Lou, thanks for the comments and all the inspiration for our story.
Maeran, it's always wonderful when you drop in and leave a yarn. Hope to see more of you down the road, but as Fullofit said, it's not a race.
Carrick, enjoy those quiet missions.
Fullofit, PLEASE post soon. Gaston's landing has me genuinely nervous. He's one of the DiD greats.
Here is Collins's latest.
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins Part Twenty-Nine: In which we bag a Fokker and enjoy an interlude
I spent the day after the goose hunt nursing my bruises and coordinating our dinner with the Poiriers – that is to say, I walked through a snowstorm to Auchel with Swany and Jericho to have lunch at Georgette’s café. We were frozen by the time we got there and fairly fell in the door. The two Yanks (Jericho hates it when I call him that) had already delivered their boar and quail, so when we arrived Georgette kissed them and cooed all over them. On seeing me, she dissolved into giggles she couldn’t control, interspersed with the occasional “pauvre Jimmee.” The fact it was all Wilson’s fault eluded them all. We enjoyed the inevitable omelette and frites and knocked off two bottles of vin rouge. Or rather, Jericho had a coffee, Swanson nursed two glasses, and I worked very hard on getting blotto. Georgette explained that she was making ragoût au sanglier in a red wine sauce, and explained she had only a day to hang the meat so a stew was the best way to prevent it from being too gamey. As for the quail, they would be baked with orange and chestnuts. The goose, she said (if I understood correctly) was to be done in a pan with a sauce of cream and sherry and cognac, and would be served with roasted vegetables and noodles. It would be a massive amount of work, and we began to make plans for what time to show up and who would do what. But Georgette was firm. We were to stay out of her way until eight, and only then appear at the Poiriers. She reluctantly made an exception for her “Cher Swanee,” but only on the condition that he stay out of her way and confine himself to carrying heavy objects.
Jericho gallantly protested, but to me the idea sounded marvellous. We were, of course, to supply the wine and spirits, and I undertook to supervise that provisioning expedition. Jericho said he’d drive if we could borrow the staff car.
Saturday morning was fair, and Meahan had me up at six for an eight o’clock takeoff. On Friday night, I’d been thrilled to learn that I was to lead a patrol – a first. Wilson and I would lead Sgt Bayetto and Lieut Theobald to reconnoitre the Hun lines near La Bassée. The mood among the Ack Emmas was jovial and there was a great deal of joking about. One of them, a man named Baxter, referred to Sgt Wilson as “Mother,” and I soon gathered from the honking that it was a reference to Mother Goose. Wilson must have had a few drinks and related his adventures, no doubt with me in a secondary role.
The wind was out of the east so we took off with the sun to our back and circled west of Béthune for about thirty minutes to gain height before heading due east to the lines. We rendezvoused with a lone De Havilland scout, crossed our balloon lines, and began searching the ground for our reference points. Scarcely had we passed over our front-line trenches than Wilson banged me on the shoulder and pointed ahead and above to our right. Three specks were approaching two or three miles off, and one of the specks began a dive towards us. A Flight was already over the lines and were near the end of their patrol. I saw two of their machines darting for home.
It soon was evident that three Fokkers were about to spoil our morning. I signalled to Sgt Bayetto and put about for friendly territory. The Hun always breaks off before crossing our lines. I watched as one of the Fokkers engaged the lone DH2 who defended us. The other two HAs continued after our two Moranes. Now it was time to shake them. I began a shallow dive towards a training area south of Béthune that I knew was well defended. But the Huns continued to close on us, even after we were five miles behind the front and below 2000 feet! When they were 300 yards away, Wilson began firing short bursts. Still they came. I could hear Bayetto’s gun stuttering away. He and Theobald were about 100 yard behind us and to our left. Wilson fired again and the Hun broke off. Bayetto’s Fokker was already heading east.
I began to relax, but a minute later Wilson’s gun went into action. I glanced back and was shocked to see our pet Hun within 200 yards of us. We turned slowly to the left and Wilson fired yet again. This time the Fokker headed east. I continued the turn, regaining a little altitude, and let out a whoop. The Fokker’s propeller was standing perfectly motionless! We gave chase and came up on its left side, and Wilson fired another short burst. The Hun pilot waved at us to knock it off and put his machine down nicely in a field south of Beuvray. We could see Tommies approaching as soon as he touched down.
I would have headed back then, but Wilson had seen something. We flew a little closer to the lines and found a second Fokker in a field, intact and surrounded by soldiers.
Back at Bruay, we put in a claim for the first Fokker. Bayetto wasn’t sure that either of us had hit the other Hun, although we’d both fired at it. In the end, Wing confirmed one kill for me and gave the other Hun to some machine gunners on the ground. We had our second Hun, and he hadn’t even got a shot at us!
"The Fokker’s propeller was standing perfectly motionless!"
The Hun pilot in our Fokker was a Vizefeldwebel, a warrant officer. This time we welcomed our foe in the Sergeants and Warrant Officers’ mess, and Sergeant Wilson was the man of the hour. The Disciplinary Sergeant-Major invited the Major and me for dinner, and we had a wonderful time. The German pilot, whose name was unpronounceable, was well-travelled and had been to Canada a few years ago. He remembered the 1912 Toronto Industrial Exhibition and talked at length about hockey. Major Harvey-Kelly and I left dutifully not long after dinner so the boys could get rowdy in peace. True to 3 Squadron traditions, our Hun was powerfully drunk before we said our salaams.
Sunday 26 March 1916 was another stormy day and the squadron hunkered down for a day of reading, piano-playing, games, and personal administration. The Major unwisely loaned us his Crossley car and Jericho and I headed for Auchel. Jeriicho had mastered the gears by now, but had discovered the joys of spinning his tyres on the ice and drifting around sharp curves. Twice in five miles we came within a whisker of disaster, and by the time I dismounted my knees had lost the ability to support me!
The stores were closed, but we’d made previous arrangement to pick up our purchases on Sunday regardless. The shopkeepers were back from mass and met us at the doors of their homes. We loaded the car with eight bottles of vin rouge, three bottles of champage, a bottle of cognac, and some coffee beans.
The Poiriers greeted us like long-lost family and ushered us into the parlour. There, a gaunt, fair-haired boy with one leg and a crutch struggle to rise from an armchair. “Mon fils Jérémie,” Madame said with beaming pride. “Il est retourné.” The war had short-changed her on the return of her injured son, I thought, but she did not begrudge it the loss. Jérémie had some English and we had some French, and there was champagne to celebrate and we were all alive. We drank a toast to both their sons, the one who had returned and the one at Verdun.
Georgette and Swanson had set the tables and M. Poirier had acquired a cigar. I write “tables” because several were set together and there were places for more than a dozen. It was about then that there came a knock on the door and Georgette called to me to open the door. I did as I was told and there in the snow outside stood a priest in a wide black hat and cassock and six young children.
Pére Isaac, he was called, and the children were “orphelins” – orphans. Georgette knew that there was no way to keep the amount of food we had brought from spoiling, so she had invited Father Isaac. And that was when we were all called to the table as the boar appeared, steaming and hissing in its enamel pot and Jericho cut the fresh, warm bread, and I poured the wine (for the children, too, with water).
I had been in France more than two months now, and I’d seen man’s ability to desolate God’s world, and I’d seen sudden death and grievous pain. Yet here, only a short distance from all that, was such happiness and goodness and light. I fought to understand all this, and as I sat I wiped a tear away before anyone noticed.
We all laughed and drank a little too much that night, but not terribly too much. We cleaned the house, and Father Isaac’s children sang some songs. Jérémie proved a genuine talent at the piano. Swanson and Georgette disappeared with the dishes for an hour or so, and Jericho left to return the car by eleven as he’d promised. At the end of the night, Swany walked Georgette back to her little place above the café and I finished an excellent pot of coffee with the Poiriers. At length, Swany returned and he and I set out into the night, the snow falling in languorous big flakes now. I had a flask of Yukon Gold and we shared a few nips on the way, singing a Norwegian song (or rather, he sang and I mumbled and hummed at the chorus). Three miles along the way, we found Jericho and a team or artillery horses and several gunners, all trying to extricate the Major’s staff car from a ditch, into which it has somehow skidded backwards. After a few minutes of intense pushing, we got it back on the roadway and, save for a small bend in the right rear wing, it was none the less for the experience. Jericho was forcibly restrained from driving while Swanson took the wheel. I knew our cowboy was awfully cold, for he drained the little remaining in my flask.