Carrick, don't you hate it when you're the one who's attacking, but getting a raw deal?

8 August, 1916 08:30
Luxeuil, Alsace Sector
3 Wing RNAS
FSL Tobias Chester Mulberry

Mulberry spent the rest of yesterday settling in. He was assigned a hut with one other pilot, who arrived just one week earlier. Ray was another Canadian from some god forsaken town named Nanaimo on east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, on the very opposite end of the world. He seemed like a quiet sort, always scribbling in a notebook. Toby was glad he didn’t have to share his quarters with one of the loudmouths he’d met earlier.
This morning he met his gun layer Ltn. Jeffrey Alford. A man only slightly older than himself, but not so old as to call the attempt at growing a moustache on his face a complete success. During the briefing he would be flying with two other crews; his flight leader FC Stearne Edwards and FSL George Gordon MacLennan. They would be going north, where most of the action took place, but they were ordered not to cross the lines. They would fly along the front lines and spot for the guns east of Luneville. FC Edwards ordered them to follow him at all times.
“- If there is any trouble, head directly for the aerodrome here.” He tapped his thick finger on the map, over a place called Xaffervillers. Edwards saw concern in Mulberry’s eyes.
“- Don’t worry. We won’t throw you in the deep end on your first sortie. This is a quiet sector.” Edwards tried to put Toby’s mind at ease.
It was a long flight to the front. Mulberry wanted to make a mental picture of his journey, trying to remember the shape of the woods they’ve passed, the lake locations, and the roads, but it was too much. Eventually all the forests started to look the same. The lakes were too few and too far in between to make navigation reliable. He knew he’d be lost if he now had to return to Luxeuil on his own. It’s been a good hour of flying before the Front came into view ahead of them. He could feel the explosions ahead. There was no sound, but he could feel the deep rumble in his chest cavity. Toby had to shift in his seat. His buttocks were falling asleep. There was some movement ahead. Three shapes emerged from the clouds. Toby continued to follow the leader, but Edwards made a sudden move to the left. MacLennan followed and by the time Mulberry was able to follow, the enemy was upon them. Fokkers! E-types. So much for a quiet sector. Everything now was a blur. There were Strutters and Eindeckers everywhere. He saw a green monoplane attempt to get on his tail. He banked to avoid, but it was too late. Bullets ripped through the top port plane. Mulberry dove and picked up speed. The green Fokker followed. The tan dope machines began to flash in front of his view just for a second before disappearing again below, above and to the side of his machine. Monoplanes and biplanes alike. Toby couldn’t tell who was on who’s tail. Who was winning? Where was the green Fokker? Where was he? He is going to die, right here on his first mission! He made another turn. A Strutter appeared in front of him. Now it was gone. There! There’s the Fokker! He saw him in the window of the top wing. Toby forgot everyone else around him. He concentrated on the green Eindecker. He tracked him with his eyes. Just a little bit more and he would be in his sights. There! Fire! Fire now! Toby squeezed the trigger. He felt the vibration. He felt the gun firing. He smelled the gun smoke. The Fokker stood on one wing and dove away. The young pilot followed. He was scared. He wanted to run away, but the voice inside his head told him if he panics and runs, the Fokker will catch him and kill him. It was safer to follow the Hun. Let him sweat. Let him be afraid. He saw the green Eindecker run north below. Toby put his Strutter in a dive. The machine began to creak and the engine wailed in protest. Mulberry was now behind the Hun. He fired again and again. He saw the rounds connect with the airframe. He continued to fire until the Eindecker shuddered and went on its back, then dove for the ground. Toby lost him from sight. He turned around and saw a column of dust and smoke rising from the ground below. Was he dead? Was that the end of the green Fokker? Toby looked around. There was no one nearby. He saw No-Man’s Land to the south. He was in Hun land. His Sopwith flew on and Toby made a course correction for the friendly side. He was flying south looking out for any signs of his flight-mates. He was on his own. Mulberry remembered Edwards’ words.
“- If there is any trouble, head directly for the aerodrome here.”
Now, where was that field? He was flying over the Front lines now. He could see the enormous Laleau Woods in front of him. It wouldn’t be too long now. Toby was looking forward to standing on terra firma with his own two legs. He felt a tap on his shoulder. His gunner Alford was desperately trying to get his attention. Toby turned around and followed with his eyes where Jeffrey was pointing. His heart sunk to the bottom of his stomach. Just behind them, at four o’clock two monoplanes were tracking his movements. Two Eindeckers were coming closer on his tail.

"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."