Raine - I continue to thoroughly enjoy An Airman's Odyssey. It reads very similarly to the pilots' memoirs I've read - Collins' escapades are very believable and masterfully crafted on your part! Hard luck with that Two-Seater giving you the slip - but glad to see that Collins also possesses the 3 Squadron fighting spirit - no doubt he's next in line to bag a Bosche. Also, stellar job levelling that Hun aerodrome. No doubt it gave those Fokker pilots something to think about!
Fullofit - Great storytelling with the airfield raid, and a wicked video to match! I am very much enjoying the development of Gaston's character - his clinical outlook in the air and his hunger for the next air victory is quite Fonck-esque..as Raine said, you'd better buy that elongated ribbon...as for the 8,000 RPM wonder-Fee...well, that's why I don't usually write when I'm falling asleep
I decided to get a little creative with the screenshots this time around!
Sgt. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C, Clairmarais Aerodrome, France.
March 19th, 1916.
I awoke early, before the sun was at full strength. Switch-Off was already up, and sat at the writing desk, penning a letter. In the far corner, Jimmy Reynard snored loudly, sprawled out across his bunk. McHarg’s bunk lay neatly made, and undisturbed. Hearing the signs of life behind him, Switch-Off peered over his shoulder. “Ah, good morning, Graham,” he said in a hushed tone, so as not to disturb Jimmy. “Morning, Switchy” I replied, as I clambered into my uniform. As I was tucking my shirt in, Switch-Off spun around in his chair to face me. “Say, Graham, never mind what I said last night. It was only the drink”. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. “Well, I told you not to try Gin” I responded, and winked. Chuckling, Switch-Off turned back to his letter.
Stepping through the door into the brisk chill of the morning, I lit a cigarette. After a short while, Switch-Off appeared behind me. “Hey, Switchy, I’ve had an idea”. “Oh?”. “We should build a fire pit out here, with a rack. If we got ourselves some chairs, we could sit out here in the mornings and hang a kettle, make some tea”. His face lit up. “Yes, that sounds lovely! I have a trip into St. Omer planned today, I can buy a kettle and some chairs, and I will buy some tins of tea from Jea-” he cut himself off, an embarrassed look flashing across his face. Sympathetically, I continued. “Good idea! Jimmy and I can get some firewood and build the pit”. As if summoned, Jimmy staggered out of the doorway, only half in uniform. “Jeez, the drink’s gonny kill me quicker than the Hun” he muttered, tapping me on the shoulder and gesturing at my cigarette. I handed it to him, half-smoked, and he joyously inhaled deeply, passing it back and blowing a thick cloud of smoke into the air, watching it evaporate.
As Switch-Off begun explaining our fire-pit plan to Jimmy, I turned back inside and fetched pen and paper, sitting down to write Freddy back. Thinking for a moment, I begun to write:
I am overjoyed to hear from you, and hope to see you soon. I am glad that you are enjoying the comforts of France. Sadly, life in No. 20 has been less decadent as of late. I am also glad to hear that you encountered Teddie, for I wrote him not long after he went overseas, with no reply. Now I understand why!
Switch-Off is well, but is prone to the stresses of war. But, I am afraid I have some very sad news, Jacky-Boy went West some weeks ago, brought down by a Fokker.
Hopefully I will be able to visit you when I am next on leave. I am excited to see your De Haviland machine! Our Fees are reliable in a fight, but the D.H.2 is a true hunter.
Yours, Graham Campbell.”
As I sealed the envelope, Jimmy poked his head through the doorway. “Righty-ho, shall we get te briefing?”.
‘B’ flight was given the morning O.P. over Armentieres. As Rickard and I boarded ‘Patchwork’, I couldn’t help but feel a stab of loss for my own wrecked bus. I noticed Edwards shooting us a guilty look from the cockpit of the now-repaired 6333. I can't say I bear him any ill-will for losing 6338. However, with my charm firmly affixed to the flight stick of 'Patchwork', I felt at home in the cockpit of the spare machine.
Graves led us skywards, and we turned into our circling climb, with Normie and Edwards’ buses taking station above us. The sky was grey, and the winds seemed not to want us up, and in the distance great beastlike clouds made their private migrations towards Hunland. We followed them, tensely watching each-other’s machines as the wind buffeted us about. In shaky formation, we approached the front, crossing over the top of Bailleul, and begun our patrol. As we reached the edge of Hunland we merged into a great towering wall of cloud, and I strained my eyes to keep track of the ambiguous silhouettes of my flight as they turned North-East. Suddenly, as we flew into a circular gap in between the clouds, a single burst of Archie appeared between my own machine and Reid’s. I was stunned - not only had the Archie gunners spotted us almost immediately, but their fire was accurate! We begun to weave gently to throw their aim off. A second burst appeared to my left. I turned to look at it, and caught a glimpse of movement out past it, in the direction of the mud. I focused on the shape - it was a lone Fokker, circling upwards in a creeping climb. I quickly realised my flight hadn’t noticed the Hun, who was now turning towards us, but before I could gauge his intent we were swallowed by the clouds once more.
Graves turned our formation Westwards once more, having become fed-up with the archie. Looking backwards, I could see the shape of the Fokker flashing between the clouds, drawing nearer. There was no question - he was hunting us. I pushed the throttle forwards and begun to climb, in anticipation of his attack, and below me my flight disappeared into the grey. Suddenly I hit another clearing in the cloud, and it was here that I chose to face my adversary. As Rickard readied the front gun, I violently swung ‘Patchwork’ around. Facing each-other head-on, we merged with the Hun. He immediately zoomed up above us, circling overhead and out of Rickard’s guns. I recognised this trick, and refused it, diving down towards our lines, and the wall of cloud. I saw that he had dove down after me, and was still at my tail when we broke into the grey again. We punched out the other side, and still the Fokker pursued me. I looked down, and saw the edge of the mud. My plan had worked - the Hun had come over to our side! I snapped back, and we faced each other head-on once more. This time he didn’t loop away - as he passed close to my left, I caught a glimpse of his face. Below his flying goggles protruded the tip of a long, thin nose positioned above a thin-lipped mouth and a short, stubby chin. He looked young and eager.
We both broke in the same direction, and flashed past each other again. This time, I changed my direction and - yes! We were behind him! The Hun tried to reverse the direction of his turn, but I stuck to his tail firmly. Now his eagerness had left him - we were drawing closer now on his tail as he weaved left and right, skidding away into a dive before pitching sharply back up, trying to zoom above ous once more. It was no use - I recognised each trick he tried in order to shake me. Drawing nearer, we got within point blank range, and, seeing his chance, Rickard fired off a twenty round burst. I watched as the tracers slashed a line up the Hun's tail and into the cockpit, at which point he snapped up as if hit by a bolt of electricity, before crumpling down in his seat.
I spiralled down to watch as the Fokker went into a steep dive, screaming towards earth and oblivion before finally smashing itself into matchwood close to the outskirts of Bailleul. It had fallen only 500 meters or so from one of our Observation balloons! There was no way they couldn’t have seen the victory. Satisfied, I straightened ‘Patchwork’ out and turned for home, only to see Rickard point above us. Looking up, I saw two Aviatiks hastily swinging around for their own lines. In glee I realised that they must have seen the whole scrap. That’s right! I told them in my mind, We’ll send the lot of you down!
As we put Bailleul between us and the mud, I checked my instruments and noticed that my fuel was running low. Deciding not to risk souring a successful day, I decided to put in at a nearby aerodrome. Fortunately, I soon spotted a small cream aeroplane sitting beside some hangars, and so circled down to land. Taxiing alongside the machine, I was surprised to see that it was a French Nieuport 10. It was my first time seeing one up close, and excitedly I climbed out of ‘Patchwork’, running over to the machine and examining it studiously as one may regard a fine work of art.
It was a truly elegant machine - its sleek, simple fuselage and angled wings hinted at speed, its single Lewis gun mounted over the wing promised fury. Longingly, I ran a hand down the Vee-strut, imagining myself at the controls of the Nieuport among the clouds, circling hawk-like above Aviatik and Fokker alike, indomitable. However, I was soon snapped out of my flights of fancy by the sharp sound of a throat being cleared behind me. Turning around, I was met with the sight of a short redheaded Captain.
“Afternoon, old boy! Engine trouble?” he happily chirped. I shook my head. “No, we were almost dry on petrol”. Still grinning, he nodded. “Rotten luck! But not to fret, I’ll have a Corporal refill your bus. Meanwhile, perhaps you would care for a drink in the squadron’s mess”. From beside ‘Patchwork’ Rickard immediately called out “Terribly kind of you! Show us the way!”. The Captain escorted us towards a quaint wooden house from which emanated the sound of lively chatter. Leading us inside, the Captain loudly announced “Chaps, we have another guest!”. A loud cheer preceded this announcement, as a roomful of double-brandies were lifted into the air. Turning back to us, the Captain, grinning, said to us “Make yourselves comfortable, chaps!”. At the same time, a Lieutenant pushed drinks into our hands.
Removing my flying coat and making for an empty armchair, I suddenly noticed an airman, older than most in the room, with a thin squared-off moustache and clad in a powder blue uniform. Approaching him, he caught my eye as I sat down in the chair across from him. “Excuse me,” I started. “Oui?” “That Nieuport outside, it must be yours!”. The Aviateur smiled and puffed out his chest. “Of course!” he said loudly, laugh-lines appearing around his eyes. I leaned in closer, keen to hear everything I could about the machine.
“I must say, it is a fine-looking aeroplane! I’ve never seen one up close before”. The Frenchman flashed a sharp grin. “But of course! Avions français are the finest in the sky!”. His patriotism jarred, but I ignored it. “Tell me, how does it fare against those Fokkers?”. “Monsieur, they fear us. Only two days ago I sent a Bosche scrambling for home like a dog! Oui, the Nieuport holds mastery of the air”. I grinned, imagining the nimble scout turning loops around its opponent, before placing my drink on the small circular table between us and extending a hand. “Sergeant Graham Campbell, 20 Squadron R.F.C”. The Frenchman winked at me as he took my hand. “Adjutant Hugo Pierlot, Escadrille 57.
“So, how come you’ve put down here?” I asked Pierlot, and he shrugged. “Je ne peux pas dire. One moment I was patrolling, the next my engine had fallen silent”. “Hard luck,” I replied. “And you?” he asked. “Oh, well, I was nearly out of petrol”. He laughed quietly. “What an annoyance. Ah well, I’ve come to worse places! I admit, you English make for good hosts”. He held up his glass. “Pour la liberté et la victoire!”. “To winning the war!” I responded, and we toasted.
I had just finished my brandy when the Captain that had introduced us appeared at our side. “Your machine is ready to go” he announced, and I stood up. As I did so, Pierlot also rose to his feet. “Monsieur, you have seen my machine. I wish to see yours!”. And so, after collecting a tipsy Rickard, we walked out onto the aerodrome, where ‘Patchwork’ sat waiting. The Frenchman looked over ‘Patchwork’ apprehensively. “Hmm. Er, she has seen many battles, no?” he asked, and I laughed. “Yes, she may not be as pretty as a Nieuport, but she’s a fighter!”. As I climbed aboard, Pierlot ran a hand across a re-stitched section of fabric, frowning as he did so. “Forgive me, Monsieur. I cannot say I am jealous”. I merely shrugged. Standing up straight, Pierlot offered his hand to me. “Bonne chance, Campbell. Hopefully we shall meet again”. Shaking his hand, I grinned. “Good luck, old boy. Until next time”. An Ack-Emma swung our prop, and I watched the Frenchman, standing by his Nieuport’s side, shrink away as we flew home.
That evening, Jimmy and I called upon a farmhouse a few fields across from Clairmarais, offering the elderly farmer and his wife there a bottle of whiskey swiped from the mess in exchange for three bundles of firewood. We then returned to our Billett and set about building our fire-pit.