Fullofit -- Mulberry is on fire! 9 kills already. That's outstanding.

Lou, loved the interplay in the episode about Collins's Zep!

Carrick, there are some interesting people hanging around your aerodrome.

Congratulations to all the new gong recipients!!!

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

Part Fifty-Seven: In which I am feted

“And of what was the frame of the Zeppelin constructed?” The Intelligence major, whose name I had already forgotten, stared at me, his burgundy and gold pen poised to record my answer. It was nearly four in the afternoon. I’d flown a quick circuit in the morning and landed to find a car waiting to take me to the city. There had been no time for breakfast, nor even time for a cup of tea. The papers were out, and my face had instantly become recognisable so the driver suggested we proceed directly to the Hotel Cecil. I’d accordingly missed lunch as well. After meeting General Henderson and various other red tabs, I’d been given a cup of tea and a ginger snap, and then whisked into a windowless room in the basement to meet this silly bugger. I was famished and beginning to lose my good humour.

“I believe I mentioned earlier that it was dark, sir.”

“Did you see the framework of the airship?”

“It was rather...inside the thing, if you know what I mean.”



“Address me as sir, Mr. Collins. Do they not do that in Canada?”

“Actually, sir, I don’t believe we know you in Canada.”

“The internal structure of the Zeppelin. I need to know.”

“Sir, as I said, when the thing went up, I dived and rolled away. There was a blast, you see. I was...upside down.”

“Are you telling me you didn’t look at the thing you shot down?”

“Sir, there was a massive explosion and fire, I was thrown about, and then I got out of the thing’s way as it fell. I should imagine the ten thousand sightseers who went to Gallions Reach this morning to see the wreckage have a better idea of how it was put together than I was able to acquire. Perhaps I should have followed it down, landed in the dark in the city, and got out to collect souvenirs, but my machine was shot about, low on petrol and oil. Plus I needed a piss. So I went home.”

The major simply stared as I stood up, saluted, and walked out of the room. I loped up a flight of marble stairs to the lobby and the hotel exit. On the steps outside, several dozen journalists and photographers jostled with several hundred well-wishers. Military police were on duty and had formed a cordon to hold the people back. I was searching for route through the crowd when a diminutive colonel took me by the arm and led me back inside. “There’s a side entrance we can take. Up for dinner?” I recognised the smiling Toby-mug face of my old benefactor Max Aitken. I nodded in reply. [1]

He asked where I was staying and I said I’d been told there was a room for me at the Savoy as I was supposed to be back at the Cecil at nine in the morning for some kind of reception. Aitken shook his head vigorously. “We can’t dine there. Too many bloody newspapermen outside.” This from the owner of the Daily Express!

He had a car waiting and we drove towards Liverpool Station, pulling up in Old Broad Street in front of a fine Victorian restaurant. “Gow’s, it’s a favourite. Have the mixed grill,” said Aitken with an elvish grin. We were shown to a corner table and my host ordered a lime cordial. Not to be undone by his Calvinist abstinence, I ordered a glass of Chablis and pointed at the oysters being consumed at a nearby table. “Those would be lovely,” I told the waiter. [2]

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Gow's Restaurant -- sadly missed

We spoke about generalities and then Zeppelins and then Canada and how it would emerge from the war. Aitken asked me to let it be known that my family was only temporarily relocated to England and would likely return to Ontario after the war. I made no promises. He informed me that the reason I was put up at the Savoy was that I was to accompany General Brancker and Colonel Holt [3] the next morning to a session of Parliament where there would be a general halooing and laying-on of praise. No money, just love, or so it seemed. Somewhere during the meal, Aitken lined me up for an exclusive article in his paper and for a portrait to be painted by a Canadian artist fellow named Jackson, whom apparently I should have known about.[4]

The mixed grill was indeed splendid, and so was the bottle of 1900 Château Ausone I knocked off by myself. He had his driver take me to the Savoy. The streets were dark and gloomy and as I was quite tiddly I fell asleep on the way. At the Savoy I was roused and got out, pushed past the well-wishers and some overly affectionate older women (perhaps they were ladies), and made my way to my room. The hotel supplied me with silk pyjamas and relieved me of my tunic and breeches and boots, returning them at eight in the morning looking better than new. I, unfortunately, felt considerably less pressed and polished.

And so to my rendezvous with General Brancker and Colonel Holt in the lobby. We were driven the short way to Westminster. I felt uncomfortably colonial in the Parliament buildings and was led into the cramped pews of the Strangers’ Gallery. Perhaps I dozed, but I remember little of the speechifying that preceded a painful outburst of applause and cheering.

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House of Commons and the Strangers' Gallery

Colonel Holt accompanied me to North Weald afterward, where I was presented with a silver cup and a large cash gift from the appreciative citizens of the area. I said something bluff, manly, and self-effacing and stumbled off to sleep for a few hours before taking a short and refreshingly cold flight at dusk.

On a sadder note, I learned that Billy and Fred Sowrey were being moved over to the flight at Sutton’s Farm. I reflected on the amount of luck that I was the fellow closest to the Zeppelin in the lights, that my gun (unlike Billy’s) had not jammed, and that the ack emmas had rigged my machine with the only rockets we’d seen. But to heck with it, one needs to welcome good luck when it comes. Bad luck takes care of itself.


[1] For those who may not recall his appearance in an earlier episode, Lt Col Max Aitken (later Sir Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook) was a political appointment to the Canadian army, a millionaire businessman, and a British Member of Parliament. He was also moving to become the majority owner of the Daily Express. He had been appointed by the Canadian government to be Canada’s eye on the war and was the de facto head of Canadian wartime propaganda. He rose to new heights in the Second World War as Churchill’s Minister of Aircraft Production. He and Churchill were friends.

[2] A personal note – Gow’s and the mixed grill were favourites of my father. I last ate there in 1965 (as a boy). It closed last year.

[3] BGen Sefton Brancker was Director of Air Organisation. Lt Col Felton Vesey Holt commanded 16 Wing at this time, responsible for the RFC defence of London and approaches. Both men had been working closely together for the past two months to plan the best location and patrol routes for Home Defence squadrons.

[4] This would be the painting of Collins by A.Y. Jackson of Canada’s “Group of Seven” that hangs today in the National Gallery in Ottawa.

Attached Files Gows.jpgStrangers Gallery.jpg