Fervently scrambling to catch up. Great stories all, and very well done, MFair & Fullofit!
Wondering how that purple-marked N16 gets off the ground with all the extra metal on board...
Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine' Behonne Aerodrome, France
June 18th, 1916 (Part 1):
Our rain-holiday came to an end on the morning of the 7th, as the sun started to peek out from behind the looming grey clouds, and I was to fly my first patrol since the loss of my brother.
Norman Prince was to lead the show - the Capitane, I assumed, was apprehensive about letting me lead a patrol just yet - and we were to fly to the front at St. Mihiel. Capitane Thenault would be flying a second patrol in the area with de Laage and Cowdin. I watched as my Nieuport was rolled onto the flight line and parked next to McConnell’s machine, which bore a large white footprint on it’s fuselage, and I suddenly felt an apprehension as, in my mind, I watched again the horrific moment where Michael had driven himself into the ground. Gritting my teeth, I brushed the image aside.
It was a strange, almost detached feeling as we lifted into the air and I felt again that rushing icy wind against my face. I focused on scanning for Bosches as we circled up higher, attempting to distract myself from the flood of thoughts that had tried to take hold of me. We saw nothing, and so we headed towards the lines.
Over St. Mihiel the sky was clouded over, and as we weaved among the grey-white shapes I searched the skies for aeroplanes. I saw three in formation, far ahead of us, but quickly realised that it was Thenault’s Nieuports, already over the front. Down below, the flashes of artillery shell bursts lit up the mud. As we approached the German lines, Prince swung us around in a long arc, and we started to circle around our route once more. In the end, the patrol was eventless, and we sailed home without having seen another machine in the sky.
On the 10th a new pilot arrived at the Villa - a French Adjutant named Constantin Blanchon. The man didn’t have the appearance of a pilot - his hairline receded into a sweeping curve on top of his head and his age, around his mid-thirties perhaps, showed in frown lines around his mouth and eyes. Indeed, however, he possessed the typical moustache of a Pilote, and in his eight hours of combat flying as a Nieuport 12 pilot he had secured one victory over a Fokker.
Life at the Villa had been slow and eventless, save for the odd evening sorties to Bar-le-Duc. Hall had fallen out of favour with the other pilots following one patrol in which, after splitting from the formation, he claimed to have had a scrap with two Bosches, sending one down in flames on their side. However, Capitane Thenault found out later in the evening that he had merely returned to a nearby French aerodrome with engine trouble. I learned quickly that Hall was notorious for dishonesty, be it from cheating at cards, to exaggeration and sleight of truth, to complete unrepentant lying, and I had grown to dislike him along with my fellow Americans.
The rain continued to harass us during our patrols, even a light shower becoming a storm of needles against our unprotected faces. Lufbery (or just ‘Luf’, as the fellas called him,) had tried to remedy this one day by pulling up his scarf over his nose and holding them in place with his goggles, but this led to his breath condensating on the lenses and he nearly crashed his machine into the telephone wires that seemed to cover the entire Verdun sector. The wind had become another enemy - on the morning of the 12th, as we set out for patrol, a vicious crosswind nearly turned me over on my side as I took off! Later on that patrol I became separated from my flight in the clouds and found a lone Aviatik. A gift, I thought - but it was not to be. I got behind the Bosche and fired away until my weapon was completely empty, to which the Aviatik merely turned his nose up at me and flew away indifferently.
The next few days were so marred with rain that no flying could be done at all, and so we settled down to another holiday in the Villa. During this time, de Laage de Meux had the bright idea of a new squadron game. All of the men would speak English in the mornings and afternoons, and French in the evenings. Any violation of this rule, and the culprit would be required to leave a franc in a jar that we sat upon the fireplace in the lounge, almost like a swear jar. This brought much hilarity to the Villa, especially as some of the pilots had a habit of slipping into their mother tongue unwillingly. Despite all that had happened, and separate from my private miseries, I found myself feeling cheerful. I think Michael would like that.
On the morning of the 18th the sun broke through the clouds once more. I looked back in amusement at similar mornings with Escadrille 31, when little Devienne would sorrowfully declare that the weather had cleared up, and we would all groan in misery and drag ourselves from our cots. In the Escadrille Americaine, each pilot leapt for joy when he could fly again.