Wow! My profound thanks for the medal - I am not worthy! Nevertheless, I shall wear it with pride. And congratulations to Fullofit & Gaston on a very well-deserved second Palm for his CdG!
Carrick - sounds like things are getting rough for Emile. Hang in there - the Scout transfer is on the way! Lou - That's a great-looking bus! Even better when you know the story behind it. Looks like purple is all the rage at the moment - maybe Graham will have to have a chat with Lanoe about painting his bus. Sounds like Swany may need to keep an eye on his observer...P.S - your pictures are looking awfully sunny! Perhaps No.24 has that raincloud from the Truman Show following us around...
MFair - Night-flying! Argh! Scary stuff. Well done on getting the show out of the way while flying blind! Also - scary story about No.11...it boggles the mind what some of the RFC boys had to put up with...
2nd. Lieut. Graham A. Campbell, No. 24 Squadron, Bertangles West, France.
April 4th, 1916 (Part 1).
The rain continued on through the night and into the morning. After being gently roused from my sleep at 5 O’clock by Johnstone, a cup of hot tea being apologetically left resting on top of my trunk, I made my way sleepily to the mess. My breakfast was interrupted by Sgt. Powell, who slapped me on the back familiarly as he leaned over me. “Mornin’ Campbell! The Major wonts ter see ya” he told me,a nd I raised an eyebrow, immediately suspecting that I’d done something wrong - perhaps landing at the wrong field yesterday? I quickly wolfed down the remainder of my breakfast, thanked the Cockney Sergeant, and hastily made my way for the C.O’s tent.
I found him sitting behind his desk, chatting away merrily to the Old Man, as I stood to attention before him. “You wished to see me, sir?” I asked, putting on my ‘military’ voice. He laughed out loud, and waved me away. “No need for that, Campbell! But yes, I wanted to see you. Have you checked the board yet?”. “Oh, no, I haven’t sir”. “Well! You’ll be on the dawn O.P. at Monchy”. His smile faded slightly, and his eyes turned serious. “I wanted you to lead ‘B’ flight's shows today”. My eyes widened, and, stammering, I made an effort to protest. “But, sir! I...I’ve only just arrived, and surely…” he held up a palm, and I fell silent. “Nonsense, Campbell. You are a good airman”. His tone became a little more hushed. “The boys are capable, but are too hotheaded. Many of them have only been on DeHavs. What they need is someone at the head to keep them in check. I would do it myself, but I can’t lead every flight at once!”. I quietly nodded, although scarcely believing the Major’s faith in me. “Not to worry - I’ll be with ‘A’ flight, we’ll be keeping an eye on you”. His friendly smile returned. “Well - what do you say? Are you up to the task?”. Despite myself I snapped back to attention. “Of course, sir!”.
By 6 O’Clock Johnstone had awoken the other members of my patrol - Freddy, Wilkie, Saundby and Andrews. We climbed into our flying gear at 6:30 to the sounds of Saundby grumbling to himself. “Bloody morning patrols. Always get put on them - can’t a chap sleep?”. Wilkie smirked. “Oh, come on, lazybones, the cold will wake you up soon enough”. Saundby threw his arms up. “It wouldn’t be so bad, if you didn’t have bloody No. 3 sending up patrols at god-knows-what hour, before the sun’s even up! I’m a light sleeper, you know…”. I looked over at him dubiously. “Well, you could be on one of those patrols - just be happy you’re not!”. We chuckled as Saunby looked in vain for a response, before going into a huff.
Freddy placed a hand on my shoulder as we made our way out onto the field. “Graham - don’t fuss too much over being leader, eh mate? You’ll do fine - you’re from the Hounslow mob, after all!”. I smiled and thanked him, but in the back of my mind I felt the crushing weight of having not only my own soul to preserve, but the four young men behind me. A strange thought occured to me, and I wondered if Jacky-Boy would have gotten back if I was leading his fateful patrol - but I pushed the thought down. No good to be in a funk while leading my first show.
On the airfield, our machines sat in their line, the rainwater dripping down from the curved edges of their doped wings. Miller whistled to himself as he attached the leaders’ streamers to my struts, and winked as he saw me approaching. I was equally proud and nervous as I climbed into my bus as our props were swung. Looking to my right, I saw my flight eagerly awaiting my signal. I loaded a flare into my Very pistol, and fired it upwards, before rolling forwards.
With Hawker’s ‘A’ Flight above, I felt my excitement growing as I looked back to see my wingmen forming up behind me, and over Doullens I led us into a slowly twisting climb. I decided to take it easy, with the weather still being harsh, and every now and again I looked over my shoulder to ensure my flight was okay - they were keeping good formation with me. We went up to 8,000 feet before I turned towards the lines, feeling four pairs of eyes scrutinising my movements.
The visibility over the mud was horrendous - towering clouds stood before us, leaving only small gaps below to determine our position. Warily, we crept out into no-mans-land, our eyes making long, sweeping scans for signs of any Huns. It all seemed peaceful at first. As we came over the top of Monchy-le-Preux, I checked my dashboard clock - 08:50. We had been instructed to patrol for twenty minutes. I scanned deeply into the treacherous clouds, scrutinizing them and coaxing them to reveal to me any Huns lying in wait - but the clouds were against us today, and with silent frowns they stayed in place.
After an uneventful twenty-minute patrol, I reached for my Very pistol and fired the washout signal. Of our own accord, we rolled back towards our lines and made our separate ways home. Freddy stayed by my side, and we fought our way through the clouds together, becoming keener with each second to get home, and dry. I was miserable as we came in to land, for I wanted desperately to be able to say that my first patrol as a flight lead had merited us a victory, but I was happy that the show had gone smoothly, at least.
De-planing after taxiing my machine out of the way of the others, I pulled my flying cap off, running my gauntleted fingers through my soaked hair, and headed to the briefing tent to check the second patrol of the day.