Wow, Fullofit - Verdun certainly is a hot shop...but it won't be for long with Gaston patrolling its skies!! Congratulations on your confirmed victories - only one more for double-acedom! Surely all Le Bosche are talking about the Violet Devil by now! Bad news about Papinet.
2nd. Lieut. Graham A. Campbell, No. 24 Squadron R.F.C, Bertangles West, France.
April 3rd, 1916.
At first light I had written a letter for Switch-Off and Jimmy Reynard, leaving it with the Old Man to be posted at the first convenience. Naturally, he had reacted with faux-irritation, but assured me that the note would reach Clairmarais by nightfall. The rain was coming down heavily as I made my way towards the briefing tent, expecting in disappointment to see all operations wiped off for the day.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that, despite the foul weather, we were scheduled for a line patrol down south, near Cappy, and a second patrol at 2 PM, near Monchy-le-Preux, on the edge of Hunland. Looking forwards to the day’s work, I headed to the mess for breakfast - sausages and fried tomatoes, with mustard on the side of the plate.
After a thoroughly enjoyable breakfast I found myself idly reminiscing with Freddy about our training in Hounslow together. However, before too long we were politely interrupted by the thin, kindly face of Johnstone, who softly cleared his throat for our attention. “Sirs, your patrol leaves in twenty minutes” he said, setting down two mugs of tea before us. We thanked him, swallowed the piping-hot tea in a flash, and quickly pulled on our flying clothes, before setting out onto the airfield. Again, I felt a sense of pride as my bus sat quietly on the field, awaiting me, in among the long flight line. To its left was Hawker’s red-strutted DeHav, and on its right was Freddy’s bus. “Ok, mate, good luck up there!” Freddy offered, patting me on the back before effortlessly hopping into his own machine. A white grin flashed from under his goggles and moustache as I climbed aboard my bus, pulling the thick gauntlets over my silk gloves as the Ack-Emmas prepared to swing our props. As I was organising my maps and checking our route one last time, Hawker came up beside me. “Campbell! If I drop out, you’re in charge!” he told me, with a coy smile. I blinked at him. “Me…?” I responded, but he had already turned towards his bus.
I could hear the Ack-Emma at my tail grumbing irritatedly about the weather. “Bloody nonsense,” he was saying as he took a firm grasp of a propeller blade, “they tell us never to get the #%&*$# things wet, then they fly them through a thunderstorm!”. His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp “Switch On!”, and as I flicked the magnetos on the engine roared into life. The mechanic nodded approvingly - and it was then I noticed that only Hawker’s bus had started on the first swing. Immediately I became even more enamoured with my little ship. After a few more swings, eight Monosopaupes were singing in harmony, and after a few moments of idling our motors Hawker begun to roll forward.
If the raindrops were daggers while flying a Fee, they were bullets in a DH2, and as we reached our speed I wished I had bought the masked version of the flying cap in London. The climb up was long and gruelling, and with the engine mounted far away from our seats, impossibly cold. Finally, we turned out towards the lines, three machines of ‘A’ shooting out ahead of us. We flew on through the icy weather, and I was beginning to feel very sorry for myself, when suddenly over Albert an Aviatik appeared about 2,000 feet above us from behind a cloud. Immediately we pointed our noses up, but the Avitik, upon seeing us, promptly broke away into a cloud and was not seen again. Nevertheless, our patrol lifted to 7,000 feet just in case the Hun made a reappearance.
The wind had become increasingly annoyed at our uninvited presence, and beat ferociously at our machines. Even with the 100 horsepower engines, we fought our controls to keep from stalling and dropping out of the sky. You think you can master me?! it seemed to roar, as a vicious gust brought me precariously close to Freddy’s machine. I snapped to the left, jerking away from the Kiwi, and ended up caught behind the formation. Gritting my teeth, I opened the throttle full in defiance of the elements, clawing my way back into formation by the time we had reached the edge of the mud.
We went halfway out from our lines, but no sooner had we started our patrol when Hawker finally relented and turned us back. The return trip was as unpleasant as the journey out, but I distracted myself from the misery by scanning for the Aviatik, hoping in vain that we might at least get to have a crack at him. At one point, two lumbering shapes emerged from the clouds and I excitedly pointed my nose up at them, but I sighed in disappointment as a closer look revealed them to be Fees.
We gratefully touched down back at Bertangles, and hastily de-planed, rushing as one to the mess tent to get dry. Johnstone, to our delight, had seen us coming in and eight freshly made cups of hot tea awaited us. We still had plenty of time to spare before the 2 PM patrol, and so I headed down to the hangars to check up on my bus. Mines was in the Bessonneau, and Miller was tightening her wires when I arrived, and he gave me a friendly wave. “How did it go up there?” he asked, and I groaned. “Have you seen the bloody weather?” I responded, slumping down onto a crate by the hangar entrance. “Nothing going on, save for one miserable Aviatik, but he was too high to get at” I explained. After a short pause, Miller turned to me with his hands on his hips. “And a bloody good thing, too...look at this”. He gestured to the Lewis gun. I came over and peered at it, shaking my head in confusion. “The whole bloody mechanism is frozen stiff with rain! The inside of the barrel, too!” he cried, demonstrating by trying unsuccessfully to charge the weapon. “Are you on another show today?” he asked, after he was done wrestling with the faulty weapon. I nodded, concerned, and he sighed. “Well, I’ll have to fit a spare gun on your bus before then. What time are you off?”. “Two O’Clock”. “Oh, plenty of time then. I’ll get it done just now”. Together we headed to the armourer’s ‘office’ (which was in reality just a workbench which the man sat behind, in the farmost hangar) and procured a new Lewis, before running through the rain back to my bus, with the gun wrapped in my flying coat. I then hung around to watch Miller expertly re-fitting the gun, in keen interest. It was a simple job, and he was done with several hours to spare.
Back in the mess I had the chance to speak with Andrews and Whiskey. The latter told me of one particular scrap he’d had with a most unusual machine - a fokker with brown wings and a green fuselage - that had lasted for over ten minutes. “One hell ‘e a pilot, he wis! But, in the end ‘A sent him doon. Poor laddie, he flew ever so well…”.
Eventually, our machines were wheeled out again for the Two O’Clock show, and again we pulled on our still-damp flying gear and headed out to the flight line. To our disgust, the rain hadn’t died down a bit, and we were freshly soaked before our engines had even started. Hawker was again leading the show, with the little Irishman, Cpt. Cowen, as his wingman. After another round of failed prop-spinning, we lifted off again into the still-hostile sky.
Andrews dropped out not long after we had lifted with engine trouble, and I couldn’t help but envy him, picturing him sitting nice and warm, and dry, with his cup of tea in the mess. Wilkie, too, seemed to be having some trouble, as his bus was soon lagging behind as we climbed - but Hawker soon matched our speeds to his. The Major must still have been sore about missing the Aviatik this morning, as we went all the way up to 10,000 feet before turning for the mud, and by the time we’d made our altitude, the rest of ‘A’ flight had disappeared off somewhere, leaving only five of us.
Evidently, the Huns were as fed up with the weather as we were, and for that miserable, freezing patrol we didn’t see a single enemy aeroplane. Not even the archie gunners were bothering to fire at us as we hovered over the German trenches, and eventually, sick and tired of the whole ordeal, we gave up and headed back. By the time we reached Bertangles, I was numb with cold and fatigue, and it was only after I’d hastily guided my bus into a bumpy, rough landing that I realised I had landed on No. 3’s aerodrome. Two Ack-Emmas, their tunics held over their heads against the rain, ran over to me.
“I’m afraid you can’t tell me you’re lost, sir!” one of them said with a cheeky smile, as I wobbled out of my machine. “Yes, sorry, I was just keen to get down”. “Not to worry, chum. C’mon - we’ll get you a nice hot cup of tea”. Feeling guilty for dragging them into the rain, I helped them wheel my bus into one of their hangars, where we parked it next to the Morane I’d seen when I arrived - the one with the strange insignia, which I now saw clearly was, in fact, a goose. Puzzled, I turned to the Ack-Emmas. “What’s the story behind this, then?” I asked, indicating to the odd marking. The two mechanics shot each other a glance, the corners of their mouths twitching, before to my surprise bursting into uncontrollable laughter.
After letting myself thaw out in No. 3’s mess, briefly chatting to a couple of their airmen, I wheeled out my bus and made a quick hop over to the right airfield at about dinnertime. I was still chucking to myself about the story No. 3’s Ack-Emmas had told me as I pulled my flying coat off, ducking into the mess tent. “Ah, here he is!” Wilkie cried as I entered, and the table had a good chuckle at my expense. As we tucked into our wonderfully hot bowls of chicken soup, the Old Man stood up from his seat. “Okay, okay, listen up you lot, only two today,” he announced, and we hushed like schoolchildren. With a theatrical throat-clearing, he dramatically raised the telegram before himself. “Well done to Carruthers and Campbell, who have both been accredited a victory each!”. The table burst into loud cheers, as we were both congratulated. I was over the moon - my 5th victory, and my first with No. 24! I was especially proud as Maj. Hawker shook my hand firmly, ‘officially’ welcoming me to the squadron. We celebrated with brandy that night, and headed back to our tents feeling merry.