Lou - Seems that Swany's exhausted the Fokker supply in the area - the local wildlife will have to do instead, apparently! Sounds like No.3's in for a proper banquet.
Fullofit - I was re-reading your last couple entries. I can't kick the image of Dreux happily painting his machine with his tongue sticking out, completely oblivious of what was coming...Fantastic storytelling.
2nd. Lieut. Graham A. Campbell, No. 20 Squadron R.F.C (On Leave) London, England.
March 25th, 1916.
As I rounded the corner of Ryder St., turning onto St. James’ St., I marvelled at the high buildings on either side, likening them to great white rows of jagged teeth. I felt I was being swallowed by the city as I scanned the store fronts for William Evans, the Gunmakers. To my left I noticed the overpowering aura of tobacco, and upon further inspection noticed a Tobacconist, outside of which an Infantry Captain and a RFC Lieutenant were chatting away, comparing the harshness of their roles in friendly contest. “You’ve never had to go over the top, dear boy!” the Captain argued. The Airman scoffed. “Over the top? I do nothing but go over the top! You, on the other hand, are fortunate to never have experienced flying through a storm!”.
The tobacconist they lingered in front of looked inviting. Inside, several deep lounge chairs, of smooth black leather, hosted various officers, and even some NCOs crowded indoors, staring longingly at the rows of cigar boxes that lined the walls. I read the name painted above the door - James J. Fox - and felt the allure of the place, before again turning back to my search. Before I could take more than two steps, I heard the voice of the Lieutenant call out “Sergeant! What do you think? Are the trenches worse?”. I spun around on my heel to see the Airman and the Captain watching me expectantly. “Er, well, I can’t imagine either being worse than the other…” I replied, cautious to retain my neutrality. The Captain scoffed. “I just can’t see how flying one of those contraptions could pose any danger, unless of course you crash the bloody thing!”. An image of McHarg’s Fee slamming into the ground flashed in my mind, and despite myself I felt irritation rising.
Forgetting myself, I remarked “Every Hun has a machine-gun up there, Sir. And they only aim for you”. He reddened, as the Airman smirked. “Was it a Fokker?” he asked, and I shook my head. “Aviatik. We got the bugger, but his observer managed a burst away before his bus caught fire”. The Airman’s smirk faded. “Flames,” he mumbled, almost inaudible, his gaze distant, “awful way to go…”.
Leaving the airman to his private torments, I continued on, finding the Gunsmiths shortly after. Stepping through the door, I was braced to see the walls lined with hunting rifles, in-between which were cabinets displaying various revolvers against red velvet. The owner, an older man with a kindly face, approached me. “Good afternoon, Sergeant! How may I help?”. I explained to him my recent commission, and that I was after a sidearm upon the recommendation of a friend. His face lit up, and he rushed between several cabinets, unlocking them with a key and removing one or two pistols, lining his selections out on the counter-top. He beckoned me over, and he excitedly talked me through them. Colts, Webleys, Smith & Wessons, and one large ungainly pistol named the ‘Mars’.
I listened keenly as he explained the function of each pistol, but none seemed especially unique to me. Thanking him for his help, I begun to browse the display cabinets. Finally I had settled on a Browning, which the owner brought to the counter. As he was asking me if I required any ammunition, however, a previously unnoticed display cabinet, tucked neatly behind the counter, made itself apparent to me. Cutting him off, I asked “what’s in there?”. He peered back at the cabinet, opening it and removing three more pistols. As he laid them out, he sheepishly explained "These ones are a little more expensive". I chose not to interpret the comment as a slant. The second firearm he placed down - a revolver - immediately caught my attention. It was a Webley, short-barrelled - good for fitting into the Bus - finished in sleek black. On the handle sat smooth ivory grips. I slowly lifted the pistol - it was heavy, but not overly so. A good weight. Slowly, I cocked back the hammer, the cylinder smoothly turning in place, before sharply clicking into position. De-cocking the hammer, I slowly placed it down on the counter. “This one feels good.” I told the gunsmith, and he nodded. "An appropriate choice, Lieutenant".
Feeling quite the thing, I made my way into the sitting-room, asking an attendee to bring me a cup of tea, if he didn't mind. In there was a slim RNAS Sub-Lieutenant, around which three bright-eyed Airmen were crowded. I listened as he talked of a new Sopwith two-seat type, expected any day at the front. “It’s faster than the Fokker and the Aviatik, and manoeuvres like the devil!” he crooned, as the room listened in quiet awe. “And what’s more, not only does it have a Lewis in back, but also a synchronised Vickers for the pilot!”. Excitedly, the pilots leaned in. “How fast?” one asked, and a grin escaped the Sub-Lieutenant. “100 miles an hour!” That was faster than our fees - and even the DH2! “And, you know, No. 5 Wing already has a handful! We expect to be fully re-equipped by April!”. Sipping my tea, I wondered if No. 20 would be so lucky as to get their hands on this new wonder-machine.
I decided to turn in early, and avoid a third night of decadence on-the-trot. That night, I lay my Webley on the side cabinet and took a moment to look it over before settling into bed. As my finger ran along the ivory, my mind flitted to Clairmarais. How were the boys getting on, while I enjoyed Caviar and Champagne and made decadent purchases in London? For some reason unknown to me, I felt a pang of guilt, picturing Switch-Off, Jimmy, Graves, Reid, and all the others, shivering in their Nacelles, their eyes worriedly tracing clouds and flicking behind them in a constant search for the dreaded waves of Fokkers.
I lay awake for hours, battling with horrible, morbid thoughts of France, as from the floor below, the sound of the night’s Soiree drifted up and into my window. The music was a Beardmore - the loud, exaggerated laughter was machine-gun fire, the champagne bottles being corked were archie bursts. Panic begun to rise in my throat, and I bolted upright. As if the motion had shattered the image, I was left alone with only pitch darkness and the faint sounds of the social happenings below. Wiping my brow, I slumped back down onto my pillow, staring at the ceiling until a strange fatigue swept me away.