Lou - great job! Halbs or Eindeckers - all the same to Swany! Good thing your mates ditched that bus in time - a very close call for them indeed!
Raine - Thoroughly enjoying Collins' tale. He's one of the most incredible DiD characters I've seen. I thoroughly hope you consider turning his tale into a novel!
Harry - Great show from Lazlo! I imagine those Caudrons aren't easy to down! Be careful around the DeHavs though - they may be long in the tooth, but they can still bite back!
MFair - Oof, close call for young Drogo...flying low over the lines is always hellish. Glad your man got away safe and sound...
Sous. Lieutenant James B. Fullard, Escadrille N.124 'Americaine' Bar-le-Duc, France.
September 5th, 1916
I was greeted at the breakfast table by Bert Hall, who I found lazily flicking through the most recent arrival of mail for the squadron. Setting a fresh newspaper aside, he turned to me. “Oh, hey, James. Letter from your brother”. Immediately I stiffened. “That some kinda joke, Bert?” I asked, my teeth gritted. He looked at me, puzzled, before realising his mistake. “Oh, right. No, it’s from, er...Andrew”. In shock, I ran over to his side. “Where? This one?” Bert handed me the letter and I tore it open.
Thank you for writing to me, and sorry that I couldn’t respond sooner. The Legion has had a rough time in the Somme, but I’m currently enjoying being in Paris after catching a Bosche bullet.
I am broken-hearted to hear of Michael’s death. I can’t imagine how you must feel, having seen it. If possible, come and join me in Paris. I should love to see you again. We’ll drink a toast to big brother. I’m sorry to tell you that Jack Brown was killed by a German Sniper not long after we got to the Somme. Luckily the bullet got him in the head, and he died painlessly. It may not be worth saying, but I sometimes think we may have made a mistake in coming to France. That being said, I’m glad that I’ve been a part of it all.
“Jack Brown,” Bert said, and I realised he had been reading over my shoulder. “Friend of yours?”. Immediately I crumpled the letter into a ball. “What the hell, Bert! Don’t be reading my damned letters!”. He was taken aback, anger flashing over his face. “Well don’t leave it so damned exposed then! Here, you can read mines if you want!”. He thrust a letter at me. “What would I want to read your mail for?” I asked, angrily, before taking a breath. In a more calm voice I tried to reason. “Look, Bert, that’s personal stuff, okay? I’d prefer you didn’t read it”. Bert shrugged, sitting back down. “Well, fine”.
Sitting down myself, I sighed deeply. “Jack Brown was one of our childhood friends from San Francisco. We used to play baseball in his backyard. He went off to join the Legion a few months before us”. My voice quietened. “Damnit. Little Jack Brown. Can’t believe he’s gone”. Bert patted me on the back, but it felt insincere. “This damned war, eh? C’est la Guerre, as they say. At least he got it quickly. Now, I’m organising a poker game for tonight. You in?”. I shook my head. “Nope. You ain’t foolin’ me anymore, Bert. Every time we play you take me for all my pay”. Bert let out an irritated sigh. “Hell, nobody round here is any fun. It’s about time one of us went West so that some replacements come in. Maybe then I could get a damned game of cards with somebody”. I looked at him in speechless disgust. “What? Just kiddin’” he said testily.
Fearing I might fail to resist taking a swing at the vile little man, I removed myself from the dining room and headed to Behonne, where I was unsurprised to find Lufbery lounging in a Bessoneau beside his machine. “Morning, Luf. Mind if I join you?”. “Be my guest, mon ami. You look annoyed. What’s up?”. I shrugged. “Just Bert winding me up, is all. He’s a nasty piece of work”. Luf chuckled. “Oui, he’s a real Salaud. If he wasn’t one of us I’d have shut his mouth for him already”. We fell into silence as Luf loaded a Lewis drum, sorting through a box of ammunition and discarding the crooked rounds. “Merde, look at this! Who makes these useless bullets? It’s no wonder we haven’t won the war yet” he muttered, tossing another bent round onto the discarded pile. “You do that before every flight?” I asked, gesturing towards the quarter-filled drum. He nodded. “Better to find the bad rounds down here than up there”. “Ha! Too right. Well, I’d better go and check the assignments”.
Keeping with his promise, Thenault had departed the Escadrille for the day to visit Cowdin and McConnell, leaving De Laage in charge. The stoic French second-in-command pulled no punches in reminding us that, despite our free camaraderie, he was still our superior officer (in my case, by seniority). I was ordered to lead my flight on the 2 O’Clock patrol over Verdun - an assignment we were all too happy with. However, his next words sent a shiver of irritation down my spine. “Bert Hall shall be joining your flight”. Not wanting to let Thenault down, I tried to put Hall’s abrasive nature out of my head as we lined up our Nieuports on the airfield, gathering my pilots around me. “Okay, boys. Listen up”. My men turned to face me, their private jokes and conversations fizzling out. “We may be on our side of the lines, but I want you all to keep a sharp lookout for the Bosche. Those damned Rolands don’t have any problem coming over, and we still don’t know anything about the Bosche’s new Biplane. If we do spot the Bosche, I want you all to wait for my signal before attacking. Clear?”. The men grunted in agreement, and we sneaked a last cigarette before climbing into our machines.
The rain had started up again by the time our patrol had set off, and miserably we lifted into a freezing sky, the ice-needle raindrops stabbing mercilessly at our uncovered faces. As we turned towards Verdun I attempted to tuck my scarf up underneath my goggles, wearing it like a facemask, but this only led to my goggles steaming up with my breath and so I quickly abandoned the idea. We climbed up to the base of the heavy grey clouds above us, weaving in the small river-like channels between them as we made our way to the proud fortress-city. Our machines were buffeted about horribly as we flew, but we managed to make it to the city in good time. As we flew over the remnants of its residential areas, something caught my eye below. Peering down, I spotted two machines whirling in their own private duel. I strained my eyes to try and identify the two combatants, and eventually saw that it was a Nieuport chasing the tail of an Eindecker. Curiously I watched from above as the two opponents whirled around in a right-hand circle, becoming ever-increasingly close to the ground. Suddenly in a single tracer-burst the Eindecker shuddered in the air and dove into the side of a ruined house. Well done! I told my French comrade in my head.
Looking forwards I was shocked to find two massive machines heading towards us. Panicked, I started to bank away, but as my eyes took in the shape of the two behemoths I realised it was a pair of Caudrons. Snapping back onto course and feeling a little silly, I watched the two machines drift past. For the next ten minutes the sky was clear of friend or foe, but as we made our third rotation over Verdun I caught the glint of wings high above us. Looking up, I saw an Aviatik heading North. After a thorough scan around the Bosche, to make sure he had no friends waiting in ambush, I signalled to the flight to start climbing.
Flying ahead and below of the German and blocking line of sight with his nose, we crept up to the Aviatik’s altitude as he crossed over the centre of no-man’s-land. I quickly looked over my wingmen, had one more brief scan for other enemy machines, and ordered the attack. As we approached I couldn’t believe my eyes - Bert Hall shot ahead of our formation and dove straight at the Aviatik! I cursed him for his rashness and followed. Suddenly, I saw a flash of tracer from the German machine, and immediately Bert’s Nieuport fell away in a spin. Shocked, I curled around onto the Bosche’s six. As I tried to aim my shots, however, the hateful wind rocked the nose of my Nieport up and down violently, and I spat a curse as I watched my tracers hitting every section of sky apart from the one the Aviatik occupied. I circled around for a second attack, and then a third, before finally a great gust of wind tore my nose upwards and I fell into a stall, falling away from the Aviatik which sailed away indifferently. Punching my dashboard in frustration, I watched the others attempt to bring down the Bosche - all to no avail. One by one they circled back, each having expended their ammunition. Miserably we flew back to Behonne.
Thenault had a call from Bert around suppertime - his machine’s engine had been badly shot, but he had managed to fall away and land at Verdun aerodrome. Shortly afterwards I called upon the Capitane in his office and asked for a 48-hour pass.
"A 48-hour pass? What for?" "Well, you see, my brother Andrew is in Paris wounded, and I haven't seen him for over a year". "Hm. I see. Well, I can't guarantee anything, you understand. However, I shall check the flight roster for the next two days and see what I can do". "Thank you, sir! By the way, how was Cowdin, and Mac?" "They are both well, Mon Ami, but.."
Sadness flashed in the Capitane's eyes for a moment.
"Seeing Cowdin was...hard. That bullet gave him some terrible wounds. It is as his letter says - the doctor told me he'll never again fly. It is a cruel thing for an airman to discover". "That's a damned shame. We'll keep paying the Bosche back for him, though! Good night, sir".
Thenault smiled. "Yes, we will. Bonne nuit, James".