More Brits, less Frenchmen, and Certainly no volunteer Americans!!!
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Escadrille N.31, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
April 13th, 1916.
By the time I had awoken, the tap-tapping of the rain against the roof of our barracks had escalated into a thunderous drumming. As I stirred in my cot, I heard the sound of little Devienne cry out down the hall “Bonnes nouvelles! It’s perfect flying weather!”. Cheers erupted from the other rooms, as Lemoine’s voice came next, boldly declaring “I shan’t leave my bed until suppertime!”.
After allowing myself a little more shut-eye, I finally climbed out of my cot and changed into my uniform, wandering through into the mess, which was empty, save for Georges who sat reading a newspaper with a deep frown on his face. “Morning,” I offered, and he folded the paper. “Good morning, sir. Sleep well?”. I hadn’t - my mind was racing throughout the night with thoughts of my fight with the Eindecker, and of Victor’s self-inflicted demise, but I replied “Yes, thank you” anyway. He smiled and told me he was glad. Gesturing to the paper, I asked “anything interesting?”. He sighed sadly, and shook his head. “More news of Verdun. The battle rages on still, no side gaining an advantage”. He stared off into some private memory. “If it wasn’t for this lame leg of mines, I would be there” he said, before looking over at me and smiling. “But, perhaps I should not test my luck too much”. I wanted to ask him about what had happened to his leg, but thought it would perhaps be too personal of a question. By any means, it was the first I had heard him mention it since my arrival at the Escadrille.
The pilots emerged around lunchtime, as Georges and another Orderly laid out bowls of broth and, again, plates of buttered rolls. I assumed my usual position next to Ortoli and, as yesterday, was welcomed to the table with a friendly slap on the back. I appreciated Ortoli’s willingness to make me feel welcome. The conversation turned towards Lemoine’s Nieuport flight yesterday, and the pilots were thoroughly amused as he went into detail about the harrowing flight. Suddenly and quite to my surprise, Chaput exclaimed “But, wait, we hardly know a thing about our Americain!”, before turning to me and asking “Tell us! what brought you to our merry little war, Fullard?”. The pilots turned to me with eager faces, and for a moment I felt strangely embarrassed. Setting my spoon on the table, I cleared my throat awkwardly. “Well, you see, when I was younger, my brother Andrew became a racecar driver. I used to go down to watch his races, it was fascinating to me. The speed, the machinery, the engines roaring out their powerful songs as they sped around the tracks. At first I thought I wanted to be a driver myself, but one day I happened to read one of the New York papers that my Old Man was subscribed to. There was a story in there about flying, and immediately I knew I had found my love. It seemed amazing to me, that man had finally gained mastery over the air and, like many of the boys in the neighbourhood, I wanted desperately to be a pilot”.
Ortoli, with a grin on his face, gestured to the pilots around the table, remarking “I suppose then you didn’t know that Pilotes looked like this”. There were chuckles and feigned protests as Ortoli batted away a roll, thrown by Lemoire. Little Devienne fervently hushed the pilots as Chaput excitedly said “mais continue, Fullard!”.
Smiling to myself, I went on. “Well, by the time I had turned Eighteen, the European War had broken out. It was all anybody my age could talk about! And, of course for me, I was immediately drawn to the idea of war flying. My two brothers and I were obsessed - we just knew that we had to take part, but of course the States wanted no part in the affair. Some of our friends back home, in San Francisco, sent away for their passports, and headed to France to volunteer. John Fitzsimmons went into the Belgian army, and Desmond, who was Andrew’s closest friend, went to fight in the Foriegn Legion. A few of our friends crossed into Canada and enlisted with the English”. (At the mention of England came some hisses and boos from the pilots).
“We had made our minds up by the end of the first year. We had to enlist. In secret from our parents, we sent away to Washington D.C for our passports. Of course, Andrew was the first to go - he left for the Foriegn Legion in February. But, naturally, our parents were distraught, my mother most of all, and so they forbade us from following after Andrew”.
“Ah, but your passion must have overcome them, no? That’s how you were able to leave?” Lemoine cut in. Immediately, the pilots joined in a chorus of “Shhhh!” as Ortoli shouted “Wait and find out, Lemoine, you toad!”. The redheaded Sergeant raised his chin in discontempt for his colleagues, but fell silent.
“Not quite,” I continued, “but we had made our minds up. Michael and I received our passports and kept them hidden, planning our departure. One night, it was August 11th, we crept out of the estate and ran across the Bay to board a ferry. During the long voyage, six months, I convinced Michael that he should join the air service with me, and we trained at Avord together. A week before I was posted here, he was sent to N.15”. Chaput’s eyes widened, and he made the curious French gesture of flicking water from his fingertips. “N.15! But they are right on the lines at Verdun! That’s a hot shop for veteran pilotes, never mind a beginner!”. Nervousness took a hold of me as he said the words. “But he’s okay…?” I half-asked, not entirely convincing myself. Ortoli placed a hand on my back. “I’m sure he is. Have you written him yet?”. I brightened up. “Yes! Although, I don’t know where, or how, to send my letter”. Chaput rose from his seat. “Ah, Mon Ami, Georges can have the letter posted for you! But you must write down the name of the Aerodrome. Good thing I know where N.15 hangs out!”
I rushed back through the corridor to my room, fishing out my letter to Michael and bringing it to Chaput, who, in one fluid motion, deftly wrote down the address of N.15’s airfield. Later in the evening, as Georges appeared to declare that Supper was ready, I asked if he may post the letter for me, and offered him ten Francs to do so. Smiling, he closed his palm over my outstretched hand, saying “No need for payment, Sir. I am, after all, your Orderly. I will gladly post your letter”.
Supper was the same meal as lunch, much to the distaste of the pilots, but as Montdidier, the head Cook for our Barracks, appeared to explain, the rain had gotten in through a hole in the roof and the pantry had been partially flooded. Swirling his spoon through the broth, little Devienne turned his nose up. “If this is what we are forced to eat, I shall just go hungry” he declared. Beside him, Jensen frowned. “ ɪᴛ's ᴘᴇʀғᴇᴄᴛʟʏ ɢᴏᴏᴅ. ᴠᴇʀʏ ʜᴇᴀʟᴛʜʏ, ɪɴ ғᴀᴄᴛ. ʏᴏᴜ sʜᴏᴜʟᴅ ᴇᴀᴛ ɪᴛ, ᴅᴇᴠɪᴇɴɴᴇ ” he said, before raising his bowl to his lips and, to the awe of the rest of us, drinking his share in one long motion. We chatted away idly over our bowls for the next hour. Chaput asked me one or two questions about San Francisco, and asked me how I was fluent in French. I explained to him that my mother, Dame Wilma Addington-Fullard, had inherited both the Addington wealth and estate upon her father’s death, and how my brothers and I had been afforded a well-rounded education as a result.
After we had finished eating, with not much else to do, most of us rolled into the long corridor, bidding each other goodnight as we slunk into our rooms and curled up in our cots. Only Lemoine and little Devienne stayed up. Sure that the ‘Good Weather’ (that is to say - the rain stopping us from flying) would hold up, they decided to celebrate their ‘holiday’ with a bottle of wine. I felt my eyelids become heavy as I listened to their muffled laughter, and soon I felt the Barracks slipping away.
Lemoire...Lemoine...I need to start getting these names right! But, writing for a French outfit is a fun change of pace after the R.F.C boys - even if the weather's dud!