Looks like Chesty and Keith have been hard at work beating back those pesky Bosche. Good show! Taking on three at once, Mr. Mulberry? We have a regular Albert Ball in our midst...whoever that is...
Sous. Lieutenant James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine', Bar-le-Duc, France.
September 4th, 1916
Blanchon and I didn’t attempt to hide our amusement as Thaw returned in his replacement machine from the Depot at Plessis. Drifting down from the cool morning air was a Nieuport 16, and even behind his thick moustache, scarf and goggles we could see the disappointment on his face. As he landed and disembarked, I sauntered over to his side and threw an arm around his shoulder. “So, you’re one of us again!” I chirped. “One of who?” he asked, bitterly. “The Nose-Heavy gang! We needed a new member - after all, it was just ol’ Constantin and me!”. Thaw sighed, defeated, as I let out a hearty laugh.
With the morning post had arrived word from both Mac and Elliott Cowdin - both of whom were steadily on the mend. However, we were saddened to learn that the doctors had let slip that poor young Elliott would likely never fly an aeroplane again, let alone return to us in the future. For this reason we emptied the ‘language jar’ (We resolved to speak English in the day and French in the evening - any breach of this would warrant depositing a Franc in the jar) and put the money towards buying all manner of gifts for our young friend including chocolate, marmalade, jam, and other foodstuffs. Fortunately, despite his horrible intestinal injuries, Elliott was able to eat normal food again.
Mac, a true representation of the Escadrille’s spirit, was anxious to return to us. However, his back injury (a fractured vertebrae) would see him out of action until the end of the month, or so the doctor said. He insisted that we continue to write him of the Escadrille’s exploits during his hospital time, a task that had been voluntarily undertaken by Johnson. Thenault, tying in with his character, also vowed to pay both men a visit at the first opportunity.
Blessedly, I had managed to avoid being assigned to the dawn patrol, which had fallen to De Laage’s flight today and allowed us a well-needed long lie. We headed to the ready room after our breakfast and were pleased to discover that we were free to do as we pleased until noon. I contented myself with lounging around the aerodrome, watching the mechanics going about their business and Luf, as per usual, toiling endlessly over his aeroplane. At 10 O’Clock we were treated to a fantastic display of flying as, after making his adjustments, Luf took to the skies for a bit of lighthearted stunting. As we watched him, we were all in unanimous agreement that he was quite possibly the greatest flyer among us. “I don’t know about the rest of us,” Blanchon said to me as we watched Luf turn a perfectly-executed loop,”But ol’ Lufbery is going to get through the war just fine”.
Getting through the war. I realised I had never given it much thought after those first months waiting for my assignment at Plessis. Certainly, Michael and I knew there would be risks, but we were Americans! We were worth 10 Bosche, at least! Now, though, I no longer thought in patriotic terms, or with a sense of adventure. It seemed to me that I thought only in the moment, in the precise second I occupied. The end of the war? A faraway dream. It was almost a novelty when we talked about our plans for after the war, the way you might talk of someday winning the lottery. I amused myself by wondering if the others had similar thoughts to my own. I supposed that they must.
Just before our first sortie, a routine patrol over St. Mihiel, Prince gathered us around him on the aerodrome. “Listen up, boys. We have some new information that’s come in from H.Q. According to the recon boys at Escadrille 105 we have some new Bosche Neighbors that recently moved into the sector, flying a new German scout. We don’t know anything about them so far except that they are biplane single-seaters. Now, we don’t know what the new German machines are capable of in the air, but if the Rolands are anything to go by then they will probably be a step up from the ol’ monoplanes, so keep your wits about you and try to get a feel for the new type before committing to a fight”. We glanced at each other uncertainly. A new Bosche type? How would it hold up against a Nieuport 16? Of course, such questions didn’t concern Rockwell, who immediately blurted out that he should like to be the first of us to ‘bag’ one of the new German scouts. Typical Rockwell! He had a way of getting us all excited for the day’s fighting.
We stood around with cigarettes in hands as our machines were wheeled out of their hangars, and I strolled over to oversee the attaching of my leaders’ streamers to the struts of my ship. Before long we had climbed awkwardly into our combinations and raised ourselves up into our machines. Standing testament to the efforts of our French mechanics, the best air mechanics in the world, all of our Nieuports started up on the first swing of the prop, and with myself in the lead we lifted up into the sky.
The weather was fierce and unforgiving as we turned towards the great ruined city of St. Mihiel, but, thankfully, we had no rain to contend with. With Prince’s warning of the new German types fresh in my mind I opted to climb our formation up into the clouds. Weaving around the great massed cumulus, we steadily approached the lines at St. Mihiel. I turned back towards my flight and put two fingers to my goggles. Watch for Bosches. Over the lines the wind became more violent still, rocking my machine up and down ferociously until I felt my breakfast rising back up. Looking over my shoulder, I saw that my pals weren’t faring much better. I found myself dreading the appearance of the Bosche - be it in the new Biplane or not - simply as I was too miserable to fight! Fortunately, we got to the end of our patrol without seeing another machine and promptly flew home.
That night Thenault gathered us into the mess for an announcement. With glasses of Whiskey, Pinard, and whatever else we could find, we eagerly awaited Thenaults news. “My Americans,” he began, inspiring one or two whoops, “last night we received a call from H.Q informing us that Fullard’s balloon has been credited. I propose a toast, to the first of us to officially shoot down 10 Bosches!”. The pilots erupted into a cheer and I was heartily congratulated from all sides. Trying to hide my embarrassment, I waved away their congratulations. “Really, boys, it’s just luck! You’ll all overtake me before long!”. We celebrated with a binge until midnight, and even Bert Hall joined our singalong as we steadily set a course for complete drunkenness.