So much happening here in the last week! MFair, a hearty welcome to Drogo. He's off to a fine start. Carrick, your Airco is coming to the tail end of its time as King of the Hill. Be careful, and if you see any Albatri, run away! Wulfe, I really enjoyed the bit of pilfering in Verdun and the atmosphere you've capture in the Escadrille Americaine. And congrats on Fullard's 10th victory! Fullofit, your videos are excellent dogfighting lessons. Glad you've sorted out the HR problems in your Strutter. Lederhosen, fine job with Willi, and congratulations on his promotion and appointment as commander of Jasta 6. Harry, every Lazlo story is a treat. I hope he get used to his new machine quickly. Lou, I loved your photos -- the near miss at the tree line was a scare, but the shots of the low-level scrap with the Fokkers are stellar.
And Lou, Collins has been wounded once, a splinter laceration to his face at the end of April 1916.
An Airman’s Odyssey – by Lt James Arthur Collins, MC
Part Fifty-Eight: In which we teach the Hun a lesson
Life was a bit mad that week. I was given a lunch by the Lord Mayor of London and presented with a fine silver cup and several more cash gifts, including large sums from the Newcastle Daily Chronicle (which puzzled me), a shipyard owner in Paisley. There was a gold watch from the gentlemen of the Overseas Club and a carved elephant tusk from the Royal Geographic Society. Giving me things had become a national pastime and it had long passed the point of embarrassment.
Aitken had claimed me as his own, and I seldom got rid of the photographer and scribbler he assigned to me. Not to mention that he insisted on squiring me to various social affairs, showing me off like a prize spaniel. He introduced me to Lord Northcliffe at the Press Club. On Thursday, 31 August, he brought me – accompanied by his friend Winston Churchill – to a party in Portland Place in Marylebone. It was hosted by Lady St. Helier. This remarkable woman seemed to know everyone in London and spent a long time plying me with champagne and asking about the encounter with the Zeppelin. She then introduced me to absolutely everyone who was anyone in London, all of whom seemed to be regulars at her fine house. I spent a good fifteen minutes chatting with a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who then introduced me to a novice Canadian pilot who’d ingratiated himself with Lady St. Helier and become a regular house guest. He was a wonderfully friendly fellow named Bishop who’d hurt himself in a fall. He was awaiting a medical board and was dead keen to get to France, where he’d previously served as an observer. He learned I'd joined the RFC directly and regaled me with tales of his time as a cavalry officer before transferring over. He said he preferred the sky to the mud of the trenches. I discovered only by direct questioning that he hadn't served at the front with the cavalry but had begun observer training with the RFC before his unit left England.
Churchill confided that he’d heard I was up for a decoration. I enjoyed listening to him hold forth on the summer offensive on the Somme. He held it to be a tragic disaster, and believed it had weakened the Imperial forces enough that the Hun could divert his attention elsewhere. He seemed to suggest that the Cabinet should dictate strategy to Haig. Gallipoli, it appeared, was well in the past.
I flew each morning and was in the city most days. For two days I was ensconced at the Regent’s Palace Hotel with the painter Jackson, sitting for a portrait. I made it a point to be back in North Weald by nightfall in case of a raid. There were masses of letters and I was trying to answer each personally. The replies to young ladies’ letters had become formulaic, but I made a special effort to add something personal when writing to the very old or very young.
On the night of 2/3 September, the Huns returned to London. It was about 11:45 pm when the call came that Zeppelins were moving westward up the Thames. I was airborne within five minutes and Jack Ness right behind me. Somewhere out in the darkness were machines from Sutton’s Farm, likely including my old chums Billy and Fred. I climbed through patchy cloud into a breathtakingly lovely night sky. With the city darkened, every star in the universe showed its finery. I was so captivated that I found myself at 10,000 feet over the Thames east of London and still had the little light over the instrument panel on! I shut it off and continued to climb to 12,000 feet, turning east.
Spotlights appeared near Gravesend, brushing across the darkness. I steer away so that the Zeppelins could pass and I could approach from the rear should one appear silhouetted on the clouds below or suspended in the spotlights.
A noise and a flash immediately in front! I slammed the stick forward. It was Ness’s BE12 and it had already vanished. In all the immensity of the sky we had nearly collided twelve thousand feet over Gravesend. Ten fruitless minutes passed and then I noticed that several searchlight beams had converged. A Zeppelin was transfixed in the beams. It was a fair bit lower and several miles to my west, which forced me to throttle back and spiral down. As I did so, I saw a cloud of flame several miles ahead to the west. Someone had bagged a Hun. I levelled off at six thousand and opened the throttle. My prey was lost again for a couple of minutes. Then I saw it, caught in a single beam now. A little higher and slightly left. I closed quickly. At 400 yards I throttled back and began to fire 5-10 round bursts of Buckingham and Pomeroy, holding my aim at the same spot just under the tail of the Zeppelin. I fired more than 200 rounds in this manner and then saw a dull pink glow appear. I was close to the airship now and pulled away quickly. It went up with a roar easily heard over the noise of the engine. I watched it fall away, somewhere close to Dartford.
"I fired more than 200 rounds in this manner and then saw a dull pink glow appear...It went up with a roar easily heard over the noise of the engine."
Another Zeppelin was caught in lights two miles off and I gave chase. I approached it exactly like the first Hun, behind and below, firing from 400 yards. I’d scarcely fired 100 rounds and was still a good way back when this airship began to glow. I hooted and screamed in joy, but then saw another aeroplane illuminated by the fireball. The other machine had been firing too and was much closer.
I test-fired the Vickers and the belt ran out after about five rounds, so I turned for home. I was now the victor over two Zeppelins, and at least two others had been destroyed. When I landed I learned that both Leefe Robinson and Sowrey had put in claims. The week of celebrations was clearly not about to end.