Fullofit, Gaston is going through Huns at an alarming rate. I think we'll all be going home soon if he keeps this up.
Collins had a quiet week back in France, but a very good one...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by James Arthur Collins
Part Forty-Two: In which I become illustrious
There was a definite tempo to the war around us now. Lewis first commented on it, leaning out the front window of the Poidevins’ house. The road through our tumbledown little hamlet was quiet and dusty by day, except for the rhymes and songs and laughter of children playing after school or the never-ending church bells. But at night the machinery of war awoke: waggons, lorries, ambulances, and long, straggling lines of men with Brodie helmets tilted back or jaunty balmorals, men with pipes and cigarettes dangling from their faces, men with cries of “are we downhearted?” (to be answered with either a resounding “no!” or, commonly, a short Anglo-Saxon invitation to depart). And then the guns, more and more guns making their way through the night towards Albert and the upturned fields beyond.
By first light they were all gone, secreted away in copses and under camouflaged netting, dug in amidst farm lanes and byways and ditches. I pitied the Hun when all the might that was amassing here was unshackled.
The weather was splendid as May turned to June. We photographed the enemy positions from Montauban north to Arras daily and worked on a new thing called a contact patrol – a scheme to let headquarters know where their army had got to. The Ack Emmas had rigged a new bomb-dropping apparatus to our landing gear so we flew occasional bombing raids.
"...so we flew occasional bombing raids."
Life was pleasant in Lahoussoye. Madame Poidevin welcomed me like a lost child on my return from England, once she made out who it was. The poor woman could scarcely see the end of her nose. I’d left my gramophone at Hounslow, but Chickering had one that he set up in the family’s parlour, and he had a large collection of recordings, most notably a two-record set with the songs from the Bing Boys.
We had been redesignated B Flight now. Jericho’s flight was C. A Flight consisted of our Morane biplanes. The Major flew with us but he and the headquarters officers messed with A flight, which left us in B Flight the luxury of eating in the Café du Progrès.
On 3 June 1916 we flew far to the north to attack a railyard near Monchy. As was becoming common, we saw no enemy machines in the air. I had come to believe that the RFC had succeeded in driving the Fokkers away from the front. We caught sight of air-Huns only occasionally, usually far off to the east and well behind their own lines. In the afternoon we flew over Thiepval where a new hostile battery had been spotted. Sergeant Wilson was now an absolute master of his craft and was able to send the “OK” signal within five minutes of our arrival over the HB, which soon ceased to exist.
On 4 June we again flew twice, once to photograph positions around Beaumont-Hamel and once to shoot up a rail siding farther north. On our return from the afternoon flight we spotted a lone Fokker near Achiet-le-Petit. I dipped down so Wilson could take a shot. The Hun was heading east and we were heading west, so he got only a half-drum away from nearly 200 yards’ distance before the Fokker disappeared amidst the haze and confusion of the landscape below. We returned to Lahoussoye in a jubilant mood. Wilson insisted he’d hit the Hun, but reported that it was last seen descending under control.
After dinner, the Major invited us all to A Flight’s mess, where he announced that I was improperly dressed and owed the mess a round. He then produced my good tunic and told me to change into it. I immediately checked the sleeve and sure enough, there was my second pip. I was now Lieutenant Collins. As the Major put it in his best Irish manner, I was no longer lower than worm droppings. I had risen to lower than mouse droppings. It wasn’t until I bought the first round that Whistler pointed at my tunic and said that I owed yet another round. I looked down below my wings to see the white and purple ribbon of the Military Cross. With the round bought and the rowdiness beginning, the Major called for silence to announce that the RO had just received a telephone call from the balloon section at Gommecourt. A Hun monoplane had been seen to lose control and crash near Achiet-le-Grand, just west of where we had met our Fokker. The time matched our report and there were no conflicting claims. I had my fifth victory without even knowing it! Another round was ordered, and so the binge began...