It took most of an evening to get caught up with all the excellent stories here. I've read through my WW1 library several times, but this is like being part of a Book of the Week club. Gripping stuff!
Lou - It was devastating to hear of Dent's loss. Swany will have to reel in his enthusiasm until his new man gains some experience. Harry - Congratulations on Lazlo's first two kills. What a fun character he is. MFair - So good to have you back in the air with Drogo. Congrats on his first victory, but take care while you're still on Eindekkers. It seems to take only a couple of rounds for them to want to fall out of the sky. Fullofit - Toby is amazing. Up to 15 kills already. Albert Ball better look out. Wulfe, I'm loving Fullard's tale and was delighted to meet Lemoine again and hear Devennes is still alive.
Collins is still adjusting...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by Captain James Arthur Collins, VC, MC
Part Sixty: In which I reconcile
Hawkes & Co were taken aback by the presentation of the VC ribbon by a Canadian. They noted that my uniform lacked the “Canada” stripe on the shoulder and suggested that a Canadian VC should appear as such. In the time it took to read the newspaper, they had sewn on the crimson ribbon, adjusted the MC ribbon’s place, added the newly-authorized wound stripe, and finished it all off with the Canada flash. I had an hour and a half before meeting the General at Simpson’s, so I enjoyed some window-shopping on Regent Street, which had become my favourite stroll in the city. Only this time I found heads turning, hats being doffed, and complete strangers wanting to shake my hand. A lieutenant-colonel of Guards saluted before I did. The novelty of it all was entertaining.
Simpson's Gentlemen's Dining Room
My splendid cut of roast beef was getting cold. Mr. Lloyd George demanded all my attention, and he returned once more to his favourite topic.
“These contact patrols, Captain Collins. Were you able to form an opinion on the success of the battle on the ground whilst flying over the lines?”
I glanced over at General Henderson, who was looking at the Marquess of Crewe. Neither was comfortable. And the General had cautioned me in the few private moments we had in the foyer. “Well sir,” I stammered, “we were all rather busy, what with the klaxon signals and note-taking and such.”
The Marquess of Crewe, Leader of the Lords
David Lloyd George, Secretary of War
“But were the Boches holding our men up?”
“Ultimately, yes sir.”
“And yet we persisted week after week from July until September. Remarkable, don’t you think, Captain Collins.”
I thought back to General Trenchard’s briefing in our sheds at Lahoussoye before the battle. “Our purpose as I understand it, sir, was to keep pressure on the Hun and take it off the French. We did that very well. And we took ground, very advantageous ground.”
“But at what cost, my boy? At what dreadful cost?”
The Marquess cut into the conversation. “I’m sure the poor fellow doesn’t have the figures at hand. I for one commend you and the entire Flying Corps on the support you have provided. I am told that the German soldiers complained bitterly that their own flying machines had been driver off.”
After dinner, the General and I stopped at the Charing Cross Hotel for a drink and I learned that Mr. George, a Secretary for War, was advocating a more direct hand in the running of things in France, which the Marquess was prepared to support General Haig. And my shadow, Max Aitken, seemed to have partnered with George. There was even talk of ousting Asquith as Prime Minister. The General was relieved that they had not been able to acquire any benefit from their meeting with me. It was all too much. But more to the point for me at least, he had given me a notice of investiture containing three passes to Windsor Castle for Saturday the 9th.
I left London the next morning for my mother’s house near Cambridge. It was a grey and blustery day. I mentally rehearsed the meeting I expected, but I was determined to try to bring my mother around and have her with me at the Castle.
Mrs. Winthrop, Mummy’s head housekeeper, met me at the door. It was she who had taken my telephone call a couple of days ago. She urged me to come. She greeted me with surprising warmth and congratulated me on the Zeppelins and the VC, and then she took my greatcoat and led me to the parlour. My mother sat by the garden window, a book of poetry in her lap, and looked up impassively. I took the chair beside her and looked for a sign that the ice would break. For nearly a minute she sat staring straight ahead, and then her lip began to quiver. A single sob broke free from her restraint and I reached for her arm. “Mummy, I’m home. Are you all right?”
She looked much older than I remembered, her skin thinner. I noticed her hands, now knotted with arthritis. I wanted to reach for a hand, but my chair was too far away. Mrs. Winthrop brought us tea. “I can’t bear to lose you,” she said at last. “Your father went away for so many years. When he finally came back from the Northwest, we had such a short time together. And then you went away too. Now Dorothy is gone. Everyone goes.” Tears were falling freely now.
I explained as best I could. I’d found something I was half decent at. The distillery was Dad’s affair, and I’d learned the business. Flying was mine. There was a war on. I simply could not stay home in Canada. After the war it would be a fine thing to say one had served in the RFC. And now I have a very great decoration and I’ve met so many people. I’ve done a service to the family name. Why is that wrong?
She looked at me. “You are the image of your father, Jimmy.” At last she smiled, and I laughed. She agreed to come to the investiture. Dorothy would meet her at Kings Cross Station and get her to Paddington by cab. From there they would take the train to Windsor. I would have to meet them at the Castle, as there would be a carriage waiting for Fred, Billy, and me.
She sipped tea. “I do prefer a touch of brandy with it,” she said. “But Mrs. Winthrop has been helping me avoid it.” She explained that since Dorothy left she had been attending meetings at the Society of Friends. “Most stimulating,” she said.
“Are the Quakers teetotal?” I asked.
“Not at all. Not necessarily, at least. But they have taught me the virtue of moderation in all things. When a thing controls your life whether it is love of the thing or hatred of the thing, I believe it is wrong.” It seemed a rational idea.
“Jimmy, do not let the war, or the Army, or a piece of metal on a ribbon control you. For my part, I shall attempt not to control you either.”
Five in the morning, the wind fresh, and the sky fading from violet to blue-orange on the eastern horizon. The task was a routine patrol to the north of the city as far as Northolt. Ness and Burroughs joined me. It was wonderful to be in the cockpit. The smell of flight – leather, leaking oil, whale oil, petrol, cordite, sweat, dope. A very British smell, it seemed. I’d downed a Hun machine and examined it and it smelled sour and foreign. This was home.
The BE12 trundled over the hard field and lifted gently. There was a headwind and the machine wanted to climb. I turned northwest and throttled back. Already the powers that be were pushing me to a non-flying role. That could not be allowed. Only the King could make he accept that. I wanted back to France.
Tubby was out of hospital and posted to 37 Squadron. I gave him back full title of the Singer and spent some of my prize money on a new and luxurious D-type Vauxhall. Billy, Fred, and I were granted leave from 8 September to the 11th. We planned to pile into the new machine and drive to the city. We booked rooms at the Cavendish. It would be a grand time.