Fullofit - 9 confirmed already? how do you do it...well. By any means, it seems that Chesty may just be the Naval Air Service's first big killer...
Raine - Loved the vignette about Collins' little interview, and good to see him reunited with Aitken!
Lou - the bar tab may not be the worst price to pay in the world when it comes to celebrating a brand-spanking new DSO! Congrats again!
I've updated the Campaign Aircraft Profile Gallery! New additions include Collins' B.E.12, Rosenstein's Black Halberstadt and Chesty's Strutter.
Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine', Bar-le-Duc, France.
August 27th, 1916:
I was roused again before the sun had risen by an apologetic Corporal and informed that I was due for the early patrol. After scrounging up some breakfast, I made my way to Behonne and sleepily muttered a good morning to my fellow pilots, before making my checks of my aircraft and climbing into the cockpit. Night time Take-offs were always fretful, and this was no different. Fortunately, as we came closer to the lines the sky had lightened slightly so that we could see the moonlight-reflections on each others’ cowlings and doped wings.
Above us was an ominous, cloudy sky, and of the top flight, led by Thenault, I could only make out the small red circles of the roundels, if I looked very hard. I felt my nerves rise as we approached the front. However, the Bosches were still sleeping soundly, and after a dreadfully cold and uneventful patrol I was glad to return home.
I returned to the Villa for lunch and found in the dining room a French pilot idly chatting with Thenault, de Laage and Rockwell. I didn’t think much of it - we were frequently visited by pilots of the local Escadrilles as they passed through Bar-le-Duc. From what I could gather, the pilots were discussing some Bosche machine we had yet to encounter, the Halberstadt - a single-seat scout not unlike the nieuport. I had heard of the machine once or twice before. As I took my seat and started to help myself to the plate of jam and toast that had been laid out, Thenault turned to me. “Fullard, allow me to introduce our guest. This is Capitane Pierre-Louis Cordonnier of Escadrille C.68”. I extended a hand across the table, which Cordonnier shook firmly. “A pleasure, Monsieur Fullard. I have heard good things about you. But, where was I? Ah, yes. The Halberstadt. I don’t think the Bosches have many of them yet, but they are good machines. Much more agile than the Fokker, and still with that hellish synchronised machine-gun. No match for our Nieuports yet though, I imagine!”. De Laage shrugged. “I would tell you if we had ever run into one! However, I doubt any army has a machine as magnificent as our new Nieuport 17s. They go like the devil and can turn inside any Bosche. By any means, the only machines that give us trouble are those damned Rolands”.
At the mention of the machine, Cordonnier paled slightly. Clearing his throat, his tone dropped a little. “Ah. Rolands. Yes, we’ve been seeing more of them in our sector. I’ve lost good men to those beasts, and our escorts haven’t fared much better”. Suddenly, a thought occured to me. “What Escadrille did you say you were with?” I asked, and Cordonnier turned to me.
“68. Why?” “68? West of here? Who escorts you?” “Well, it changes sometimes, but usually N.31”. I felt a chill run down my spine. “You said they’ve not been faring as well?” “Oui. Against Fokkers they have no trouble, but against those Rolands they suffer. Why, only a week ago I saw one of the poor fellows falling out of control from a scrap with them. He was a good sort, I’d met him on the ground once or twice before. His name will come to me”. “What did his machine look like?” I asked, feeling a pressure building in my chest. “Oh, we all knew it well! Its upper wing was painted bright red. Mais, what was his name? Devereaux, I think?”
“Devienne,” I said, hoarsely.
“Oui! Devienne! A fine young fellow. Terrible shame”. Cordonnier paused for a moment. “Was he a friend?”. I sat staring down at my plate, not answering. “Thanks for lunch. It was a pleasure to meet you, Capitane” I muttered, pushing my chair back and turning for the door.
It was early evening when Luf found me in l’Hotel le Terminus, near Bar-le-Duc’s town centre, arguing with the bartender. “Just pour the god-damned drink” I ordered him, to which the Bartender folded his arms and shook his head. “M’sieur, you already can’t walk. At this rate you won’t be able to talk or see, either. Go back to your billett, Pilote”. I stumbled to my feet, my hands balling into fists, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I spun around and stumbled, grabbing the bartop for support. “Easy, Fullard,” Luf said, steadying me. “Let’s get back to the Villa now. We’ll have a drink there”. Sniffing and wiping my nose, I felt my energy crash out of me like a wave. I swayed for a moment on my feet, then let out a long sigh. “Alright. Alright, Luf. Let’s go”. As Luf grabbed hold of me to steady me, we walked towards the door. From behind us the Bartender muttered “Damned drunk. Embarrasing the army”. Immediately Luf stopped in his tracks, slowly turning around. “Say that again?” he said, in a frighteningly calm voice. The Bartender went pale. Striding to the counter, Luf slammed one hand down on the counter, reaching over and grabbing the bartender by his collar and pulling him close. “I don’t see a rifle in your hand, Salaud. Maybe you should watch your damned mouth”. Stammering and tripping over his words, the Bartender finally managed “J-just leave!”. Luf drew him closer in, his eyes flashing with fury, before finally pushing him back and turning for the door. As we stepped out into the cool evening air, Luf spat on the ground. “Coward” he murmured, as we turned towards the road back to the Villa.