Raine - another masterfully crafted addition to Collins' tale. Great story about the French family!
Lederhosen - See! Told you those Rolands are dangerous! I certainly wouldn't fancy going up against one...
Carrick - looks like Emile's wasting no time getting into the thick of it!
Fullofit - looks like the CdG has only spurred Gaston onward! Good show sending that Hun down! I sense an ace in the making...
Scout - I think my man needs a transfer to your outfit for some peace and quiet! Run-ins with Fokkers are bad for the nerves...
Lou - Hope Swany can catch a break from those Einies soon...if they're not careful they'll make a triple-ace out of him!
MFair - a game of inches indeed! Jericho's introspective episodes are always enjoyiable, really adds character to, er, the character! Nice touch with the poem as well.
hope I haven't missed anyone!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell No. 20 Squadron R.F.C Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
March 17th, 1916.
On the 16th, six of us were sent on an O.P. to Loos. As we were told by the Major, the Morane and B.E. Squadrons in the sector were being mercilessly persecuted by Fokkers, and so our orders were to “Get over there and put those cocky monoplanes in their damned place”. Graves was put in charge of the show, with Reid, Normie, McHarg and Edwards coming along too. Edwards was in a huff with me after I had gotten his bus shot about, and so I reluctantly offered him 6338 until his own machine was repaired. I tried to bite back my disappointment as he accepted.
Much to Rickard’s horror, the bus I chose to take instead was the would-be write-off that the chaps have nicknamed ‘Patchwork’ - my hidden gem. Staring mouth agape at the machine, he turned to me. "Bloody hell, Graham, I can just shoot myself if you want and save you the trouble of crashing this pile of driftwood!". I rolled my eyes. "I'll shoot you mself if you don't get in". I ignored the cocktail of confused stares and bouts of laughter coming from my wingmen’s machines as Patchwork was wheeled out onto the field. The sound was soon drowned out by our Beardmores firing up, and the staring ceased as we lifted into the air.
We approached the lines at 7,000 feet, flying in two groups of three. Behind Graves and Reid, I scanned the sky in anticipation for those accursed Fokkers. As we crossed into the mud, I took a moment to look below and watch as the trees grew sparse, then disappeared, leaving only the pockmarked grey-brown earth. Trench-lines had begun to appear as I turned my gaze upwards once more. Ahead of us, Normie, McHarg and Edwards had already crossed over the top of the Hun trenches, and were circling around on our patrol route. To the South-East, I watched a flight of Moranes lazily crawling along their patrol route. They looked frail and anemic, and I rather thought that the poor devils on board had been given a rotten hand.
It was then that I saw three more shapes, high and behind the Moranes. Smaller, and faster, and horribly familiar. Fokkers. I watched in horror as the Hun Monoplanes pointed their noses down and fell, hawk-like, onto the oblivious Parasols. Graves had noticed too - he swung his bus around, with Reid and I close behind him, as we opened our throttles wide and rushed towards the Fokkers. Spotting us bearing down on them, they promptly broke off their attack and dove for their own lines, with Graves and Reid in tow. Fearing a ruse, I curved over the top of the fleeing Moranes, placing myself within their formation. Looking to my right, the observer of the closest machine was gleefully waving at us.
'Patchwork' meets the famous Moranes of No. 3 Squadron!
I flew with the Moranes for ten minutes or so, before zooming up above them, wagging my wings in farewell, and turning for home. I couldn’t help but feel pleased as I watched the three Moranes disappear to the West, no doubt shaken, but still alive. About fifteen minutes after I had landed, Graves and Reid made their appearances, gliding down and slowing to a stop. Unfortunately, they had returned empty-handed: Their quarry had zoomed down to the closest Hun aerodrome and landed shortly after our arrival.
We were in high spirits that night, and the songs continued late into the evening. Eventually, growing weary (and beginning to feel woozy from the drink), Switch-Off, McHarg and I retired to our Billett. We were awoken about two hours later when the door swung open with some force, announcing the arrival of a heavily-drunk Jimmy Reynard. “Bloody hell, Jimmy, we’re trying to sleep!” I cried out, which was met by Jimmy giggling like a schoolgirl. “Ach’m Sorry - Jez’nJoyin Masel” he replied, staggering in and nearly barreling over right onto the mortified Switch-Off’s bunk. “Deary me” McHarg laughed from his corner of the cottage, as Jimmy fumbled around like a blind man for his bunk. “Whuirs’maBED?” he angrily blurted out, feeling his way across Switch-Off’s bunk to mines. I shot backwards against the wall to avoid him as he slumped down onto my bunk to the cry of “Ach!!”, before shakily finding his feet and resuming his searching. By this point, McHarg was cackling at poor Jimmy’s attempts, as Switch-Off nervously watched, letting out a quiet “oh!” with every precarious lean and stumble. Eventually, Jimmy was victoriously fumbling over his own bunk. “Gnight, ladsss” he said to nobody in particular, and promptly fell forwards. I rather think he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
The next day, I awoke with a sore head and lethargically pulled on my uniform. From Jimmy’s corner of the cottage I heard a pained groan, followed by a sharp “It’s your own fault, Jim!” from Switch-Off. I chuckled in amusement - the youngest in the squadron, and the voice of reason!
After McHarg and I had managed to tear Jimmy from his bed, forcing a cup of strong black coffee down him, we headed to the briefing room. ‘B’ flight had the first show of the day - another O.P. over Loos. As Edwards was commandeering 6338 until his own bus was re-commissioned, I again took up ‘Patchwork’. Following Normie’s lead, we climbed up into the blue and headed for the mud. We reached the lines and begun our patrol route, and after scanning for a while we had seen nothing.
We had all but given up when we suddenly spotted a trio of Fokkers approaching us from our side of the lines. Turning to meet our attackers, our formations merged head-on, and I quickly saw one get behind Graves’ bus. I manoeuvred behind him and Rickard fired a burst, driving him off. It was then that I saw Reid’s Fee diving away steeply, with a second Fokker behind him. I had no time to assist, though - the third Hun was diving at me.
No. 20 in action!
I circled with him for a moment, before reversing and making a break for our lines. I had soon left the Fokker behind, but to my amazement they continued to chase us deep into our lines. I saw archie bursts ahead of me, and was astonished to see Graves still being chased by one of the tenacious Huns. I put ‘Patchwork’ into a dive, setting my sights on the insolent Fokker. It was over La Gorgue that I finally caught up to them. I could see the Hun’s machine-gun flashing, and could see the impacts on Graves’ bus as he attempted to spiral down to the safety of the aerodrome below. Immediately I was behind the Fokker, Rickard firing off a short burst. The Hun turned his attention to us, as Graves skidded away, his Fee trailing black smoke. As I circled with the Fokker, I saw a mass of airmen run out onto the aerodrome below to watch the spectacle unfold.
As we flashed past each other, Rickard opened fire again, and suddenly I saw sparks flashing on the Hun’s engine cowling - Rickard had hit him! Our opponent instantly turned for his own lines. I gave chase, as Rickard continued to fire at the now-fleeing Monoplane, but it was no good - I cried out in anger as the Hun climbed above us, out of reach.
I looked back down onto La Gorgue - there sat both Reid and Graves’ machines, and I could see the crews being helped out by some of the airmen. The rest appeared to be cheering, and waving! Remembering that La Gorgue was a Quirk aerodrome, I thought it must have been quite the thing for them to see a Fokker running home with his tail between his legs. Nervously I circled the aerodrome, trying to see if my wingmen were okay. After a few turns, I saw Graves hold one hand up high and begin to wave. Breathing out a sigh of relief, I flew home.
Shortly after de-planing one of the Batmen found me in the mess, and handed me a letter. Curiously, the return address was from Bertangles Aerodrome. Hoping it could distract me from my irritation over letting the Fokker escape, I hurriedly opened the letter, unfolding it and beginning to scan through the neat, small handwriting on the page. Within the first paragraph I knew who it was from, and my heart leapt as I continued down the page. The letter read:
How are you, mate? I hope this letter finds you well. I am pleased to let you know that I have finally joined you in France. I am very much enjoying the local towns, the food is excellent and the women are enchanting. I envy you that you have been here three months already!
How are the rest of the fellas from Hounslow? I caught up with Teddie Lawson shortly before I came over with No. 24 Squadron - the poor bugger was brought down by a Fokker in his first week and was sent home with a Blighty, shot through the arm and both legs. He is okay now, although he has to walk with a cane. I am glad to say he is not done with the war yet, though, and hopes to be sent back over soon.
I have had my first scrap with the Hun! The Fokker is no match for our De Havillands. We can turn and roll far better than they can. The other day I was behind a Fokker, and despite all his tricks he couldn’t get rid of me. I reckon he was terrified! Luckily for him, it turns out I am a poor shot, and he managed to duck away into a cloud before I could get him.
I hope to hear back from you soon. If ever you find yourself near our field, you must come and visit.
I couldn’t believe it! Brimming with excitement, I couldn’t wait for Switch-Off to return from his patrol to show him. In my head I had already begun to envision my trip to No. 24’s aerodrome - how I had missed good old Freddy! Completely forgetting about my unsatisfying scrap earlier, I begun to wonder if he would let me have a turn in his De Havilland when I arrived.
It was around noon when I heard the buzz of engines approaching, and excitedly I jumped up from my seat, rushing out with the letter onto the aerodrome. I saw two Fees come about, seeing Switch-Off’s crimson scarf flicking out from the nacelle of the trailing machine. Eagerly I begun to step towards them as their machines touched down, rolling to a stop. However, as Switch-Off clambered out of his bus I noticed that he seemed shaken, his face pale and clammy. As he pulled off his flying gauntlets, stepping towards me, I noticed his hands shaking. “Switchy?” I asked, and his eyes flicked over to me. “Those damned Fokkers…” he quietly mumbled as he passed.
It was then that I heard a third machine passing. Running back and standing at my side, Switch-Off turned to face the direction of the sound with a panicked expression. Together we watched as another Fee approached. Immediately I knew something was very wrong. The Observer hung limply over the side of the nacelle, his head bobbing up and down as the Fee’s wingtips quivered left and right. The rudder hung loose and seemed to swing in the wind. As the machine got closer, it nosed down violently towards the field before abruptly snapping up again. I now noticed several severed wires hanging loose and trailing behind the craft.
In mute horror I watched as the machine wobbled downwards, listing to one side, before dropping its nose and thudding sickeningly into the ground, the wings buckling and collapsing and the tail struts splintering and warping. One section of strut snapped and twisted into the path of the still-spinning propeller, being torn away completely and rocketed into the sky. In a flash, a group of Ack-Emmas rushed to the machine, dragging the two limp airmen out of the nacelle. One reached over, hastily switching off the magnetos, at which point the engine fell silent and the deadly propeller begun to slow to a halt.
Stretcher-bearers tore onto the field now, and I ran after them, feeling sick to my stomach. As I got closer I saw that both airmen’s tunics were drenched with blood, although I couldn’t make out where their wounds were. A medic was removing the pilot’s shattered goggles and flying cap when I reached the crowd. As they removed his scarf I got a better look at his bloodstained face. Closing my eyes, I let out a miserable sigh.