I spend a few days working out of town and so much happens. MFair, glad Archie didn’t get you too badly. 77_Scout, Aleck is lucky to get the odd milk run to Loos. It’s nearly time to get off BEs. Fullofit, it’s hardly worth the effort to shoot up a railyard with a single Lewis gun. Wulfe, another few excellent tales. I’m fascinated by your cobbled-together Fee. Hope it brings better luck to you than to its former masters. The encounter with the two Aviatiks and the Fokkers was a tense read, but then you outdid it with the account of the fight with Greeny and his two companions. Congratulations on your fourth confirmed kills. Very well done. Carrick, good luck with Emile.
Hasse, I’m sure Julius will soon have plenty of action when he graduates to single-seaters. HarryH, I’m looking forward to a good Zep-hunting saga soon. In the meanwhile, enjoy the survivability of Marston. Lederhosen, that Walfisch is a good ride in early 1916! Good luck. Lou, that Swanson is a bit of a rogue, I suspect. I hope he enjoys his lessons with Georgette. Collins is still having a quiet war by comparison. In fact, I suspect your man is simply exhausting all the Fokker pilots in Flanders, leaving none for the rest of us.
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Twenty-Five: In which I appraise Swany’s desire for education
On 12 March we spotted for a battery of medium guns, bringing some hate down on a suspected observation post and then on a crossroads between the enemy’s second and third lines east of Arras. Like most of our missions of late, we saw no air-Huns except for some two-seaters passing far off to the east. The next morning, however, was somewhat more of an adventure. Again we drew a late morning patrol, which suited me fine. I slept soundly until nine, at which time Madame Poirier knocked at my door and invited me to join her and Monsieur for coffee and some very fine sponge cake in their little dining room. My schoolboy French sufficed to understand that they were overjoyed to have received a letter from their older son. He was in the Verdun area, they believed, because he spoke of a large battle. Their younger boy was still convalescing. There was a profound sadness as they spoke of the war and their prayers for their children’s return. I wondered how my mother and Dorothy were faring back in Cambridge. Somehow these simple folks’ family bond seemed stronger than any I had known since my father died. Madame Poirier went into another room and returned with a rosary that belonged to one of the boys. She insisted I carry it dans l’avion.
I walked over to the field and met Captain Mealing and Sergeant Bayetto in the B Flight hangar. We were to execute a photo-reconnaissance of the lines near Monchy. Wilson and I, as well as Sergeant Bayetto and his new observer, Captain McNaughton, were to provide an escort while Mealing and Hoskins did the real work. It was a glorious morning. The world was in full thaw and the smell of wet grass, mud, and dung spoke of spring. As the Ack Emmas primed the cylinders I climbed into the Morane. A lone Parasol was touching down at the other end of the field. It trundled past our machines – Swanson’s bus. Swany held up two fingers, which I took to be a rude greeting. I returned the gesture enthusiastically. It was only after a few seconds I saw that he was mouthing the word “Fokker” and again holding up two fingers. Then, to make his point, he twirled his hand downward over the side of his cockpit. The bugger had knocked down two more Huns! How does he do it?
Our flight took us up to 6500 feet as we approached the Hun lines south of Monchy. In the distance we could just make out two machines from C Flight, about a couple of miles ahead of us and a little higher. I was surprised to see them suddenly turn and head west. I scanned the skies carefully. There they were – three monoplanes giving chase. The Huns soon noticed us and turned towards us. Mealing fired a red flare. This was he predetermined signal to abandon the patrol and regroup over Arras if the situation permitted. I turned west. Two of the three hostile aircraft closed on Wilson and me. The third followed Mealing and Bayetto’s machines, which were a little farther away.
I began weaving gently as the two Huns closed on us in a gentle dive. Wilson began to fire in five-round bursts. The nearer Hun side-slipped and fired, and I could hear rounds hitting the fabric of our wing. I turned into the attack, losing some height as I tried to get under the Fokker. Now the second HA was behind us, firing steadily. Wilson swung his gun around and forced him to break away. The compass spun wildly and it took a few seconds to get by bearings from the sun. Now I could see the smoke haze over Arras. I dived away, but the first Hun was back and his every burst hit our machine. This time I zoomed in the turn. The Fokker passed beneath. It was a dark olive colour and so was his partner, who was trying to climb under our tail. I spiralled down and gave Wilson a chance to fire a few more bursts. Then I noticed a friendly kite balloon about a half-mile off and I dived towards it. The balloon’s defending Archie batteries put up a bit of a shield. The Huns broke off. We hadn’t sent them down in flames like Swanson, but at least neither Wilson nor I had been punctured. I headed north to Arras and climbed back to about 6000 feet, but after fifteen minutes neither Mealing nor Bayetto showed up, so we headed home.
"The nearer Hun side-slipped and fired, and I could hear rounds hitting the fabric of our wing."
There were no patrols up after three-thirty, so Swanson, Jericho, and I headed into town, where Swany promised to stand us a nice tea – or rather coffee for the Americans. Swany, it seemed, had taken it upon himself to learn French, and his professeure was the thirty-somethingish proprietress, a sultry mademoiselle named Georgette. She was an attractive woman who filled out her black dress and cinched in her white apron to show her form off. And she was clearly preparing her student for his final examination, or so Jericho and I quickly surmised. Her “Doux Randolfe”, however, was oblivious to all this.
“Hogwash,” he insisted. “Georgette is old enough to be my...my...”
“Slightly older cousin?” I said.
“Kissin’ cousin?” asked Jericho. “Just how much are you leaving that girl as a tip, anyway?”
Swany flushed beet red. “You idiots have no appreciation for learning.”
“So what’s the next lesson, Swany?” I asked. “Is it ‘Où est la plume de ma tante?’ or ‘Voulez-vous dormir chez moi?’”
We fell silent as Georgette came over to refill our coffee cups and place a little cream pastry in front of each of us. “Wat you boys talkeeng?” she said, and placed her hand on Swany’s shoulder. Jericho caught my eye and nodded imperceptibly.