithful gunner had been assessed as an observer in my absence and had performed flawlessly with the Major himself as his pilot. He had called in fire on a Hun battery down near Pozières, putting the thing out of action after only four ranging shots! His photographic work had also been assessed as first rate. So now he was Temporary Sergeant Wilson. Being a sergeant, he was no longer permitted to volunteer as a batman, so our ability to share a drink together in my shed was diminished. Nonetheless, we met twice daily for duty rounds and he entertained me with his assessment of the senior NCOs. “Yon Technical Sergeant-Maister’s a proper numpty. Then there’s Sergeant Malone – man’s an eejit.” And so it goes.
I celebrated the first day of solid food by riding into Lillers with Jericho for a lunch of omelets and chips. We got back just in time to find General Trenchard and his ADC, Captain Baring, pulling up to the squadron office. I expected a parade, but the General simply inspected the place. He stopped outside my shed and I watched at a distance as he read the sign advertising Madame FouFou’s House of Pleasure. He seemed amused, but I kept my distance. He later came to the mess for a few minutes and spoke to us about the fine job we were doing and how the Fokkers were not as good as we had feared and how Mr. Swanson was setting a fine example of how to handle them and should be commended. Captain Mealing mentioned that there was a Morane pilot at Depot who had been assigned to a Fee squadron and the GOC told Captain Baring to make a note of it. I heard Captain Baring later telling the General they had to be off in order to make an appointment. When the General remained in conversation with the flight commanders, the Captain became quite insistent, although maintaining a good humour. To my surprise, General Trenchard yielded readily, suggesting to Major Harvey-Kelly that he had to keep on Baring Time.
In all the fellow impressed me. I did not expect that one could get much past him.