I feel that I must write and tell you the most wonderful news; William has proposed and I have consented to become his wife!
As I told you previously, William had a fortnight of home leave due. He invited me to the family house at Newmarket and we spent a lovely few days there...
...Stanley House is used by Lord Derby to attend the racing and is also used to breed and train racehorses. William is keen on the sport and spent some time talking to the head trainer, Mr Lambton. Apparently there are high hopes for Phalaris this year, who might even beat Fifinella. I cannot say I followed the conversation as I usually devote my time at the races to observing fashion. Yet I agree that Phalaris is a handsome creature. He is also well mannered, which I understood to be a good thing.
Enough of racing, my dear Elsie. Happily, my dear William noticed that I was tiring of his sporting ways and we took a pony and trap out into the Suffolk countryside with a picnic basket...
…father is pleased as he feels that an alliance with Lord Derby will aid his progress in the party. I am sure that he is happy for me as well. Mother is more clearly delighted for me in myself, although sometimes I get the impression that she considers this match a personal triumph...
As always, with affection, Di
Captain Tilley peered down as he waited for the next flash. He and Lt Howell had been on this art obs job for too long, in his opinion. The first gun took four shots to zone in, but the second had taken eight and the third was now on the fifth shot. Black puffs of Archie sprouted in the air.
The BE2c lurched in a way that shoved Howell against the side of the observer's cockpit. “I say, Till. Fly steady!” Howell turned around and stopped short. “Bloody hell!”
Arnold Tilley was lying back in the cockpit and there was quite a lot of blood. Behind him, a plume of white mist trailed the Quirk. The smell of petrol filled Howell's nose. “Come on pal!” Howell leaned over and touched his comrade. Tilley was insensible. “Tills, I need you to land the kite!” Nothing.
Worse than nothing. The engine ran out of fumes as the leak finally drained the petrol from the aeroplane. The last rattles of the engine died away, leaving the scream of the wind in the wires and the booms of the guns below.
Howell realised that he was now stuck in a stricken aeroplane with a dead pilot at the controls.
Holding on to the Lewis gun mounting, Howell clambered out of the observer's cockpit. The wind howled around him and threatened to push him off the aeroplane and into the void. Gripping on tight, he managed to get his boots into the pilot's cockpit.
Tilley was still there, but Howell could do nothing for him now. Slipping down in front of his pilot, Howell tried the controls. The stick worked fine but the rudder bar was stuck somehow. Was it Tilley's foot or some damage. Howell did not have time to find out.
Taking hold of the stick, Howell sat on Tilley's lap and tried to hold the BE2 in a steady glide. They were over the British lines, but not far enough for his liking. He could hear the rat-at-at tat of machine gun fire. So far they hadn't hit him.
The ground came up and Howell remembered how pilots always pulled the nose up in the last moments before landing. He pulled back on the stick.
For an observer with no piloting experience landing on a battlefield, it was a great landing. The wheels touched, bounced and then the Quirk settled with a bone rattling bump.
Reminded of the petrol fumes, Howell leapt out. Then he reached back for Tilley. “Hey, Tills. You never know,” Howell pulled the limp pilot clear of the aeroplane and into the welcoming arms of the Tommies who had run over to help.
So, a write up without any direct presence of my pilot!
Stanley's own missions haven't been very interesting. Bomb Loos railway yard again.
I nearly wrote a historical novel about him getting engaged. The first week of his leave coincided with the Easter Rebellion in Dublin. Since Stanley would have been talking to politicians (mainly his father and his prospective father in law), I thought that might be interesting. But then I decided that from the perspective of a soldier on leave at the time, the Dublin affair was not of any interest. There were rebels all the time in the Empire. Only retrospect makes this different.
Elsie is Diane Baldwin's second cousin, Elsie Kipling. The Kiplings and the Baldwins were close before and after the war and Rudyard mentions Diane (as Di) in letters. The two women definitely knew each other and were only a year apart in age, so may have been friendly enough for an "I got engaged!" letter.
The story of Captain A R Tilley and his observer J G Howell deserved to be told. Tilley died to shrapnell wounds on 11th May 1916. A trained observer, but not a pilot, Howell landed behind British lines, but the BE2c was destroyed by shelling overnight.
Tilley was buried at La Chapelle-d'Armentieres. He was 22 years old.