Fullofit, great start to Toby's career! Those Eindekkers were troublesome, but not a match for the Strutter. Well done. Carrick, nice to see Mallory in action again. Good luck bagging the elusive No. 5
An Airman’s Odyssey – by Lt James Arthur Collins, MC
Part Fifty-Four: In which I receive cheering news from home
August is an idyllic month, and August in England is more so. Life at Hounslow carried on. A brief flight in the morning, sometimes a longer one if the sky was clear and the sun warm, followed by black pudding, eggs, toast with orange marmalade (no plum and apple here), strong tea. Escaping administrative chores, one could cycle or ride. I visited Tubby in a convalescent home at Putney and repaid him for my half share of the old Singer, so I was fully mobile once more provided I could scrounge the petrol. A new case of Yukon Gold arrived from Canada, so scrounging petrol became an easy thing to arrange. I tried calling my mother’s house in Grantchester. Mrs Winthrop, the housekeeper, answered. My mother was travelling, she said, but would not tell me where. My sister, Dorothy, was travelling too. I pressed. The woman would make a wonderful spy. I doubted she would yield her secrets on the rack.
"A brief flight in the morning, sometimes a longer one if the sky was clear and the sun warm, followed by black pudding, eggs, toast with orange marmalade (no plum and apple here), strong tea."
10 August was a beautiful and sunny day. I took my BE12 up. It was a lovely machine, likely more than a match for a Fokker. The cockpit felt wonderfully British after the spartan surroundings of the Morane. It smelled of leather and oil. Brass shone and coachwork gleamed. And instruments! Revolutions, height, speed, bank, oil pressure. It was a marvellous machine. “Jock” Ness flew another BE12 alongside, and Billy Leefe Robinson toddled after us in his little old Bristol. I set course southeast for the coast, arriving over Eastchurch and following the beaches to Hastings and a little beyond. We climbed to ten thousand feet, from which vantage the coast of France shimmered grey-silver at the edge of the world. In all of history, who has done this? A few hundred souls, a couple of thousand? Then back across the downs to the great smoke of the city and home. Diving down over the roads out of London, skimming treetops and steeples and hedgerows. Speed, I heard someone say once, is the only truly modern sensation.
A letter from Dorothy came at lunch. She was in London – joined the V.A.D., he had. She deemed it a fine alternative to marriage. The engagement was off. I wrote to her at St. Thomas’s Hospital, where she was training – Can I reach you by phone? I would like to have dinner when you are free.
Major Higgins insisted I do his patented course on night flying, but I found varying reasons to delay my start. My real reason was that Hounslow had too many trees for my taste. I’d landed here at night before, but that was before I’d had a chance to count the many species of tree on which I could kill myself. By all accounts our new home in North Weald Basset was more open. The course would start there.
On 12 August Dorothy replied with a number and details of the excuse I was to use in calling her. By this time we had our orders to move on the afternoon of 13 August. My machine was to be moved by lorry. I had permission to take the Singer to North Weald. On the morning of the 13th, Ness and I flew a long test to Croydon and back in the morning. By one o’clock I was on my own and driving to the city. I ordered a new tunic, the simple “maternity jacket”. It would do in the air. My old flying tunic was somewhat battered and cut about. The good one was saved for out and about town. Dorothy was free at four. We found a small tea room near Waterloo Station and found a booth.
“So you’re a free woman now?” I began. She bubbled over with excitement and then complained about the proper nurses being horrid to the volunteers and hoped it would be different in France and that can’t really be far off now, can it?
I asked about our mother. Life had been very hard at Grantchester. Mother’s drinking reached debilitating levels. In July after I left she’d had a bad fall. Now, however, she had “gone away” for a while. Dorothy did not have all the details, but it seemed she was being treated for melancholia as well as the other thing. She asked if I drank and chided me for it. I told her that if something dominates your life, it was a problem. It did not matter whether one lost control and used it too much or whether one was so afraid of it that one became a preacher of the teetotal religion. Either way, life was not your own and you had a problem. I think she saw my point. Dorothy was in touch with Mrs Winthrop. She would let me know when it might be all right to try to visit home.
I dropped my sister off across from the hospital dormitories and set course for the Cavendish Hotel. There would be a party on. North Weald could wait.