I feel like I am letting the side down. So much wonderful story telling and I am struggling to write anything worth the virtual ink. To be fair to myself, it has been pretty quiet for 16 squadron. I’m also in the middle of moving house, which is a little bit disruptive.
------------------------------------------------------------------- “It is unusual perhaps, but simple in itself,” Stanley explained as he stirred a sugar lump into his tea. “16 Squadron formed in February last year. There were some old hands, and they have long since gone on to bigger and better things. The rest of the squadron was filled out by fellows fresh from England. Barring losses, those chaps all stayed together and now they’re all due some time on Home Establishment. As a result, even though we only came here in December, Thayre and I are the longest serving pilots on the squadron.”
“Have there been many losses?” Wykeham* asked from across the table. “It has happened,” Stanley replied carefully. “Don’t be so foolish as to think that what we do here is safe work. Don’t be complacent, and you should be alright.”
February had been quiet in the air. When flying had been permitted by the weather, the pilots of 16 squadron had been involved in routine army work.
On the ground, many pilots had reached the ends of their time in France and an influx of new pilots had replaced the old closed alliances with a more open club. Pilots from other squadrons leavened the group with experience as flight commanders.
The plan for the 27th of February was something special. After breakfast the whole squadron would take off, assemble over 2 squadron’s aerodrome a Hesdigneul and cross the lines to Don. The Germans had something there that HQ wanted to make a show of force over. There was nothing obviously deserving of an entire squadron there, so speculation had been rife after the briefing. Stanley’s favourite theory was that the Kaiser was paying a visit.
The weather turned out to be terrible. Mist and low cloud thickly covered everything and Stanley circled for an age over Hesdigneul without seeing anyone. He started to wonder whether he had the name of the rendezvous wrong.
In another BE2, Captain Allcock was circling at Hesdigneul. This was his old aerodrome before he left 2 squadron to be a flight commander with 16. He couldn't find any of the rest of the bombers and eventually turned back to La Gorgue. The southerly wind sped him home.
Thayre was well and truly lost. He had not been able to find anyone else, and so had decided to proceed alone to Don. When he reached his target the bomb release wouldn't budge and so he was still loaded with bombs when the Eindekkers attacked him.
The lieutenant escaped the German machines through a series of crazed dives, zooms and turns, before diving into a cloud to finally lose his assailants.
When things had calmed down, he found himself flying in thick cloud. His compass and map had fallen out of the cockpit in the fight with the Eindeckers and the glimpses of the ground that Thayre did see were completely unrecognisable.
Thayre set off in what he hoped was the right direction and resolved to find somewhere to land. At one point he descended through the low cloud to find nothing but sea below him!
Thayre was weary, lost and certain that he had long since left France. By the time the cloud began to thin out, Thayre was flying on the last fumes of the tank.
Ahead there was a small coastal town with a pier and a large park behind it. It seemed so peaceful and distant from the war.
“That can’t be Belgium or France” Thayre said to himself. “I’ve only flown to Holland!”
Landing now meant internment, but with no fuel, there was no choice.
Back in France, Allcock was standing outside the squadron office when Stanley landed.
“Where have you been?” “I went to bomb Don.” Stanley smiled wearily as he shrugged off his flying coat. “Don’t think I got near. Visibility is bloody awful up there. I did find a nice Hun aerodrome with some helpful black crosses to guide me. I left my eggs there. Shame to waste them, what?”
“Most of the squadron seems to have gotten themselves even more lost,” Allcock told him, while still scanning the skies. “A few have reported in from Dunkirk. I guess they forgot that the wind is southerly today. With you back, I’m waiting for news on Thayre.”
“I wonder where he blew in to? I’ll go and make my report now Captain.”
The BE2 put down in the park well enough. The cut grass was better than the runway at La Gorgue in fact. As he stopped the engine, Thayre saw men in civilian clothing approaching him curiously. He raised his hands and addressed them in the customary fashion of an Englishman dealing with foreigners. That is to say, by speaking English loudly and slowly.
“I SUR-RENDER! SUR-RENDER! DOES ANY-ONE SPEAK ENG-LISH?”
“I’d reckon you’re a touch addled son,” An elderly gentleman replied. “This ‘ere is Kent.”**
It was the first day of March and Stanley watched the eruptions of dirt as the bombs landed. His own hit the field at Avelin on the landing field. He might have cost the Germans an hour of filling holes, but it wasn’t going to win the war. Minot’s bombs landed amongst the tents behind the hangars. That was better, Stanley admitted.
As they circled for home, Stanley’s gunner grabbed for his Lewis and pointed it upwards. Stanley looked around to see two monoplanes diving on them.
“What was I saying about complacency the other day?” Stanley asked himself.
The Eindekkers had nearly caught Stanley out, but not quite. Veering and Jinking, he threw off their aim and soon he was sure that he would be able to avoid his Eindekkers’ best efforts. Hopefully Minot would be able to as well.
As they skidded and jinked across the sky in a painful crawl westwards, Stanley saw a horror. Three more Eindekkers coming in from over Phalempin.
“This is getting a bit hot!” Stanley muttered into the roar of the engine. One of the Eindekkers attacking Stanley turned for home. That still left one Eindekker close by and three more descending to the fight.
Stanley’s BE2 slowly crept westwards as he turned and dived and zoomed to throw off the German scout pilots. It was painfully slow, but they were getting to the lines.
Over the lines, the Eindekkers seemed to give up. This Britisher had put up a good fight. Stanley thought he saw one of the pilots give him a wave before turning away.
Wasting no time in setting a course for home, Stanley was surprised to see a lone BE2 a mile or so away to his north. As they flew their paths converged and Stanley was very pleased to see that it was Minot. Minot definitely was waving.
Stanley waved back. ----------------------------------------- *Wykeham is Lieutenant the Honourable Laurence John Evelyn Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. The 3rd son of Lord Saye and Selle, Laurence would have made an excellent companion for Stanley since they have very similar backgrounds. However, he was injured a week after joining 16 squadron and moved to a different squadron when he was recovered.
**The actions of Allcock and Thayre during the ill fated Don raid are as accurate as I could write them. Stanley’s real mission that day was to bomb Houplin, which is why he ended up bombing an aerodrome. Thayre landed at Herne Bay on the north coast of Kent, So he was very lost. Most of the squadron became lost and landed at Dunkirk. There were mists and low cloud (3000 feet thanks to Thayre’s account) and a strong wind, which must have been coming from the south, which is unusual for the region. Don is south east of La Gorgue, as is the rendezvous at Hesdigneul, so for so many people to end up on the English channel is really something!