20 July, 1916 08:25 morning mission Proville, Flanders Sector Kasta 17 Feldwebel Otto B von Kenobi
It was Otto’s first outing with Kampfstaffel 17. A bit of morning arty spotting for the big guns near Arras. The Kette Fürher, Leutnant Fritz Thiede, had only one request from the new arrival - no heroics and no stupid moves. They were now lined up, second to take off, right after Thiede. Kette Eins would follow. His observer, Karl-Albert Gunther was facing forward for the take off with both of his hands firmly grasping the edge of the fuselage. Von Kenobi watched his leader open the throttle wide with smoke belching from the exhaust pipe right in his face. The first plane began to roll. Otto was next and mirrored his leader’s actions. The engine revolutions reached a crescendo. His Roland jerked and started to move forward faster and faster. He could feel the wings strain and begin to lift the weight of the aeroplane. He was airborne, his body pushed against the wicker seat and listing to the left. Listing badly. The trees along the side of the airfield were now in front of him and getting nearer. The nose was dropping and Otto was certain it would be his first and last take off in this infernal machine. He quickly realized the vertical stabilizer was stuck to one side. He kicked the rudder bar hard and then again and again, and finally it went back to neutral. The Walfisch cleared the trees wobbling from side to side. Gunther’s eyes were wide open, along with his mouth. When Otto looked at him sheepishly, the observer with an exaggerated motion started to tap his forehead with his gloved hand. “- Are you crazy?” Otto understood him perfectly without his observer uttering a word. Gunther then turned around to face the tail, letting Otto know he wasn’t impressed. He must have thought Obi had done this on purpose. Thiede was flying far ahead and von Kenobi had to strain the engine to catch up and form on the leader’s left wing. They finally were flying together with the leader giving a signal with his windmilling arm to get a move on. Suddenly Otto felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Gunther, he was pointing to the train tracks below. He raised his arm and made a move as if he were pulling repeatedly on a cord, mouthing the words “choo-choo”. Otto looked down and followed the tracks to a rail station. He understood. They flew on and turned west. They were now flying towards the Front. On their right a large city sprawled in the near distance. Otto felt another tap on the shoulder. His observer was now pointing at the city then made large circles on his chest, immediately followed by cupping with his hands and caressing large invisible spheres attached to the front of his torso. Otto understood again that this must be where Karl-Albert Gunther indulges in a certain form of entertainment. If he’s not mistaken that is Douai on his starboard. Easy to remember. Otto grinned after recalling Gunther’s pantomime. What else is he about to show him? They continued with the mission. They were now over the Front and Otto Bernhard von Kenobi was taken aghast. He has never seen such a thing. The country was divided in two with this enormous swath of land being constantly churned over with each new explosion. It was dead. It was Death itself, stretching from north to south as far as the eye could see. Otto was in shock. He could not understand man could do such damage. It was one thing to see photographs in the newspaper and another to see it for yourself. He was ashamed to be a soldier, ashamed to be a member of the human race. To inflict such desolation was inhuman. Gunther wasn’t pointing at anything either. He busied himself taking notes, while fresh pilot took it all in. The city of Arras lay on the other side of the Front. Otto wondered how people could live this close to the mayhem, constant danger and misery. Is it simply a matter of getting used to it? It was time to return. There was one final tap on Otto’s shoulder. His observer pointed to the lake below and made swimming gestures, but von Kenobi wasn’t in the mood for jokes at the moment. Gunther understood and left Otto alone for the rest of the flight. This is not how Obi imagined his first visit to the Front. War was hell.
"Take the cylinder out of my kidneys, The connecting rod out of my brain, my brain, From out of my arse take the camshaft, And assemble the engine again."