Wulfe, thanks so much for the comments. While I'm going to miss James's friends (especially Lemoine and little Devienne), the first installment of the Escadrille Americaine story has gripped me. You've painted the different mood of the place quickly and well.
Lou, I love the Norwegian Swan livery! It didn't take you long to get blooded in No 70.
Maeran, wonderful vignettes, both the letter and the death of Tilley and Howell's landing.
Fullofit, Gaston is a man possessed. France will have to come up with some new gongs just for him. Wonderful stories and excellent flying in the vids. I envy your skill.
MFair, I think we'll need to ride different steeds in 3 Squadron before we go roping those Walfische.
Carrick, three kills already. Careful of those two seaters!
Collins is back in France...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Forty-One: In which I come home - from home
The scene had not changed a bit. In the east, an intermittent rumble of guns. The engine whine and banging of the tender as it lurched away across a rutted bit of track. And in front the neat row of Bessonneau hangars, each with four machines. Corporal MacInch, a rigger, gave me a cheery wave and a cry of “You’re back, sir! Good to have you here.” My boots crunched along the familiar gravel path that led to the long wooden building behind the hangars and bordering on a small orchard, the squadron office. I dropped by bag beside the step and bent to pat Hobble, the three-legged dog that had adopted B Flight. Inside I found Major Harvey-Kelly in shirt sleeves, pounding on a typewriter.
“Mr. Collins reporting for duty, sir,” I announced with a smart salute. The Major turned with a broad grin and headed over to shake my hand.
“Welcome back, Collins. I’ve been hearing the most wonderful stories about the trouble you’ve caused in London. Couldn’t get you back soon enough, they say. Let me buy you a drink and tell me all about it.” He fetched his tunic and led me outside to his car. Just then I saw Jericho leading Moon to the stables. I stood in the car and shouted to him as the Major began to drive off. “Meet us in the C Flight mess!”
The car squealed to a stop outside the Café du Progrès where the ladies Defossez were peeling potatoes. This was our dining area, although we had set up a bar and anteroom in an adjacent farm building. The Major asked the younger Mme Defossez for un morceau de fromage and some wine and we headed into the back room where the flight took its meals. Our hostess appeared with a large clay jug of claret, a board, a quarter round of a delicious half-hard cheese and a piece of Camembert, and half a loaf of fresh, warm bread. I suddenly realised that I was starving and did my best to tell the tale of my encounter with Max Aitken while feeding my face.
Major Harvey-Kelly was genuinely concerned about my mother’s condition, but I told him I’d walled that off nicely and it would not affect me. “That’s good,” he said, “because I want to give Captain Mealing a bit of a rest. He’s not due for leave or HE for a little while, but I have him as Acting Technical Officer. He is still C Flight commander, of course, but I want to limit his flight time. You’ll be leading much of the time – temporary, acting, unpaid. You know the drill.”
I was flattered and told him so. I ventured the comment that Sergeant Bayetto was the most experienced fellow we had and should be considered for a commission. The Major concurred and I had the impression he was working on that plan already. He brought me up to date. We’d had a few losses – all new pilots or observers. C Flight now consisted of Captain Mealing, a chap named Whistler, a recent arrival named Lewis, and me. I was to billet with the Poidevins once more, which delighted me. I had brought them some fine cakes from Fortnum and Mason and was impatient to see them again. Lawley and Williams, the observers who roomed there with me, had both been invalided out. Lewis was now there, and so was an observer named Chickering. The Major stood to leave just as Jericho arrived at the door. It was like Old Home Week. Jericho grabbed my should like a vice and shook my hand until I begged him to stop. It was time to tell the Aitken story all over again.
We polished off most of the cheese and nearly all of the wine (I use “we” liberally on the last point, for Jericho asked for a coffee), and I lit a cigarette as my cowboy friend told me about a hair-raising tangle with the new Roland two-seaters. He was about to start another tale when I sat up and swore. “I almost forgot,” I said. “This arrived at Hounslow yesterday morning as I was preparing to leave.”
I passed an envelope to Jericho. He stared at the American stamp and the return address: M. Sigurdsson and he unfolded it and read. The beginning was mainly commenting with my Dad’s death and the family moving to England and my role in the business. Jericho read the last paragraph.
“Tell your friend that I was in Tupelo, Mississippi, last week and scouted out Mrs. Cameron’s place. I forgot the parcel you sent me at home but need to go back next week. By the time you get this letter, Mrs Deemer Cameron will know her son is in uniform, in France, and in one piece. Regards, Mike.”
Jericho smiled like a kid at Christmas. “Say, Pard,” he said. “Do you think the landlady has any more of that wine?”
The first few days were a blur. May was coming to an end, the sun was up until after eight, and we were flying at least two patrols each good day. On 27 May I led an artillery spotting show south of the Somme. Wilson was letting out the antenna wire when he spotted three Fokkers climbing towards our flight of three Moranes. He quickly cranked in the cable and readied the Lewis. I waggled our wings and turned to meet the Huns. The fight did not last long. I heard the gun hammer away while I held the Morane in a shallow spiral. After a minute, or perhaps less, the firing stopped. I saw Lewis’s machine circling above. His Hun had gone. Bayetto was turning with a Fokker off to the north, but held the advantage. Then I noticed a ribbon of dark smoke trailing from a yellow machine a thousand feet below and a half-mile to the east. One of the Huns was damaged. I reached back and pounded on Wilson’s back, and then pointed ahead. We dived, gaining on the stricken Hun. I blipped the engine as we drew alongside and Wilson began firing in short bursts. The Fokker’s propeller stopped and its gentle glide grew steeper. The machine was over a small wood and the pilot struggled to put it down in a rough clearing, but it stalled and fell into the trees. I noted the position – two miles northwest of Péronne.
"The Fokker’s propeller stopped and its gentle glide grew steeper."
There was no need to worry. Lewis came alongside, pointed at the column of smoke rising from the wood, and gave me the “OK” sign. Wilson and I had our fourth victory.