MFair - Congrats on number 6. No full time night woman for Ackert & JJ, but romance and bromance await. JJ would be the best squaddie ever.
Classic stuff from a classic movie. I also like the line a bit after after the ones you quoted.
"I swear, a woman's breast is the hardest rock the Almighty ever created, and I can find no sign on it."
So many brilliant lines, and not just for Will Geer.
Jeremiah: "Where you headed?"
Del Que: "Same place you are, Jeremiah: hell, in the end."
Just brilliant. Let's hope I've not put the whammy on your man with that last one.
Carrick - Thorpe is back! Will he be part of JJ and Ackart's game of cherchez la femme?
Condolences on the rejected claim. Keep knocking them down. Thorpe is flying smart, although chasing a brace of 2 seaters into Hunland by his lonesome was a bit rash. Something to keep at an absolute minimum, the chasing 2 seaters part as well. Still, a man's gotta do...
Lou - Bummer about the weather. I suppose a Verey light down
the chimney beats the alternative. I just realized I've been shorting "Verey" its second 'e' for the past year.
They say an idle mind is the Devil's playground. If this forced inactivity continues I shudder to think what the boys might get up to on both sides of the lines.
Fullofit - I guess that's Teuful's
playground for Rudi. Good thing the weather cleared down Alsace way. Les Grenouilles
are coming over in force. Can you imagine what the 1918 scramble raid missions will be like once BHaH2 drops? Nice work on those high SPADS. I do love me a rolling scissors. Boy do those French machines absorb punishment, and what's with the bulletproof vests the Aviation Militaire
is issuing? Congrats on 38.
Riane - A most enjoyable tale of Mac's London adventure. Shame he didn't get to experience the beautiful Bray Dunes aerodrome for any length of time but between Channel coast in March or London, there is no choice.
Oliver is still a little groggy from the time travel but is up for another go if he can find Dr. Wells office again. BTW, that Champagne was NOT 1903. What a splitting headache. Did Compston enjoy any horizontal recreation with that Harpy? She was a real piece of work.
Robert, Trooper, BuckeyeBob - always good to see you boys dropping by. More the merrier.
_______________________________________________________________À la Recherche du Temps Perdu - Part 55 of many19 December 1917
Royal Automobile Club
Visited the Air Ministry this morning to learn more of my next posting. “Report Gosport, January 2nd,” was all I could extract. The Staff Captain was 'pleased to be of service.' I did manage to appropriate a number of RFC Christmas cards, so the trip wasn’t completely for naught.
Goofed up one to Freddy so I’m keeping it as a bookmark. He’s been on a tear in that Camel of his. I hope he is well.
American bar at the Savoy again. Jimmy was most attentive. Met some RFC types there, which led to dinner, then the theater. Zig Zag at the Hippodrome.
One of the big numbers was “Over There” by George M. Cohan.
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware –
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over, over there.
I’d not truly understood until tonight the effect of the AEF on British morale. The chorus brought a cheer from the audience. My pride as an American soared. I felt ten feet tall. The Yanks are coming! Every day, thousands of American troops were pouring into France. It’s about d*mn time! I’ve been “over there’ for the past year and I was late to the party even then. President Wilson’s attack of the vapors was prolonged and debilitating, but he finally found his courage in the end. I composed a different chorus of my own: The Wilson verses.
Over here, over here,
We’ve been here, fighting Huns for a year
Waiting for your coming, for your coming,
Wait-ing to get you off your rear.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Get your arses up and over, I declare –
You’re coming over, finally over
And we won’t go back till it’s over, over here.21 December 1917
Royal Automobile Club
Falling into a routine these past two days, but the old habits dissipate slowly. I still wake early in anticipation of Harris’ friendly presence announcing “patrol in an hour, sir,” before falling back into a leaden sleep. Each day after a late breakfast, I read the papers then submit myself to work in the gymnasium for some hours. Turkish bath, frigidarium, nap, then the evening revels. Nightlife takes the place of combat patrols: American bar at the Savoy, dinner, diversion. The theater draws me. I find solace there, losing myself in the stories.
Last night, it was ‘Bing Girls are There’ at the Alhambra. This is the successor to Bing Boys with many of the same songs. I was humming “If you were the only girl in the world,” all day. Sent a note to Clarissa at her Bywater Street flat. No idea if she’s in town.
I’ve been haunting Murray’s and the Rector’s into the wee hours before wandering home to the RAC. Avoiding Grafton Galleries. Bad memories there. Something feels amiss. I can’t be sure but last night I thought I saw someone following me.
Events took a wild turn this evening. I’m wide awake at the witching hour writing this entry. Tonight, I met a group of Tank Corps fellows at the Savoy bar, one of whom has a friend in 46 Sqn. We hit it off at dinner and having an extra ticket to “The Boy” he invited me along. The play was a musical comedy directed by Robert Courtneidge, the father of his 46 pal Charles Courtneidge. Alas, Courtneidge the younger just caught a Hun bullet in the arse so was in hospital. Tank has been in London a week and is romancing the star of the play, Billie Carleton. He brought me along to her dressing room after the show. It was there I met Abigail, one of the chorus girls. The attraction was immediate. She was petite but possessed of an outsize demeanor which belied her stature. Her dark hair and flashing eyes reminded me of Eliza. The contours of her strong little body held my full attention.
After some champagne Billie directed us to a taxi and a short ride later, we arrived the Mayfair flat of her friend, Reginald de Veulle.
“I’m about to make all your dreams come true,” she declared.
Even as we climbed the stairs, I could hear the revelry and smell the unmistakable waft of opium. Not since Shanghai had that sticky floral stench invaded my nostrils. Entering the hot, smoky flat the scene took me completely aback. Before me was something out of ancient Rome, or what I imagined Rome to be. Smoke of unknown composition obscured the ceiling. Men in robes or pajamas, and women in various states of undress lounged on the many sofas, watching as their fellow orgiasts grappled in every imaginable combination of sexual congress. My eyes landed on a costumed satyr, sans trousers, inhaling some substance off a woman’s breast. Cocaine? Through the doubled archway a living room was strewn with cushions on which the opium smokers reclined.
“Paradise Found,” exclaimed Billie and dragged Tank down the hallway by his tie.
The woman who greeted us wore a diaphanous nightie; her naked body plainly visible under the gossamer fabric. Her eyes were lined with kohl in the manner of the Egyptians.
“I brought you a gift, Sibylla,” said Abigail. It was clear who the gift was. “This is Oliver.”
, Oliver,” she replied extending her hand.
I took it with a formal nod, declining the expected kiss.
“I suddenly find myself in need of strong military discipline,” Sibylla remarked, “but where are my manners, may I offer you refreshment?”
She extended a small powder-filled silver vessel. I shook my head but Abigail dipped a long pinkie nail into the pile, partaking twice. Sibylla moved on but not before looking me up and down in a way that made her future intentions plain. Gods below!
Abigail pulled me away to one of the side rooms. Unbuttoning my coat, she suddenly kissed me with complete abandon. My thoughts swam even as the chimes of alarm boomed in my head. Leave now, Oliver. Get out while you can!
“Abigail, stop. Let’s go somewhere else. Brown’s Hotel is right around the corner…”
“Don’t be stick in the mud, darling. Look at all the men here, women too. So many. With that ribbon you can have any of them, but start with me.”
“I’m a VC man. I can’t be here.”
She saw the refusal in my face and her expression changed. ““I thought you were a man,” she snapped. “Just a boy after all. Pathetic!” She stalked off in a fury.
I beat a hasty retreat, feeling the heel for abandoning a lady, but Abigail had made her choice. She was where she wished to be and it wouldn’t do for a VC man to be caught in an opium den. Even so, I almost went back. I was tempted. How I was tempted…
No more chorus girls for me. Not doing that again.22 December 1917
The RAC is comfortable. I’ve grown fond of my daily routine here but I can’t escape a growing sense of isolation. Worse, a newspaper reporter accosted me as I departed this morning asking for an interview. That he knew me by sight and had my name without us being introduced annoyed me greatly. I gave the man the cold shoulder and quickly moved on. What was he after? As a matter of policy, the RFC never revealed the names or exploits of individual pilots. Medal citations were the only exception. Why this sudden interest, and how did he know me?
Time for a change. Dropped by the Cavendish Hotel on a lark. Mrs. Lewis swanned out of her sitting room on seeing me.
“Captain Winningstone!” she cried. Mixing up names was a Rosa Lewis trademark, though she did get mine right on the bill when last I was here. I didn’t think she’d remember me and said as much.
“I never forget my American boys, especially those who wear the King’s uniform.”
Her Aberdeen Terrier barked once.
“Neither does Kippy,” she said drolly.
Mrs. Lewis affection for all things American was evident both in the Stars and Stripes flying outside the hotel as well as her legendary generosity toward Britain’s most recent ally. I would benefit from this circumstance. The hotel appeared busy but I was given a fine room on the second floor.
I headed up Saville Row to Kingsman. I’d swapped my more traditional woolen greatcoat for one of the new style, cut a bit higher. Officially named in the finest militarese, “Coat, Warm” it performed as described but the fit left much to be desired. Mr. Pendergon, after taking measurements and finding me a substitute coat for the day, immediately set to work and before I’d left the establishment had completely dismembered the garment at the seams.
East along Piccadilly, around and through the Circus then up past Murray’s to Robinson & Cleaver. I’d seen an advert for one of the new Sidcot flying suits in the November issue of Aeroplane
. Winter flying was here and the last six weeks in France I’d been frightfully cold aloft in my leather flying coat.
I opted for Wolverine fur to line the hood and the mask. Frozen breath won’t stick to it and form icicles.
An evening in after last night’s misadventure. Dinner in the Elinor Glyn room which was then cleared for the soirée. The Cavendish Jazz band played a mostly American repertoire. Rosa loves American Jazz, however, her favorite song I soon learned was “KKKKKaty.” She moved among the assembled guests making all welcome as only she could.
“Come and sit with me, Captain Winningshead,” she said, handing me a fresh glass of champagne. “Are you having a good time? Are those young Kippy’s fawning over the ladies an impediment?” Rosa Lewis loved her officers in uniform, Colonels to 2nd Lieutenants, but youngsters who hadn’t made a name for themselves yet were referred to as ‘young Kippys.’ Old Kippy sat quietly next to her while she scratched behind his ears.
“What may I get you?” she went on. “I’m sure I might arrange a nice clean tart if the none of the assembled lovelies compel your interest. Our obliging Irish Countess would find you most appealing but she is otherwise engaged at the moment.”
I declined her generous offer but conversed with her at length before returning to the dancing. 23 December 1917
I approached the RAC with what stealth I could. No sign of journalists. Midday routine. Good sparring with two Lieutenants of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. Tough customers both. I could only imagine the savagery of a trench raid. We took lunch together at the RAC and got to talking. One of them hailed from Shrewsbury and spoke affectionately of his home town.
“Stay at the Lion Hotel if you ever visit, and remember the Golden Cross Pub,” he said and launched into a history of the Hotel where Dickens took Christmas holidays, and Paganini played.
Ambushed on exit! Two of the wretched newsmen lay in wait this time, peppering me with questions. I sent them packing, barely maintaining control of my language. Remembering Clarissa’s stair stepping routes, I walked quickly north through St. James square, up Duke of York Place, right on Jermyn, then a quick left on Church place. Taking life and limb in hand I waited until a large surge of traffic bore down on me before dashing across Piccadilly. Horns blared in outrage. Let those journalistic SOBs try to follow me now! For good measure I moved briskly up Regent street, into Robinson & Cleaver, then out the back. I felt like a character in some Conan Doyle mystery. The game was afoot!
Slunk over to Kingsman to retrieve Coat Comma Warm. As always, the fit was perfect. Stopped by the Savoy bar for a drink and quick visit before heading to an early dinner at the Cavendish. Jimmy had news of reporters skulking about looking to interview RFC officers. “Your name was mentioned, sir. I had Harold see them off,” he said, indicating with a nod of his head, the impeccably dressed, heavily muscled man sitting in the corner of the bar.”
Worrisome. What in the Seven Hells was going on?
Tonight, the theater beckoned once again - Maid of the Mountains. One of my favorites. I’d seen it before but the songs and story were just as transporting the second time.
Staying with the exiting throng I was swept along east, away from the Cavendish and down Garrick Street. I was hungry and Rules was nearby. Walking up Maiden Lane to the restaurant I saw a woman wearing a dark fur coat who looked exactly like Clarissa… My eyes did not deceive me. She was in company with a dashing, foreign looking type. Was the man actually wearing a sash?
Clarissa looked right at me, hesitated briefly, then with the barest shake of her head she continued into the waiting Rolls. I walked toward her but seeing her gesture I stopped. As the car started away left, Clarissa, sitting in the curbside seat favored me with a welcoming smile, then unseen by her companion put her fingers to her lips and blew me a kiss, her hand extending like a Buddhist mudra. The car moved slowly away. Well I’m damned!
Clarissa is here! Has she been in London all along and ignored my note? Was it just Clarissa I saw tonight or the Games Mistress? In either case it was clear that she’s with the Compte de Sash
, or whoever that fellow was escorting her.
London is played out for me. With Father’s birthday gift of funds and my Captain’s pay I can live like a high roller but that’s an empty pursuit absent the company of friends. The rootlessness I’ve felt since arriving grows heavier each day, and being hunted by journalists isn’t helping. Aunt Rhea and General Aubrey are the closest thing I have to family in England but that path is closed after October’s fiasco.
No. 56 Squadron, like No. 54 before them were my family, and sundered from them I’m adrift and completely alone. Time for a change of scenery. 24 December 1917
Quite a day. My mind was already askew after last night’s Clarissa sighting and starting the day with journalists tipped things completely. The fun began early as newspaper types caught up to me just outside the Cavendish. This was getting out of hand. I retreated into the hotel and penned a quick letter to Clarissa at Bywater St alerting her to my departure. It would arrive by the end of the day by which time I hoped to be long gone. Escape was the plan, but how? Rosa Lewis to the rescue! While saddened by my incipient departure, she very quickly consulted the train schedules then set up a ruse by which I might depart the Cavendish unseen.
“Do come back soon, my dear Captain Winningsbad. Happy Christmas.” she said and kissed me on both cheeks.
While the hotel porters loaded my luggage loaded onto a delivery lorry, I was escorted through the basement kitchens, around an adjacent building and out onto Piccadilly where the lorry collected me. Off to Paddington Station and onto the Great Western Railway.
I arrived in Shrewsbury mid afternoon and made my way to the Lion Hotel. My room was adequate but by no means luxurious. The bathroom had some very English looking plumbing. Not bothering to remove my coat or unpack I set off to explore. There was maybe 90 minutes of light remaining in the day so armed with a small map from the hotel manager, I wasted no time.
A quick right out of the hotel, then down Wyle Cop and St Julian’s Friars to the Severn River. I moved quickly along the tree-lined footpath.
On the playing fields under the town walls, I saw a group of boys playing an impromptu game of rugby. I continued past along the river arriving at the large park that was once the town quarry.
I stood at the central pond which bore the strange name of Dingle. St. Chad’s lay beyond, clearly visible through leaf bare trees. Even in Winter the place was green and lush, the dormant flower beds immaculately maintained.
Walked back along Beeches lane. The road ran atop the old town walls, their battlements replaced now by a three-foot barrier of stone. Passing a school where the sidewalks widened on the town side, I happened upon two of the boys who were playing rugby. They appeared to be of that indeterminate age between 8 and 12 years. The smaller of the two was drop-kicking the ball to himself as they walked a parallel course along the opposite side of the road. As I watched, he shanked his next attempt and the ball rocketed into the road and directly toward me. The lad didn’t hesitate one whit but came haring after the ball, hellbent on retrieval. He didn’t see the lorry bearing down.
In an instant I was in the road and with my left arm I caught the boy around the waist as churning legs carried me out of the lorry’s path and across the road. His weight unbalanced me and as my foot caught the patch of old mud and ice, I knew we were going down. Twisting to shield the lad atop me, I slid into the far wall with an awkward, painful, crunch. My right shoulder and upper back absorbed the force of the impact.
“Are you hurt?!” I cried
The boy stared mutely at me then as the shock dissipated, he slowly shook his head. I set him upright, and the older boy took hold of him. I stood and dusted myself off as my heart returned to normal pace. In the aftermath, nerves remained janky and on edge and calmed but slowly. My shoulder was going numb and the filth of the walkway fouled my coat.
The youngster didn’t cry and soon recovered himself but his eyes remained the size of dinner plates.
“Are you a General, sir?” he asked.
“No, just a Captain,” I said with a laugh. “My name is Winningstad. What might yours be, young hare?”
“Georgie, Georgie Lampard,” the lad replied in a high leaping voice.
“His real name is Reginald,” offered the older boy. The two were clearly brothers. “My name is Horace, sir. Everyone calls me Teddy.”
“How curious,” I answered. “I have three friends named Reginald.”Only two now, Oliver. Pixley’s gone on ahead.
“One of them also goes by ‘Georgie’.”
Good old Hoidge.
“But you, Teddy, are the very first Horace of my acquaintance,” I said, extending my hand.I will never understand the English and their nicknames
The lorry driver appeared nonplussed and soon went on his way after making sure that neither I nor the boy were injured. By now a group of 5 or 6 passersby gathered and a middle-aged gentleman came forward.
“That was a right near run thing. You and the boy nigh ended up as the ball,” he said, pointing to the torn and flattened ruin which lay in the gutter.
“My name is Owen,” he continued.
“Winningstad,” I replied.
He tilted his head as if sifting memory.
“And these two rascals are Teddy and Georgie,” I said.
It was a short walk back to the Lion, where it turned out the two boys were also lodging. Entering the hotel, Georgie slipped his brother’s grasp and raced into the reading room, emerging with a woman I assumed to be his mother.
Shrewsbury, land of fair-girdled women! The one who stood before me was the very image of the mother goddess; she of the golden throne, lovely-haired, oxen-eyed Hera. Mrs. Lampard was barely thirty, a woman in the full measure of her beauty. She smiled calmly as Georgie jumped impatiently into the tale of his brush with death.
Her extended hand was warm, her thanks effusive.
“We are in your debt Captain Winningstad.” she said.
“Not at all, Mrs. Lampard.”
She departed upstairs with the boys. I became aware then of something dripping on my boot. Coat Comma Warm was a mess. Making apologies to the manager Mr. Morgan for the trail of filth, I wriggled free of the muddy wool as a bellman took it from me with the promise to clean it post-haste. Morgan, now seeing my full uniform for the first time, stopped in in traces, his eyes locked on the row of ribbons. He spoke to his assistant:
“Llewellyn, please transfer Captain Winningstad’s kit to the Dickens suite.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Morgan. “I had no idea who you were.”
Time well spent in the hotel reading room opposite the bar. Llewellyn returned an hour later with a freshly cleaned Coat Comma Warm. Off to explore the town again and find the Golden Cross. Missed Golden Cross passage the first time and doubling back I passed a shop with sporting kit in the window. I found there a new Rugby ball. As he wrapped the parcel, the proprietor, noting my American accent, spoke with great passion about Welsh rugby and drew my attention to a photograph prominently displayed.
“That’s the 1905 Wales team that beat the New Zealand All-Blacks,” he said proudly
The Golden Cross was exactly what I imagined an ancient Welsh pub to be; heavy beams, dark wood and a quartet of older gentlemen holding forth at the bar. The sign claimed 1428 as the date of founding. The crowd was welcoming, and I recognized Mr. Owen among the patrons. As we set to talking over a fine ale, I learned Mr. Owen’s son Wilfred was in France with the Manchesters before being wounded.
He introduced me to the lot and it was all I could do to derail him as he recounted in detail the scene from earlier in the day. I tried to buy him a pint but he demurred.
“Most generous, Captain Winningstad but the local magistrates in their wisdom are cracking down fiercely on the no treating law. It’s each man for himself for the present.”
I’d known of the statues but in London they were never enforced. Never understood their purpose.
When I returned to the Lion after a festive evening, I found Mrs. Lampard in the reading room. Glowing. She looked as though she were glowing.Get hold of yourself, Oliver!
She thanked me once again for rescuing Georgie. We exchanged small talk.
“With your permission, I should like to give Georgie and Teddy a present,” I said, indicating the parcel. “It’s a ball to replace the one they lost yesterday.”
“How very kind of you.” she replied. “The boys are confined to barracks after today’s breach of regulations, but they might be set free tomorrow evening. It is Christmas after all.”
The Dickens Suite was a far more spacious accommodation sporting a larger bathtub with more modern plumbing. This was more like it. I sat in the hot water and the stress of London slowly ebbed away.