Lou, Madame FouFou’s Travelling Show must have been quite a sight. With the boys moving into huts at the airfield, we may have to repurpose the hut. Amazing work with Daniel – celebrating the MC by downing yet another Hun scout!
Fullofit, I’m sure the trip to Charleville was a bit more nerve-wracking than Gaston let on. Your Croix de Guerre will make it all worthwhile, I hope. You may have to buy a longer ribbon to hold all the palms and stars they’ll be making for Gaston. And your most recent photo of the Archie at the moment of shell-burst was incredible.
Lederhosen, we’re all a bit jealous that you get to introduce the Roland. Congratulations on your Caudron!
Carrick, you’re getting adventurous in that two-seater Nieuport! Please watch those shell craters.
MFair, I’ve got to get Christian to give Sgt Wilson lessons with the Lewis. Hats off for your latest Fokker. And I loved the poem.
Scout, I hope Aleck will have more of those uneventful trips until he can get off BE2s.
Wulfe, I heartily thank you for playing big brother to our Moranes. I wish only that I’d have Graham watching over my flight on some of the deep patrols. The photographs of the most recent fight were beautiful, and your description of poor McHarg’s crash was a teeth-clencher. Well done again!
Thanks to Lou, and MFair, Collins and Wilson have remained Fokker-free for the past few days...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Twenty-Six: In which we bid farewell to Auchel
14 March 1916 – I flew alongside Captain Mealing and Sergeant Bayetto once again as Mealing and his observer, Erik Hoskins, photographed some new defensive works on the eastern side of Vimy Ridge. It was a clear day with scattered clouds scudding along like a fleet at sea. The grimy cityscape of Loos lay before us as we bounced in the rough air. Strange how sometimes the best weather makes for rough flying. Two French scouts stayed above and behind us – a wonderful feeling. As we turned west again, ninety minutes in, a lone Hun two-seater passed by a few hundred yards to my right and slightly higher up. I couldn’t help it. Swanson was batting Huns out of the air like clay pigeons and I was determined to bag one. I turned about and gave chase. Unfortunately, as soon as I turned about the wind, which was unusually out of the east, slowed us down and we watched as the fat two-seater receded into the distance, still unaware of our presence. We turned home to face a dressing-down from Mealing for leaving the formation.
The next afternoon after my patrol I joined Jericho and Swanson for a long ride to Choques, where we had a drink (coffee for Jericho) in 10 Squadron’s mess. When we returned to wash up before tea, the entire airfield was abuzz and all the squadron lorries were lined up at the edge of the field. The corporal-groom ran over to meet us and demanded the horses, as he had to account for all the saddlery. In our absence orders had arrived that we were to relocate to the nearby field at Bruay. There was an advance party from 18 Squadron already fussing about, clearly eying our creature comforts and my hut like a band of marauding riffs. We told them to bugger off and Swany, like an Egyptian slave-master, commandeered several men to help us jack up my hut and fashion some axles and wheels, thereby converting Madame FouFou’s House of Pleasure into the oddest wagon in all of France!
The field at Bruay was a good one, not hemmed in by terrils and houses and trees like the one at Auchel. It lay just south of the town of Bruay on the western side of the road from St-Pol-sur-Ternoise to Béthune. The other ranks were billeted in huts alongside a lane that skirted the north side of the expansive field. Not all the work was yet done, and a group of German prisoners who were building the place were under canvas (and under guard) a little farther west of the field. Several fine wooden buildings with corrugated roofs lay east of the north-south main road and housed the workshops. Next to them were the officers’ huts, sturdy wooden structures segmented into six two-person rooms each. The officer’s mess and associated kitchen was close by. Next to the main road at the edge of the field were several Bessoneau hangars as well as some wooden permanent hangars. We of No 3 Squadron were to be its first occupants.
We were at a loss for what to do with Madame FouFou’s, for I was now sharing a room in the hard standings with a new pilot, Fred Dalton. Jericho and Swanson were sharing a room in the other building, closer to the mess. I asked Swanson and Jericho if they would mind, given the beautiful stained glass and shelf brackets they had crafted, if we set the hut up across the road at the north-east corner of the field and lend it to the non-commissioned pilots and observers so that they could remain closer to the officers while still being on the same side of the road as the other ranks. They agreed without a second thought and I went to discuss the matter with the Major and disciplinary sergeant-major. The sergeant-major said he’d approve, but if the matter created problems in the sergeants’ mess he would put an end to the arrangement.
We stood down on the 16th and put our new home in order, and Dalton and I managed a trip into Bruay to buy a carpet, table, oil lamps, cloth hooks, and curtains. Dalton even found a fine painting of a reclining nude to grace his side of the room. One of my cases of Yukon Gold whiskey had disappeared in the move, but the other found a home under my bed.
On the 17th I flew with Mealing and Sergeant Bayetto to Athies to drop bombs on a rail depot. The place was a good distance over the lines and I was admittedly nervous. We were supposed to meet up with some DH2s from 20 Squadron, but they failed to appear. The clouds forced us down to 3000 feet and I was not fond of flying that low so far into Darkest Hunland. As it happened, our bombs found several buildings and, I believe, an ammunition store. There was a rather large secondary explosion. We wasted no time heading home and arrived safe and sound, not having seen a single enemy machine in the air.
"... our bombs found several buildings and, I believe, an ammunition store."
On 18 March we visited the Hun aerodrome at Haubourdin and dropped several bombs on some Fokkers that were lined up on the field. I saw a burning hangar and several plumes of smoke, but do not believe we destroyed any aircraft. It was a pleasure to turn in over the low trees at the south end of Bruay field and touch down without having to come so close to disaster.
I made plans to ride over to Auchel as soon as I could to say a proper farewell to the Poirier family who had been so kind to me there.