Mission No. 10 for Cap'n. Dobson & Company
After a late breakfast today, of brown beans and soft boiled eggs, we were instructed via telephone, by our ever-austere C.O., Sir Salmond, Sr., to undertake a spotting mission of enemy troop positions and batteries further north, towards and slightly below Diksmuide. To fly with me, as ordered, was another Parasol, and to be manned by Ltn. Strugnell. My observer, as usual, would be Henderson. For good measure, we each also took up four 20 kg bombs - in case favorable situations emerged that would offer us a chance to give a good pounding to the enemy.
What was not working in our favor, at all, this day of the 23rd of May, were the clouds and winds - with horribly obscure conditions, as well as low-lying fog, and occasional wind gusts that were most difficult to surmount in our Parasols. We ascended sprightly enough, but, turning towards the lines, it became an exercise of coordination and dexterity to maneuver our crates into any semblance of flight. These Morane Parasols, with their high-mounted wings, function sometimes as umbrellas if the winds pick up, and we several times were subject to extreme tossings, back and forth, until the winds slackened to offer temporary respite from such ordeals. Henderson frequently grimaced during such turbulent moments - and in one instance, while we were passing onto the German side of the lines, near the batteries south of Ypres - a robust gust of wind threw us into a stall and flat spin. Fortunately, I was already well-attuned to the Parasol's peculiarities and immediately went into a nose-down position, with liberal application of rudder opposite to the spin, to straighten out, and without losing too much altitude - to emerge in one piece at approximately 1100 m.
We here did several wide circles above the German batteries in the area, and also observed a large battle taking place below, of operatic, Wagnerian proportions. Fortunately, the low fog, hovering in the vicinity, spared us the brunt of flak bursts and rifle fire from the trenches below. I here signalled to Strugnell, in the other aeroplane, that he drop at least one or two bombs on enemy positions he considered worthy of targetting, and, from a slightly higher alt., I observed the attacks. Several runs were made, and a total of three bombs dropped. Considering this adequate, I gave the signal again and our duo of Parasols proceeded further north, towards the area around Passchendale. Immediately southwest of the town, we spotted one of those German observation sausages and I indicated to Ltn. Strugnell, ever keen on taking out a gasbag, that he attack it when feasible. His observer, an excellent shot, soon riddled the balloon with their Lewis M.G., and three plumes of smoke were then seen emerging from its top - soon to be followed by an explosion, and the debris sinking beneath the sea of fog below.
We then proceeded northwesterly to an area close to the lines, where I dropped all four of my bombs near a delapidated German factory that likely served as a storage site for their munitions. No sooner had I dropped the bombs than the ensuing explosions were spotted by one of our own guns across the lines, that then opened up and hit the factory several times, whereupon it was transformed into smoldering ruin. Here, I decided that it was practical to harrass one of the other enemy balloons that was not too far from the lines, and so, the signal was given, and both I and Strugnell dove at the balloon several times. Henderson got several shots into it, as did Strugnell's observer, but neither of them was successful in bringing this other balloon down. The winds were again picking up, and noticeably so, to toss us around once again, and I here considered it appropriate that we slowly turn back towards our 'drome north of Armentieres. No sooner had I given the signal to Strugnell that he return to the aerodrome, than my Parasol was hit several times, through the fuselage and rotary, by shots from below - Henderson estimated that at least five or six rifles had opened up at us. The more immediate problem was that our LeRhone now ground to a halt, with the petrol tank holed as well, and with wounds having been inflicted on both Henderson and myself. I could feel a burning and pricking sensation, which indicated to me that my nether regions had received some lead - whereas, in Henderson's case, there was a bullet wound in his flying gear close to his right shoulder.
In this dire situation, I did my best to give the crate a solid dead-stick landing, although, with the engine now of no use, we were wildly being tossed about by the winds that were even worse at these low altitudes. I headed directly for the lines, gliding at no more than 200 m alt., and hearing more rifle shots directed towards us. Somehow, we remained intact and I plopped the Parasol down, whereupon it soon came to a stop. We were about three kilometers from the lines, and on the German side. 'Horrors!,' uttered Henderson, 'let's make a run Cap.'n towards some of those buildings that are immediately behind us, and endeavor to remain invisible until the evening.' The advice was quickly accepted, and we huddled behind some walls that were not too far back from the Parasol. Fortunately, we did not have to wait for the night, but, very thick fog having rolled in by the late afternoon, we made a run for it through no man's land, gingerly avoiding the barbed wire, and were after one hour or so on our side of the lines. Soon a lorry was made available and we were, by the evening, after several more hours marked by a very bumpy ride, at our 'drome near Armentieres.
Our wounds proved less serious than they looked; and, Henderson was promised a 48 hrs. pass to Paris, in two days' time, once his shoulder wound had closed up a bit. I was on the other hand offered no such pass. Instead, I was rung up later in the night by our C.O. again, with Salmond Sr. blaring over the phone lines that, in the future, I was to do no such reckless things as attack German gasbags or order others to attack these things. I was to limit myself and my flights strictly to bombing of enemy batteries, factories, and attacks on enemy aircraft only if they were obstructing us in our missions. This was made very clear, with Salmond suggesting that 'it just won't do' what transpired today, and that, even worse, the Germans had dismantled our Parasol and sent it to one of their 'dromes for inspection. I lamented this and mentioned that our matches were wet - although we did attempt to light it. But my remonstrations were useless, and I tactfully apologized for the mishap.
On a more positive note, Salmond was pleased that several enemy positions close to Ypres had been hit by our bombs, and also that the factory further north, near the lines, had been destroyed. I thanked him for this before he hung up the receiver. And, truth be told, I was more impressed to hear, from Ltn. Strugnell, that word had gotten around of my and Henderson's great escape - that word had spread to other quarters too. Of all things, even Lady Harbury was to visit me on the 'morrow since she adored 'war heroes.' Exhausted from the day's endeavors, I then fell into a deep sleep, to dream of the elegant lady's visit the next day, and a very pleasant dream it turned out to be - in which she was most attentive to my groin wound.