Lou - wait a minute...Farnborough? New Machine...? Oh.....OH.....if Swany's going where I think he's going, Kaiser Bill should just call the war off now and be done with it!!
Carrick - a quiet day at the front isn't always a bad thing!
Fullofit - Good rules to follow! Hopefully Medeville takes them to heart. Love the shot of Gaston and Boillot going along!
Now then - bad news from Bertangles, I'm afraid.
April 11th, 1916.
At Clairmarais, Jimmy and Switch-off happily read through Graham’s return letter before their morning patrol. McHarg was still off gallivanting around St. Omer, on leave, but he, too, would be thrilled to hear from their old Billet-mate. It was a good morale boost, since Bristow had caught a blighty - again. Smiling softly, Switch-Off read aloud:
“Dear Switchy, Jimmy and McHarg.
Life at No. 24 is good at the moment, but I’m keen to get away soon and visit. We’ve been doing a lot of shows at Delville Wood, and let me tell you, that is one hot shop. In the last few days I’ve been shot down, had to escape across the lines, and have knocked down at least five Eindeckers. As it happens, though, not many have been confirmed, and my tally now stands at six.
The DeHav is a very good fighting machine, much faster and lighter than the fee, and my own machine is one of the best in the Squadron. Our C.O, Major Hawker, must be the greatest airman of the Flying Corps, for his skill in the air is second to none.
How are the rest of the boys at No. 20? Keeping well, I hope. I will visit you all soon.
Your friend, Graham.”
“Well, sounds like he’s doing well!” Switch-Off said to Jimmy, who laughed. “Aye, a regular hunter, our Graham”. Switch-Off’s face then turned to one of distant sadness. “Although, it sounds like his neck of the woods is quite dangerous. I hope he’s not doing anything silly…”
At Bertangles, the Old Man stood up to give his speech. There was no pomp and circumstance, no over-exaggeration, no friendly insults. To the silent table of pilots, he quietly declared “One aviatik shot down, awarded to Lt. Andrews”. Silence. The Old Man slowly sat down again, and quietly they ate together. No Champagne was served. At the far end of the table, Saundby took a swig from a hip flask with a shaky hand. Once the dinner service was over, the pilots shuffled back to their bell tents, the melancholy trailing at their heels.
Near Doullens, a Tommy whistled as they pulled the broken airman from the wreck of the machine that had fallen there that morning. “Poor fella” he said to his comrade, who nodded solemnly. “You won’t catch me in one of those bloody flying deathtraps” the man responded. Laying the dead airman flat, they grimaced as they went about the unpleasant, but understandable work of clearing out the man’s pockets for anything of value. One soldier slowly removed the revolver from the airman’s holster, holding it up and inspecting it. It was a black webley with an ivory handle. Pocketing it, he winked at his colleague, who was frowning and shaking his head. “Well, he won’t need it anymore, will he?”. “You’re a nasty piece of work, Johnny”.
The following day, Powell’s fiat pulled up alongside the wreck. He was his usual smiling, joking self, but given the circumstances it seemed a little forced. “Poor bugger wasn’t wif us long, was he?” he remarked. Miller shot him a disgusted look, before inspecting the wreck. After fifteen minutes or so, he held up a length of severed cable. “It was a single bloody bullet, a lucky hit, snapped his elevator control…” he murmured, before angrily throwing the cable to the ground. “This damned war!” he cried out, kicking the shattered tail.
Hawker kept his speech short at the funeral - there was work to be done, and ‘A’ flight had the dawn patrol. In his mind he replayed the incident. Their dive at the Aviatik, the first DeHav to attack suddenly and inexplicably falling into a spin, three hundred meters from the enemy machine. He saw the flash of blue and white striped struts turning, turning, before disappearing below the clouds, closely followed by the burning Aviatik.
It was not an epic involving scores of planes, nor a daring raid deep into enemy lines. Not a duel between two skilled opponents, a chivalrous joust, nor was it a tense last-ditch bid for safety. It was simply a single and unexpected bullet, that offered no warning before finding its mark. Graham Arthur Campbell was dead. The war would go on.
Graham Arthur Campbell, MC, No. 24 Squadron R.F.C.