Wulfe, your writing is wonderfully engaging. The story of Chapman's death was touching.
Maeran, loved the detailed account of Stanley getting to know the DH2.
Fullofit, bon retour to Gaston. It's good to have him back in action.
HarryH, I'm not sure I'd want to be in Strunze's shoes at the moment. I suspect some horrible accident is about to occur.
Hasse, glad you appreciate the cruel Glasgow sense of humour (Like the story about the fellow in Glasgow who hits the car ahead of him at a stop light. The driver of the car in front, a dwarf, gets out and looks at the crumpled back of his car. He points at it, and tells the fellow who hit him "Look at whit's ye've done, ye bluidy fool. Ah'm no happy." To which the other driver responds, "Aye? Then which one are ye then?"

An Airman’s Odyssey – by Lt James Arthur Collins, MC

Part Forty-Seven: In which I contemplate the sad arithmetic of war

It shook me to realise I was alone in the world. My father was long dead, and now my mother had rejected the letter I’d written trying to re-establish our relationship. She was still offended because I had not welcomed her “string-pulling” to bring me home from France like an errant schoolboy, and she had even sent back the framed portrait I had done for her. I placed the photograph in a drawer in my room at the Poidevin house, a room I now shared with a new pilot named Moore.

The squadron was my real home now. I regretted not really getting to know as many of the fellows here as well as I should have. Swany, Jericho, and I had been a bit of a team to ourselves, and of course there was Sergeant Wilson. But I’d made few true friends outside that little group.

Moore had recently arrived. The Major was appalled by the paltry number of hours he’d logged so he’d been ordered to spend his first two weeks walloping about the countryside learning his way about. He chatted endlessly about Romans. A public schoolboy, he was enamoured with the classics and was determined to share every speck of his knowledge, generally when I was trying to get some sleep. Perhaps I could engage him on another topic.

Lewis was part of our household now. He was a decent fellow, a schoolboy until mere months ago. Of course he wasn’t that much younger than I. It was just that I’d chucked it in with school a bit early in order to learn about my father’s business and thus I felt so much more mature than he. Lewis was affable but a bit reserved with colonials like me. He engaged himself with keeping a private journal of his war.

Chickering lived in the room next to ours, roommate to Lewis. He was an observer and a good-humoured type. I resolved to get to know him. He was, however, dedicated to playing dance music on his gramophone, all day every day. I wished that we had a unified squadron mess. Being split into three separate messes prevented us from forming more friendships.

Whistler lived upstairs, sleeping on a cot in an attic room that was insufferably hot, a condition he shared with a new observer named Mazzini. They referred to their "bedroom" as the Black Hole of Calcutta. Harry Whistler had taken Sergeant Bayetto’s place in the flight. Bayetto was a splendid fellow, another man I wished I’d got to know better. His well-deserved commission had come through and he was quickly packed off to England to become a temporary gentleman.

On the morning of 24 June 1916, I was to join Whistler on a photographic reconnaissance. Late on the previous day, the sky had darkened and we were treated to a dramatic thunderstorm, rain lashing the windows and even a bit of hail. The worst had passed but it continued to rain all night. I awoke after first light with a start, fearing that I’d slept late and needed to be at the hangar already. A corporal named Willey normally brought my tea when I was due for patrol. I now heard clattering in the kitchen and went downstairs in my pyjamas and slippers to investigate. It was Willey, who announced that the patrol was off, he’d let me sleep, and tea was ready. I pulled on my greatcoat and headed through the rain across the little walled courtyard behind the house to visit the outhouse which leaned drunkenly next to a dilapidated and empty shed. Scarcely had I taken my place in the darkness inside, the greatcoat neatly folded over my knees, when a ear-shattering sound like a rockpile collapsing washed over the village. There was a momentary silence, and then an even louder tumbling thunderclap of noise. I concluded my business prematurely and stepped outside. The sky was lightening now, but the low clouds rippled with green and white light. The guns were paving the way for the great offensive. The guns were lined up hub to hub for many miles, firing to cut the enemy's wire.

I did not fly that day. B Flight got off a couple of patrols late in the day, but not us. On the next day I led Moore and our Captain Mealing over to observe several German rail lines behind the front. It was Moore’s first time over and he went on about crossing the Rubicon. The sky was now clear. We carried a few bombs which we deposited on a station, hitting the tracks and some carriages and generally causing a very satisfactory nuisance. Not being one to want to linger over a hornet’s nest, I fired a flare to reform and led the little party home. We were nearly back to our lines when I heard a faint banging of a machine gun. It was Mealing’s machine. His gun was manned by our leading observer, Captain McNaughton, who was leaning over the side of their Morane looking under my tail. I banked left and turned a little south. Instantly, Sergeant Wilson began rattling off short burst. About two hundred yards directly behind us and a little below, a nasty green Fokker had been about to knock us out of the air!

The HA broke away as he had now attracted fire from all three Moranes. None of us, however, noticed the Hun’s partner. A second Fokker had closed on Moore’s machine. At the first burst, Moore’s Morane began to smoke. A burst of flame puffed out from beneath the cowling. In an instant the flames washed back over the Parasol. I turned to engage the second Fokker and passed above and across Moore’s path. His figure, a black silhouette through the bright orange flame, was hunched forward. Brown, his observer, was on his feet and facing backwards and waving his hands about. The burning Morane continued westward in a straight line, keeping formation for another terrible half-minute until it toppled out of the sky trailing its black column of smoke. A piece of its plane came off, fluttering and aflame. It turned slowly in the air as it fell. There should be no more lessons from the classics.

[Linked Image]
"The burning Morane continued westward in a straight line..."

I thought of Kipling’s lines, some of the few I’d memorised in school:

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe -
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villainous saltpetre".
And after?- Ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station-
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.


[1] The lines are taken from Kipling's 1886 poem "Arithmetic on the Frontier." It refers to the Second Afghan War (1878-1880).

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