Raine - I've said it before and I'll say it again. Your storytelling absolutely shines in the little details - the quiet moments between the carnage of the air war. How you can create such captivating stories when speaking of things so simple as a trip into town continues to astound me. You really get a feel for Collins as a character. Great stuff.
77_Scout - And so, the inevitable has occurred - MacKinlay has ended a life. I love the way you've described Aleck's reaction - sadness mixed with a sense of 'it had to be done'. It reads very much like a real-life memoir of a R.F.C pilot - Albert Ball's letters home and McCudden's memoirs spring to mind. I look forwards to more!
Sgt. James B. Fullard Esc. N31 Ochey Aerodrome, France
1 Confirmed Victory.
April 16th, 1916.
Little Devienne’s cry rung out, piercing our ears as we lay, half-awake, in the easy haze of morning: “Bonnes nouvelles! C’est temps aéronautique!”. Cheers of happiness came from every room. Turning to me, Metayer said “But isn’t that rain I can hear on the roof?”. Smiling, I explained to him that when little Devienne says it’s flying weather, he means weather so bad that you can’t fly in it. Metayer seemed puzzled by the concept, a slight frown on his face as he pulled on his uniform.
I enjoyed the wonderful warmth of my bed for a few minutes more before begrudgingly rising and heading to the mess. As I walked through the corridor, I couldn’t help but smirk at the almighty rumbling sound coming from Ortoli and Lemoine’s room. As I stepped into the mess, Ortoli muttered “Tch! Do you hear that, Fullard? If wars could be won by snoring, there would not be a Bosche in France by nightfall!”. I bit back a laugh.
It wasn’t long before little Devienne retreated back to his cot for some extra shut-eye, leaving just Ortoli, Jensen, Metayer and I to enjoy our bowls of porridge, brought out by Georges and the cooks. Ortoli was excitedly telling us of the latest Nieuport scout, a faster equivalent of our N.11s with a more powerful engine, when an orderly I didn’t recognise quietly entered from outside. With an air of officialdom that made me wary, he slowly unbuttoned his greatcoat before clearing his throat softly and placing his hands behind his back. “Sergent Metayer, Sergent Fullard, Lieutenant Auger has requested your immediate presence”. Beside me, little Devienne whispered “That’s Auger’s orderly...you had better go along and see what the C.O. wants”.
We followed the orderly through the mud and rain of the Aerodrome to the small white building that acted as Auger’s office. Though the door we found a modest room, almost reminiscent of a dentist’s waiting room, in which sat a small and impeccably kept desk - assumedly belonging to the orderly. To the left of the desk was a solid oak door, also painted white, behind which awaited the C.O’ office. The orderly held the door open for us. Metayer promptly strode through, and I sheepishly followed. We both snapped to attention as the Lieutenant leaned back in his chair, looking critically over us with his piercing blue stare. His desk was solid and purpose-built. Little else apart from a telephone, a lamp, and a small stack of papers was on the desktop. In front of the desk sat three ornately-carved wooden chairs with blue velvet cushions.
“Gentlemen. Please, sit”. We obeyed. “I have good news for you both. Last night I telephoned the lines on your behalf, and inquired about any trace of your claims. It is with happiness and pride that I can now tell you that, Metayer, both your Fokkers have been found and confirmed. Fullard, the Bosche you burned was seen to fall in the middle of no-mans-land. It has also been confirmed. But, the army never saw your Fokker fall at St. Mihiel amid the fighting on the ground. May I offer my congratulations! It is rare that two pilots from the G.D.E score in their first week”. He stood up from the desk and held his hand out to us, and one by one we shook it. I was glowing with pride, but beside me Metayer wore his indifferent look. He seemed not to care one ounce that his victories had been confirmed. Even more astounding was the fact that he showed almost no reaction to hearing Auger’s news that he was to be awarded the Médaille Militaire, save for the appearance of his ghostly smile and the quiet response of “I am honoured”.
Back in the mess I found that the rest of the pilots had appeared from within their rooms, and in a state of excitement I told them the good news. With a red-faced grin, Lemoine boldly cried out “Pinard tonight, my boys! We must celebrate!”
Celebrate we did, and the wine flowed until we had to remain seated for dizziness (except for Metayer, who didn’t touch a drop). The only pilot among us able to retain his composure was Jensen, who seemed to have an impossible tolerance for alcohol. By the end of the night, as our uniforms hung unbuttoned and wine-stained off of our backs, Lemoine surprised us all by softly breaking into song. We fell silent as his voice rose from a quiet mumbling to an impassioned cry as, to the tune of Bonsoir M’amour, he told us of war, profiteering, death, damnation. The smiles faded from the men’s faces, and with a shaky Crescendo Lemoine reached an impossibly sad and beautiful refrain.
Adieu la vie, adieu l'amour Adieu toutes les femmes C'est bien fini, c'est pour toujours De cette guerre infâme,
C'est à Lorette, sur le plateau Qu'on a risqué sa peau Nous étions tous condamnés Nous étions sacrifiés
The last syllable hung in the air above our heads. There was no sound, save for the gentle tap-tap-tap of the rain on the Barracks roof. Lemoine smiled faintly to himself, taking a sip of wine. A single tear coursed down his cheek like an avion in its final vertical fall. “We used to sing that at Lorette” he said quietly, before he seemed to slip into reminiscing.
I glanced over at Metayer, who also seemed to have been cast into some distant memory. “We sung to the same tune” he said, barely audible, “Only, the words were different at Verdun”.