Well gentlemen, I find myself with a little more time now. And that happily means that I can write more. I hope you didn't groan when you read that.
This is really the first of a three part introduction to Stanley's new squadron, because otherwise it would be very long indeed.
Figures for the end of May. 2Lt William AG Stanley 16 squadron RFC La Gorgue 1 victory 65.03 hours of active duty. ---------------------------- 2nd Lieutenant Stanley knocked on the door of Major Powells' office in the farmhouse at Beaupré. “Come in.” “You asked to see me sir?” “So I did Stanley,” Powell indicated the the chair opposite his desk. William Stanley sat down. “How did your art obs go?” His CO asked in a genial tone. Stanley smiled in relief. It wasn't a dressing down then. “It went well sir. All guns zeroed in in forty minutes. The Hun didn't interfere.” “Glad to hear it.” Powell pulled an envelope to the centre of his desk. “I have received orders for you to report to 32 squadron at St Omer. They are a new DH2 squadron that have just come out. It seems that they have already lost a flight commander and you are to replace him.”
“Sir,” Stanley objected, “I'm only a second lieutenant. I cannot lead a flight!” “Well, someone seems to think that you can. The appointment comes with a temporary rank of captain. Without the pay, naturally.” “Well sir, the money isn't the thing.” “This is an excellent opportunity for you... Captain Stanley*. Congratulations! You leave in the morning, so I have instructed Nesbitt to put together a dinner and a binge.” Powell smiled and shook Stanley's hand.
The first of June was a Thursday, and William Stanley was in the tender as it drove into St Omer. Every jolt of the road enraged the headache that he was nursing and he twisted his head in an effort to stave it off.
The congratulations from the officers in the mess had been sincere. Once the alcohol was flowing freely, the pilots teased Stanley about his temporary rank.
Allcock even came up with a song, which was quickly taken up by the others. It went to the tune of They were only playing leapfrog.
“He is not a proper captain! No! He's not a proper captain. He is not a proper captain, but he's a proper toff!”
Not the wittiest production of the RFC messes, but it stung Stanley a little too much. “I say! I'm sure 32 squadron will be twice what 16 is.”
Stanley regretted this instantly. Not least because of the HP sauce bottle that flew past his head, smashing on the wall in an explosion of glass and brown goop.** 16 squadron was a fine collection of brave men and he succeeded in settling things down with a generous three rounds of drinks.
Obliged by three scotches to leave Stanley alone but still in a mood to tease, Allcock decided to pick on Thayre. The ditty was not a new one, but was popular with everyone but Thayre himself, who complimented the recital with a series of rude noises.
“There was a young pilot called Thayre who went for a ride in the air When his petrol was spent He landed in Kent And surrendered at once to the mayor!”***
Stanley decided to get some lunch before reporting with 32 squadron. He instructed the driver to drop him at a likely looking hotel.
As his food arrived, a couple of pilots came from upstairs. Stanley wondered if this hotel was some sort of bordello. His thoughts were quickly corrected.
“I'm glad we're getting out of these digs soon. Bill; you speak French better than we do. Order us some lunch,” a bright faced lieutenant told the youngest in the party. Bill waved at the waitress and the group sat down on the table next to Stanley.”
“Oeufs, bacon et pomme du terres pour quatre, s'il vous plaît madame.” “Oui, petit noir. Voulez vous quelque-chose pour boire?” “Um,” the slick haired young pilot hesitated and looked at his colleagues. “Tea?” There was a general assent. “Thé, s'il vous plaît.”
As they were waiting, the lieutenant looked across at Stanley. “I say, you look like you have seen better days.” Stanley took a sip of his tea. “I have. Farewell gift from my old squadron.” “Oh, you've been out for a while then? Heading for Blighty?” “Oh no! A new squadron has come out and I've been sent for.” “New? That'll be us I'll bet!” The man held out his hand, “Lieutenant Thomas, of thirty-two. This is Robb, Lewis and the very Prussian sounding von Poellnitz.” “Quite English, I assure you.” Poellnitz smiled. “I'm from Kent.****” “So I can hear,” Stanley grinned warmly. “My name is Stanley. So pleased to make your acquaintances. I am indeed being posted to thirty-two. What is the old man like?”
Gwilym Lewis (known to his friends as Bill)***** said, “Major Rees is an absolute prince of a man. He has been out here since the start of it all and has been teaching us all important lessons about war flying.” “I look forward to making his acquaintance then.” Stanley took another sip of his tea. “Which I shall be doing this afternoon.”
------------- * Stanley is still a 2nd Lieutenant, but due to the squadron ranks being off in the game, he has been made flight leader most of the time (3 flights so far). This is my solution.
** There are several bottles of HP sauce in the material collected by archaeological digs at Beaupré.
*** The month after Stanley leaves, 16 squadron produce a humorous pamphlet called the Beaupré song book. This limerick survives in there. Probably to Fred Thayre's annoyance.
**** Actually, Herman von Poellnitz was born in Italy, but that wouldn't really help. His grandfather was a Bavarian baron who emigrated to Britain.
*****I think it's in the credits of WOFF, but here is a recording of Gwilym Lewis. He describes himself as Welsh, but he doesn't speak with a Welsh accent.