Major Rees was working through a pile of paperwork when Stanley found him.
“Captain Stanley reporting for duty sir, “Stanley saluted smartly. “Welcome, sit down Captain,” the CO of 32 squadron was an alert man in his early 30s with a brush moustache and a slight Welsh accent. The blue and white ribbon of the MC sat underneath the wings on his tunic. As Stanley took a seat across from him, the Major pushed the indents aside, with apparent relief.
“Major Powell sent me a glowing account, Stanley,” Rees told him. “You have been flying BE2s, but as I understand it, you have repeatedly attempted to get into a firing position on enemy machines.”
“Oh yes sir,” Stanley nodded. “The BE2 has only a small window of opportunity to hit the enemy, but it is there and should be taken.” “Indeed Captain. Well, we are flying DH2s here. Single seat machines with a fixed Lewis gun firing forward. Your aggressive approach will do well here. It is a pusher type, but forget the gentle handling of the shorthorn. The DH2 is a feisty thoroughbred. Now, here's how you fly her...”
Seeing the DH2 on the grass in front of the hangars took Stanley back to his days at Castle Bromwich. The forest of wooden struts made him think of a simpler time. It surprised him to realise that his time on shorthorns only ended 6 months ago.
The DH2 looked far more dangerous and powerful than the old Farman. The Lewis gun helped this effect, as did the more solid looking cabane. It was still hidden behind an obfuscation of control wires, which the would be pilot had to navigate first.
“Here goes,” Stanley thought and approached the waiting machine.
Ducking into the gap between the fuselage and two cables, he placed his right foot on the two foot high wheel and reached up with his right hand to grab the cabane strut. Next the left foot went up to the foothold. The next grip was the left hand on the spade grip of the Lewis gun. This notion alarmed Stanley slightly, but this is how he had been advised to climb into the DH2 by the Major.
Now Stanley had to pull his flying coat free of the cables before leaning backwards, seven feet above the ground so that he could swing his right leg onto the seat. Then he could lean on the far side of the cockpit to bring his left foot in before finally sliding into the seat.
Stanley settled and looked around him. He felt very remote from the ground here. And even further away from the brave ack emma who had ducked into the triangle formed by the propeller and tail booms. This man was in real danger and so was placed in control of the procedure.
“Mags off, throttle closed*.” Stanley confirmed for the prop-swinger. “Suck in.” “Sucking in,” the mechanic confirmed. He pulled on the propeller blades until the propeller had gone through a full rotation. The prop-swinger called to Stanley, “set throttle. Contact!” Stanley opened the fuel control and flicked the magneto switches. “Contact!” He called.
Phutt. The first cylinder sounded unpromising. The second cylinder coughed more forcefully. Then the engine caught and came to life in a cloud of whitish blue smoke.
The prop-swinger was warned by the second cough and had to drop down to the floor and roll out of the cage as the spinning blades quickly formed a deadly blur.
The engine settled after a few minutes and it was time to take off.
“So what did you think?” Lt Bonnel asked after Stanley had landed and delicately clambered down. Stanley's face was clear of dirt and oil. A refreshing change from his time behind an RAF1 engine. “She's magnificent. Unforgiving, but I can see the potential. I like it!” Stanley beamed.
On the 3rd on June, the aeroplanes of 32 squadron lined up on the field at St Omer. One by one they took to the air. Stanley was well aware that they were being watched from the ground. Seeing an entire squadron take off must really be a spectacle, he mused.
The target aerodrome was at Auchel but it was only a stop over. After a day or so in this dirty little mining village, the squadron would move on to their operational aerodrome.
B and C flights were messed in a little room one one cottage. The twelve seats crowded around one table filled the entire room. An affable old Frenchwoman looked on as the officers ate rations that had been brought from England. The squadron were not drawing on regular rations yet.
The anteroom was not in the same cottage, but instead was in another one across the street. There wasn't enough seating as the pilots smoked and chatted amongst themselves.
“There's been a naval battle,” Bonnel announced. “I heard it in the office before we came to dinner. It seems to have been a big one.” “Oh?” Stanley glanced up from the game of chess that he was losing against von Poellnitz. “How did it go?” “We must have won of course,” Simpson offered. “The Hun fleet have been skulking about avoiding a straight fight for too long.”
*I'm not too sure about this. My source is a description of a replica DH2 with a radial engine. The Monosoupape engine didn't have a throttle, but could have a simple fuel control. Would a pilot call this the throttle in these circumstances?