Great stories, all! Fullard's Paris escapade is going to be a long one, my apologies - there's a lot to write! I'll try to make the 'leave' stuff interesting Crushing news about Chris Dent. He was one of my favourite 'NPC' characters. A toast to him.
Sous. Lieutenant James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine', Paris, France.
September 7th, 1916
“Thank you, sir!” I said, vigorously shaking Thenault’s hand on the morning of the 6th. The Capitane had sent an orderly for me at first light, calling me into his office where he announced my request for a 48-hour pass had been approved. He smiled warmly as he signed off the pass and pushed it into the breast pocket of my tunic. “Don’t thank me, James, thank H.Q! We’ve been given only routine patrols for the next two days. But, don’t think you’re just getting a free holiday, mon ami! I have a few tasks for you while you’re in Paris”. He took out paper and pen, quickly scribbling onto it and handing it to me. “Go to this address and ask for Mr. W. Moore Robinson. He’ll give you a coupon for 50 pounds of coffee”. I looked down at the address and committed it to memory. “Once you’ve done that, I want you to go around to some of the aeroplane factories and have a look at the machines. The men will be keen to find out what you discover!”. “Thank you again, sir” I said with a grin, turning for the door.
Over breakfast the Escadrille’s pilots were so excited that anyone would think they were all coming to Paris with me, and I was barraged with a torrent of recommendations of clubs, bars, cafes, and all sorts of other establishments to visit. The second wave of my comrades’ attack then came in the form of a mass of letters and trinkets, all to be sent back to America. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll deliver em’!” I reassured my pals, before pausing. “Er, how do I deliver them, though?”. The pilots looked at me as if I were a fool. “Why, drop ‘em off with Lawrence and Henrietta, of course!” said Thaw. I looked at him blankly.
“Oh, I suppose you’ve never met them. Well, Henrietta is my dear sister, and Lawrence is her husband. Lawrence Slade. Here, hold on, I’ll give you the address”. Borrowing a pen from Blanchon, he jotted down the address on a napkin and handed it to me. “Right. Okay. I’ll drop the letters off first thing”. Thaw grinned and slapped me on the back. “Well, bon voyage, you lucky dog!”. “Oh, and get a room in the Hotel Chatham!” Prince called after me as I turned for the exit.
A Corporal drove me to the station at Bar-le-Duc, where I boarded the 9 O’Clock train for Paris. With my suitcase of mail hugged against my chest I waded through the French soldiers, all headed no doubt to enjoy a decadent leave in the grand capital. As I scanned the small booths, hoping for an unoccupied one, I suddenly spotted a portly pilot, sleeping with his arms folded and his head pressed against the window. Under his cap was an unmistakable mess of firey-red hair. Sliding the door open, I dropped my suitcase on the opposite seat and then, with a devilish grin, I took careful aim and kicked the pilot squarely in the shin.
“Merde! What the hell, Fils de Pute!” Lemoine roared as he bolted awake, his furious blue gaze flashing up at me. A grin cracked on my face as I saw recognition wash over him. “Fullard?” he asked, and I burst into laughter as he jumped to his feet, throwing his arms around me in a great bear hug. As we fell back into our seats, he passed me a cigarette. “On leave as well?” Lemoine asked, grinning. I nodded. “Yup. Off to go see brother Andrew in Paris. But never mind that! How have you been?”.
“Same old, Fullard. That damned Messier wakes me up each morning and I fly around hoping we don’t meet any Rolands”. “Yeah, Rolands. I hate ‘em. You off to Paris too?” “Yes, visiting Ortoli. He’s over there on leave at the moment”. “Great! How’s he getting on?” “Same as ever. Still a cheeky Connard”.
My smile faded slightly, and I adopted a softer tone. Taking a long drag of my cigarette, I met Lemoine’s gaze. “I, er...I heard that Devienne was killed. Sorry, Lemoine. I know you two were thick as thieves”. To my amazement, Lemoine let out a single, staccato laugh. “Ha! What? No, no, Devienne’s not dead! Who told you that?”. My eyes widened. “He’s not?! Really! Well, that’s just swell! A week or so back we had a Caudron pilot stop by the villa, he told us a Roland had gotten him!”. Lemoine laughed again. “Well, that much is true! The young fool got his ship shot about pretty terribly, and he caught some bullet shrapnel, but he’s still alive and kicking! He’s off in some hospital somewhere having a nice long rest and dreaming about mademoiselles. But, forget him, the villa? Just what kind of Escadrille is the American one, anyway?”.
I felt relief wash over me in euphoric waves. Devienne’s alive! With just that small refrain, that one piece of good news among the bad, the war suddenly didn’t seem so bleak. “Well, the American Escadrille is a fine bunch. And yes, we stay in a villa. Makes a nice change from the old leaky barracks at N.31! We also have the new Nieuport 17s, but-” Lemoine cut me off. “Lá! Lá! Lá! Nieuport 17s! What the hell! They’re treating you Americans like celebrities! No wonder I’ve seen your name in the papers!” I gestured for him to wait. “But, we only have 10 between 12 pilots, so I’m still on the old Nieuport 16”. He let out a long laugh.
Idly we chatted as the train traversed the rolling hills and vast farmlands of France, before eventually pulling into the Gare de l’Est at Paris. Together we stepped down onto the platform into a sea of Khaki and Horizon Blue - an endless tide of soldiers and pilots, all on leave. Together we walked out onto the steps of the station, around which were several Poillus sleeping restlessly on the concrete. Taking care not to tread on the sleeping men, we stepped down onto the street. “Well, Lemoine. I guess I’ll see you later on. Give my best to Ortoli and the rest of the boys, would you?”. He grinned and we shook hands. “See you later, American”. With that, we parted ways.
Wandering down Rue de Chabrol, I stopped a French Artilleryman and asked him if he knew where the Hotel Chatham was. “Oh, easy. You walk the length of Rue La Fayette until you come to Place de l’Opera, and then you get onto Rue de la Plaix. You should see it easy enough after that”. I thanked him and made my way, taking in the grand architecture and European culture as I strolled along at a leisurely pace. As I walked, I took great interest in looking at the many different uniforms on display. The bright red trousers and brilliant blue tunics of the old French Poillus, the khaki-green of the tommies, the red-collared Belgian uniforms. Once or twice I noticed wings embroidered onto the British tunics, the markings of the R.F.C. I finally spotted the Hotel Chatham, a towering six-storey building. Outside each of its many tall rectangular windows was a windowbox overflowing with scarlet poppies. Stepping through the small doorway at street level, I found an ornate desk with a young lady sitting behind it, wearing a bored expression. “Hello, Lieutenant. Room for one?” she asked tiredly. I nodded, and after a quick exchange of money a key was pressed into my hand. From seemingly nowhere a porter arrived and took my bag from me. “This way, sir,” he requested, leading me up an ornate staircase to the second floor. I noticed as we passed the hotel’s guests that the vast majority of them were French pilots. Seeing my wings, many smiled and nodded. I was led to an unassuming oak door, but after turning the key and stepping through I found myself in a grand high-ceilinged room, a large double-bed pushed neatly against the wall. Opposite to it was a beautifully-carved ornate fireplace, and facing out onto the street were three tall windows, partly-covered by heavy embroidered curtains. Placing my suitcase by the bedside, the Porter bowed quickly and exited.
I slumped down onto the bed and pulled out the various scraps of paper in my pocket, deciding what my first order of business should be. Among them was Thaw’s sister’s address, Mr. Robinson’s address and the envelope of Andrew’s letter, with the return address of the Ritz. Mother must have sent Andrew some cash! I thought to myself with a smile. However, I remembered my promise to the Escadrille. I decided to take up my suitcase and head towards the Slade residence.
After an hours’ walk and much searching around the local area, I finally found the right door and knocked. I was greeted by Lawrence Slade, Henrietta’s husband and another American from New York. Spotting my wings, he broke into a smile. “Aha! You must be one auv Bill's friends!” he said happily, inviting me in. “Henrietta's not home right now, but I'll tell ha’ you stopped by. How's Bill doing, by the way?”. “He’s doing well. I don’t mean to be rude, but I can’t stay long. I hope it’s not a bother, but the boys at the Escadrille asked me to leave some letters to be posted home. They told me I should drop them off here”. Lawrence grinned. “Leave it to me. I’ll see that they get Stateside! Do you have time fah a cup auv coaffee before you go?”. I broke into a grin. “Oh, buddy, I always have time for a coffee”. We sat down at Lawrence’s modest dining table as he informed me of some of the happenings back home. “The folks back home are losing their aupinion auv the Germans, you know. At the end auv July there was a huge explosion in the New’Youk docks, courtesy auv their agents. Bahstads even took a chunk outta lady liberty! Needless to say, aur boys back home are coming around to the Frenchies' side. I think it won't be too long before we come into the war”. I was shocked at the news, but relished the thought of the U.S entering into the conflict. After relaying some of the recent Escadrille news to Lawrence and thanking him for the coffee I bid him farewell and headed back out onto the cool early evening of Paris, bound for the Ritz.
Just down the road from my old Hotel I found it - a maginficent curving building, its face covered by tall windows and delicately carved ornamentation. As I entered I was in awe of its decadence, the floors draped in marble patterned with a deep blue floral design and its cream-coloured walls stretching ever-upwards. After making an inquiry at the desk, I found that my brother was staying on the first floor, but that he was currently lounging in the bar. Thanking the attendant behind the counter, I found my way into the bar and into a sea of blue and green. My! They’re all pilots! I thought to myself, as a hundred pairs of wings proudly sat upon the breasts of the men’s tunics. Wading through the crowd, I said a few brief hellos as I scanned for my brother. Then, in the corner of the room, sitting alongside a Frenchman and an Englishmen, I saw him. Andrew. Immediately I was overcome with emotion - I hadn’t seen my brother since the start of 1915.
A strange nervousness gripped me as I walked over to their table, tapping Andrew on the shoulder. As he turned to face me, I was surprised at how gaunt he looked. His broad, childlike grin, however, was unchanged. “My god! James!” he cried, grabbing a crutch by his side and rising to his feet. We embraced for a long while. “How you doing, kid?” I asked him, euphoria catching in my voice as he offered me a seat. “Fellas! This is my Brother, James!” he said to his companions, and I shook the two pilots’ hands. “God, it’s good to see you!” Andrew said to me, that child’s grin plastered on his face. “How the hell have you been?”. I laughed. “I’ll tell you over a drink. Martinis are on me” I replied, taking in the contours of Andrew’s face for a moment before ruffling his hair and heading to the bartop. As I ushered the bartender over, I thought to myself. Today’s a good day.
There was so much to catch up on. I listened in awe at Andrews’ stories of life as a Poillu - it sounded horrific. Quietly as we sipped our drinks and smoked our American cigarettes (delivered to Andrew courtesy of a friend back home) he told me of trenches turned to bogs, thick, merciless mud that dragged men entirely under and buried them alive. The earth swallowing soldiers for their sins. He told me of rats, the infestation, the sound that their sharp needle-teeth made as they devoured the flesh of the dead. A quiet clicking sound, wet, incessant. Matter-of-factly he told me of how nobody had time to clear or even bury the dead, and in the trenches was a smell unlike anything he’d ever experienced. “The closest thing to it was...you remember the Slaughterhouse next to the Jeffersons’ farm? Imagine that on the hottest summer day, but 100 times worse”. The incense of Hell. At the Somme, during the Legion’s first big push, he had faced the terror of the infantry - the ‘Crossfire’, two or more German machine guns sweeping the advancing troops in an ‘X’, with not even an inch of space between the two streams of bullets. Andrew had been fortunate - one German gunner had dropped his gun too low, and the bullet had smashed his kneecap. The doctor had said he’d never walk properly again.
“So, what the hell are you going to do now? You can’t fight if you can’t walk, right?” I asked him, as he grinned and showed off the field dressing around his leg. “Oh, well, I thought I’d do like you and big brother. I’m going to join the air service”. I stiffened. “Andrew...don’t do that. Please. You don’t know how many green pilots I’ve seen kill themselves. Hell, even as I was training we lost a third of the guys to crashes. The air war is...different”. Andrew tensed. “Hell, James, it’s either that or they send me home! Even the damned American Ambulance Corps won’t take me with a busted leg!”. I thought deeply for a moment, slowly smoking my cigarette down to the butt. “You know, Andrew...and don’t get me wrong, kid...but maybe that ain’t such a terrible thing”. He looked at me in shock. “Hear me out. Mom and Pops have already lost one of us, right? I’m in this thing ‘til it ends or the Bosche kill me. But you have a way out! Hell, we ought to have one of us get home, right?”. I saw anger flash over Andrew’s face for a moment, and for a second I expected him to yell at me, but then his features relaxed, turning miserable. “Ah, christ. You’re right. You were always the rational one. But, James, how can I miss the war? I’d be yellow if I went home now! ‘Sides, how could I leave you over here? What if something happ….what if something happened to you, and I was just sittin’ around at home? No, James, I’m going to join the air service”. I clasped a hand on his shoulder. In his eyes I saw the same determination he had when we were young. He wore the face that always said ‘I’ve made up my mind and you can’t change it’. I let out a deep sigh. “Well, it’s up to you, kid. But, think about it, eh?”. He promised me he would.
The clock had just struck eleven-thirty and the bar had mostly cleared out when I finally came to my feet. “Well. I gotta hit the road. My C.O’s given me some tasks to do tomorrow, but I’ll come and see you before I head back to the Escadrille. Keep out of trouble, okay? Love you, kid”. We embraced again and I headed out into the chill night, wearily making my way back to the luxury of my hotel room.
First thing in the morning, I called upon Mr. Robinson. He was a humble man, and very accommodating, asking after each pilot of the American Escadrille by name and inviting me to dinner. He told me he would invite some American reporters, so that I could share our stories back home, but I had to politely decline, informing him I had other business to attend to before I headed back to Bar-le-Duc. Understanding, he happily bid me good day and saw me off with the coffee coupon.
Leaving Mr. Robinson’s house, I flagged down a taxi to take me to the Bleriot factory in Suresnes. I caught sight of an old Nieuport 10 coursing over the vast suburbs of Paris as we drove and smirked to myself. No doubt a trainee from the G.D.E, I thought to myself, recalling how we were all told never to fly over Paris, but we all did so anyway. Eventually we arrived at the factory, and I was quickly awed by the sheer scale of it. It was an operation of incredible scale - over a space of17 square miles masses and masses of factory buildings and warehouses stretched out across the suburbs, with partially and fully built planes dotting their edges in every direction. Paying the taxi driver, I wandered up to the front gates where I was halted by a guard. “Business?” he asked me bluntly, and I pointed to my wings. “I’m a pilot with the American Escadrille. I should like to have a look”. The guard nodded once and escorted me to an office on the complex, where I met with a foreman named Moreau. Happily he agreed to take me around to see some finished new machines, leading me to a small warehouse about a mile from the entrance. We stepped inside, and he showed me various prototype aeroplanes. “This, monsieur, will be the finest Nieuport machine yet” he said, indicating to me an unassuming machine that looked just like our current ones. “What’s so special about it?” I asked. With a grin, he indicated to the top wing. “Well, it’s the machine gun, you see!”. Puzzled, I looked at him. “But, there is no machine gun?”
“Exactement! There is no machine gun above the wing! Look, it is mounted in the nose instead! Lieutenant Fullard, this will be the first Nieuport machine with a Synchronised machine-gun! As I’m sure you know, you can carry 97 rounds in the drum of a Lewis machine gun, and to reload it after you must do so in the air”. I nodded. “With this synchronised Vickers, you will be able to carry 500 rounds, and with this ammunition belt you won’t have to ever reload it in the air!”. I was impressed, to say the least. “Brilliant. When do we get ‘em?” I asked, and Moreau winked. “Ah, M’Sieur, they are already sending the first ones out! I guarantee you shall have them by the end of the month”. Despite myself I broke into a smile. “Fantastic…” I muttered, looking over the synchronised Vickers once more.
Writing down notes to bring back to the Escadrille, I made my way back to the Ritz and had a late lunch with Andrew, where we talked carelessly about home. On hindsight, it was a bad idea, for before too long we were both terribly homesick. Checking my watch, I suddenly realised that I had to be back to Bar-le-Duc by nightfall, and I was out of time. “#%&*$#, I gotta head back to the Escadrille,” I told my brother, and he sighed, smiling weakly. “Duty calls, eh? Well, until next time, James”. We embraced and shook hands. “Take care of yourself, kid. And have a think about what I said, about heading Stateside, eh?”. His face turned serious. “I have thought about it. I’m going to be a pilot”. Hopelessness washed over me as I looked into his face. He really means it.
Reluctantly I left my brother and headed for the Gare de l’Est, boarding the first train back for Bar-le-Duc among a handful of pilots from the Verdun region. The train ride seemed to fly past as I became lost in memories of life in San Francisco before the war, and before I knew it, Paris had dropped away, becoming nought more than a distant daydream again. Disembarking at the station, I hailed a taxi to take me back to the Villa. That night I was bombarded with questions from my fellow pilots. “How did you get on?” “Did you run into any mademoiselles?” “How was my sister? Oh, you never met her? Pity!” “Did you send my letter?”. I tried my best to satisfy my friends’ curiosities.
As I awoke on the morning of the 8th, Paris felt like it had been a dream. It had passed so quickly. As I pulled my uniform on and made my way out of my room, I could hear an almighty commotion from downstairs. Hurrying down the staircase and into the dining room, I saw a gang of pilots crowded around Luf, barraging him with questions, which he was doing his best to answer with a grin on his face. “What’s going on?” I asked Rumsey. Beaming from ear to ear, he cried out “Luf got one of those new Bosche Biplanes!”. I laughed aloud, pushing my way into the crowd. “Tell us again what happened, Luf!” cried Chouteau Johnson, and the pilots fell quiet.
Dramatically clearing his throat and drawing himself up to his full height, Luf started to recount the tale.
“Well, mes amies, it went like this. We were over Verdun, a usual patrol, you know. All of a sudden, we see a swarm of machines, larger than I’ve ever seen! As we approached I saw them. Mon Dieu, I cried aloud in my cockpit! They were Bosches! Good old Thenault took us right towards them, and they never knew we were there. The Capitane got right behind one and had a good look at him - It’s just like a Fokker, but with a second set of wings. I saw a second enemy machine and attacked with Masson. However, I was just about to attack when bullets whipped right past me! Looking round I saw another one of the brutes on my tail. Immediately I curved around to the right and got behind him, and he led me on a merry chase into the Bosche lines right down at treetop level! Well, I was sure I had him, but the devil quickly landed his machine in a field. As I flew over I gave him a wave, and would you know it, mes amies, the Bosche waved back!”.