Fullofit - as to be expected, great story once again. You had me going as well for a second! I thought Gaston was about to become L'as à une main! I love the description of the hospital - it was thoroughly unpleasant to read (in a good way). I really got the sense of the behind-the-action misery and lingering horror. That doctor sounds like a dodgy chap - I wouldn't do much flitting in and out of consciousness around him, if at all Gaston can help himself...by any means, I'm looking forwards to his return.
Lederhosen - Dellouin again! It seems that you have something of a rival on your hands. Better be careful of that one...
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N31, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
April 18th, 1916.
For the third day in a row we were able to enjoy luxuriously long sleeps, with the rain still frantically trying to put an end to our rooftop. Over our breakfast Lemoine complained in-between mouthfuls of food that the tar-paper roof above his room had started to leak, and we tried to sympathise amid our badly-hidden amusement as he told us that he had awakened to find his boots filled to the top with rainwater.
Keen to avoid another slow day of boredom, little Devienne declared that he was heading to the hangars to paint his machine with a personal insignia. With a cheery grin on his face, he told us “I shall have a heart on the side of my machine, so that the Mademoiselles will know exactly that Devienne is here wherever I should land!”. Lemoine let out a hearty laugh. “What mademoiselles! Are you going to put Pierre in a wig and drive him someplace quiet?”. We erupted into roars of laughter, save for Devienne, whose childlike face had turned beet red, and Metayer, who was contented only to present us with his ghostly smile.
Despite the mockery, we all agreed that painting our machines was a fine idea (at which the offended Devienne brightened up a little) and would serve to fend off some of the boredom, and so we made a dash through the thick mud and icy rain towards the hangars. Lemoine stayed behind. As he told us, “I'm not going out in all of that! Besides, I don't know what I should paint on my ship”. “How about a glass of Pinot?” Ortoli had asked cheekily, and Lemoine thumbed his nose at him.
I found Thierry and Souris quietly humming war songs to themselves as they worked with an expert patience on my machine. As I entered, Thierry sprung up from his work, excitement gleaming in his eyes. “Fullard! How about this rain, eh? Magnificent!” he kissed the ends of his fingertips. “We’ve been left in peace to work on our machine uninterrupted! I tell you what, your coucou is now the finest in the Escadrille, or my name is not Thierry Le Goff!”.
Grinning, I thanked them both for their hard work, and then told them why I had come over. Obligingly, Souris scoured the hangar for a bucket of paint, eventually coming back with a brush and a tin of cockade-red paint (the same we used to paint our roundels). Thierry watched interestedly as he smoked his pipe, as with paintbrush in hand I set about my work. Of course, there was the problem of actually choosing an insignia. No ideas sprung to mind, and so I eventually settled for a modest ‘F’, for Fullard. After congregating in the mess, we discussed our embellishments. Devienne had his heart, Jensen had decided on the inscription ‘Viking’, and Ortoli had gone with a palm tree, to remind him of his Mediterranean home.
At lunchtime came shocking news. Lt. Auger had gone up in his Nieuport, despite the terrible weather, to personally deliver a combat report to the Headquarters at Pau. As we sat over our Croissants and Orange Juice, his orderly made an appearance. He retained his usual formal mannerisms, but his voice was strained as he spoke to us. “Gentlemen. I regret to inform you that today Lieutenant Auger was involved in a serious air crash while on the way to Pau. He has been taken to hospital with severe wounds. Operations will resume as normal, and your replacement Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Lucien Couret de Villeneuve, is scheduled to arrive by the evening to assume command of Escadrille 31”.
We looked at each other in stunned silence. “That fool, what business did he have that couldn’t wait until the weather was off?” Lemoine asked, taking a long swig from his hip flask. Jensen let out a deep sigh. “ʜᴇ ᴡᴀs ᴀ ғɪɴᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴀɴᴅᴇʀ. ɪ ᴏɴʟʏ ʜᴏᴘᴇ ʜᴇ ᴄᴀɴ ʀᴇᴄᴏᴠᴇʀ ғʀᴏᴍ ʜɪs ᴡᴏᴜɴᴅs”. The men murmured their agreement. Chaput, shaking his head, said “He was always too bold for flying”.
The mood was down for the rest of the day. Listening to the drumming of the rain, I recalled just two days ago the Lieutenant calling Metayer and I to his office, expressing to us his gratitude. I thought of his mannerisms in the air, as I had watched him fight, and how expertly he handled his machine. It seemed a tongue-and-cheek joke to suggest that he might crash of his own error. There was not much talk around the mess table as we sat down for supper. We didn’t meet our new C.O. that night.
It was actually on April 16th, 1916, that Lt. Alfred Auger had his crash. He was indeed hospitalised and replaced as C.O. of Esc. 31, but he recovered and went on to fly with Les Cigognes, the famous Escadrille 3, where he would go on to score 7 confirmed victories, and another 14 unconfirmed. He was sadly killed on July 28th, 1917, after a fight with Jasta 8 in which he claimed his final victory over Gustav Stenzel, J8's C.O. In the dogfight he was shot in the neck and bled to death not long after landing his machine.