2 June, 1916 Fienvillers, France 70 Squadron, R.F.C. Lt. Randolph Arvid Swanson, MC & Bar, CdG 13 confirmed victories
Lieutenant Swanson was thoroughly enjoying breakfast in his new accommodations at Mme Corcelles' boarding house. As he sipped at some wonderfully strong coffee he finished off a second warm brioche which he’d slathered with an apricot jam that he was sure had nearly as much rum in it as it had fruit – it was all beyond delicious. On the table in front of him was spread a two-week old copy of “Le Miroir” which Swany was muddling his way through, (while he was getting quite good at speaking French, reading it was still proving a fair challenge). On the cover of the newspaper was a photo of the Countess Markievicz seated in the back of an ambulance which was being used to transport her to prison after being sentenced for her part in the rebellion in Ireland during the week of Easter. ''La Comtesse Markievicz regagne la prison apres sa condemnation”, read the caption. As much as the young Minnesotan was willing to fight for Britain against the Hun, he was fully on the side of the Irish Republic and their fight for independence. How could he not be when his own country had done the very same thing little more than a century before?
“Will you be having more coffee Lieutenant”, Mme Corcelles inquired in a way that sounded more like a challenge than a question. Swany smiled and thanked the woman politely and informed her he was finishing up and would be heading over to camp soon, so nothing more for him. She gave a thin, stern smile as she turned back into the kitchen. He laughed quietly to himself, the woman amused him, and reminded him of his old Norwegian aunt. A good sort, and not willing to take guff from anyone.
It was about ten minutes of eight and Swany still had the table to himself despite the presence of another half dozen boarders in the house. Since taking a room here four days ago he’d come to the conclusion that he and the Madame were the only early risers. He took one last long, leisurely drink of his coffee then stood, folded the paper, and placed it back in the basket of reading material perched on the sideboard behind him. He smoothed out his uniform then headed out the front door into the bright blue of another beautiful morning.
As Lieutenant Swanson walked towards camp along the Rue de la Gare he thought about yesterday morning’s mission. It had been a line patrol to the north all the way up to Béthune with four of the squadron’s Strutters. The weather had been fair and winds had been light out of the west, and the flight to the AO had been very quiet. That changed shortly after they were over the city when Swany’s G/O, Lt. Christopher Dent, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a spot in the sky off their lower portside. Three Eindeckers were flying along towards the east not but 500’ below them. Swany waggled the wings of his mount and dove hard on the enemy craft. Two others of his flight did the same while the fourth Strutter stayed high to act as lookout.
It was again no real contest as the new Sopwiths completely outclassed the aging Fokkers. Swany’s target attempted to make a run for it by diving towards his own lines but was soon cut off and had to turn and fight. After a brief go-round Swany had the Hun in his sights and unleased a stream of bullets into the engine and cockpit. The pilot slumped forward as the Strutter flew past him. Suddenly, the enemy ship burst into flames and nosed forward. Just as suddenly, while Swany was looking over his shoulder at the blazing Eindecker, fuel began spewing into the cockpit of his own mount, spritzing him from head to toe. Quickly, the young ace shut the petrol cock and switched off the magnetos in an effort to avoid the fate of his fallen enemy. Then he began looking for a place to land. There was an aerodrome just to the south, near the town of Hesdigneul - that would do. The fuel continued spraying everywhere as he glided the dead Strutter towards the field, all the while praying they wouldn’t catch fire. He could see now that the supply line running along the side of the cockpit had been shot through, but how? That’s when he noticed the bullet hole in the floor. “Son-of-a-bich!” Swany swore to himself as he did his best to hold back the spray of petrol with his right hand. Some trigger-happy gunner on the ground must have been taking pot shots at the Hun plane and had hit them instead.
The glide to Hesdigneul seemed to take an eternity. When they at last settled onto the grass and rolled gently to a stop near one of the hangars, Swany and Chris scrambled from their mount like frightened rabbits. It wasn’t until they were several yards away from it that they breathed a collective sigh of relief. Swany stripped out of his fuel-washed flying gear, letting the sun and the wind dry it while he and Chris waited for the ground crew to repair the leak, clean up the cockpit, and refuel their bus.
"Cigarette?" Chris jokingly offered.
"Maybe later", Swany shot back in a matter-of-fact tone, then after a brief pause added, "cigarette - vut an ass."
Lieutenant Dent chuckled, feeling quite good about himself.
Shortly before lunch they were back in the air on their way home to Fienvillers where they turned in their reports and claims and grabbed a bite to eat. They hadn’t even finished their meal when confirmation of their victory came in from a British field gun unit south of Béthune. That made it number thirteen for Swany and if he were a superstitious man that would have concerned him. But he was not a superstitious man.
Preparing for take-off on the morning of June the 1st.
Fair skies and light winds.
No chance of escape.
Lucky the poor fellow was already gone.
Shutting off and looking for somewhere to set down PDQ.