Lou - I agree with Raine. The stories of North Dakota are always wonderful, and give Swany some fantastic backstory. Eagerly awaiting the ol' 3121 to be approved.
Raine - uh-oh, Collins' new pal sounds like she could be a handful...he;s faced Eindeckers, Rolands and Zeppelins, but how will he fair against Alex? As for the cub, IIRC they picked up Whiskey on the trip to Paris, and Soda came on the scene a little later.
Congrats on the new gongs, everyone!
Sous. Lt. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine', Luxeuil, France.
September 17th, 1916
In the early morning we sat crowded around Mr. Robinson’s finely-crafted dining table, with a wonderful breakfast of poached eggs, thick slices of ham, croissants, fruits, buttered toast and all other manner of food that had been conspicuously absent from the front. As we tucked in, the American reporter that our host had invited sat with notebook in hand, intrusively firing off questions at us in his nasal, high-pitched voice. “Well, boys, the folks back home think you’re all just swell! We’re dyin’ to know a little more about’cha! Lieutenant Fullard - what’s it like fighting the Germans above the clouds?”. I shrugged, sipping at my coffee. “Dunno”. The reporter frowned slightly. “Aw, c’mon! You must have some stories of daring, bravado, adventure! The folks back home want to know!”. I sat my coffee mug down, before smirking slightly. “Well, I don’t know about myself, but Bill Thaw…”
Luf, Kiffin Rockwell and Bill were all absent from our little impromptu press meeting, as they were off collecting their Lion Cub, which had been born on a cruise bound from Africa and had since been unwanted by its Brazillian Doctor owner. With their absence, I decided to have a little fun at their expense. “...Bill Thaw is the real hero of the Escadrille...you know, he once strafed an artillery battery until he was out of ammunition! And, you know what he did then?”. The reporter, furiously scribbling, hung on my every word. “Go on!” he urged. “Well, he landed his Nieuport right there on the Bosche side, pulled out his sidearm, and he silenced that damned artillery battery singlehanded, dispatching whatever Bosches he hadn’t got with his Millitraleuse!”. There were several coughs in unison, as the pilots stifled their laughter. Awestruck, the reporter quickly wrote down these details. “Well,” Thenault said, “we had better be off. Back to the front today, you know. Mr. Robinson, it’s always a pleasure”. We excused ourselves and made our way out into the street.
Immediately as we rounded the corner the pilots burst into howling fits of laughter. “Did you see that reporter’s face?” Masson cried out. “He totally bought that stupid story!”. I laughed and threw an arm around his shoulder. “Now just wait until ol’ Bill sees that story in the news!”. Giggling like schoolboys at the reporter’s expense, we made our way towards the Gare de l’Est. Sure enough, we were met at the steps by Bill, Kiffin and Luf. In Luf’s hand was a rope leash - and there it was at his feet - a lion cub! “My god, you weren’t kiddin’!” I cried out, stooping down cautiously to inspect our new mascot. It let out a tired roar and rubbed its face against my knee, and instinctively I fell backwards with a yelp. Kiffin chuckled. “Aw, don’t be scared James! He’s a little saint! Wouldn’t hurt a fly”. To demonstrate the point, he knelt down and rubbed the cub behind the ears. It purred in delight - a sound that sent a chill down my spine. As it yawned and stretched out I saw its razor-claws extend from its paws. “And how you gonna get it back?” Bert Hall asked. “Er…” Kiffin started, but Bill cut him off. “Ah, don’t worry. I have a plan”. He disappeared into the station, reappearing some minutes later grinning and holding up a ticket. I looked over it, shaking my head in disbelief. “A dog ticket, Bill? Come on, pal, you honestly think they’ll buy that?” I asked, with a disbelieving grin on my face.
Our train pulled into the station, the steam from its funnel rolling up and blanketing the ceiling of the station in a great sheet resembling an overcast sky. Into the train we piled, taking up two tables in amongst some other pilots and several nurses. Presently the ticket inspector was along, and we handed off our passes one by one. Then came the moment of truth. Blanchon and I tried to hide our snickering as the inspector stopped dead in his tracks as he reached Thaw. After coming to his senses, the inspector looked down at the dog ticket that Thaw was holding out to him, straight-faced and serious. “What kind of animal is that?” the inspector asked testily. “An African dog” was Thaw’s curt reply. I covered my grin with my hand as Blanchon tucked his face into his tunic, shaking with silent laughter. Slowly the inspector took the ticket, eyed over the cub once more, and slowly turned to make his way down the carriage. No sooner had he done so when our little mascot stretched out, bore his claws, and let out a happy roar.
Chaos ensued. Several of the nurses screamed in terror and bolted out of their seats, fleeing the beast. The ticket inspector fell back, his face flushed in surprise. “Off! Off my train!” he bellowed. “Get that animal off!” The escadrille pilots burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter as Thaw shouted a curse at the ticket inspector. Once the hilarity had died down we were bustled off the train and taken to the station-master, who decreed that we would not be able to travel unless our mascot was caged. With a sigh, I went with Thaw to fetch a cage and we bundled our poor little friend into it. Looking up at us with inquisitive eyes as we stowed him in the luggage carriage, I suddenly felt a stab of guilt. “Sorry, little buddy” I told the lion, which let out a low grumble in reply. “Should we leave him something to drink?” I asked Thaw, who nodded. Producing a plate from his suitcase, he removed a hip flask from his pocket and poured out some whiskey on to the plate, pushing it into the cage. Immediately the little cub started happily lapping it up. I shot Thaw an inquisitive glance, and he shrugged. “He loves the stuff” was his casual response.
On the long train ride back, we discussed the events of our Paris holiday, the news we’d heard about the new German machines, and, of course, we deliberated on what to name our new mascot. We felt it only appropriate that the men that had purchased the beast should get to name it - which included me. After a short chat we decided to name the lion after its favourite drink - and thus, our lion cub was christened ‘Whiskey’.
It was nearing Four O’Clock when we arrived at the station in Luxeuil-les-Bains, and after retrieving a miserable-looking Whiskey from his cage, we headed to Hotel de la Pomme d’Or to arrange our billetts and drop off our suitcases. As if to spite us, the rain was falling heavily in the sector once again, and by the time we had traversed the muddy streets we looked as if we’d never left the front. As we stood by the checking-in desk there was a young scream, and we looked up the staircase to see two young girls, the daughters of the proprietor, staring down at Whiskey. “Oh no,” Thaw muttered, but to our shock the two girls came bounding down the stairs and immediately started fussing over the young cub. I held my breath as Whiskey roared in protest, but before long he had rolled onto his side and allowed the two girls to pet him. I breathed out in shaky relief.
We sorted out our billetts and headed, at last, to see our new aerodrome. Or, I should say, my new aerodrome. Kiffin, Bert Hall, Thaw, De Laage and Thenault were already well-familiar with the place, and wasted no time in calling upon the infamous Capitane Happe, the commander of the Luxeuil bombing group and a pilot of some fame within the Escadrille’s original members. As we entered his office Thenault introduced us one-by-one. I noticed the Capitane had eight small boxes on his table, lined neatly in a row. “What are those?” Masson asked, and the heavy-set Capitane peered up over his desk. “Croix de Guerres, to send to the families of the pilotes we lost on the last Habsheim raid”. It was on that macabre note that we left the Capitane’s office.
After being introduced, Luf and I decided to head to the mess. As we entered, brushing down the loose raindrops from our tunics, I was shocked to hear English chatter among the pilots! Before I could figure out the reason, a pilot in a sharp black uniform which I didn’t recognise appeared before us. “Aha! You must be the Americans!”. He extended an arm. “Chris Draper. Pleased to meet you!”. I shook his hand warmly. “James Fullard. Say, I didn’t know there was an English Squadron here! I thought the R.F.C were all busy with that big scrap in the Somme!”. Draper laughed. “Well, they might be! Us fine gentlemen of the Royal Naval Air Service, however, are defending the skies of the Alsace. Want a drink?”.
We walked over to the bartop and ordered ourselves a whiskey each. “Apologies for the noise, by the way. You can blame the Canadians” Draper told us, and there were several shouted protests from one of the nearby tables. I laughed, and said a quick hello to the pilots. “Well, let’s introduce you, shall we?” Draper suggested, leading us over to the table.
“This here’s Ray Collishaw. He’s a good sort, or so I’m told”. The man issued a quick hello. “And that’s Art Whealy. He takes some getting used to”. There was a laugh around the table, as Art made a rude gesture at Draper. “And here,” he gestured to an individual who sat at the head of the table, lounging back with a half-empty Cognac bottle resting loosely in his hand, “is our star turn. Toby Mulberry”.
Immediately I recognised something in the pilot’s face. He reminded me of Luf, Messier, Tartaux. He’s a killer, I thought to myself. I extended a hand across the table.