Sgt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N31, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
2 Claims Pending.
April 15th, 1916 (Part 2).
At Two O’Clock Auger, Metayer, little Devienne and I all congregated on the aerodrome. Hastily we boarded our machines and I looked over the map, on which our patrol route had been marked out in pencil. We were headed further east from St. Mihiel, where we would patrol near the borders of the region of Lorraine. The lines straightened out at that sector, so we would only have to look North for incoming Bosches.
We got underway, our four Nieuports lifting up into the clear blue sky and heading towards the lines. Behind me, I noticed that Messier was already slowly scanning the skies above us by the time we had reached Nancy. I thought it overly cautious, but I scanned too. Nothing appeared to me save for the giant shapes of two Caudrons sailing peacefully along, side by side. As I watched them disappear behind a cloud, I wondered if they were piloted by my friends at C.66.
Immediately as we crossed into the mud I saw them. Three Eindeckers, slightly higher, boldly flying out to meet us head-on. My grip tightened on the flying stick as our two formations closed the distance. One dove down to attack, and before I knew it he was on my tail. Feeling panic building up, I twisted and turned, trying to shake the German, but a burst from Auger soon had him looping away. Together we gave chase as I saw our wingmen pursuing the other two Fokkers. Auger was behind the Bosche, but as I approached he curved away to the flank. His intent was clear. Get him, Fullard. I flew as close as I dared to the Bosche’s tail and pressed down on the trigger.
I was taken completely by shock as an intense heat hit my face, and sparks showered my windshield. Instinctively I pushed the nose of my machine down and zoomed underneath the Eindecker, and it was then that I saw a sight I shall never forget for as long as I live. As I looked up, not five feet above my head was a brilliant plume of fire erupting from the nose of the German machine. I was almost close enough to reach out and touch the wheels. I skidded away to the right of the burning Eindecker and looked into the cockpit. Mercifully, the German pilot hung limp in his seat, and for one haunting moment the machine, still consumed by fire, flew on straight and true, as if the aeroplane itself was making one last bid for its lines. Then, silently, its nose dropped and it fell into oblivion.
Stunned into silence at what I had seen, I turned back towards French lines. From behind the edge of a cloud appeared a Nieuport, who fell into position behind me. It was Metayer, the same indifferent look on his face. He waved to me casually as he joined me, as if we had run into one another on the street. Soon after, we found little Devienne circling in the mud. After lingering for a few moments, expecting Auger’s arrival, Devienne signalled to return home.
At suppertime the mood in the Barracks was euphoric. Auger had returned a half-hour after us; he had chased a Fokker as far as Metz before catching him and bringing him down. With his ghostly little smile, Metayer told us how he had brought down his second Fokker - an account that was corroborated by little Devienne. “Là! Là! Là! Là! You are telling me that our new man brought down two Bosches on his first day?! It has taken me all my time in the air to score twice!”. Ortoli scoffed. “Lemoine, that is because you’re always too drunk for aiming! All the Bosches have to do with you on their tail is fly perfectly straight! But, two shot down on your first day, Metayer, that is a rare feat indeed. You must be a real A-1 pilot!”.
From the end of the table, Chaput pointed out “But, did you hear, our Americain has also claimed two today!”. Lemoine spat a mouthful of wine out in shock. “Merde, this can’t be! Two brand new pilotes, with four Bosche between them before sundown! Man, what luck we’ve had! Two Voscadeaux’s have come to our squadron!”. “Oh! No, no! I was lucky! For both of mines Auger was at my side helping me!” I responded, embarrassed. “All the same,” Ortoli cut in, “congratulations to you both! You have made France proud. There are Bananas in your future, and lots of them!”. I frowned in confusion. “Bananas…?”. He gave a wry smile. “Medals”.
“And yours? You acted alone?” Lemoine asked Metayer. He shrugged. “And you think they’ll be confirmed?”. “Oh. It doesn’t matter to me. But, anyway, I think it’s time I went to bed”. Lemoine’s face turned beet red. “Doesn’t matter, he said! You don’t want to build your score?!”. Metayer’s hollow smile appeared again. “My friend, I am a soldier. What does fame do to win the war?”. With that, he disappeared into the corridor.
We sat quietly for a few moments. “He makes me uneasy” Ortoli finally said, and there were murmurs of agreement. “ɪ ᴛʜɪɴᴋ ʜᴇ ɪs ʀɪɢʜᴛ,” Jensen remarked, “ᴡᴇ sʜᴏᴜʟᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ғᴏᴄᴜs ᴏɴ ᴘᴇʀsᴏɴᴀʟ sᴄᴏʀᴇs”. Little Devienne scoffed. “Speak for yourself, Viking! I plan to become France’s As des As!”. Lemoine grunted in agreement as he took another swig of wine.
I entered my room at the end of the night to find Metayer sound asleep, not even stirring. As for myself, I was restless. In my head, I replayed the events of the day. I found myself unsettled slightly by the image of the burning Fokker.