Harry, that is a lovely surprise for Lazlo. Best of luck with you're personalized DIII! Fullofit, the poor Huns need some new machines in Alsace. You are just swatting those Eindekkers out of the sky! Carrick, your man is running more risks than any other pilot, I fear. MFair, looking forward to your return. Have fun in the meanwhile. Lou, I've got Jim to Salisbury. Ball's in your court!
Here is the latest. Hope to be back in France soon!
An Airman’s Odyssey – by Capt James Arthur Collins, VC, MC
Part Sixty-Eight: In which Swany and I reunite
The air was warm for the season. We had the roof down on the Vauxhall and a picnic hamper (which the hotel had prepared for me) in the back seat. Alex wore her tweed skirt and jacket and I provided a wool blanket and a silk scarf to hold her hat on as we made our way out of town between laurel hedges and towering oaks, beyond which lush fields of barley and rye stretched over the gentle undulations of old Wessex.
Some of the farms were given over to the war, with lines of bell tents and men digging and marching. We saw a dozen regiments, and Canadians both English and French, Australians, New Zealanders, Sikhs, Pathans, and Rajputs. From time to time we inched past lines of infantrymen who whistled and waved as Alex passed, and we slowed to pick our way across ruts formed by columns of horse artillery.
We stopped for lunch on a hill near Stockbridge with a wonderful view of half of Hampshire. Alex thoroughly enjoyed her first Scotch eggs and Stilton cheese.
“You look funny in a regular jacket and tie, Jim. It’s not how I imagined you would look. And where’s your bowler hat?”
“It would blow away, Alex. Cloth cap is far better.” I passed her the vacuum flask of tea and stretched out in the sun. “How many of those poor sods in uniform were cursing me for a war profiteer, I wonder?”
She laughed. “I did my best to look like your fancy girl, so I guess there were a few of them.” She poured the tea and held her napkin under her cup to protect her blouse. “You are surprisingly shy, I think.”
“You seem such a dashing fellow in public, but one on one you’re nervous as a kitten. Do I frighten you?
“I’m not frightened by being around you. Perhaps I’m more frightened at the thought that I may not be around you.” She looked at me quizzically.
“Are you flirting with me, Jim Collins?”
“God, I hope so,” I said. The truth was, I was scared to death. I like the girl and I wasn’t sure how this game worked. Growing up with my mother and sister on the prairies wasn’t a great preparation for gallant man-about-town. And neither was learning business in a distillery. Nor learning to fly in the RFC. Oh, I was indeed lost.
We arrived in Salisbury around four and made straight for the Old George. The place stands on the high street, with two magnificent bay windows in its half-timbered front overhanging the pavement. Through the door we walked into the past and the musky smell of wood smoke and carpet and good food. The desk clerk looked at me as though I were a salesman at the manor door, come to sell the earl a toothbrush. He gave Alex a room on the first floor at one end and me a room on the second floor as far from Alex as he could and then rang for a porter. He gave instructions to take Alex to her room and then told me he would have someone attend to me in a couple of minutes. I told Alex to meet me in the bar in twenty minutes.
My room was under the roof, large, heavily beamed and plastered, with ancient wooden support pillars making night-time walks to the toilets a challenge. A gas fire threw out a warm light. I shaved and decided to change back into uniform, my good traditional one with peaked cap (in case we went out). The boots and Sam Browne were beautifully polished. I wouldn’t have the chest cabbage that Swany had by now, but that little strip of crimson ribbon should still be enough to sort out the desk clerk.
I strode manfully past the desk, shoulders back, stomach in, chin up. The silly bugger didn’t look up. The bar room was small and cozy and as I approached, I could hear Alex laughing. And there was Swany, grinning from ear to ear and passing her a sherry.
“Swanson, you old devil, leave the ladies alone.”
Swany stood up and met me half way to the table with a bear hug. I congratulated him on his VC, and saw his astounding row of ribbons: VC, DSO, MC and Bar, Corix de Guerre. “We’re a long way from Long Branch, old friend,” I said. “How many Huns have you now?”
“Forty-seven,” he said, blushing.
“Five winged Huns, four Zeps.”
Alex started. “FOUR Zeppelins? When? Why didn’t you tell me?” I tried to explain, and Alex chided me for following such a silly order. “Britain needs to know,” she said. And then she turned to Swany and took her note book and pen from her bag.