Jericho, you dirty dog! Well, I can't say I'm surprised. Cowboys do love to ride, after all. Great narrative MFair, I'm curious to see what becomes of Jericho's newly found attraction - and, of course, how it might affect him in the air!
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Esc N.31, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
April 15th, 1916 (Part 1).
The sun was only beginning to cast its light over the dew-soaked grass of Ochey aerodrome as I quietly pulled on my uniform. I was surprised as I awoke to find a figure in the bed next to mines. From under the sheet poked the top of a black-haired head, gently snoring away. I made sure to be careful not to wake him as I crept out into the corridor and made my way towards the mess. Georges was in his usual spot at the corner of the table, smoking a cigarette as he read through the newspaper. “There’s somebody in my room..” I told him. “Yes, sir. The new replacement”. Victor’s replacement. I pulled a chair out, the legs scraping across the ground, and almost immediately from the corridor came the cry of “Who’s out there causing that racket?”. “Fullard,” I called back. “How’s the weather?” came Lemoine’s voice. I made my way over to the door and cracked it open, peering outside before calling out “Clear”.
Presently Messier, the Orderly who tells us our assignments, arrived and, with a great grin on his face, set about the work of knocking on doors and waking the pilots up. “Up, up up, you lazy lot! You’re flying today!” he called, as a chorus of protests and insults rolled out of the pilots’ rooms. Before long, we were all assembled in the mess. Messier took no notice of the pilots cursing him under their breaths as he listed off the assignments.
I was assigned to the first job of the day - escorting our Nieuport 12 on a reconnaissance mission over St. Mihiel, alongside Metayer (the new arrival). This time, Lt. Auger himself would be leading our escort. Tartaux, as Lemoine had predicted last night, would be piloting the Biplace. After that, I was set to patrol near Nomeny, further east down the lines.
We congregated on the airfield at 6am. From the cockpit of the Nieuport 12 I saw Tartaux staring intently at us, a fearful coldness in his gaze. I knew that he was assessing us, making his opinion of our usefulness. “You two,” snapped Auger, “Sharp eyes. If I wave you off, you go straight home”. We both nodded, and boarded our machines. As with my first patrol, the excitement built within me as the distant scar of no-mans-land drew ever-closer.
Finally, some sun!!!!
As we crossed over the top of the ruins of St. Mihiel, with the Two-Seat Nieuport below and in front of us, I recalled Ortoli’s remark. The Bosche come from the North and the East. Slowly, methodically, I scanned the skies for any sign of the enemy. Nothing. We flew for ten minutes or so, before suddenly Auger violently rocked his wings and went into a near-vertical dive. Confused, I followed, and ahead of me appeared the shape of two Eindeckers. They were flying the opposite way to us, completely unaware of our presence.
My heart rate quickened as they grew in our sights. And, suddenly, Auger was behind one. Our formations burst outwards, and before I could come to my senses I was in the midst of a twisting dogfight. An eindecker flashed in front of me, and I fired a burst into him, watching as he slipped into a spin before quickly recovering. I gave chase, hungry for the kill, as Auger’s machine took up position behind me. The Bosche tried to curve away, but I stuck close to his tail. Simultaneously two bursts of tracer fire hit him - one from my machine and one from Auger’s - and I watched the pilot bolt upright in his seat before slumping forwards. Who’s bullet got him?! I asked myself as the Eindecker slowly tilted forwards, going into a screaming nosedive. The last I saw of the Bosche, he was still in his death-dive, the fabric ripping away from his wings. Looking around me, I could find no trace of my wingmen, and so I flew back to the edge of the mud and started to climb. My eyes were drawn to a thin line of smoke rising from the mud, and as I strained my eyes I could see that it was what remained of the Fokker Auger and I had downed.
I saw a small cream-white shape flitting around in circles, at near ground level, over the wreckage. It was Auger, taking a closer look at his handiwork. I flew over to join him, appearing at the same time as Messier. Together we triumphantly formed up, and I couldn’t help but punch the air, letting out an excited whoop. We showed them! I thought, grinning at my compatriots from my cockpit. I saw Messier blankly looking back at me.
As we climbed out of our cockpits at Ochey and the mechanics appeared to wheel our machines into their hangars, Thierry ran a hand along the fuselage of my bus. “Hmmmm….” he said, with a critical nod, before looking over his shoulder at me with a sharp-toothed grin. “This coucou smells of victoire! Could it be? Did our Américain shoot down a Bosche?”. I punched him on the arm playfully. “Oh! Oh! But he did!” Thierry cried, poking me in the ribs. In the middle of our horseplay Auger strode up to us. Thierry cleared his throat, smoothed his overalls down and went back to his work. “Fullard. Excellent work. I saw your Bosche fall. I’ll telephone the front and ask the army for confirmation. We go back up at 2 O’Clock”. I snapped to attention, but couldn’t prevent the stupid smile on my face. “Yes, sir! Thank you!”.
In the mess I finally had the chance to introduce myself to my new roommate. “Sergent Albert Metayer. It’s a pleasure” he told me as I shook his hand. He was very softly spoken, quiet. His voice itself had a quality of being cold and emotionless, and in his deep green eyes was a look of infinite assessment. His face, clean-shaven, youthful, sharp and pale, remained frozen in a blank expression, save for the occasional slight upward turn at the corner of his mouth as he smiled unconvincingly.
“That was a good scrap this morning,” he said as we sat down to a late breakfast of ham and eggs. I agreed. “Yes, wasn’t it? Auger and I got one Bosche, but I never saw what happened to the other”. Matter-of-factly, as if declaring that the sky was blue, he replied “I shot him down”. I raised an eyebrow. “You got one? On your first patrol?”. “Of course. He got in front of my guns”.
As my eyes met his, I saw not a scrap of dishonesty. Behind the dull fire that burned in his eyes, I saw that he was telling the absolute truth. Here, I thought to myself, is a real killer.