Glad folks enjoyed the story Lou and I contrived. Fullofit, that was a close call. At the first glimpse, I really did think it was another Strutter. Carrick, it's good to break in easily after a spell with the nurses. Here is the latest...
An Airman’s Odyssey – by Capt James Arthur Collins, VC, MC
Part Seventy: In which I am condemned
We returned to Salisbury in the afternoon. I’m not sure how it came up, but Alex mentioned that she had a fondness for English chocolate, especially chocolate gingers. It was late afternoon by the time we pulled the Vauhall up around the corner from the Old George and unloaded the fishing gear.
“What about dinner?” I asked casually.
“Not too hungry yet,” said Swaney. “Maybe we meet in an hour or so. Vat you tink, Alex?”
“I need to write some notes,” she said. “How about seven in the front hall?” I suggested we go to the White Hart and we all agreed.
Swany stopped at the desk and returned the fishing gear. I climbed the stairs and waited on the first floor, listening carefully. Swany and the clerk chatted a few moments, and then nothing. I returned to the lobby but Swany was gone. I raced out the door and down the high street until I saw the sign: “F. Sutton, Baker and Confectioner.” I pulled open the door and scanned the glass-covered counter for enrobed chocolates. That was when I recognised that unmistakeable accent – “No, da marzipan is nice, but I need da ginger.” I backed out the door silently. A block away a policeman gave me directions to the only other confectioner close by. He advised me to hurry as they closed at six. I ran four blocks to the small store on Bridge Steet.
“Chocolate ginger,” I gasped. The girl behind the till laughed and commented that I seemed to be in great need of them.
“How many do you want?” she asked.
“All of them,” I said. And if an American fellow comes in, tell him you’ve never heard of the things.” I grossly overpaid for a large waxed bag of the things, and bloody good they were. I’d like to think they all went to Alex, but that would be less than accurate. I strolled to the White Hart in triumph after a brief detour to leave a pre-paid chit at the Haunch for Mr. Thompson, who had provided our lunch at Longleat.
Dinner was delightful. I had Alex all to myself for the first half-hour. Swany finally appeared, sans dungarees and in uniform. He explained that he’d tried to find chocolate gingers all over town, but they must be a London thing as no one knew about them. Over coffee, port, and cheeses, I presented Alex with the bag of gingers. She squealed with delight. Swany said “Faen” and something else Norwegian that did not sound complimentary. But give the man his due, he was smiling.
We returned together to the Old George, where the clerk announced there was a message for me. I was to report as soon as possible to Major Higgins at Woodford Green. To my dismay, Alex said she wanted to get more information about Swany and would return by train. I left by car in the morning. ... Major Higgins was friendly but curious. “You’ve really kicked a hornet’s nest somehow, Collins,” he said. “Apparently the Yankee press says that we are hiding our pilots' accomplishments in the RFC, and colonials like you are being especially downplayed. They’ve caught wind of your last two Zeppelins and every paper in Britain is camped out in North Weald. I had a call this morning from Colonel Aitken at the Canadian War Record Office. He said he was personally offended by the idea he was downplaying your work and wanted to know why nothing had been said about the last two Zeps.”
“You know, sir,” I replied. “I was ordered to keep my mouth shut.”
“I’m quite aware. That order still stands. In any event, you shan’t be my problem for long, Collins. I have orders to pack you off to France.”
“Tomorrow. You take the train to Dover and the first boat to Calais. On the other side you report to 19 Squadron in Fienvillers, by Candas.”
“Why do they fly?”
“You’ll be right at home, Collins. They have BE12s.”
“In France?” I was being condemned to death.
That night the Huns returned. I took off ahead of McHarg and Ogden and headed south. Before we reached the river the searchlights were scanning the hazy night sky. I was at eight thousand feet when the first Zeppelin was caught in the beams. It was low down, no higher than five thousand. I dived in a series of S-bends and approached from behind and below, firing from four hundred yards. When nearly on top of the airship I broke away and looped around. Several dark shapes loomed in the hazy night. Collision was a real danger.
"When nearly on top of the airship I broke away and looped around."
The second approach was slower and steadier than the first. I fired in short bursts all the way in. And then there was a metallic thud as the breech slammed forward and did not return. I was out of ammunition. I gazed helplessly as the Zeppelin rose slowly into a cloud and disappeared. This was my last hunt over London.
Later, in the station office, I was completing my combat report when news came that Ogden’s machine had gone down over the river. He was gone.