Fullofit - ouch! Close call for Chesty. Seems that those Eindeckers still have a little bite left in them. P.S - I rather hoped my Thenault was Jean Reno Although flyboys was....questionable...I thought Reno was great in the role! I'm very much enjoying Toby exploring his morality in the war so far, it makes for some great Vignettes.
Carrick - Good to see 29 dishing it out! Those damned brass hats are long overdue in awarding Keith the elusive 5th victory.
Lou - Ace-in-a-day! Swany is a force of nature. I think that the VC recommendation is a splendid idea, seeing as Swany's been a cold killer since his Morane days, I'd say it's overdue!
Sous Lieutenant James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Américaine', Paris, France.
September 13th, 1916
The mood was jubilant as we packed our things and prepared to make our way to Bar-le-Duc station, however, we couldn’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia as we prepared to say goodbye to the old Fougerolle villa. “Well, we’ve certainly made the place cozy for whoever takes over here” Prince observed. With his knuckles he rapped on the lid of the Piano, which he had propped himself up against. “Hell, we’ve even furnished the place for them!”. I laughed .”Well worth the effort, eh?”.
As I deposited my suitcase among the others at the foyer, I found Thenault holding a telegram and pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “What’s up?” I asked him, and he sighed. “Take a look at this. Can you believe it?” he handed me the telegram and read through it quickly. Despite my best efforts and the Capitane’s frustration, I couldn’t hold back an outburst of laughter. Thenault looked at me annoyed for a moment, but he soon cracked as well and we stood at the foot of the stairs cackling. The telegram was from Lufbery, and simply read “AM HELD IN PRISON AT CHARTRES”. Wiping a tear from my eye, I asked the Capitane how the hell Luf had managed to land himself in a prison on his first day away from the Escadrille. Thenault just chuckled and shook his head in disbelief.
With Luf managing to land himself in a Cell, Thenault told us that he would stay behind to telephone Chartres. “Go on ahead to Paris without me. I shall take the 10 O’Clock train. But, first, I must get my bird out of his cage!”. With that we departed, snickering at the mental image of poor old Luf cooped up in a military prison cell. What on earth had he done?
Despite being given a much-needed rest from the front, we ‘talked shop’ to pass the time on the train, with the most interesting topic being the fate of our machines. “You think some other Escadrille will take them?” asked Masson. “Nah,” Rockwell replied, “I’ll bet they’re off to Plessis to be used as trainers”. I raised an eyebrow. “Nieuport 17s as trainers? The recruits should be so lucky! When I was there we trained on Nieuport 12s!”. Prince laughed aloud. “A luxury, young James! We” - he indicated to Rockwell and Bert Hall - “were trained on Longhorns!”. Chouteau Johnson cut into the conversation. “Well, I envy the pilot that gets to train on Luf’s ship. I’ll be damned if that isn’t the best-maintained machine in France! He’ll be sour to find out he’s been robbed of it”. “Not so,” I replied. “I bet we’re going to get our hands on those new machines with the synchronisers!”. Thaw smirked. "With your luck, James, they'll give you a Nieuport 10!". My pals burst into laughter as I directed a chuckled profanity at Bill.
The Gare de l’Est was packed with soldiers coming to and going from leave, as I had experienced it last. Going through the familiar motions of avoiding sleeping Poillus on the stairs to street level, I turned to my friends. “Well, boys. Here we are. Paris! And a fine place, too! Where are we going to stay, then? The Chatham?”. There were murmurs of agreement. Proudly I offered to lead the way, feeling much like the experienced sightseer since my last trip, but to my disappointment the pilots merely laughed. “No need, James, we know how to get there!”. And so, off we went, the hardened pilots who had flown and fought in the battle of Verdun being at once transformed into a ragtag group of rowdy schoolboys. Down the Rue La Fayette we went, causing a scene as we joked, ribbed each other and carried on stupidly.
We checked into our rooms. Blanchon had already secured himself a lovely dwelling on the third floor, which saw over the rooftops and towards the Arc de Triomphe, which we all invaded as we called upon him to announce the good news. As he swung open the door, we burst in past him and started critically sizing up his room. “Merde! I thought I was free of you!” he cried, to which we laughed heartily. “Well, tough!” I replied, “We’re here for the week. You as well”. Blanchon was surprised. “How come?” he asked. “Well, we’re being moved to Luxeuil, so the Capitane organised a week’s rest for us. Good old Thenault!”.
After being reunited with our Allier, Bill Thaw announced that he was off to visit his sister, and the rest of us made our way downstairs into the hotel's bar, or the ‘club’, as my fellow pilots called it. Downstairs was an ocean of horizon blue - the club was littered with French pilots on leave. In between the blue was the odd dot of khaki - a Royal Flying Corps pilot. They seemed to be a curiosity to their French counterparts, and each one I saw had a small entourage of inquisitive Frenchmen around him. We approached the bar and De Laage leaned an arm on the countertop. Quickly a tall but thin bartender with slightly greying hair and a thick moustache came over to serve us. “Hello, Santo, long time no see,” De Laage said, and the bartender broke into a grin. “Alfred! Mon Dieu! How are you?”. One by one he informally greeted the Escadrille’s older members and introduced himself to the newer among us. As it turned out, Santo was well-known by the ‘originals’ for, among other things, mixing the finest Martinis in Paris.
By the time Thenault arrived with Luf in tow, we were all well-past the point of tipsiness and had descended into drunken rowdiness. Fortunately, as can be expected from a bar full of pilots, this only meant that we blended right into the crowd. As our two comrades approached the table we let out a roaring cheer and broke into applause. “Here he is, our Jailbird!” cried Prince. Luf reddened. “Say, what did you do anyway, Jailbird?” laughed Bert Hall. Irritatedly trying to refute his newly-given nickname, ‘Jailbird’ let spill the details of his arrest. A railway worker in Chartres had been rude to him, to which he had reacted. The man then laid hands on Luf, which he considered an insult to his Medaille Militaire. It was no secret among us that Luf became a very sudden proposition when angered, and the unfortunate railway worker had discovered this fact in the form of a blow that rendered him unconscious and knocked out six of his teeth.
By any means, clever old Thenault had stressed the vital importance of the mission that awaited in Luxeuil, and with his crooning sweet-talk he had quickly convinced the Officer in command of Chartres to release Luf. We all found the story immensely amusing, and, sadly for Luf, his nickname stuck right up until we headed back to our rooms for the night.
Nothing boosts camaraderie like drunkenness, and as I fell onto my luxurious bed that night I felt a deep, brotherly attachment to my pals in the American Escadrille.