A free morning at last has allowed me to not only catch up here but put together an update on my pilot as well. Wonderful stories and reports and videos and pictures folks, thanks as always for sharing them.
20 August 1916 Randolph Arvid Swanson Captain 70 Squadron, R.F.C. Fienvillers, France Sopwith Strutter 24 confirmed victories, 41 claims 203.48 hours 136 combat missions MC & Bar, CdG
Swany sat silently in his corner room at Mme Corcelles boarding house. He had dragged the room's only chair in front of the westward facing window and was now sunk deep into the dark, embroidered, overstuffed cushions of his refuge. His booted feet were propped on the low sill of the tall fenêtre in front of him. The sound of a lone motor car, making it's way lazily along the Rue de la Gare, drifted in through the open sash, carried along by a cool evening breeze of late summer. Pigeons could be heard cooing softly to each other from the rooftop across the way, and beyond that a dog barking somewhere in the depths of the village. The sun would be setting soon, the blue of the sky inching darker and darker. High, fluffy clouds dotted the far horizon, their undersides now a brilliant gold. It was an almost idyllic scene. Yet far away, off to the east, the big guns could be heard. Their low, muffled, constant "woomp - woomp - woomp" just barely audible, but audible none-the-less. The War was ever-present, it could not be escaped, short of death.
The young airman was on his second glass of a not unpleasant Bordeaux which he'd determined tasted more like a plum wine than anything else. He wasn't sure yet if he was going to sit and finish off the bottle or walk back over to camp for a sing-song in the Officers' Mess - or possibly both. It had been a hellish time, these last eight weeks, beginning with the death of his good freind and fellow American, Mark Jericho. Swany had been crushed when he received the news, and hated himself for not following through with his plan of visiting his friend after returning to France and being assigned to the field at Fienvillers. Now it was too late, Mark was dead. Swany vowed then that he would travel at his very first opportunity to visit his other good friend, James Collins. But then the Somme Offensive began, and it was relentless. Since the beginning of July crews were flying two, and ofttimes three sorties a day in support of Allenby's ground forces along the northern end of the proceedings. No one was being allowed to travel more than a few miles from camp, and only for a good reason. Seeing an old friend did not qualify as such.
And then came the woundings. The first was on the 9th of July while Swany and his long time G/O Lt. Christopher Dent, and two other crews of 'A' Flight, were engaged with a trio of the new Hun two-seaters - the Rolands. They were beasts and could put up a fight like nothing else, more than a match for the Strutters the King's airmen were flying. After a very protracted battle over Delville Wood Swany and Chris were at last gaining the upper hand on their opponent when suddenly things went black for the ace pilot. Swanson came to brief seconds later, his head pounding, his vision blurred, and his G/O shaking him by his shoulder asking if he was still alive. After assuring him that he was Swany managed to find his was back across the mud and land in a field near the town of Bouzincourt. Blood was oozing through a slit on the right side of his flying cap and after being helped down out of the cockpit he fell to the ground on his hands and knees and retched uncontrollably, so severe was the dizziness and pain. After being taken to a field dressing station and from there to the New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Amiens, (as it was the closest), it was determined that Lieutenant Swanson had suffered a serious concussion from a bullet that had slammed into his skull just above his right ear. Owing to the angle of the incoming round, and the hardness of his Norwegian head, said bullet had bounced off rather than burying itself inside his brain - he'd been very lucky. After sixteen days of recovery and rest Swany was allowed to return to flying duties. Now a Captain, (he'd been given a bump while in hospital), he was returned to his position as the leader of 'A' Flight. During his absence the final members and aeroplanes of 70 Squadron had arrived and they could at long last muster three full flights. Among the new fellows was Lieutenant William Kennedy-Cochran-Patrick, the young test pilot Swany had met while passing through St. Omer in April. The two men had hit it off right from the start then, and now that they were serving in the same squadron they quickly became good friends.
The second wounding came in early August, on the 7th, and again involved the damnable Rolands. During another long go-round with one of them, this time over Monchy-le-Preux while on a contact patrol, Swany was shot through the calf of his left leg. Despite this he fought on and in the end the Hun's best fell under the combined fire power of Swanson and Dent. After returning to Fienvillers Swany's wound was treated and he spent the next nine days limping around camp, his activities again being limited to the ground. He was still dealing with the pain from his head injury in July and since then would often take a dose of headache powder dissolved in a shot of rum before going up as it took the edge off and helped to clear his head for combat. He'd been given a goodly supply of Sitruc's powder upon leaving the hospital in Amien's, but that hadn't lasted him long. He was now having it mailed to him regularly via a pharmaceutical supply house in London.
Captain Swanson downed a third glass of the Bordeaux before corking the bottle. He had decided - he would walk back over to camp and continue his drinking there in the company of his fellow airmen. It was a quiet stroll and it found Swany making good use of the cane he had fashioned from the prop blade of his most recent victory; a twin-gun Eindecker he and Chris had sent down just north of Albert on Friday last. It had been an easy kill, the Hun pilot seeming quite green. By the time Swany reached the Officers' Mess his head was feeling somewhat better, the evening air helping to dull the pain, along with the wine he'd enjoyed before. As he made his way to the bar he was called to by his G/O who was already well pickled.
"Swansong my good man! Get yer arse over here and teach us that one again about the lumberjack. I'll stand you a pint and a bump to get you started." Chris nearly hit the ground as he attempted to lean against the end of the piano but missing the thing entirely. His stumbled recovery started everyone on that end of the room laughing.
Swany made his way over and by the time he arrived the promised drinks were waiting for him. He downed the shot and followed it with a large quaff of ale before squaring off next to the piano. "OK den, those who remember just jump in, the rest of you can learn as we go. You know da tune, right Wendy?
G/O Lieutenant Jeffrey "Wendy" Wendall had come in with the last bunch of "C" flight lads and, as fate would have it, was an outstanding musician. He gave the Captain a nod and began playing the melody. Swany finished the rest of his pint then sang out at the top of his voice:
As I sat down one evening in a timber town cafe, A six foot-seven waitress, to me these words did say, "I see that you are a logger and not just a common bum, For no one but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb.
"My lover was a logger, there's none like him today, If you'd sprinkle whisky on it, he'd eat a bale of hay. He never shaved the whiskers from off his horny hide, He'd just pound 'em in with a hammer, and bite 'em off inside.
"My lover came to see me one freezing winter day. He held me in a fond embrace that broke three vertebrae. He kissed me when we parted so hard it broke my jaw, And I could not speak to tell him he'd forgot his mackinaw.
"I watched my logger lover going through the snow, A-sauntering gaily homeward at forty-eight below. The weather tried to freeze him, it tried it's level best, At a hundred degrees below zero, he buttoned up his vest.
"It froze clean down to China, it froze to the stars above, And at a thousand degrees below zero it froze my logger love. They tried in vain to thaw him and if you'll believe me sir, They made him into ax blades to chop the Douglas fir.
"That's how I lost my lover and to this cafe did come, And here I wait until someone stirs his coffee with his thumb."
Cheers went up from the room and several more pints and shots were passed across to Captain Swanson. It was going to be a very squiffy night.
NOTE: James Stevens first published "The Frozen Logger" in 1929 and later again in his collection of lumberjack songs and stories, "Bunk Shanty Ballads and Tales" in 1949. However, it is quite likely he'd heard something similar to it in the early 1900s during his time working the lumber camps in Minnesota, Idaho, and Washington.