(Continued from the October issue)
After X, as I shall call the RFC Officer who wrote these diaries, had been-obliged to return to St. Omer due to engine trouble, instead of ferrying the old BE2c No. 1788 across the Channel, necessitating a return to England by boat and train, he was back on duty at Netheravon two days later, and up testing an Armstrong-Whitworth-built BE2c, No. 5330, with Lt. Gilbey as passenger.
That was November 9th, 1915. X had caught the 10.20 train from London the day after his return from that first cross-Channel flight, his mother and sister coming as far as Reading with him, and his father seeing him off — the young war-time RFC hero . . . His diary for that day reads: “Glad to get back. Paid Mess bills. Got Darracq being worked on again. Went over to Salisbury in the Mitchell in the evening with Pethybridge and went to a local music-hall.” The following day X “got up early on a lovely morning and came up to the sheds and got things in order”. He spent most of the rest of the day tuning up the Darracq, “getting a wheel and the steering done”. He left it all ready for a body to be fitted, for which X had given plans to the RFC carpenter. The day after that he was up in the same BE2c, for 70 minutes at 4.000 feet, taking photographs over Amesbury, with Lt. McIvor. He had first “got the men going on the Darracq” and a pouring wet afternoon and evening enabled X to do more tuning up of this chassis. This went on during the wet Friday morning that followed but after lunch X was told by Major Richtie that he was to be posted Overseas and was to report to the War Office at six o’clock on the Saturday.
He missed the train at Devizes so a tender (presumably a Crossley) took him all the way to Bath, after he had “packed up everything, said goodbye to all and paid Mess bill”. Bath was rather convenient, because X’s mother was there. He stayed at the Pump Room Hotel and after dinner took her and several of her friends to see “The Story of the Rosary”. On the Saturday X took the 2.30 train to London and duly presented himself at the War Office, where Major Warner told him to report again at 11 o’clock on the Sunday — could the war have been hotting-up? The evening was spent among friends in London, with dinner at Ciro’s and a box at the Palace Theatre. On the Monday X’s orders were to join No. 5 Squadron in France the next day. He then lunched with his parents and Col. Webb-Bowen at the Carlton and dined with two girl-friends at the Piccadilly Hotel. On Monday November 15th, 1915, X “returned to France”, by the 8.20 train from Charing Cross to Folkestone, He had “to hang about around Boulogne all day” but after an awful journey reached St. Omer at about 9 p.m. X and “six other RFC fellows” put up at a pub and had a fair night’s rest all in the same billets. Nest day they reported to General RFC Headquarters, where X met Robert Lorraine, the actor-aviator, and other friends. They had to wait all day for tenders to come from their Squadrons. At 6.30 p.m. X and another fellow got a tender to 5th Wing and from there another tender took X to his destination, with No. 5-Squadron, 2nd Wing, BEF, where he found a billet.
In the morning X went down to the aerodrome and found his Flight Commander, Captain Read, and the CO, Major Board. He also met Cooper, who had been in Vaughan’s Squadron at Netheravon. A machine was allocated to him, a BE2c No.4501 with 90 h.p. RAF engine. X got the mechanics busy fitting it with streamline wires, etc. It was very cold and raining, with hail, so X did not fly. Instead, he wrote letters home and went in a tender into Abecle to do some shopping. The next day, November 18th, there was still a hard frost but it was “a lovely morning for flying”. X got his machine out and flew it for 15 minutes round the aerodrome. “Found it flying very well indeed and the engine pulling well. About 11.30 a.m. nine German aeroplanes came over at about 12,000 feet and bombed us like blazes, killing two cows and three calves, and seriously wounding one Belgian workman. They did no damage to the aerodrome. We sent up some machines and I tried to get going with mine but wasn’t ready and no gun fitted.”
The day after this baptism of fire X took his machine up for 15 minutes with an Air Mechanic as passenger, climbing to 3,400 feet. It was freezing and icy cold and he went to bed with bad rheumatism, “feeling very dud”. The day after this X had such bad rheumatism that he had to stay in bed. His Flight Commander came to see him, also Cooper, and he was ordered off to hospital by an RAMC Colonel. The Orderly packed everything up and a tender took X to No. 12 Clearing Station, Hazebrouck, where he shared a room with an RAMC Officer called Broster. “Feeling rather shaken up on the whole but glad to get into a comfortable bed.”
It is now a rather sorry story of X’s return to “Blighty” after only a few days on active service. After a day at Hazebrouck Hospital with rheumatism and back pains, X was taken, after lunch the next day, with some others, by ambulance to Hazebrouck Station, where he was put on a hospital-train. Leaving at 2 p.m. this arrived at Estampes at three the next morning, having been round by Popinjay, Abbeville and Ypres. X went from there to the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital in Le Touquet. After going out with Col. Hosborough, “trying to walk pain off”, X was taken by ambulance, with others, back to Estampes, where he got a hospital-train, commanded by Arthur Heaton, to Calais via Boulogne. Here X got onto the hospital-ship City of Antwerp — “lost my valise” — and eventually arrived in London in another hospital-train from Dover. His parents met him and a private Daimler took him to the Bathurst House Hospital in Belgrave Square. It wasn’t long, however, before X was allowed home. (He was flying again by 1916.)
One of his first tasks was to go to Napier’s and collect the tools for his car. He also had a look at the cars at Murray’s and “arranged to try a rather nice little two-cylinder Dennis”. He was spending the nights at the hospital but went before a Medical Board at Caxton Hall and was given six weeks’ sick-leave, from November 27th 1915, and was allowed to leave the nursing home. This was celebrated by looking at cars at Palmer’s Garage in Tooting. The social round was soon resumed, with evenings at the 400 Club, cinema shows at the New Gallery Cinema, and at the cinema behind the Lyric Theatre. Then X went to Bath on a railway warrant and there listened to the band, to concerts in the Pump Room, and went to Bristol, where they had a box and saw a play called “Light Blue”. The trips from Bath to Bristol were facilitated when Sgt. Hurdle brought over X’s Mitchell. Petrol was obviously still freely available but one journey is described as “adventurous”. X was “taking the waters” at Bath under medical supervision but had time for walks with girl-friends, to whom he would send “large sugar cakes” when they were away, and to play billiards, etc. He also tried to help with Red Cross work and one December day, after he “had had tub at 9 o’clock”, Lady Lyell sent her Lanchester for him and they discussed RFC stockings. Usually X’s family dressed for dinner and one December Saturday Lady Holt came over “and spent evening jazzing about, nineteen to the dozen”. X was looking at cars all the time and was “seeing about the Mitchell”, which had presumably had some kind of trouble. He later tried a Darracq at Murray’s in London “but it was useless”, so X hired “a very nice Singer two-seater”.
By this time X’s friends were returning to London and Newmarket for the Christmas vacation and he was hankering to do the same. He dined his doctor and took him to see “Poor Little Monkey” and the next day left Bath at daybreak in the Mitchell for London but it broke down at Chippenham, so X went on by train, arriving by 12.30 to find a girl-friend awaiting him. After lunch they went to a show at the Ambassador but it was so bad they came out early and went to get the Singer. The next days, a Sunday, all the family packed into the Singer and their Wolseley and drove to Birmingham. There must have been ample petrol, as the cars were used to go to a revue and back, and on the Monday X drove to Chester via Stourbridge and Whitchurch, putting up at the Grosvenor Hotel, where he “had a tremendous tea and after went to a ‘movie’, which was rather poor.” The next day the Singer took him to Manchester and back, with lunch at the Midland Hotel and a seat at the musical comedy matinee, “Only Girl”. The Singer was then driven to Worcester, stopping for lunch in Shrewsbury, where X stayed at the Hop Market Hotel and went to “a topping revue at the theatre, best show I have seen for a long time”. The Singer then took him to Malvern for a Christmas party and the day after Boxing Day it was driven back to London in a howling gale, “beastly windy journey”, with the girl-friend, via Cheltenham and Oxford, the run being completed in time for X to dine with Archie de Pass at the Savoy, go on to the 400 Club where they met Campbell, and on for drinks at Batchelor’s. Not a bad piece of motoring in a light car on winter war-time roads 64 years ago. As an aside there is now the diary entry: “Must remember to write to the War Office re Medical Board”! (To be continued)
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