Argh! What rotten luck, Carrick! I'm sorry to see Nigel go West! Gaston - keep knocking 'em dead!!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
March 9th, 1916:
On the morning of the 8th, we received some brilliant news - Normie’s been given ‘B’ flight! It seems that Graves has assumed command of ‘A’. Normie’s first show as the flight lead came only two hours after the Major gave the news - we were on a reccie show over Ghistelles, all the way past Nieuwpoort and into Hunland. We knew well by now that the Hun gave us the most trouble up North, and so our excursion to the coast was met with apprehension. Especially so for me, as I had yet to form a bond with my new observer, Lieutenant Ricard. For the most part, Ricard was a perfectly decent sort, polite, and had a decent wit about him - but he possessed neither the charm and fearlessness of Edith nor the cold professional approach of Ackart (at least - before he went loopy). That being said, a man will soon show his quality in the air, and I only hoped as we boarded our buses that Ricard would see us through.
Eventually, we were settled into position, running our engines to warm them up as snow had fallen overnight again, and at the sign of the Very light going up Normie pushed his throttle forwards, the streamers on his struts jerking awake and slithering behind his plane like two red snakes. Reid followed, and I took up my position at the back of our formation. As we banked left to cruise towards our climbing point, I could swear I saw Normie beaming, leaning out the side of his cockpit and straining to get a glimpse of his streamers on either side of the engine.
As we flew, still low yet, I watched my shadow dancing over the wooden fences that separated the farmers’ fields, and at one point as we passed an old church I smiled as a pair of children attempted to chase it, to no avail. Once they had tired themselves out, they stopped and turned to wave at us. Ricard held up a gauntleted hand in response, beaming at them. We got into our formation, and begun to climb just East of St. Omer. Strangely enough, on such cold days you almost wish you were in the thick of it, just to take your mind off of the bitter chill. Ahead of me, Ricard huddled into his flying jacket, shivering and rubbing his legs. I longed to release the controls and do the same. As we spiralled upwards, I saw three more Fees approaching from the direction of Clairmarais - I assumed it must be Graves, taking McHaig out to see the lines for the first time. A third plane was with him, but I could not figure out who. We waved to them as we crossed close to each other, before going our separate ways. At 6,000 feet we turned for the front.
Soon the coast had come into view, and I watched the sunlight creating flashes of light in the waves beneath the clouds. How peaceful they looked, and beautiful beside the unmarred French countryside. For a moment I found it bizarre that we should be in the middle of a war here, but my gaze was quickly faced back towards the ugly scar of no-man's-land. I searched high for a sign of the hated Fokker, but nothing made itself apparent to me, so I stopped to adjust my mixture. In the freezing temperature, my glove begun to stick to the metal lever, and I came dangerously close to Reid’s tail while unsticking it. Falling back into formation, I held a hand up to Reid in apology. To my surprise, he seemed amused.
We passed by Dunkirk, and then Nieuwpoort, and soon we were crossing into Hunland. Very far to the East I saw the vague shapes of machines going about their work over the lines. One machine, alone, was gradually approaching. After staring at its shape for a while, I decided that it was an Aviatik. Pushing the throttle to full, I raised my nose and begun to climb to the German’s altitude, before signalling to Reid. He tried to wave me back into formation, but my blood still ran hot over the loss of Jacky-Boy. I begun to separate from our formation, facing the Hun as I climbed. Ricard had now seen the Hun also, and readied himself at his gun.
As we got close, the German spotted us and immediately turned for his own lines, going into a shallow dive, but by that point it was too late - our Fees would easily catch the slow German biplanes, and I was soon diving below his tail, lining up a shot for Ricard. I got close - so close that I could trace the intricate patterns of the Hun’s flying wires - and Ricard opened fire. In disbelief, I watched as his tracers went completely under the enemy machine. Pushing the throttle forwards once more, getting even closer and gritting my teeth - by this point we could practically have used bayonets - and thankfully the tracer found its mark. Suddenly, a thin trail of black smoke rolled out from the engine, and the Aviatik’s speed dropped drastically. Dipping my nose, I went underneath and to the right of his machine - we were practically wingtip to wingtip, and on the side I read the serial number of his fuselage - C.318.
Reacting, the Hun tried to swing away, and a hail of bullets hit our machine, but Ricard, unfazed, let another drum of Lewis go, and suddenly the lower right wing of the Hun machine buckled and tore away. I watched as the plane looped downwards, its propeller coming to a lethargic halt, before climbing back towards the lines, satisfied. It was then that I realised I had dropped low in my chase, and was flying nearby a Hun balloon - and we had just shot down the only thing keeping the Archie from firing at us. As soon as the Aviatik fell away a torrent of archie came up at us, and I desperately weaved my way back towards the lines. Rickard flinched with every near miss ahead of me, ducking partly down into the nacelle of his turret by instinct.
Thankfully, we soon made it back to the lines, and I begun to climb back up with the intention of relocating my flight. I came back up to 4,000 feet, and headed back into Hunland, alone. Only a minute or so in, I spotted a sickening sight - three ‘Fees’, being stalked by a trio of Fokkers! I watched in desperation as the scouts attacked, with the Fees immediately banking around for home. One Eindecker was content to let them go, but the other two continued to give chase. Desperately I climbed to try and reach the fight, to intervene in some way, but I was too far below, so instead I swung back out towards the mud - if I could not catch them, I would have to head them off at the pass!
Fortunately, the Fees had gone into a shallow dive, giving me more of a chance of intervening. Climbing for all old A6333 was worth, I tried to run in front of the nearest Fee - but was forced to watch, dismayed, as my colleague and his pursuer cut across my path. Then, something happened that I had not considered - one Fokker swung around to face me.
He rolled onto his back and swooped down to meet me. Ahead of me, Ricard defiantly charged his Lewis, as I pointed us towards the dreaded monoplane. We circled once, sizing each other up, before tightening our turns. I was the more daring of us - pushing my bus to the edge of stalling, I pulled behind the German and Ricard immediately opened fire. The Monoplane dropped its nose, before going up into a zooming climb - all the while, Ricard’s Lewis spat its hatred at the Hun. As his aircraft lost speed, I came so close that Ricard could have reached out and touched the Monoplane’s tail. Instead, he fired a constant burst - before the Lewis abruptly fell silent. I watched the Monoplane drop into a spiral, as Ricard fumbled in his Nacelle for another drum of Lewis ammunition. Frantically, he turned to me and shook his head - he was out of ammunition!
There was nothing for it - I watched, enraged, as the German machine wallowed through the sky back towards its own lines, its propeller stopping just as it crossed over into Hunland. We had him dead to rights! Seething, I turned for home.
Upon returning to Clairmarais, I frustratedly pulled off my flying gear. “What a bloody show, eh, Campbell?” Ricard asked me with a grin, and I nodded. “We showed those Huns. That’s for ol’ Jacky, eh?”. Rickard laughed. “That fellow in the Monoplane looked right back at me as I was firing - you should have seen the look on his face! If only we had been in the camera bus I would have had a fine souvenir!”.
We stepped into the mess, and to my surprise Graves came bounding up to me. “Brilliant, Campbell! Rickard! Simply brilliant!”. I looked at him, puzzled. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I saw you send that Fokker packing - that’s the right stuff, by god!” he exclaimed. As it had turned out, Graves had been carried across the lines, along with McHarg and Pearson (who was the third Fee I had seen) by the wind, at which point the Fokkers had fallen upon them.
Grinning, Graves turned to the bartender. “Three whiskeys, neat! We must celebrate!” he roared, but then stopped. “No - hold on. We have to put in your claims!”. Before I knew it, I had been bundled back out onto the aerodrome and was being marched to the Adjutant’s office. Graves tore the door open, with a now-excited Rickard tumbling in behind him. Excitedly, they begun to yell at the poor Adjutant the details of our scrap. “He was chasing my bus first! And then, and then -” “Yes! We got behind him, and I fired right in to his back, I say! He turned around, and -”
The adjutant slammed a fist onto the table. “QUIET, you rowdy lot!” he boomed, red in the face, before slumping back into his chair. “Now just what in the blue hell is all this fuss?” he asked, in a calmer tone. Rickard went to speak, and the Adjutant held a hand up. “One at a time. Please”. For the next ten minutes, we explained what had happened. “One Fokker, claimed as shot down and witnessed” the Adjutant muttered to himself, as he jotted down our recount on a sheet of paper. “Okay. I’ll phone it in. Any other claims?” he asked. Although expecting nothing of it, I told him of the Aviatik. “Ah, yes. Lieutenant McNaughton mentioned seeing an F.E.2 bring down one of those. Very good. Is that it?”. Dumbfounded, I nodded.
That night in the mess we held a binge like we had not held since our arrival. Songs were sung with fresh enthusiasm, bottles of alcohol disappeared into our stomachs, and for a moment we had gone back to our jovial selves of three months ago. Even Switch-Off had overcome his grief for the night, and was in his usual overly-drunken state. Eventually, McHarg and I carried him back to our Billett.
This morning, I awoke with a headache to a furious rapping on the door. “Coming!” I roared, but the knocking persisted. “Curse you, you’re worse than the Hun!” I cried out, irritatedly rolling out of bed and blearily pulling the door open. In front of me stood Jimmy Reynard, a broad grin on his face. “Worse than tha Hun? That’s nae way te speak te a pal!” he said, a cheeky smile on his face, before throwing his arms around me. I begun to laugh - both in happiness and in relief at the return of my friend - before stepping aside to let him in.
“So glad you’re back, Jim. Oh - just so you know - briefing is in an hour”.
What a busy morning!!
It seems that Mr. Leffers' luck against Fees would not improve! After reaching the respectable number of 9 victories and being awarded the coveted Pour le Merite, Gustav Leffers would eventually be killed in a dogfight with a flight of F.E.2bs of No. 11 Squadron while flying a captured Nieuport XVI Scout on December 27th, 1916.