Adj. James B. Fullard, Escadrille N.124 'Americaine' Behonne Aerodrome, France. 5 Victories, 1 awaiting confirmation.
May 30th 1916:
After the most luxurious rest I had experienced since my arrival I wandered downstairs to find a plate of croissants and a pot of hot coffee. Awaiting there was Thenault and Thaw, both enjoying their breakfast. I was invited to join them, which I graciously accepted. Once we had eaten, Thenault led me out to the car which sat in the driveway of the Villa. We clambered in and drove down the roads towards a large aerodrome on the edge of a pine forest. We stepped out onto the field.“Come, James. Let’s meet your mechanics”.
On the aerodrome were six canvas hangars, much larger than the ones at Ochey, and two wooden workshops, around which scores of mechanics lay idly around on the grass, basking in the warm sun. Thenault led me to one hangar, in which two Nieuport 11s sat. One was painted entirely in a brown and green camouflage, and the other was painted in brilliant sky blue. As we approached, a lean mechanic appeared, the sleeves of his overalls rolled up to reveal two forearms like oak tree trunks. “Ah, Aubin, here’s your new pilot, Adjutant Fullard”. The mechanic broke into a warm, endearing grin and extended a bearlike paw towards me. “Allo, Adjutant Fullard! My name ees Aubin Joubert!” he chirped happily, in a heavily-accented attempt at english. “Eet ees...er…” his smile faded and his brow furrowed. “Eet ees nice to meet you…?” he muttered to himself, under his breath. Despite myself I chuckled, and I saw the mechanic’s cheeks redden slightly. “Ne t'inquiète pas, je parle français” I told him with a wink, and his face lit up anew. Capitane Thenault bit back a smile. “Well, I’ll leave you to it”.
In French, Aubin showed me to my Nieuport, the brown-and-green one. After my two brief trips to the front in a Biplace, I was relishing at the chance to fly a Bebe again. “So, what will your insignia be?” he asked, and I shot him a confused glance. He went on to explain that each pilot had their own insignia painted on their fuselage, so as to recognise each other in flight. Whereas most pilots simply painted the initial of their last name, some designs were more exuberant, with the most recognisable being Capitane Thenault’s, who had left his machine in its original unpainted linen, and Chapman’s - the owner of the sky-blue Nieuport beside mines. I told Aubin I wanted my initials - J.F. - to mark my machine. “But of course! I’ll fetch the paint”.
As I milled around, other pilots began to appear on the aerodrome. I bumped into Michael, and we started to talk at length of our experiences in the air so far. He was thrilled to hear the stories behind my air victories, and showed concern as I told him of my two crashes. He roared with laughter at my stories of the comical Lemoine and little Devienne, the hopeless romantic. At noon, Capitane Thenault gathered the pilots and informed us that we were to go on patrol at 1 O’Clock. As de Villeneuve had forewarned me, I was assigned to lead one flight, with Thenault leading a second flight.
To both our excitement, Thenault assigned Michael as my wingman, with de Meux, Johnson and Chapman behind us. Cowden and Lufbery were to fly with the Capitane. As our eight Nieuports were simultaneously wheeled onto the field, I felt a rush of childlike excitement. Never before had I seen so many Bebes flying at once! I felt a surge of pride to see my own Nieuport on the flight line, its initials shining brightly against the dark camouflage. Promptly we donned our flying gear, climbed aboard our machines and set off towards St. Mihiel.
The front seemed to be busy today - after all, it was beautiful weather to fly in. I first saw at a distance two Nieuport 11s escorting a Biplace, and wondered to myself if it might be Escadrille 31. Next, we saw the giant shape of a lone Caudron silhouetted against a cloud as it lumbered back home. Venturing out further into no-mans-land, I looked around eagerly for German machines, hoping recklessly for a scrap. All of a sudden the bright blue machine to my left shuddered and coughed out a great cloud of black smoke, and Chapman signalled that he was turning for home with engine damage.
The skies appeared to be entirely devoid of Germans, much to my amazement. In my confusion, I took the flight further north, but nothing appeared to us. Finally relenting, I turned back South to return home, but just as I was about to turn away from the lines something caught my eye. There! Yes! Flying low over the front-lines was a single Eindecker! Immediately I snapped my nose towards the Bosche and begun to descend, my flight following closely behind. The lone wolf spotted us, but too late. We came down in screaming dives, and in a flash I was behind the German, firing a long burst. Almost immediately as my bullets impacted the Bosche machine there was a terrific flash of sparks as the engine burst into flames. The stricken monoplane stayed its course, but then Michael appeared behind it and fired a second burst into the machine, at which point its nose tilted forwards and it fell into a spiralling dive.
Grinning with delight, I turned the flight back for home, across the lines. Then, with no warning, the revolutions of my engine suddenly dropped, and then fell silent. Dumbfounded, I stared at the propeller as it windmilled to a halt, before signalling to de Meux that I was going to try and ditch. My bewilderment soon turned to anxiety as I looked down for a place to land, seeing nothing but shell craters, rolling hills and copses of trees. Frantically I searched for a landing spot as I descended, but it seemed that every inch of Verdun had been purpose-built to destroy any aeroplanes that attempted a landing. With time rapidly running out, I finally spotted a relatively flat field and made for it. However, as I approached I saw that the field was surrounded by a picket fence. If I had been approaching lengthways it would have been no problem, but I was coming towards the field from the side. There was simply not enough room to roll to a stop. In one last ditch effort, I rolled the Nieuport onto its side, mere feet from the ground, and once I had performed a quarter turn I yanked the stick back to level my wings. There was a terrifying jolt as I hit the ground, and I screwed my eyes shut.
When I opened them again, I was astounded to find that...I was sitting on the ground, perfectly upright! Beggaring all belief, my Nieuport hadn’t even a scratch on it. I begun to laugh like a man possessed at the absurdity of the situation, before wiping the tears from my eyes and clambering from my Nieuport. Hearing the drone of an engine overhead, I saw Michael’s Nieuport circling above, and I gave him a cheery wave. He waved back, and turned towards Behonne.
After an hour or two of me sitting beside my Nieuport and wondering what to do with myself, a pair of trucks arrived and out hopped four mechanics, Aubin among them.Thenault appeared from the passenger seat of one truck with a grin on his face. “A little engine trouble, James? What rotten luck, on your first sortie with us! Well, I see that you managed to get her down okay at least. The others told me that you shot down a Fokker, by the way. Excellent work!”
I watched with interest as my machine was swiftly disassembled by the mechanics and loaded into the trucks. Eventually I jumped into one, and we drove back to the Aerodrome, where my machine was reassembled and wheeled to one of the workshops.