Scout, the first flamer was always a shock. Your boys are getting shot about. I think it’s nearly time to say goodbye to Quirks!
Wulfe, 5644 might not have been Patchwork, but it did the job and got you home for leave. Heartfelt congratulations on getting your commission. I can’t wait until we get your first impressions of the officers’ mess. Now to survive Rosa Lewis’s soirées. I loved the photo you had of the platform at Victoria Station. And I’m thoroughly enjoying sharing in the shopping as Graham spends all Aunt Ina’s money!
Fullofit, you captured well the sense of a long flight in bad weather. But you’ve been rewarded with a brand new Bébé! You’ll be the envy of everyone in the campaign very soon. Dreux’s nameless Nieuport can’t have been a good luck charm. The video of the attack on the Aviatik really brought home how quick and horribly the end could come to you in the air.
Ace_Pilto, we’ve missed you flying because you’re – flying. I’m sure I’m not the only jealous one here.
Hasse, wonderful to get another instalment from Julius. It will be a pleasure to read of his exploits in the Fokker.
Carrick, I love those clear days up near the Channel.
Lederhosen, you wasted no time in putting your Roland to the test with the As des As, Navarre! Good job getting away from that one.
Lou, I love the idea you PM’d about the dinner at the Poiriers’ with the fair Georgette. My contribution follows.
And MFair, your story was a real lesson in boar hunting, western style. The blow-up at Captain Griffin was a nicely fashioned piece too. I thought for a moment that Jericho was in for it. An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Twenty-Eight: In which I have my toughest fight since coming to France
We had a couple of absolutely unflyable days, a break we truly needed but a shock after a bout of spring-like weather. Meaghan, one of our large hut’s two batmen, woke me on the morning of 23 March with a tray of tea mugs. He struggled for a moment trying to remember which was mine.
“The yellow enamel,” I offered, and he passed the steaming tea to me.
“Sleet and snow again,” he said. “Nothing is up all along the front, sir.”
There are no better words. I propped myself up and checked my wrist-watch on the side table. It was after eight. Normally I’d be sitting in the Morane, waiting for the command to switch on. Instead I listened as Meaghan scooped more coal into the stove outside the door. Across the little room, Fred Dalton was snoring as his tea grew cold on the dresser.
Last Sunday, I’d suggested to Swanson a ride into Auchel with Jericho to say a proper goodbye to the Poirier family with whom I’d billeted, Swany was always up for a chance to pay court to the lovely Georgette at the café there. We’d kicked around the idea of scrounging up some real, “to hell with rationing”, food and laying on a dinner for the elderly couple, and Swaney planned to ask Georgette if she’d help us not ruin it.
Not to be outdone, Jericho vowed to take us boar hunting, and Swanson had gone on about trapping quail. I resolved not to trust the Poiriers to this Wild West Show and considered a drive back to Neuville, where I’d met the New Zealand tunnelers who had filled a bombed-out basement with a fine supply of pork chops on the hoof. I’d bring over a bottle of Yukon Gold and some cash. A pig shouldn’t be hard to come by and would be most welcome if the Yanks came back empty-handed. But first I needed to enlist some help.
I found Sergeant Wilson after breakfast brewing up a pot of tea in my old hut, which the NCO flying crews were using as a bit of a gathering place. It was at the northeast corner of the field, not too far from the officers’ huts. Relieved to find Wilson alone I stepped inside.
“Tea, surr?” he said.
“I’d prefer a whiskey, Sergeant,” I replied.
“Yes, Sergeant. Perhaps a spot of that wonderful Canadian stuff you were lucky enough to find.”
Wilson stared at me, measuring my mood. “Ach, dinna fuss about that, surr,” he said. “Ah wisna gaein’ tae pinch it on ye, surr. Ah wis jes’ pulling yer leg.”
I took the tea and smiled. “There’s no worry, Sergeant. Consider it a gift. But you owe me.”
“Owe ye whit, surr?”
“I need you to fetch a big hessian sack. I’ve arranged for a motorcycle combination. We’re off to buy a pig and your job is to make sure we get back with the creature safely. And bring one of your bottles.”
“Tae drink?” asked the sergeant.
“To barter. We leave in ten minutes.”
The wind was cutting, but I’d dressed for it. Wilson hadn’t, and he huddled in the sidecar, covering himself with the hessian sack for warmth. A constant muttering of Glaswegian obscenity was his only comfort. It took nearly a half-hour to approach Neuville-Saint-Vaast, and we were held up by a squadron of the Kings Bays on exercise behind the town. We drew close to the first houses and encountered a roadblock manned by provost guards. We could not enter the town without special passes, they said.
I was desperate. There was a wonderful basement full of pigs just a few hundred yards away, but there seemed no way in. I drove about a bit, thinking of abandoning the motorcycle and finding a way past the guards, but the approaches were all too open for stealth. Dejected, I putted west back along the road in the direction of St-Pol-sur-Ternoise, where I might be able to buy some form of meat so as not to show up empty-handed. Just outside a little village called Capelle-Fermont I noticed a flutter overhead. Six large geese passed in front of us, coming down behind a low-walled farmhouse. I turned off the main road and stopped the bike.
“What noo?” grumbled the frozen Wilson.
“Sergeant, you are about to capture a goose,” I announced.
“Ah’m no!” But there was no arguing. We climbed a low stone wall and found ourselves in a snow-strewn field of straggly stalks of something agricultural. Gale-driven sleet stung our faces. On the far side of the field a stand of barren willows hung over a steam, which my map told me was the marshy passage of the River Scarpe. There was movement under the trees, and a cacophony of honks and grunts. We approached cautiously.
“Whit am ah t’dae noo?”
“Simple. While I sip on this fine whiskey, you take the hessian sack in one hand, place your free hand around the neck of the fattest bird, and place it securely in the sack. When done, the rest of the bottle is yours once we’re back at Bruay with the goose.”
Wilson gave a resigned sigh. He did not appreciate that I was giving his Calvinist soul the chance to purge itself of sin through sacrifice. I reminded him of that, and he reminded me that the King was giving him six bob a day to sit behind me with a Lewis gun. And I reminded him that I was the one who had to land the bloody plane, so off he went. I’m sure Jericho was a stealthier hunter than Wilson, for the sergeant was stumbling through the brush with the grace of a rag-and-bone cart trundling along the cobbles of Glasgow. I watched between sips of Yukon Gold as he held the bag open and grabbed the nearest white-fronted goose. There was a furious drumming of wings and bloodthirsty screeches as no fewer than four birds leapt to the defence of their friend. Wilson shambled out of the brush without the sack or goose, limping and bleeding from his left hand.
“Jings! The b*stards have teeth like badgers. And they hammered the sh*te out o’ me with their wings.”
“Confidence, Sergeant. That’s all you need.” I took another swig. “Here, I’ll hold the bag and you use both hands on the bird.”
The avian street gang waited until I bent over to retrieve the sack. Then they all attacked at once. One knocked me on my back in the mud, while two others tried for my face. Wilson leaned against a tree, convulsed in laughter. We retreated and planned our next assault. My plan this time was to hold the bag in front of my face. The stupid creatures didn’t recognize the threat and I was able to creep slowly up to the nearest big bird. With a quick snatch I clasped its neck and held on for dear life as the enraged goose tried to dislodge my forearm from my elbow. I was screaming and cursing at Wilson, who finally pinned its wings while I stuffed the goose head-first into the sack. The other birds were raising holy hell and pecking at our breeches and we made our way at the double to the wall across the field. A very large French woman was shouting something at us from the farmhouse so we took the wall in a leap and stuffed the goose-sack into the sidecar, climbed aboard, and took off westward at high speed through the snow squalls. We left the main road at Tincques and had just turned north towards Bruay when Wilson let out a piecing scream and stood bolt upright in the sidecar. The goose’s head was out of the bag and its beak was clamped onto the good sergeant’s groin. Wilson beat the poor beast senseless with the whiskey bottle he’d been sipping from and finally settled back into his seat, complaining about all he’d sacrificed for his country in this war.
We decided to drive directly to Auchel, as neither of us had any idea how to dress a goose. We pulled up in front of the café where Georgette worked and Wilson stayed outside, as the place was pretty much officers’ territory and he was covered with mud and blood. Frankly, I was not much better.
“Jimmee!” Georgette squealed as I entered. “Mon Dieu, what has ‘appened to you?”
I asked if she knew someone who could dress a goose. “But in France the goose, they are always naked,” she exclaimed. I rephrased my questions several times until she understood, and then I held out the heavy sack of quivering, angry bird. Without flinching, Georgette led me to the kitchen where she reached inside and withdrew our nemesis, one hand firmly around its neck and the other pinching back both its wings.
“Take the wings like this,” she said, and reaching for a cleaver, sent the wretched creature to goose Valhalla (where it must still be feasting and boasting with other goose warriors). “See you Sunday, Jimee. Love to Swanee!” She wiped her hands on her apron.
As I turned to leave, she called to me. “Jimmie,” she said. “This bird? He has been in a knife fight, perhaps?”