Apologies, this one's going to be a long one! Plenty's happened in the last couple days for Campbell! April 2nd to follow...
77_Scout - Uh-oh, I hope Chris doesn't continue to be a dud observer!! Good for you though, showing that Einie what's what. Speaking of - 29 Squadron, eh?! Good stuff! No doubt MacKinlay will work wonders with a DeHav - especially considering he can already outfly huns in a B.E! Louvert - terrible news about your observer - you have my sympathies. A nasty way to go as well! Poor Swany, and poor old Craigy too...glad that Swany could put one of the Einies down in vengeance - even with the dud observer. That bloody Rankin had better get his act together...
MFair - really liked the imagery of Jericho riding Moon to the new aerodrome. Nice touch with the friendly elderly couple as well - they seemed excited to meet a real Yankee cowboy!!
Fullofit - bad news about Dagonet, sorry to hear it. Gaston seems to have a reinvigorated taste for sending the Hun down after his return from the wrong side of the lines - Our Frenchman is a proper ace now!! I suspect he'll become one of the great high-scorers before this thing comes to a head.
Raine - Sounds like a tense encounter with that Fokker - seems like No.3 are still in the thick of it. Shame that Madame's wondershack has transferred out of the squadron. And I really enjoy the little insights into Collins' history before the war when he's talking with his chums! Looking forwards to more.
2nd. Lieut. Graham A. Campbell, Awaiting Posting, London, England.
March 31st, 1916.
After a hurried breakfast, required due to my sleeping-in, I rushed out of the Cavendish, stopping briefly to thank Rosa for her hospitality. Mason’s Yard was a mercifully short distance away - in fact, due to my hurried pace I arrived early. The small square was dotted with R.F.C personnel, and the clink-clink of a hammer echoed into the smoky air from J.H. Bourdon’s - a Smith on the corner.
After a quick scan I located the R.F.C Office, and stepped inside. Behind the desk at the entryway was a young mole-like Corporal who wore impossibly thick and comically large glasses. Frowning in deep concentration over his small, disorganised stack of paperwork, he failed to notice as I stepped up to his desk. I cleared my throat, and the poor lad nearly jumped out of his skin. Embarrassed, he pushed his perfectly rounded glasses up on his nose and squinted up at me. “Can I help, sir?” he asked. “2nd. Lieutenant Graham Campbell, I’m here for my posting”. Uttering a soft “Oh!” to himself, the Corporal gestured for me to wait, and pulled out a small black folder, flicking through the various documents in it and becoming increasingly nervous. “I, ah...C-Campbell, you said?” he stammered, and I nodded patiently, giving him a smile to hopefully set him at ease. It didn’t work.
The Corporal’s anxiety only grew as he hurriedly flicked between the papers in the folder, before suddenly crying “Aha! Here!”. Triumphantly, he thrust a sheet of paper towards me. I took it, brimming with anticipation, and looked down. My brow furrowed as I read, and then re-read, the form. “No, that’s not right,” I said, and the Corporal seemed to flinch at the words. I turned the sheet towards him, and pointed to the name. “This is for some chap named Richard. My name’s Graham”. The Corporal recoiled as if I’d struck him, snatching the paper back clumsily and looking through it. “Oh, er, s-sorry, sir, I’ll just...ah…” he mumbled, going back to his painfully inept searching.
After a half-hour with no luck, I was slowly becoming frustrated. Just as I was about to ask for somebody else to check, a firey-haired Captain appeared, a mug of freshly-made coffee rolling steam into the air from his hand. His beady eyes flicked to the now-panicked corporal, now with a large stack of folders and papers on his cluttered desk, and then to me. He let out a deep sigh. “What’s the problem, Turner?”. A look of pure dread crossed his face, as he slowly turned around, the paper he had been examining dropping down onto his desk. “Sir, I can’t find his posting…” he mumbled in a defeated tone. The Captain let out a groan. “Bloody hell, Turner, can you not be useful at least once?!” he demanded, then turned to me. “Name?” he asked gruffly, a tone of irritation in his voice. “Graham Campbell” I answered, and without setting his mug down the Captain casually swept aside a pile of documents, producing an envelope and setting it flat on the table.
Shooing the Corporal out of his way, he opened the unsealed envelope, removed a neat stack of papers, and quickly flicked through them. After three or four papers, he glanced up at me. “Graham Arthur Campbell?” he asked, and I nodded. “24 Squadron, Bertangles. You’re to report tomorrow, to Major Hawker”. I stood in stunned silence. 24 Squadron? Major Hawker? Major Lanoe Hawker VC?!. Before I was afforded the opportunity to tell him that some mistake must have been made, my travel pass and service orders were pressed into my palm and I was ushered out, back into the smoky yard.
I boarded the train to Dover at Charing Cross, and as London slipped past and away my mind was racing. I couldn’t believe my luck! Not only was I being posted to a DeHav Squadron, but it was also my old friend Freddy Foster’s unit, and my new C.O. was none other than Lanoe Hawker VC! I grinned like a fool as I recalled the day at Hounslow Heath, during my training, when I had watched Hawker throwing his DeHav Scout into spin after spin, expertly flicking the rudder and straightening out, after one of his pilots had suggested that the D.H.2 was a dangerous machine to fly. Of course, I was still saddened to be leaving all the good chaps at No. 20 behind, but what a stroke of sheer luck! I smiled to myself, reclining in the train booth as I thought of reuniting with Freddy.
The train pulled in at early evening, and I found myself a quiet little hotel, mainly populated by other Officers, to spend the night.
April 1st, 1916.
My hands shook with a mixture of terror and rage as I held the morning newspaper in front of my face. Disbelieving the words printed before me, I read in silent horror that German Zeppelins had, only last night, dropped bombs on England. Five German airships had attacked several towns along the East coast and had even come as far inland as Blackmore, not even forty miles from Hendon aerodrome, and in hateful cold-blood had killed over forty people. The majority of those killed were not soldiers. My fist closed in on the newspaper, crumpling it in hatred, as I read of a bomb landing directly on the home of a cowering mother and her five young children.
And so, it was with hate and sorrow in my heart that I departed for France once more, on a troop ferry bound for Calais. I thought it horrendous that the Hun would be so barbaric as to kill the innocent, and found a grim enjoyment in picturing my DeHav sending Fokkers down in flames. When Jacky-Boy was killed, and when McHarg was wounded, I uttered the all-too overused phrase; C’est la Guerre, but for this atrocity I would make the Huns pay. I tried to distract myself by reading my orders - I was to make my way by rail to Abbeville, where I would then be chauffeured to Bertangles Aerodrome.
After an hour’s milling about in Calais, I became impatient and boarded the Three-O’Clock train bound for Abbeville early, finding a quiet second-class compartment by the window and staring out over the troop-ships, lumbering to and fro and leaving columns of smoke wisping through the air. By the time the train finally groaned into life, the train was packed full of infantry, nurses, airmen, some even sitting cross-legged in the corridor, and my booth now had five mud-streaked tommies in it. At first they were cautious of the Officer in their midst, but before long they seemed to decide that I was harmless. The train ride would have been scenic, had we not been at war - it took us down France’s Western coast. I allowed myself to become lost in thought, watching the shimmering waves creeping up the yellow rain-soaked beaches.
Abbeville would have been a pleasant town, had it not been for the large static hospital, No. 3 BRCS, that had been set up there, and the swarms of maimed and wounded men that now occupied the town. The rain, that had been on since my arrival back in France, didn’t help to set the mood. Various staff cars flitted about the roads, speeding around Bedford ambulances and coming and going from the local Communications HQ as I walked to the Place de L'Amiral Corbet, an open square with a grand statue in its centre, and my meeting-point for my Chauffeur. Sure enough, a sleek black car was waiting there, and I was greeted by a wiry, thirty-something old Sergeant, in an impossibly creased uniform and a peaked cap, slightly too big for the man, hanging over his deeply-lined brow. “Second Lef-tennern Cambell?” he asked, a thick cockney accent betraying his London roots, and I nodded. “Sahgeant Powell. Noice ter meet ya, ser. Hop in, chum”.
Hastily collecting my luggage and loading it into the car, he whistled a happy tune as I slid into the seat beside him. Whereas his friendly, informal demeanour had set me at ease, his driving certainly did not, as he slammed his foot down on the gas and we shot out from the square, ripping down the roads and swerving precariously in-between the various vehicles strewn about. It almost felt like an omen when we passed the rows of makeshift wooden crosses at the border of the town. By the time we reached the aerodrome I felt positively ill, gripping the bottom of my seat with both hands. Shakily I stepped out, the grinning Powell holding the door open for me. “You look a tad under-the-wevver, ser! You sure yer an airman?” he joked.
Bertangles was actually comprised of two large Airfields, situated next to each other in adjacent fields and separated by a main road, which we had arrived by. As I walked beside Powell, he gave me the lay of the land. “Bertangles town is ova’ there. Brigade’s set up in the Chateau. Across the road, that’s No. 3’s Airfield”. I looked over into the field, with its rows of small single-plane hangars and Bell tents, and paused to watch the Ack-Emmas wheeling a pair of Morane Parasols into two such hangars. One of them had a strange insignia painted on the side - the figure of an old lady with her arm around - was that a goose? No, I must not be seeing it right.
Onto 24’s field we went. Ours was a little more ‘set-up’ than No. 3’s - inside three fixed wooden hangars, topped with corrugated iron, sat the intimidating-looking D.H.2s - resembling small Fees, with Lewis guns poking over the noses of their single-seat nacelles. A fourth canvas hangar sat beside them. I was led to the Officers’ mess which, similarly to No. 3 across the road, was a large wooden-floored marquee. I was shown to the cluster of bell tents we would be staying in, next to which stood two larger pole-tents, which Powell told me served as the C.O’s and Adjutant’s offices, and the briefing room. My tent was cozy, but not very spacious, with just enough room for an army cot and a small wooden chest. Hastily I dropped my things off, before Powell led me towards the office. I felt nerves building up as we entered through the flap.
Inside, the tent was furnished with a wooden floor, a gramophone propped up on a wooden crate, and two solid oak desks. And - there he was. Major Hawker, the ribbon of the Victoria Cross proudly displayed below his RFC wings. as I stood to attention before him, he looked over me methodically. “Campbell, I take it? Very good. Welcome to Bertangles”. He turned to Powell. “Sergeant, would you fetch Johnstone?”. The cockney Sergeant quickly disappeared, as the Major turned to me. “Seen much air fighting?” the Major asked informally, and I told him that I had. He leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Excellent. We’ll have you on the roster tomorrow then. The poor chap before you was in ‘B’ flight before he went west, so you can fly in his place”. As he explained, Powell returned with a kindly-looking middle aged sergeant behind him. “Ah. This is your Orderly, Sgt. Johnstone. He will show you to your tent. By the way, have you seen your new machine yet? It’s in the Bessoneau, Johnstone will show you”.
Excitement grew within me as we approached the Bessoneau hangar, to the right of the fixed hangars. Inside were two machines, and Johnstone indicated to the one at the far end. “Well, there she is. Yer’ new bus - 6018”. Slowly I approached the small pusher scout, running my hand across its nose slowly. Immediately I was enamoured with my little bus, and I felt a deep connection to it right away. For it was my little bus - unlike the shared Fees of 20 Squadron, or the used-by-all B.E’s of Hounslow - this machine, 6018, belonged to me only. “She’s wonderful” I murmured, and Johnstone beamed.
I sorely wished to test out the new machine, but with the weather being as sour as it was, and not much of the day left, I had to exercise patience. Instead, I headed to the officers’ mess tent, and almost immediately upon entering a familiar, booming voice cried out “Graham!”. Grinning, I swung around and came to face Freddy Foster, his eyes gleaming beside the familiar laugh-lines. We ran to each other, firmly shaking hands in excited greeting. “Awh, Graham, it’s good to see ya, mate!” the towering Kiwi cried, slapping me on the back. “Bet you didn’t expect this visit, eh?” I responded, and he laughed loudly. “So - an Officer now, eh?” he said, looking over my uniform, and I grinned at him. “Just as well - you can’t order me about now!” I replied.
Excitedly swapping stories, we strolled out onto the airfield and towards the road. I was delighted to learn that Freddy was also in ‘B’ flight, and not at all surprised to learn that he had already downed two Huns. I met some of the other pilots in the Officers’ mess that night - there was Alan Wilkinson, a cheery temporary Captain who wore a thick black moustache, John Andrews - an old hand who had started out as an observer in 1914, Sidney Cowan, a young and energetic Irishman, and a burly Scottish Captain whose name I didn’t quite catch. Their tails seemed up in a way that seemed strange to me after the fatalistic nature of No. 20, but I quickly found out that they were as good a bunch of chaps as I could have hoped for. After an enjoyable meal, and a few welcome-drinks, I headed for my tent, and an early night.
I dreamed of a thunderstorm, great flashes of lightning illuminating the sky for split-seconds. Below, the ground was in flames, houses burning, people screaming. I was panicked, too - but I didn't know why, didn't know what the threat was. In among the terror, I turned my face upwards, the severe rain whipping at my squinted eyes.Simultaneously, several searchlights flashed into life, and as their individual beams crossed and came to a point, I saw the enormous, horrific outline of a Zeppelin.
Two Zeppelin raids were, indeed, carried out on the nights of March 31st and April 1st, 1916. Both times London was the main target, but fortunately the Zeps never got that far. In fact, one was shot down by AA fire and came to rest just off of the Eastern coast, crashing into the sea.