Maeran - Great to hear what Stanley's been up to! Sounds like his B.E.2 proficiency is serving him well. Congratulations on victory No.1, and good thing 'Cock Robin' got down okay as well!
Hellshade - has it been that many already! Well, here's looking forwards to the next 100 pages!
Sgt. James B. Fullard Esc. N31 Ochey Aerodrome, France, 2 Victories.
April 24th, 1916:
At first light we were suddenly and unpleasantly awakened by an awful sound of scraping wood, floating into the corridor from the mess. “Merde! Who’s making that damned racket? Is that you, Messier?” came Lemoine’s anguished voice. A happy “Oui! It’s me!” answered, and there was an immediate chorus of profane outrage.
As we congregated for breakfast (by which point Messier had thankfully departed) we found the source of the noise. The orderly had dragged in a large blackboard, propped up on a wooden canvas, on which the day’s assignments had been written in white chalk. My name was written under the first sortie of the day - a dawn patrol at the St. Mihiel Curve - alongside little Devienne, Ortoli and Metayer. The youngster let out a miserable moan as he spotted his own name. “The dawn patrol again! They’re trying to kill me!” Ortoli smirked. “Oh, come on, future As des As, you can cope!” Devienne thumbed his nose at him.
On the airfield we saw for the first time our re-painted Nieuports. Our machines looked fierce with their new squadron insignia. The uniformity gave me the impression of professionalism; we looked dangerous. I saw on the faces of my colleagues that they were having similar thoughts. Devienne’s mechanics had been quick to paint the youngster’s heart insignia onto one of the Squadron’s spare Nieuports.
The cold was fierce as our Nieuports lifted up into the sky, and I hunched down in my cockpit as Ortoli led us into the climb, occasionally rubbing my hands against my legs in a desperate attempt to regain some warmth about my body, to no avail. We found our altitude and pointed towards the lines. Despite the cold, the trip was almost pleasant - we were treated to a wonderful view of the sun slowly climbing its way up and above the clouds, bathing France in the now-familiar gold of dawn, catching incredibly in the thin morning haze.
To the lines we sailed, and I saw my colleagues’ goggles flashing in the sun as they slowly turned their heads to scan for the omniprescent Fokkers. The wind had picked up considerably, and our delicate Nieuports rocked around like merry drunkards. Below us I noticed the lines were eerily quiet, and no artillery bursts could be seen. Have we finally stopped the German push? I wondered quietly to myself. I was snapped out of my daydreaming by a motion out of the corner of my eyes - Ortoli was rocking his wings fervently. Suddenly, he curved off to the right and I saw the shift in his propeller’s speed as he tore off towards an unseen enemy.
As we flew, I scanned excitedly for the enemy. Quickly I saw him - a lone Aviatik, circling ominously above our trench lines. He hadn’t seen us, and Ortoli employed the same tactic as Lemoine had done yesterday, making a wide curve to cut off the two-seater’s retreat line. The Bosche spotted us and promptly turned for home, but it was too little too late; we were closing fast.
I got behind the Aviatik and fired a long burst at him, cursing aloud as the wind rocked my nose and threw my aim. Suddenly I was buffeted upward into the Observer’s line of sight, and the tracers flashed backwards at me. Alarmed, I dove down and curved away, looking worriedly at my now-shattered windscreen. The others set about their work of attacking the Aviatik now - I saw a Nieuport bearing Ortoli’s palm get in close behind the two-seater and fire another long burst, and a gratifying trail of smoke plumed outwards. Ortoli dove under the machine, and a third Nieuport took his place, as I rose my nose up again to fire from below. Two crossed streams of tracers perforated the Aviatik as I expended the last of my ammunition, and it slowly dipped forwards before disappearing below us at a sickeningly high speed, caught in its final death-dive.
We formated again and turned back for our side. The German artillery started up at us in vengeful rage, but the bursts didn’t bother us too much. Ortoli pulled up alongside me, and I was surprised to see that he wore a terribly nervous expression. It was then that I became aware of a burning sensation on my left side. I peered down, and nearly cried out in shock as I saw a red patch, blooming outward like a rose, forming from a tear in my flying jacket. Immediately I felt nauseous, and black spots appeared in front of my eyes. The pain grew into a crescendo of nauseating agony. I looked over, terrified, at Devienne, who wore the same expression of concern that Ortoli had. With his teeth gritted, he flew close to my own machine, the nervy anticipation showing on his young face.
The pain was intense, but I resolved to try and take my machine back to Ochey. My wingmen stuck close to me as I glanced over my Nieuport, trying to assess the damage. Apart from the windshield, there were some flying wires that now hung loose and severed, trailing behind my machine, and I saw a fine groove in the cowling where a bullet had skimmed off its metal surface. The journey back to Ochey was agony. Several times I felt my eyelids grow heavy, as my head drooped downwards, but this was usually met with a surge of frightened determination as I fought to stay awake. Adrenaline fired on all cylinders. Several times the wind carried me off course, but clever Ortoli had taken point in front of me and guided me back in the right direction each time I faltered.
After what felt like hours, Ochey came into view and my three wingmen peeled away to give me space to land. I did so, or at least made a poor imitation of a landing, and as my machine rolled to a stop I saw Thierry and Souris marching my way. Feebly I flipped the magnetos off, and I heard my mechanic’s voice as he approached.
“What in the hell is this?! Fullard, what have you done to my Nieu-” his voice abruptly ceased and his eyes widened as he noticed the small patch of blood which had soaked through the side of the fuselage. Immediately he broke into a sprint towards me. I allowed myself to slump backwards, my head tilting up to face the sky, as I heard Thierry’s cries of “le Toubib! Le Toubib!”. Then he was at my side. “Oh, Christ, tu imbécile” he murmured as he looked over my wound, then, pushing himself up onto the fuselage stirrup, he grabbed me under the arms. “Sorry in advance, friend”.
I gasped in impossible agony as I was pulled from my machine and laid down on the ground. A moment later I was lifted onto a stretcher. As I was whisked towards the doctor’s tent, I watched Devienne, Ortoli and Metayer circling overhead. Shapes seemed to blur as the sky disappeared above me, being replaced by canvas, and the middle-aged face of our squadron’s doctor appeared above me. He injected me with something and I felt the agony slowly subside. Relief crashed down upon me like an almighty wave, and with a long sigh I shut my eyes and allowed myself to slip into darkness.
I awoke not long after, my torso and arm bandaged. Slowly and painfully raising myself up, I saw the doctor at his desk, smoking a cigarette and stooping over a sheet of paper, penning away. “Is it bad?” I asked, quietly. He turned slowly, removing his half-moon glasses and stowing them away in a pocket. “Bad, no. But too damned lucky! A bullet passed just under your left armpit, between your arm and your ribs. You have a nasty gash on both, but the bullet went past. A few more inches to the right and it would have been your heart, jeune. But, as it is, you’ve gotten off lightly. You’ll be flying again in no time”. I let out a shaky breath. “How long?” I asked, and he smirked. “Four days. You’ll have to be patient”. I groaned, slumping back down into the bed. “A week of rain and I get shot the moment it clears up! At this rate I’ll miss the whole bloody war” I muttered. The doctor chuckled as he turned back to his work.
I'll get the hang of knocking down two-seaters in the end...it might take me a few pilots, though!!