Fullofit - What a shot! It seems the rumours about Gaston are true! And, congratulations on No. 12..by this point, all the men will be signing up to be Aviateurs and all the ladies must be praying for the day Gaston gets a 48 hour pass...by any means, I wonder what those old C.Os that disliked Gaston so much would say now?
Raine - Evocative storytelling, as per your standard! Great description of Café du Progrès, and the bit about the husband and wife made me chuckle. Keep 'em coming. Oh, and what a screenshot!
Sgt. James Bradley Fullard Escadrille N.10, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
April 11th, 1916 (Part 2).
I was still lost in my state of shocked reflection at the loss of Victor when I heard the heavy step and the click of Georges’ cane approaching my room. Poking his head in the door, he informed me that “Supper is to be served in five minutes’ time”. I quietly thanked him and rose, lethargically, to my feet.
My fellow NCO pilots were already gathered at the table when I entered, and as I took my seat Ortoli slapped me on the back in a friendly manner. I allowed my attention to drift into their conversation, but I stayed quiet. Chaput had a shine in his eyes as he excitedly discussed the details of a dogfight his patrol had gotten into. “So, we thought we had him! An Aviatik, bold or silly enough to come below 1000 meters on our side, but before we could get to grips with him, down came the Fokkers!” He mimicked the sound of machine-gun chatter. “Well, I started to turn with one fellow, as our Viking got mixed up with a second”. Viking, I quickly learned, was the affectionate nickname given to Jensen by the Escadrille’s pilots, on account of his Danish heritage. “But, this wasn’t just any Bosche, man! His flying was - “ Chaput made the curious French gesture of kissing his fingertips, with an exaggerated “Mwah!”. “By any means”, he continued, “I couldn’t get him in front of me for long enough to send him down, and I wouldn’t be shocked if you told me that it was Immelmann himself!”. “ ᴀᴛ ʟᴇᴀsᴛ ʏᴏᴜʀs ғᴏᴜɢʜᴛ ,” came Jensen’s rumbling, monotone voice, “ ᴍʏ ᴏᴘᴘᴏɴᴇɴᴛ ᴅᴏᴠᴇ ᴀᴡᴀʏ ᴀs sᴏᴏɴ ᴀs ᴡᴇ ʜᴀᴅ sᴛᴀʀᴛᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴇ ᴄɪʀᴄʟɪɴɢ ”. With a smirk, Ortoli cut in. “He must have seen that stern face of yours and lost his nerve!”. There was a bout of laughter, as Jensen looked over at him in puzzlement.
“Ah, but all this talk of air fights is tiresome!” Devienne said, throwing his arms up. “I’d much rather discuss Mademoiselles”. His smug smile quickly faded as Ortoli fired back “We can introduce you to some when you’re a little older!”. There was another round of laughter. Devienne made to retort, but just then the door creaked open, and in walked Lt. Auger, dressed in his flying coat and helmet. Rainwater ran down the sides of the heavy leather jacket and pooled around his feet. We fell silent as his piercing gaze swept the room. After an uncomfortable pause, he quietly said “Jensen, Fullard, go and get your flying gear. We’re going out to look for our Biplace”.
As I stood beside my locker in the hangar, changing into my flying equipment, Thierry shook his head. “Mon Dieu, it’s no good to be flying in the rain. You could end up with rot in the struts”, he said with a hefty sigh, before reluctantly he and Souris wheeled my Nieuport out onto the aerodrome. I followed them anxiously, looking up into the grey sky. I had never flown in weather this badly before, and I was still reeling from Victor’s sudden and unexpected death. As I boarded my machine, Auger called out from his own cockpit to me. “Fullard, keep your eyes peeled when we get to the front! I’m not keen to lose another machine today! And if you see a Bosche, rock your wings!”.
A moment later, and Auger’s Nieuport roared down the airfield, followed by mines, and then Jensen’s. The wind roared in my ears and the rain stabbed viciously at my exposed cheeks as I shakily lifted off, tensing with every quirk and shiver of my machine in the gloomy weather, and our machines strained against the headwind as we turned North for the front. Over No-Mans-Land, we begun to make wide sweeping turns, looking downward for any trace of the lost Nieuport 12 or its crew, but nothing appeared to us except for the usual debris, shell-holes and burnt-out vehicles, as well as the occasional pink dot of a sentry’s face within a trench, upturned to watch us go about our work.
By the time we turned for home, drenched to the skin as we were, the sky was darkening and we had drifted as far East as Nancy, with no trace of the Nieuport Two-Seater to be found. I was overjoyed as we started back for our aerodrome, but Auger had kept us up for too long, and the sky became darker still. We flew through a low cloud, and as I sailed through to the other side I realised with a lurch that I could no longer see Auger or Jensen.
With my ability to see rapidly diminishing, I flew aimlessly South until, below, I noticed some lights pooled around in an ‘L’ shape. Descending a little, I could make out the dull outlines of a row of Bessoneaux. Salvation! At once I dropped my altitude and came down onto the aerodrome. As I was climbing down from my machine, two mechanics appeared, raincoats thrown over their heads. “Man, don’t tell me you’ve been flying in this?” he cried, referencing the rain. Wiping my goggles and pushing them off of my face, I nodded, before helping the two mechanics wheel my bus into one of the large Bessoneaux.
As it turned out, I had landed myself at the airfield of a Caudron Escadrille, and upon finding out in their NCO’s mess that I was an American, the pilots brightened up, asking me to tell them about my homeland, and sharing with me war stories, for some of them had been infantry before, and many had been flying since last year. Outside, night had fallen proper, and I decided that I would have to stay the night. I was introduced to their C.O, Henri de Kerillis. An ex-cavalry Lieutenant with the Légion d'honneur ribbon displayed proudly through his buttonhole, Kerillis had a warm, yet commanding presence, and a hard face. Intelligence pooled up in his eyes as he reassured me that he knew my squadron, and would telephone to let them know where I was.
I was offered a recently-empty room in the NCO’s barracks to sleep in, and was mercifully able to rid myself of my soaked uniform, as one of the pilots managed to find me a spare. As I lay down in my cot for the night, the weight of the day seemed finally to catch up and crush me. I had a lot to think about.
Note: 'Biplace' was the French term for Two-Seater.