I'm scrambling to catch up after having a busy week - still been checking up on everyone's stories, though! All good stuff.
Sgt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N31, Ochey Aerodrome, France.
May 8th 1916:
Each day I awaited Georges handing me my transfer papers for the Escadrille Americaine. Each day I was disappointed anew.
In the air, the mood was tense after the sudden arrival of the Rolands. De Villeneuve had ordered every pilot onto the airfield at 0500 on the 3rd, informing us that multiple German squadrons in our sector were thought to have the new machine. He also went through a list of reported strengths and weaknesses of the craft. There were few weaknesses. Over the front, our scanning became more fervent, more attentive. Nobody wanted to encounter a Roland flight.
That day, Jensen, little Devienne and I were assigned to escort Tartaux and Papiel’s N.12s to St. Mihiel on a Bombing raid of the Bosche trenches. As we approached the lines we opened our throttles and pulled ahead of the two Biplaces. Suddenly I noticed two machines flying alongside us at our level - Aviatik Cs, returning to their own side from our lines. Jensen saw them at almost the same time and immediately we turned in for the attack. Jensen slotted in behind the rear Aviatik and I saw two simultaneous bursts of tracer. Suddenly the Nieuport dropped its nose and curved away. Devienne fell behind the machine next, and I watched the two exchange fire as I closed in on the foremost Aviatik. I turned my attention to my own quarry - the Aviatik in front. I fired a long burst, watching my tracers slam through the white fuselage as I slowly closed, and then, with a jolt, the gun fell silent, jammed.
I cried out in frustration and dove under the Aviatik, curving away and watching over my shoulder as the German two-seater’s propeller churned to a stop. I circled back and stayed at a safe distance to observe the Aviatik sinking down towards the mud, where it eventually crashed down into a row of tree stumps just West of the banks of l’Étang de Wargévaux. Satisfied, I circled a little to watch the two grey shapes emerge from the wrecked machine and scramble towards the German trenches, before lazily circling for home.
After making my report, I was called into de Villeneuve’s office. “Have a seat, Fullard” the C.O offered. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you”. My mind immediately went to Michael. and I felt a cold chill run down my spine. “These three claims you’ve put in. I can’t have any of them confirmed for you”. There was a short pause. “Is that the news, sir?” I ventured. He smiled faintly. “Yes. That’s all. But, I don’t doubt these claims. In fact, I wanted to give you a little something in recognition”. He pushed a sheet of paper over the table, which I took up and looked over. It was a 48 hour pass. “But, sir, I-” I was cut off by de Villeneuve’s kind, but firm voice.
“Take a rest. You’ve had nothing but dawn patrols for two weeks”. Almost as if the words had summoned the sensation, at that moment I felt a sudden tiredness. Thanking the C.O, I made my way back to the barracks for supper.
In the mess, I found Ortoli, Lemoine and Chaput sitting around the table, their faces wearing looks of distant sadness. Lemoine nodded quietly as I pulled up a seat, my eyes flitting from pilot to pilot, searching for a context to their misery. Eventually I took the plunge and asked "What's going on?". Jensen turned to me, his brow furrowing as he answered. "ʟɪᴛᴛʟᴇ ᴅᴇᴠɪᴇɴɴᴇ's ᴍɪssɪɴɢ. ɪ ᴅᴜᴄᴋᴇᴅ ᴏᴜᴛ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ ғɪɢʜᴛ ᴡʜᴇɴ ᴍʏ ᴇɴɢɪɴᴇ ᴡᴀs ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇᴅ, ᴀɴᴅ sᴀᴡ ʜɪᴍ ғᴀʟʟɪɴɢ ɪɴ ᴀ sᴘɪɴ ᴡʜᴇɴ ɪ ʟᴏᴏᴋᴇᴅ ʙᴀᴄᴋ. ʜɪs ᴍᴀᴄʜɪɴᴇ ᴡᴀs ᴛʀᴀɪʟɪɴɢ sᴍᴏᴋᴇ". The news went through me like a shockwave, and I slouched down in my seat. Weakly, I muttered "Dammit. He was a good kid". Across from me, Lemoine took a sip from his hip flask, his face briefly contorting into misery before he quickly shot up from his seat, cried out "Merde! and stormed away towards his room. The slam of his door shook the barracks.
The day seemed to take an infinity to pass and the mood was low. Nobody lingered after supper, and we all turned in for an early night. As I lay down to sleep, I slipped into a dream where I was laughing at some joke Lemoine had made. Devienne was there too, his face youthful and innocent as he laughed along. The scene switched, in the haze that they often do, and we were around the mess table, with Devienne telling us "I will be l'As des As! I'll be better than even le Violet!". Michael was there in the dream, and in English he replied "Yeah right, Kiddo! You just worry about watching your back, okay?".
I was mercifully saved from the unsettling dreams by the arrival of Georges, with a pilot in tow. The pilot looked to be in his early thirties, with faint stubble around his jawline and sleek, black hair swept casually back with a comb. His tunic hung casually unbuttoned as he stood with one hand in his pocket, the other nursing a half-smoked cigarette. With ice-blue eyes, a squared, slightly curving jawline and hard, sharp cheekbones, the man was incredibly handsome. He reminded me of the silver screen stars back at home. "My apologies, sir, I didn't mean to wake you" Georges offered, and then gestured to the man. "This is your new roommate, Sergent Quinchez. I extended an arm from under the covers. "Apologies, friend. This isn't quite a proper introduction". Quinchez smirked as he gave my hand a firm pressure. "Not to worry, mon Ami. It is quite late, and I am tired anyway. Let us be properly acquainted in the morning?". "Yes, let's do that". I promptly rolled over, pulling the wool sheet over my head and slipping back into an unsettling dreamworld.
On the 5th de Villeneuve received a phone call from the front. Devienne was alive and well, albeit shaken up. The rearmost Aviatik we attacked was clearly crewed by a pair of old hands - their shooting was deadly accurate. After Jensen had dropped away with engine damage, the observer had shot out one of Devienne's propeller blades. In a panic, he threw his machine into a spin, managed to switch off the violently vibrating propeller, and come in for a rough landing in the mud. Lemoine was especially happy to have the youngster back.
The next two days were marred with bitter rain, and so I mooched about in the hangar, observing Thierry and Souris at work on my battered machine, re-patching bullet holes and re-fitting the new replacement engine. It didn't run quite as smoothly as the old engine, but it was acceptable. Thierry gave a great sigh and looked over at me, shaking his head. "You pick up an A-1 Coucou and get it shot-up within a week. You monster. Now, don't get this engine written off as well, okay? And don't collect any more holes!".
On the mornings of the 7th and the 8th it was comforting to hear little Devienne's familliar cry. "Don't get up, boys! It's perfect flying weather!".