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Title: 'Green Balls' - The Adventures of a Night-Bomber
Author: Bewsher, Paul, 1894-1966
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  The Adventures of a



  William Blackwood and Sons
  Edinburgh and London







Lest it should appear that in this book I have worked the personal
pronoun to death, I wish to explain my reasons for describing always my
own feelings, my own experiences, my own thoughts. I feel that the lay
public who did not fly in the war, and knew little of its excitements
and monotonies, would rather hear of the experiences of one person,
related by himself, than merely a journalistic record of events which
had come to his notice. Therefore I have tried faithfully to describe
the sensations, the strange inexplicable fears, the equally inexplicable
fearlessness, of a desk-bound London youth, pitchforked in a moment into
the turmoil of war, and into a hitherto unknown, untried
occupation--bombing at night from the air.

Those who read this book will never see me--I will be to them but a
name--so I feel that my egotism is only an apparent one, and that I am
justified in slightly transgressing the service tradition of personal
silence in order to give as vivid a portrayal as possible of a branch of
war which, in England at any rate, influenced the general public more
than any other.

The fragments of verse quoted at the beginning of each chapter are taken
from the author's poems, 'The Bombing of Bruges,' published by Messrs
Hodder & Stoughton, and 'The Dawn Patrol,' published by Messrs Erskine


  CHAP.                                            PAGE
     I. THE DAWN PATROL                               1
    II. TO FRANCE                                    23
   III. THE FIRST RAID                               48
    IV. UP THE COAST                                 91
     V. COASTWISE LIGHTS                            109
    VI. BRUGES                                      148
   VII. DAWN TO DAWN                                187
  VIII. THE LONG TRAIL                              236
    IX. TRAGEDY                                     260




    "Sometimes I fly at dawn above the sea,
    Where, underneath, the restless waters flow,
        Silver and cold and slow...."

           --_The Dawn Patrol._

Somebody shakes me by my shoulder, and I wake to the consciousness of a
dark room and a determined steward.

"Four o'clock, sir!"

I get out of my warm bed, very unwillingly, and dress lightly in a white
cricket shirt, grey flannel trousers, and a blue pea-jacket and a
muffler, and go out of the hut to the garage. Dawn is just breaking. The
sky is still bright with stars, and a moon is drowsily hanging like a
golden gong in the south-west. The air is extraordinarily fresh and
cold, and soon I am tearing joyfully through it on a clamorous
motor-bicycle. Down the road through the marshes I rush on my mile-long
ride to the sheds.

Outside the office I dismount and go inside the bare room, with its
charts and its long table, and meet the sleepy-eyed duty-officer, who is
wearing "gum-boots" and an overcoat over his pyjamas, and is obviously
looking forward to settling down once more to sleep. The duty-pilot
comes in after him, with a flying-cap on his head, and a muffler round
his neck, and a pair of gloves in his hand. A welcome cup of tea is
brought in by a massive bluejacket, and then I snatch up a life-belt, a
pair of binoculars, the Thermos flask and Malted Milk tablets, my
charts, and a few odd necessaries, and, accompanied by the pilot, I go
over to the slipway, at the end of which floats the seaplane, with its
wide white wings reflecting the pale light of dawn. A group of men in
great rubber boots stand in the water holding the wings.

When I get to the edge of the water I climb on to the back of one, and
he wades out into the water until I can stand on the float and climb up
into a seat in front of the pilot.

It is an ample seat--wide enough for three people--and I sit on a soft
cushion over a petrol-tank. The wireless sets, in varnished wooden
boxes, are fixed in position in front of me. My machine-gun is ready to
be fixed at a moment's notice, and I settle myself into the seat and put
down my various impedimenta and wait for the start.

The pilot in the back seat examines his instruments, and soon there is a
hissing noise as he turns on the compressed air. The propeller in front
of me moves round slowly. The engine fires and begins to start with a
roaring noise.

The propeller vanishes as it gathers speed, and I can see straight ahead
with an uninterrupted view.

The engine is tested with men hanging on to the wings. The pilot waves
his hand, the men leave go, and we begin to move out across the wide
harbour with its grey battleships and lean destroyers, and merchant
ships painted in strange patches.

The moon is growing paler now, and nearly all the stars have vanished
before the silver of the dawn. On our right is the outline of a
red-roofed harbour town, quiet and asleep. On the left are the great
sheds of the station, and the low green hills beyond. We face the wind.
The engine recommences its roar, and the seaplane begins to move quickly
across the water with a steady noise. Faster and faster it rushes on,
then begins to leap from wave-top to wave-top until we rise into the
air, and move at a rushing pace just over the pale oily water.

The roar of the motor is soon registered no more by my ear, lulled by
its perpetuity. I find it glorious to be winging my way into the heart
of the dawn over the silver water. Above a long floating boom we pass,
and turn east towards the wide misty level of the sea. Ahead of me in
the haze burns a red-eyed sun, looking hot and only half awake.

Far to my left and far to my right is a faint grey coast-line as we move
up the widening estuary. I bring out a little blue-covered note-book,
and sharpen a pencil and prepare to record the name, nationality, and
type of every ship, with a brief note of its cargo, course, and

Through the haze suddenly appears a little group of ships anchored round
a stout red lightship, with its great lantern at the top of the mast and
the cheery white-painted name on its side.

My pencil is very busy as we sweep round in circles, while I make notes
of the different types of ships. Neutral ships being luridly decorated
with painted colours and their names in enormous white letters, are
easily recorded. It is somehow very dramatic to see a great steamer loom
through the mist, and to read _Jan Petersen-Norge_ or _Hector-Sverige_
on its black sides as it sweeps majestically under the seaplane, its
churning propeller leaving a wide lane of white bubbling foam.

It gives such a splendid idea of far-flung commerce--of nation linked up
with nation by these loaded ships. You realise how the forests of
Scandinavia have been despoiled to fill these decks with the towering
piles of clean fair wood. There is something in the passing of the great
ship proclaiming its nationality and origin in such bold characters that
seems like the triumphant note of an organ.

Yet these signs are the heartfelt appeal of an apprehensive and
vulnerable vessel, hoping against hope that the vivid stripes of colour
and the proclamation of nationality will protect it from the cruel,
greedy submarine.

Then we leave the little crowd of anchored ships below and sail on into
the mist to the lonelier levels of the sea. Now and then we overtake
some heavily-laden freighter, low in the water, pounding outwards on its
hazardous journey, its plain unlettered sides showing that it is a
vessel of the Allies.

In front of me I wind a little handle. This causes the wireless set to
connect with the engine, and the little motor revolves rapidly. I press
the brass key, and a blue spark spits and splutters inside one of the
boxes. Then I call up the seaplane station far behind me in the mist and
record my position. Putting the telephone-receiver over my ears, I hear
above the roar of our engines the sharp staccato signals of some warship
below us on the grey sea. As I move a lever round a series of studs I
hear it more clearly or more faintly as I get more or less in "tune"
with it. Then I remove the receiver, having tested the wireless
instruments and found them correct, and once more look over the side to
the chilly sea.

We fly over three or four little trawlers steaming slowly along,
dredging the waterway for mines. Then over two leaning masts of some
wreck, which pierce the water like thin lances. Next we pass above a
Belgian relief ship, advertising its nature by means of innumerable
placards and flags and colours, which are yet not sufficient to keep it
immune from the Germans and their unreliable promises. Now it is a
familiar line of mud-hoppers carrying a load of dredged mud to some deep
dumping-ground. Now over a couple of lean grey torpedo-boats, nosing
everywhere, carefully and suspiciously, protecting the Channels.

So at times over ever-varying craft, and at times over grey wet
loneliness, we travel on in our long patrol, until at last the squat red
shape of a lightship appears through the haze, and we know that we have
reached the limit of our outward journey. We sweep low over the isolated
vessel, wave our hands to the men on board, and start to return home by
a different route, and roar on over mile after mile of water glittering
in the sun, which is slowly dissipating the mist of early morning.

Soon a group of ships are met steaming along towards us, and I recognise
the vessels which I had seen anchored together waiting for the dawn.
They are left behind us, and we regain the land from which we started.
Over the sleeping seaport town we pass, and can see its red and brown
roofs lit by the sun, and its empty streets. Then we sweep over the
harbour, the pilot turns the machine round to face the wind, and the
roar of the engine stops. We begin to glide down slowly, drawing nearer
and nearer to the water. Just above the surface of the glittering waves
we rush, touch it with a long splash, and slowly pull up and stop,
floating once more in the harbour. The engines roar out again, and we
"taxi" quickly over the little waves in long even jolts towards the
slipway, where the men are waiting to help us ashore. When we are
alongside they walk out to us in their waterproof thigh-boots and carry
me on to the slipway.

I walk quickly through the hangars across the grass-covered lawn to the
office, and sitting down at a typewriter begin to transcribe at once the
notes I have written in my little blue book.

  6.40. British cargo steamer, 5000 tons, steering S.W. Two
      patrol boats steering E.

  6.45. Norwegian wood steamer _Christiania_, 3000 tons,
      steering W. in East  Deep--

I write, and one after another I visualise the vessels as I record their
positions for the benefit of the authorities.

As soon as the report is finished I give it to a messenger, who takes it
down to the motor-boat which is waiting to carry it to a warship. Then I
rush across the marsh on my motor-bicycle to the mess, and to a late but
welcome breakfast.

The small amount of impression left by any particular flight is
remarkable. If in the middle of the breakfast some one had said, "You
have been fifty miles out to sea, charging through the air at sixty
miles an hour, this morning!" I should almost have been surprised, and
might have denied it. After your return you quickly forget the voyage
you have made. I found the same in night-bombing. You are called away at
dinner after beginning your soup. You go to Ostend, drop bombs, and
return and carry on with the fish. By the time your are helping yourself
to the vegetables you have a vague remembrance of a disturbed dinner,
but little more.

You have a distant memory of innumerable searchlights waving like long
weeds in an evil pool, and of the dim sweep of the Belgian coast, with
the star-shells of Nieuport; but it is like the faint remembrance of a
weird dream, and little more.

This brief description of a seaplane patrol is an introduction to the
portrayal of a night-flier's existence, because these flights over the
sea were the prelude to my flying among the stars, and I found in them
the strange allurement that I found later, in an even greater degree, in
my night journeys.

It is a glorious sensation to roar on, a few hundred feet above the sea,
with a white clinging mist all around in a vapoury circle, knowing by
instinct where you are, and looking ahead for the little chequered buoy
or red lightship to appear at its due moment; to hear the pilot's
shouted inquiry, and to write "The Cat" or "Deep Sands" or "King's
Channel" or "Long Deep," or one of those splendid-sounding sailor's
names, on a piece of paper for him; to fly low over the lonely
lightship, and wave a dawn greeting to the watchmen on the deck; to see
a long British submarine rise dripping, to welcome the morning, from its
all-night sleep far below the restless waters; to fly like a gull,
flashing white wings towards the flaming East.

I found the same delight in poring over my charts and drawing a line
right out to sea and back again, as later I found in checking on the map
the villages and bridges over which I passed on my way to Bruges and

Once or twice I had a forced landing at sea. One incident is peculiarly
vivid in my memory. Lightly clad, I flew on the seaplane about fifteen
miles from land. There was a flaming sunset, and it was growing dark. We
were about to turn when the engine began to splutter and pop. The pilot
tried to cure its disease, but it was in vain. He throttled the engine
back and slowly glided down. The few scattered ships and the dim line of
coast slowly disappeared as we drew nearer to the surface of the water,
and when we finally landed we were out of sight of any ship at all.

The pilot climbed on to the floats and tried to start the engine again
by swinging the propeller, but with no success. Meanwhile it was growing
darker. The red and orange splendours of the West were rapidly dying
away before the creeping shadows of the East. The calm oily water
reflected strangely the afterglow. As I sat on the float, the water
lapped melodiously against it, and the shoals of jellyfish which passed
by seemed to be jeering at me.

There were no ships in sight, and a cold night wind began to come across
the quivering, shining surface of the sea, and the horizon vanished in a
faint haze.

The pilot loaded his Very pistol with a cartridge and fired it. A great
ball of white fire sailed through the air and dropped hissing in the

Meanwhile, in our scant clothes we were getting cold. Soon it would be
quite dark, and we had only half a dozen signal lights left, while we
were slowly drifting, we knew not whither, with the tide.

Every quarter of an hour the pilot fired a white Very's light. I found
it very lonely sitting in the drifting seaplane, surrounded by a misty
circle of water, with darkness creeping over the sea.

After some time we saw, far away, a red moving light. At once the pilot
fired another signal. The red light moved on and drew nearer to us. Soon
we could see the shape of the boat on which it was, and to our joy
realised that it was a British destroyer. After a good deal of
manoeuvring it drew alongside us. We hailed it and shouted our
explanations. A boat was lowered from the destroyer, and rowed over to
us carrying a hawser. When we had fastened this to the seaplane we got
into the boat, and were rowed to the waiting vessel.

The commander explained that we had landed in the midst of sandbanks,
and that it had been a difficult matter to draw near to us.

Soon we were dining in the little mess, and we were very glad to get
under cover again, and to have something to eat. The "skipper" was most
hospitable, and afterwards, I am ashamed to say, we played "Slippery
Ann," and won some money off him.

At last we arrived once more in the harbour. A motor-boat left the
slipway, and we were towed ingloriously ashore at about 11 o'clock.

There is an element of uncertainty in seaplaning, as in every branch of
flying. There is the case of a seaplane which landed at sea with engine
trouble. A German submarine came alongside and took the two unfortunate
airmen aboard, and sank the seaplane, so that shortly afterwards the two
officers who had been flying through the air were under the surface of
the sea.

I remember another incident that happened during the attack on Verdun,
which will demonstrate how an extraordinary chain of adventures may come
swiftly and unexpectedly to an airman engaged on the most normal routine

One day five machines were to fly from one aerodrome in France to
another one about fifty miles away. Both the aerodromes were well behind
the lines. The leading machine was piloted by a man who knew the
country "inside out," and so the last man of the formation knew that if
he were to follow his lead he would be all right. It was an extremely
cloudy day, and when they had drawn near to the new aerodrome, the last
pilot lost sight of the other four machines in the clouds. He flew on
for a little while, and climbed up through the barrier of vapour until
he was above it. Then, to his joy, he saw ahead of him the four
machines, which were flying several miles away, resembling little black

After a time he drew close to them, and, to his great astonishment, they
dived down on him, firing their machine-guns. Suddenly he saw that they
were marked with the German mark--the black cross. Realising that he was
hopelessly outnumbered, as he was on a comparatively slow machine, he
put his nose down and tried to get away. He was flying east towards the
German lines, but he could not turn, for every time he looked back he
saw these four machines just behind his tail, firing frantically at him.

At last he outdistanced them, and they turned away. He flew on under the
deep blue of the sky, and over the sunlit white fields of cloudland,
which lay like a tumbled carpet of cotton-wool beneath him, as far as he
could see.

He looked at his watch, and saw that he had been flying east for twenty
minutes, so he turned and flew due west, towards the French lines. He
flew for another ten minutes to make sure of regaining his own lines,
and then, throttling his engine, he glided down towards the barrier of
cloud. He reached it, and flew for several minutes through damp grey
vapour, and at last burst through, and saw the sunless world below.

He looked round for an aerodrome in which to land, and in a few minutes
saw a line of hangars some miles distant. At once he turned towards
them, and when he was a mile away, he throttled his engine and began to
glide down in order to land. He sailed just over the roofs of the
hangars, floated a few feet over the grass, and was just about to land
when he saw that the machines lined up by the sheds were marked with the
black cross. It was a German aerodrome.

Even as he started up his engine and rushed across the grass, the German
mechanics climbed into the back seats of the aeroplanes and began to
fire at him, while other men started up the engines. Very soon several
machines were pursuing him. He dare not climb, for he would lose speed,
and would not be able to escape. He flew on, due west, twenty feet or so
from the ground, dodging round farms and trees, and now and then jumping
over houses, while a mile behind him the German scouts followed him in
this strange steeplechase.

He realised now that the wind high up had been blowing strongly due
east. It had taken him a long way over the lines, and so he had not
allowed himself enough time to get back before he had dived through the

Again he managed to escape in the chase, and left the pursuing
aeroplanes far behind. Ahead of him he could see a line of curling smoke
and vapour, with here and there little white puffs of smoke in the air.
He was drawing near the lines, and evidently there was an action of some
kind in progress. Soon he reached the belt of desolation, of broken
houses, shell-torn trees, and devastated fields. Machine-guns on the
ground began to fire at him. He could hear their staccato hammering, and
could see the flaming streak of the bullets passing by him.

Now he could hear, too, above the roar of the engines, the thud and
crash of the shells and of the guns. Everywhere below were great spouts
of smoke and earth leaping up as shell after shell burst on the ground.
The air was full of the shrapnel barrage against the infantry. Once he
had a sudden inspiration to pull back his control-stick. The machine
shot up into the air, and he saw just beneath the smoke-burst of a
shrapnel shell. If he had continued on a straight course he would have
been hit by it, and probably brought down.

Below him he saw something extremely interesting. In the sunken roads
and shattered fortifications near Douaumont were masses of grey-green
soldiers. The Germans apparently were gathered for an attack. He noted
where these men were, and flew on across the shell-torn area behind the
French lines, and landed as soon as he could. The machine ran into a
shell-hole and crashed. He crawled out of the wreckage and stumbled
across the churned-up ground to the nearest headquarters and reported
what he had seen. Immediately action was taken by the French, the
counterattack was forestalled, and the whole course of the battle was

Soon afterwards the airman reached the aerodrome without his machine,
and found he had been reported as missing.

That such an extraordinary chain of adventures can come to a man
unexpectedly shows vividly the uncertainty and the romance of flying.
The night-bomber, as he leaves his aerodrome, never knows whether, when
dawn comes, he will be in his bed at the camp, or in a Dutch guard-room,
or hiding in a German wood.

For several months I led an agreeable placid life at the seaplane
station. At dawn or at dusk I flew over the sea on my long solitary
flights. During the day I wandered round the station, learning about the
machines and the engines, and spending many hours in the wireless hut,
with the vulcanite receivers over my ears, hearing ship after ship
sending its messages in a variety of notes--some high-pitched whines;
some urgent, impetuous; some tremendously loud--great cruisers
thundering their unquestionable commands; some faint and remote from
lonely vessels far away on distant seas.

Wireless telegraphy is a romantic thing. I remember one night walking
down a path at a Naval Air Service Station in England and passing a
lighted window in a little hut. Some one handed to me through the window
a pair of telephone receivers attached to a twisted cord. I put the
receiver over my ears and heard the regular scratch, scratch, scratch of
the Morse Code.

The operator inside told me that it was a German merchant sending
messages from a wireless station outside Berlin to a friend in Madrid,
and in that quiet dim path in England I was overhearing their

One day I was unexpectedly summoned to the Commanding Officer of the
Squadron. He handed to me a printed sheet of paper. To my surprise it
ordered me to report to No. X Wing (Handley-Page Squadron).

I could hardly realise it at first. I thought that many months of this
quiet dreamy life lay before me. I expected no transfer, and at any rate
not to this most strange of all squadrons. In those days a Handley-Page
was a freak machine that was a topic of conversation in flying circles

A Handley-Page then seemed a grotesque giant. There had been no
intermediate steps between small machines and this Colossus, which
rumour had it could carry twenty-two men. It was as though a
fifty-storey sky-scraper, as large as the Woolworth Building in New
York, had suddenly been erected in London.

I had seen, at my training aerodrome, the first of these great machines
looming in its hangar. I had clambered over it with astonishment. I had
been one of a large crowd which had stood on the aerodrome, and had
wondered, as the great structure moved clumsily across the grass, if it
really would mount in the air. I had seen it rise and roar round the
aerodrome with its deep, double throbbing note, and had gone away full
of excitement, proud to have been there.

Little did I imagine that I was to be on the very first which flew to
France, and that I was to be on the pioneer squadron of the gigantic

So when I received my orders, I packed my bags a little bemusedly, and
with a sad heart left the little harbour, the rows of seaplane sheds,
the mess, and my friends--taking away many a memory of quiet days in the
marshes, and of almost ecstatic dawn patrols over the grey and silver
levels of the North Sea.

I was going on to unknown destinies and unknown destinations. I knew the
familiar sensation every man in the service going to a new place must
feel so often--of leaving a certain existence and going on towards an
uncertain one.

Although I did not know it, I was going to a year and a half of
adventure, of travel, of war and excitement--I was going to a romantic
and strangely appealing life, full of successes and disappointments,
full of dreams and realities. The gods had smiled on me, and were
leading me to the fantastic and fascinating work which I would have
chosen above all others in the world--Night Bombing.



    "The wings are stretched: the mighty engines roar;
      And from this lovèd land I must depart."

           --_Crossing the Channel._

When I arrived at the Handley-Page aerodrome I realised that, for the
second time in the war, I was to have the good fortune to be attached to
a pioneering branch of the Air Service, and that, instead of going to a
cut-and-dried task, I was to assist in operations which had been untried
and were entirely experimental. I had been, as a second-class air
mechanic, a balloon hand on the very first kite balloon used by the
British, and had accompanied it to the Dardanelles on a tramp steamer
early in 1915. Now I was to be the first observer on the huge
night-bombers, which were to prove of such tremendous value to the

I found the squadron to be as a new-born babe, blinking at the light of
day. In a couple of vast green hangars slept two gigantic machines. The
skeleton of a third hangar reared its wooden lattice-work against the
deep August sky, and everywhere lay heaps of material and stores.

A few officers were already there--among them the squadron commander,
whom I soon learnt to know as a giant among men from a commanding point
of view. He was one of those splendid leaders that are rare, but are
never to be forgotten when they are met--the type of man who, by sheer
personal magnetism, could make a body of men achieve almost impossible

On one occasion he wished to move an enormous hangar, complete with its
canvas curtains and covers, a hundred feet long and forty feet across,
about four times as big as an average cottage. The whole was extremely
heavy, and weighed many tons. The C.O. called a bugler, and the call
_Clear Lower Deck_ was sounded. When every hand, from cook to clerk, had
fallen in, he distributed the men round the hangar, gave the order,
"One, two, three, _Lift_," and marched the unwieldy structure across
the ground to its new position in a few minutes. In this way he
rearranged the whole aerodrome.

The C.O.--"_our_ C.O.," as we called him--would never call on his
officers or men to do work he would not be prepared to do himself. One
day, in the stress of action on the Western Front, an order came to the
squadron to undertake an operation which meant grave danger to the
airmen taking part in it. The C.O. decided, against regulations, to
pilot the leading machine himself. He never told the senior command, and
he knew that he would probably never return to receive censure. However,
he would not send out his officers on a dangerous task without himself
taking the same risk. Fortunately, the orders were cancelled, but his
heroism was not forgotten.

Quickly the station expanded. More and more officers and men arrived.
More and more machines landed, and were stowed in the newly-erected

I soon had my first flight in a Handley-Page, standing on a platform in
the back, looking below as though I were on a high balcony. In front of
me the two little heads of the pilot and observer protruded from the
nose; on either side were the two great engines between the wings;
behind me was the thirty foot of tapering tail, with the great double
tail-plane vibrating at the end.

One evening I went on the most beautiful flight I ever made. For the
only time I can remember, I saw the world look lovely from the air. We
were flying in the heart of an early autumn evening, and the west was
ablaze with pale gold and decked with rose-tinted clouds. On the country
beneath me lay a rich mantle of blue mist. The whole air was warm with
the glowing colours of the sunset. Over the machine, over the face of
the pilot, and over my hands lay a faintly luminous hue of amber-red.
Below there stretched a view of field and farm, and wood and lane,
enchanted by the sapphire haze. The world lay under a spell of exquisite
beauty, and a tranquillity of peace which was sheer pain to see, so
lovely was it. Here and there shone a light in some happy cottage, where
the contented labourer sat beside the welcome fire with his wife and
children. Far on the right lay the sea, dim and vast, and apprehensive
of the night which was advancing with its banners of darkness from the

Silently we glided over the unreal world. The sunset faded slowly, and
we sank into deeper and yet deeper blue. The gold crept from our faces
and hands, and the solemn silence of the evening enveloped us more and
more. Soon we drifted low over the trees, whose leaves quivered gently
with the fragrant breeze of the twilight. The last shades of dusk turned
the landscape into a sombre dream of scarce-seen hills, and the gloomy
edge of a woodland. Over a field we floated gently, and ran softly over
the dewy grass....

The earth has usually no beauty for the airman. Mountain peaks, valleys,
ravines, and curving downs are absorbed in one flat plain, strangely
patterned with dull brown and yellow and green shapes, with dark patches
here and there for woods and white ribbons for roads; with black lines
for railways, red blotches for villages, grey and brown stains for
towns. A person who loves the beauty of nature, and has artistic
sensibilities, should never fly. If he must, he should fly only at the
edge of the evening, and should glide into the blue magic of the dusk.

Meanwhile, at the squadron, the days of preparation passed--days of
superintending the erection of hangars, of sunny flights over the long
surf-lined sands, of mushroom picking in the wind-blown grass of the
rolling fields. October came, and with it the order for departure.

The great machine was prepared. Heavy tool-boxes, engine spares, tail
trolleys, and a mass of material were packed into its capacious maw. The
tanks were filled with petrol, oil, and water. The engines were tested
again and again. The day came. A pile of luggage stood on the ground
beneath the machine; farewells were said; gloves, goggles, boots, and
flying caps were collected ... and it rained.

Back into its hangar went the machine. Back into the tents went the
luggage. Back into the mess went the disappointed airmen.

For three or four days this happened, but at last a gentle breeze, a
clear horizon, and a blue sky greeted the morning. Once again the
suit-cases and trunks were packed inside the machine. I put my little
tabby kitten into her basket and tied a handkerchief over the top, and
lashed the whole on to the platform in the back of the aeroplane.

The six airmen dressed themselves in their sky-clothes and took their
places--the C.O. at the wheel. A whistle was blown; farewells were
shouted; the engines roared, and we mounted triumphantly into the air
over the countryside of Thanet. For a time we circled over England, and
saw the villages shrink to red flowers on the carpet of harvest gold and
brown plough and dull green meadow land, which was fringed by the yellow
and white line of the curving shore. The little haycocks became
mushrooms; cows looked like little dots of white and black on the green
fragments of the mosaic; and more and more the sea, the wide glittering
sea, dominated the landscape.

Then the machine turned S.E. towards France. Looking ahead, with the
glorious wind rushing across my face, I could see the three
leather-helmeted heads of the pilot, the observer, and the officer in
the front cockpit, and below them the shining Channel. Looking through
the slats of the platform between my feet I could still see hedgerows
and plump red farms. Then we passed over the cliffs, whose summits
appeared to be on the same level as the sea, and below me I saw the

I was leaving England behind! I had to look back over the tail to see
the white line of the cliffs and the sweep of the Isle of Thanet coast
from Birchington to Ramsgate. I began to feel a lump in my throat. I was
not eager to look forward to see the first glimpse of France through the
sea mist. My thoughts were full of the sadness of bereavement. I knew
not what lay ahead--what France and war might bring me. I knew not how
long I would be from my own well-known country, or even if I would ever
return. Later on, after leave in England, I found no heart-sinkings when
I left Dover on a destroyer--for I had grown used to leaving
England--but now my departure was potent with sorrow. I felt almost
inclined to fling out my arms to the fast-fading homeland.

At last it died away behind me, and France mocked me with its twin line
of cliffs and sweep of coast. I lay down on the platform and wrote
letters to be posted in Paris. Between the strips of wood on which I lay
I could see the grey and silver sea far below me, and here and there a
tiny boat, apparently motionless, though a thin line of white foam
stretched behind it.

To my horror I suddenly became conscious of the kitten sitting beside me
carefully cleaning her paws, and probably supremely unconscious that she
was 6000 feet in the air, half-way across the Dover Straits.
Apprehensive for her safety I gave her no time to learn her position,
but quickly pushed her into the basket, and, undoing my flying coat and
my muffler, I took off my tie, which I tied across the top of the basket
to prevent the spirited young lady from emerging once more.

Now the machine was almost over the French coast, so I put the letter
away and clambered on to my feet to look over the side. Though I was far
from the ground, it was easy to tell that the country was an unfamiliar
one. The houses had a different tint of red, the villages looked
strange, and were arranged differently. The whole country looked
peculiar and un-English. It was the opening gate of a new world and a
new life.

Over sand-dunes and small pine-woods we roared. Etaples slowly passed
us, with its wide estuary spanned by two bridges, and its huge hospital
city. Over the mouth of the Somme, near Abbeville, we flew into the
brown and yellow autumn land of France--above old châteaux and their
withering parks; above little ugly villages; above long straight roads,
lined with trees blown half-bare by the equinoctial gales.

I soon forgot my freezing feet in the interest of reading. As I grew
more and more absorbed in 'The History of Mr Polly,' the thundering
pulse of the engines and the slight vibration of the machine slipped
from my consciousness. The everlasting anæsthetic of literature had
rendered me unconscious of being in the air nearly a mile from the

Suddenly the machine began to sway, and to "bump" a little. I stood up
and saw that we were passing through the outskirts of a cloud-bank.
Little patches of vapour appeared to rush by, though they probably were
scarcely moving. The air grew perceptibly cooler, and every now and then
the ground would be hidden, as the white vapour streaked by, under the
wheels, in a misty blur. Then suddenly the little houses of a village, a
forest, and a curving road would appear far below, only to vanish again
behind the next swift-moving edge of white.

We were near Paris. The pilot decided to go beneath the cloud-bank so as
to keep on his course with greater accuracy. The noise of the motors
stopped, the urgent forward motion of the craft became slower and
gentler as we drifted down through the cloud-bank, being thrown up and
down a little by the eddies caused by the different temperatures of the
air levels.

Soon, in the distance, appeared a slender tower, hanging high above the
mist. A great expanse of houses and streets, half obscured in haze,
revealed itself to our left. Here and there sparkled a winding river,
and under us were ragged suburbs with great factories and scattered
groups of houses clustered round wide straight roads that pierced the
heart of the city like white arrows.

_Paris!_ I felt the trumpet-call of the name of a large capital, though
Paris has perhaps the weakest name of all. What worthy stirring names do
Vienna, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rome, and above all, London, bear!
In the very sound of them you hear the dying song of long trains gliding
majestically into domed stations; you hear the roar of traffic in
crowded streets; you hear the dominant throbbing of huge subterranean
newspaper presses.

These giant cities with the splendid names should be entered by train.
You should thunder over populated suburban roads, and clatter under iron
bridges. You should see more and more gleaming rails pouring together in
ever wider streams; you should have glimpses of grey old buildings,
rising sublimely above a sea of smoking chimney-pots--if you wish to
feel the thrill of entering a metropolis.

To approach a great city by the air is disappointing. You can see too
great an expanse of it at once. I should dread to fly high over London,
lest I saw the fields to the north and to the south of it at once, and
realised that this great city of ours _had_ limits which were
comprehensible by man. It would be a disillusion which would haunt me
all my life.

Fortunately it was misty over Paris, and we only saw occasional
stretches of boulevard, and white and red houses, half hidden by the
haze through which glittered here and there the Seine.

On one side lay the white buildings of Versailles and its wide
tree-lined avenues; on the other lay the square ugly factories of the
suburbs; between was a great expanse of field lined with countless

With silenced engines we floated lower and lower towards the soil of
France. Gently over the trees we glided; above the grass we swept a
moment; the machine shook a little, and came to rest below the level of
the tall hangars.

A crowd of British and French mechanics and airmen came streaming from
all sides to the machine, as minnows dart and cling to a fragment of
food which drops into a pool. We climbed out, gladly stretched our legs,
and were soon in a car, driven by a French chauffeur in a black leather
coat, on the way to Paris.

I mention the French driver and his coat because, in spite of what I
have said about the disillusion of approaching a great city by air, yet
aerial travelling does at least accentuate a change of country. Just as
gradually approaching a city, or a new country on the ground, makes it
seem more far-flung and mysterious, so does it introduce you step by
step to its personality and language. If you go to France by boat you
feel, even at Dover, that you are approaching a foreign country. You
hear French spoken, and see French people during the crossing. At Calais
you see the strange uniform of the Custom officers and policemen, and a
notice in English and French greets you at the side of the quay with its
warning against pickpockets. So you gradually become acclimatised to
French ideas before you go ashore.

If, on the other hand, you fly to a foreign country, you are, until the
moment when you land, attached by a thread to the place you have left.
You dressed there, you breakfasted there, you shaved there, your
sandwiches were cut there, and the hot tea in your Thermos flask was
heated there--the aeroplane is merely a detached, floating piece of
Margate or Broadstairs, or wherever it may be. So when you land the
change is abrupt. A man in a curious dress shouts up to you--

"_Ah, Monsieur! C'était bien la-haut?_"

The thread snaps: England recedes a hundred miles in an instant. You are
French, and the aeroplane becomes Villacoublay!

We spent several days in Paris. Every morning our car awaited us
outside the hotel. Bills were paid; bags were packed; we inserted
ourselves into the car and drove to Villacoublay. The weather would be
bad, and (to our secret delight) we returned. I got very used to this
life after a time. I have left so many various hotels in France, day
after day, in the morning, and have returned two hours afterwards,
looking foolish, that the proprietors must have thought that it was a
British custom.

At last the machine started once more--unfortunately without the kitten.
She was seen just before we left, but I think she had friends on the
aerodrome who hid her at the critical moment. We delayed our departure
while a search was made. It was in vain. We left without the kitten, and
(superstitious people note!) were dogged by misfortune until six months
later when we acquired a black cat at Dunkerque.

The aerodrome to which we were flying was at Luxeuil, near Belfort, in
the foot-hills of the Vosges. We left Paris and flew towards the East.
Slowly the character of the country changed, and the towns and villages
grew different. I had a roller map, and as I lay on my chest in the back
of the machine, I wound forward the map just as the living map beneath
unrolled itself. On the paper would be marked a little white line, a
little black blob, and a little dark-green patch. Below, in a square
frame of wood, I could see a little white road, a little red village,
and a little dark-green forest. Sometimes I read for a quarter of an
hour and forgot my surroundings entirely, and then I would suddenly
become conscious that I was in the air and would look below. There lay a
curving river, and a canal beside it, across which was a grey stone

I would wind my map forwards, and would identify the river and the canal
and the bridge. North of the river would be, perhaps, a forest and a
railway line. I would look below me; there would be the forest and a
thin black line near it, on which was a puff of white smoke coming from
a railway engine. The little village which lay near the canal would be
marked on the map--_Pont St Maure_, or something similar. It was to me a
name. The red mark below had to me no more reality than the black mark
on the map, yet at that very moment it must have been full of housewives
cooking fish. Its shoemaker, and farrier, and priest, and mayor must
have been busy. Maybe a marriage, the most wonderful incident of some
simple country girl's life, was in progress, and as the wedding party
walked in a procession they looked up to see the great bird with the
shining wings which boomed overhead. To me it was only a little red
patch which had appeared above the pages of 'The History of Mr Polly.'
Flying is a strangely aloof business, and gives the aerial traveller at
times an almost divine point of view.

Three hours slowly passed. Dusk began to creep across the land. The
country below changed more and more. Forests became frequent, and the
scenery grew wilder and more interesting. Suddenly the noise of the
engines died away. I quickly stood up and looked below. We were just
over a quaint town with a curious church tower. I looked round and could
see no aerodrome. Lower and lower we glided. The wind whistled and
moaned in the wires. I could see no field in which to land. Over the
tops of some trees we drifted. A great cluster of shrubs appeared ahead
of us above the level of the machine. We swept over it, dropped down
again, and I saw we were a few feet above the uneven ground. I shouted
to the other man in the back to hold on, and got myself ready to take a
shock. We touched the ground, bounced up a little, ran along, and
stopped in a sloping field near a road.

I jumped out at once and ran round to the front. The pilot shouted--

"Go and 'phone to Luxeuil! Say we've had engine failure!"

On the way to the road I passed a French priest--an amazed little figure
in black--who had seen this winged monster drop out of the skies to his
feet. Already from the town were pouring the excited people, who had
thought at first that our machine was a German one.

Before I got into the town I met a grey naval car, which was attached to
the aerodrome, and had chanced to be near, and had followed us when we
came down. I hurried back to the machine. It had been landed with
wonderful skill by the pilot on a sloping field, into which he had
side-slipped. Not a wire of it had been broken in spite of its weight
and its heavy load.

The rest of the evening is a confused memory of a high tea in the little
hotel--a meal of countless omelettes, grey vinegarish bread, coffee,
and butter of sorts: of a long, long drive, sitting in the floor of a
crowded car, rushing under the stars and the trees which hissed at us
one by one for mile after mile as we whirled down the winding roads: of
arriving in the dark at an apparently limitless aerodrome, strangely
full of British and Canadian officers in this remote corner of France:
of going to bed in the Hotel de la Pomme d'Or in the town of Luxeuil.

Next day we returned to the machine, which was surrounded by an enormous
crowd of curious peasants. My pilot wished to open a tool-box, and asked
the C.O. for the keys. The C.O., dreading that he might lose them, had
handed them on to me. When I looked for them, I found I had lost them!
My pilot, in his irritation, stood me up in front of the open-eyed
French people and searched me all over. To my shame he found the keys in
one of my pockets! The C.O. said to me afterwards--

"Thank Heaven, I gave them to you, or he would have searched me!"

The machine was repaired. The engines were started. I stayed on the
ground and helped to keep the field clear. (French people _will_ insist
on running in front of an aeroplane as it gathers speed on the
ground--in order to see it better!) It rose up into the air, and turned
round towards Luxeuil, to which I went in a car.

Then began strange months in the wild forest country of the Haute Saône.
They were days of flying over the snow-clad country, when you could see,
hanging like dream-castles above the haze of the horizon, the whole
panorama of the Alps from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc--sublime summits,
pure sun-kissed white against the thin blue of the November sky. They
were days of long drowsy motor drives through the Vosges to the deserted
city of Belfort, with its few collapsed houses to give witness of its
nearness to the lines,--days in which I became an inhabitant of the
historical town of Luxeuil-les-Bains.

This old town was very interesting. Some of its buildings went back to
1200 A.D. Its thermal establishments (so frequent in this part of
France, where every town almost is--_les-Bains_) were full of relics of
the former Roman baths.

In the old cathedral I saw one of the most crude and striking examples
of modernity which I have ever met. As I sat in the tall and gloomy
building at twilight one day, the verger asked me if I would like to see
how he rang the Angelus. He led me to an old stone room, on one wall of
which was a large shiny black switch-board, studded with copper switches
and other electrical devices. He pulled down one switch--high in the
belfry a bell chimed three times. He pushed the switch up and pulled it
down again. Once more the bell chimed three times. He did this a third
time, and then rang the bell continuously for a little while.

He seemed to have great pride in such an up-to-date affair, but to see
the Angelus rung by electricity in an old church was distressing. He
followed up the performance by tolling a knell for the dead. He pulled
another lever, and left it down for five minutes, during which a deep
bell slowly rang.

"They pay five francs for that!" he said with gusto, as he looked at
his watch and pushed up the lever again.

There were no British troops within a hundred miles of the place. The
officers and men of the naval flying wing were the only British there,
and they must have seemed strange to the French people.

We had amusing evenings, and became quite French in our ways. We dined
off frogs' legs and pike fresh taken from the tank in the yard of the
restaurant. We went to organ recitals in the cathedral, and paid visits
to learn French and to exchange conversations. Of course, in our turn,
we introduced the custom of taking tea in the afternoon. Wherever we
were in France, we demanded, at four o'clock, tea, bread and butter,
honey and cakes. It amazed the French people, but we generally got it. I
do not think they understood it at all, because one evening after dinner
I asked for a cup of tea instead of coffee, and it came accompanied by a
plate of cakes, and, I believe, bread and honey. I had to explain that
an Englishman _can_ drink tea alone. It is amusing how an Englishman
always takes his customs with him, and, instead of doing in Rome as the
Romans do, rather makes Rome do what is done in London.

Bacon and eggs for breakfast; meat and vegetables _together_ for lunch;
tea and cake and bread and butter and honey for tea in the
afternoon--says the Englishman. If he does not get this, he
exclaims--"My hat! What a place!" as he walks indignantly out of the

Among other things, I learnt how to fly, at Luxeuil, and found it very
much like learning to ride a bicycle. It has the same fascination and
the same characteristics. You have the same certainty, to begin with,
that you will never be able to do it; you know the same triumph of
achievement when you fly ten yards alone; and when you are flying along
smoothly in complete confidence that the instructor is holding the
controls and is checking you the whole time, you turn round, see he is
looking over the side, become overtaken with nervousness, and dive and
climb, and slip and slew, in a fever of anxiety and dread.

The advantage of being able to fly yourself is that if you feel
depressed and weary of the ground, and of the people on it, you can get
a book, jump into an aeroplane, and shoot up into the solitude of the
sky. When you have climbed three or four thousand feet you can bring out
your book, and go round and round in great circles far away from the
earth in utter seclusion, reading sublime verse, and dreaming of any
unreality you desire.

The tranquillity of these days was ended suddenly by a rather welcome
order to proceed to the advanced base at Ochey-les-Bains, near Nancy,
from which raids were to be carried out at once.

Over miles of ravine and forest, over Plombières and Remirémont and
Epinal, over winding river and rolling down, we flew till we approached
the region of Nancy, where a few kite-balloons hanging above the haze
showed us that we were near the lines. We landed on the wide French
aerodrome, and once again met a crowd of English officers in a strange
corner of France.

We began to prepare at once for a night raid on some blast-furnaces
beyond Metz. My pilot and I had never flown before at night, and had
never crossed the lines. With mingled trepidation and excitement we
awaited the first voyage amidst the darkness and the stars beyond the
frontier of Alsace into what was then Germany--with its unknown dangers
and its unknown difficulties.



    "Around me broods the dim mysterious Night,
        Star-lit and still.
    No whisper comes across the Plain."

           --_The Night Raid._

Night! Before I knew I was to fly through the darkness over the country
of the enemy; night had been for me a time of soft withdrawal from the
world--a time of quiet. It still held its old childhood mystery of a
vague oblivion between day and day, an unusual space of time peopled by
slumberous dreams in the gloom of a warm, familiar bed.

Night was a time in which busy and scattered humanity collected once
more to the family hearth, and careless of the wet darkness outside,
careless of the wind which howled over the roof and moaned down the
chimney, sat in the sequestered comfort by the glow of the fire in a
lamp-lit room. Night did not mean a mere temporary obscuring of the
daytime world. One did not feel that out there in the gloom beyond the
dead windows lay the countryside of day, hidden, though unchanged. One
felt that for a time the real world had ended, and that as one drifted
to sleep, the real house faded and melted away to ghostly regions beyond
the comprehension of man.

In the days before my first raid, I used to wander away from the lighted
windows of the little camp, down the long road to Toul, beneath the
glittering stars, looking up into the blue immensity of the sky,
thinking how I was going to move high up there--above the dim country,
across the distant lines to some remote riverside factory, beyond the
great fortress of Metz.

From that moment the whole meaning of night changed, and changed for
ever. Night became for me a time of restless activity; the darkness
became a vast theatre for mystery and drama. The midnight obscurity
became a thick mantle whose friendly folds hid from the sight of its
enemies the throbbing aeroplane in its long, long flights over a
shadow-peopled world.

The night became my day. _Dusk is our dawn, and midnight is our noon_,
is the song of the night-bombers. To them daylight is a time of
preparation, a time of rest, but never a time in which they can fly upon
their destructive expeditions.

The pale evening star gleams above the gold and crimson glories of the
sunset. The eastern sky becomes deeply blue. Out of the hangars come the
giant machines. The night-flying airman begins to rouse himself, and
with the first rustle of the twilight breeze amidst the black lace-work
of the bare branches comes the awakening action of the brain, and into
his head troop a thousand thoughts, a thousand problems, a thousand

Over a map I bent, day after day, looking at Metz, looking at
Thionville, following the curved black mark of the lines, and pondering
the round spots which represented anti-aircraft batteries--going on my
first raid a thousand times in anticipation. At times fear held me--the
fear of the unknown. What would happen? What would happen? We might get
"there," but would we return? Would a German air patrol await us--would
a fierce impassable barrage bring about our downfall? Surely, surely,
we argued (my pilot and I), they would be waiting for us on our way

We knew nothing of night-bombing, nothing of flying across the lines.
Before us lay a curtain through which we had to pass. We did not know
what lay on the other side, or if we would return through the closed

At times the thrill of romance, of high star-touching adventure, stirred
my imagination. I thought how I was to move undaunted and triumphant
over the moonlit river, over the forests of the Vosges, with my twelve
bombs ready to drop at my slightest order. I realised how I was to bring
destruction to far-off blast-furnaces where the sweating Germans poured
out the white blue-flamed metal to make shells and long naval guns--how
I was perhaps to ride homeward down the vast avenues of the skies to the
waiting aerodrome with the exhilaration of a conqueror!

Then came the third mental phase of those days of waiting for the
raid--the phase of pity. I shall kill to-night! thought I. I shall kill
to-night. Even now the worker eats his contented dinner with his wife
and children before going on the night-shift--the night-shift which
will never see day. Even now is a young man greeting his beloved whom he
will never live to wed. Is it true that those plump yellow bombs with
their red and green rings are destined to rip flesh and blood--to tear
up people whom I have never seen, and whom I will never know that I have

So through my imagination went pouring the strange processions of
thought. Brighter and brighter grew the moon; clearer and clearer grew
the night. Far away to the north, near Pont-à-Mousson, I could see, as I
stood on the road to Toul, the luminous white star-shells which hung
quivering in the air, and dropped slowly as they faded away. There in
the dark road beneath the tall bare trees I would stand, a little
figure, in a great solitude under the ten thousand watching stars,
gazing out to the lines, wondering and wondering what lay beyond.

The days passed slowly. The possibilities of each night were doomed by
the French report, "_Brume dans les vallées!_" Mist was considered a
great danger to navigation, so night after night the raid was

French _Bréguets de Bombardement_, huge unwieldy machines, carrying two
men and twenty or so little vicious bombs, were also operating from the
aerodrome, and the French authorities had arranged a detailed and very
useful system of ground lights to assist navigation.

At several places were groups of lights, each group separated by a
certain number of miles, to give the airmen an opportunity to learn his
speed across the ground. There were rocket positions. There were groups
of flares pointing north. Here and there were emergency landing-grounds.
The whole dim country was going to be twinkling with little messages,
with lights and flares and friendly rockets. More and more in these days
of waiting I became obsessed with the idea of the long journey I was so
make through the blue vagueness of the night above the moonlit country.

Then one night the moon rose clear and clean above a mistless world. The
more brilliant stars burnt steadily in the velvet of the night. A
silence brooded over the rolling downs and the deep-shadowed valleys. On
the aerodrome was deliberate activity and suppressed excitement. The
Handley-Page, on which the C.O. intended to carry out the first raid,
spread its long splendid wings under the eager hands of the mechanics,
who for long days had been preparing everything--had been testing every
wire and bolt, and had kept the machine on the pinnacle of efficiency.
Now they swarmed round it like keen and careful ants, pinning up the
wings, filling the engine tanks with hot water pumped up from a wheeled
boiler, known as the "hot potato waggon," exercising machine-guns, and
testing the controls.

The two engines were started up, and roared with a surging vibrant
clamour for ten minutes. Then the full power was put on, and for a few
minutes the noise became ear-splitting, and the waves of sound rolled
across the aerodrome and came echoing back from the hangars. The wheels
strained restlessly against the triangular wooden "chocks." The tail and
the wings shook and quivered with repressed emotion. The exhaust-pipes
of the motors grew red hot, long blue flames streamed out of them, and
thousands of red sparks went whirling along through the shivering
tail-planes into the darkness behind. It was an awe-inspiring sight. I
asked the silent preoccupied warrant-officer engineer, a rugged naval
man who knew the soul of the mighty Rolls-Royce engines, if it was all
right. I could not believe that those red-hot pipes and blue flames were
not a sign of an engine gone amok and hopelessly overheated. The thunder
and the awful expression of power frightened me. The engineer, however,
assured me that it was all correct, and explained that the engines were
just the same in the daytime, though the heat and the sparks could not
be seen in the light.

Near the towering bulk of the machine with its two deafening motors
stood the pilot, the C.O., who was a frail-looking figure, with his
youthful fair-haired face almost hidden in the wide black fur-lined
collar of his thick padded overall suit. He stood there with his
flying-cap and his goggles in his hand, waiting to climb into the
machine when the mechanics had finished the test of the engines.

I went over to wish him luck, feeling awestruck at his coolness. On the
grass of the aerodrome shone the great flares. Above hung the heartless
stars, and the blank-faced moon swung rather mockingly, it seemed to me,
above the dim patterns of the wooded landscape. The little fair-haired
figure stood by the hot-breathed steed which he was going to ride, and
it seemed that he was too small, too frail--that any human being was too
frail--to take that monster of steel and wood and canvas into the
unknown dangers which lay beyond the cold glare of the star-shells on
the horizon.

Then the C.O. climbed into the machine, and his head and shoulders
appeared just above the blunt nose which stuck out six feet above the
ground. He shouted down an order or two. The little triangular door on
the floor of the machine was shut. The blocks of wood were taken away
from beneath the wheels. The engines roared out, and the machine moved
slowly across the grass. It turned slightly, its noise leapt up suddenly
again, and with a beating throb the huge craft began to move across the
aerodrome with its blue flames and showers of red sparks shooting out
behind it. Faster and faster it went--every eye watching it, every mouth
firm and voiceless. At last it roared up into the air, and then a
curious thing happened which showed the strain and the nervousness under
which we were all working that night.

In a few moments the noise of the engines died out, and beyond the slope
of green over which the machine had climbed appeared a dull red glow.

"Oh! he's crashed!" almost sobbed somebody in those awful vibrant tones,
full of fear and excitement, almost passionate with terror, which are so
often heard when there is a swift sudden accident.

Babel broke out. "Quick! _Pyrènes!_ Quick! Start up the car! It's
burning! Quick, _quick_! How awful! Drive like blazes, driver!"

Round the aerodrome the loaded car jolted and bumped, going as fast as
the driver could make it, glittering with the fire-extinguishers held by
the agonised white-faced passengers.

Behind some hangars we rushed, and suddenly we heard the glorious sound
of a _bavoom_, _bavoom_, overhead, as the Handley-Page swept
triumphantly above us.

"Safe! Oh, good, good, good!" thought every one. Over the crest of the
little swell in the ground we saw some dull red landing flares burning
in a flickering line. The sudden cessation of the engine's clamour owing
to a change of wind, and the sudden burning up of the flares, had
brought at once to overwrought nerves the worst fears. As we rode back,
pretending we were very ashamed of ourselves, we decided not to tell the
C.O. what had happened when he landed. We were very fond of him....

For ten minutes or so the machine roared round and round the aerodrome.
We could see its shape black against the starshine for a little while,
and then we could distinguish it no longer, for to our great delight it
was hidden by the darkness in spite of the moonlight. Then it turned
towards the lines, was heard booming faintly for a moment, and finally
its noise died right away. The aerodrome lay silent under the magic of
the watching stars and the silver frozen moon.

Restless minutes passed. From mess to cabins, from cabins to the
aerodrome with its dazzling acetylene flares, we moved uneasily. Had he
crossed the lines now? we wondered. Had he got to Metz? What was he
doing? Had he dropped his bombs yet?

An hour and a half had gone. He was due back. Still the deep immensity
of the night gave no signal. The moon had climbed a little, and its
tarnished face was smaller and brighter. There was no sound on the air
save the sighing of the wind, the low murmur of a dynamo, and the
occasional clear quiet chime of a clock in the village church tower.

Then somebody said, "Listen! Hush!" Faint but surely sounded the throb
of the motors. Every moment it grew more distinct. The crowds on the
aerodrome increased. The relief of a strain ended moved pleasantly
through them.

Then in the air appeared a glittering ball of light which dropped in a
curve and faded away. Another ball of light shot up from the ground in
answer. The noise of the engines in the air stopped as the machine
glided in wide circles towards the ground. Suddenly it appeared a few
hundred feet in the air, brilliantly lit up by two blindingly white
lights which burned fiercely below both wing-tips, and from which
dropped little gouts of luminous liquid. The powerful illumination
lighted up every face, every dress, every shed and pile of stones in
clear detail with its quivering glare.

Now every eye was watching the machine as it drew nearer and nearer to
the ground. This was the first time that a Handley-Page had been landed
at night, and landing is the most difficult and uncertain problem of

Lower and lower it floated, then flattened out, and drifted on just
above the grass. With scarcely a bump it touched the ground, ran
forwards a little, and swept round towards us.

"Good! Priceless! Thank Heaven that's done!" muttered a dozen watchers.
The waiting crowd streamed across to the machine from whose wing-tip
flares, now dull and red, still dropped hot drops of liquid.

Some stooped at once under the machine to examine the brown paper which
had been temporarily pasted across the bottom of the bomb-racks, as the
bomb-doors had not yet been fitted. Scarcely a piece of paper
remained--the bomb-racks were empty--the bombs had been dropped!

Then was a scene of excitement. The night travellers were welcomed and
congratulated, and a thousand queries were rained on them. "How did the
engines go? Any searchlights? Any shell-fire? Where did you drop the
bombs? Did you find the way easily?" and so on in an endless stream. It
had been a flight which had broken new ground--the first flight of five
thousand night flights by Handley-Pages. It was the climax of an
experiment. The machine had gone up into the night, and had returned
with its cargo discharged.

A night or two later our turn came. The machine stood on the aerodrome:
the wings were stretched and pinned up; the tanks were filled with hot
water. I went to my little cabin with its rose-shaded lamp, and with a
heavy heart began to prepare for the raid. I dressed myself in thick
woollen socks; knee-high flying boots lined with white fleece; a sweater
or two, a muffler, and the big overall suit of grey-green mackintosh
lined with thick black beaver fur with a wide fur collar. On my head
went my flying-cap. I strapped it under my chin and got my goggles and
gloves ready. I felt very out of place, so clumsy and grotesque, like a
deep-sea diver, in the little room with its bookshelf and neat white
bed and soft lamplight.

I had the terrible sinking sensation which I had felt before when about
to be caned, and when in the waiting-room of a dentist.

I looked at three or four photographs of well-loved friends and of grey
London streets, knelt down for a moment by the bed, and went out after a
last long look at the room and the unavailing invitation of the white
sheets. I knew it might be the last time, and I felt quite a coward.

Towards the aerodrome I walked behind the towering line of moonlit
hangars, beyond which I could hear the murmur of the engines
"warming-up." Between two tall sheds I stumbled, and came on to the wide
grassy expanse where stood my machine surrounded by busy mechanics.

The engines opened out with a terrifying burst of noise. I collected my
map-case and my torch, and walked round to the front of the machine. I
faced the two shining discs of the whirling propellers and gingerly
advanced between them to the little rope-ladder which hung from the
small door in the bottom of the machine. Up this ladder I climbed, and
found myself in the little room behind the pilot's seat. I knelt down
and shone my torch on the bomb-handle, the bomb-sight, and on the twelve
fat yellow bombs that hung up inside the machine behind me. Then I
walked forward till I came to the cockpit, where sat the pilot on a
padded armour-plated seat, testing the engines. I let down my hinged
seat beside him, and sat with my feet off the ground. I put away my
pencil and note-book and chocolate, and examined the different taps and
the Very light pistol, and began to adjust the petrol pressure of the
engines, which was indicated by little dials in front of me.

I was about seven feet off the ground now, sitting up in the nose of the
machine, feeling very small and helpless, with the two great propellers
screaming on either side a foot behind me, at 1700 revolutions a minute,
and I felt very much like a lamb going to the slaughter.

Minutes slowly passed. I was itching with impatience. I longed to start
so that I might have something to do to occupy my attention.

The pilot blew a whistle. The pieces of wood in front of the wheels were
pulled away by the mechanics. The pilot's hand went to the throttle,
and we moved slowly across the aerodrome. The front engine roared out,
he turned round and faced the wind, with the lights of the flares behind

On went the engines with a mighty throbbing beat. At once we began to
roll across the ground. Faster and faster we rushed. Below streaked the
flare-lit grass as we swept onward at a fearful speed. The hangars were
just in front of us. I sat, feet off the ground, with my left hand on
the padded edge of the cockpit, nervous and apprehensive.

Then slowly, surely, the machine left the ground and began to move
upwards, and soon cleared the top of the hangars. Below lay the moonlit
sweep of the dim forests, the curving hills and the deep-shadowed
ravines, looking pale and unreal in the ghostly radiance.

In front of us the phosphorescent finger of the height-indicator slowly
crept to 1000 feet. The speed-indicator wavered between 50 and 55 miles
an hour, and the dials which recorded the petrol pressure on the engines
obeyed faithfully my alterations to the little taps at the side.

Above us was the wide expanse of the starlit sky and the cold moon. We
soon found that flying at night was like moving through a dimmer daytime
sky. Though the airman is hidden from the ground, yet below he can see a
detailed panorama, a little more limited in range than that of noonday,
but not much less distinct. This is, of course, on a clear night of
ample moon. On dark and misty nights the change is very much greater. As
we flew on we realised that the task was not going to be so difficult as
we had imagined.

For a time I felt too nervous to look over the side, as I always have
felt, flying by day or night, until the preliminary dread of a wing
falling off which has ever haunted me has grown less poignant. Then I
began to look over the side, and the love of experience and excitement
battled and pressed down the feelings of dread.

Far away on the moon-ward horizon a luminous silver mist veiled the
distant view. Below, the scenery of thin white roads, soft patchwork
forests, little tightly-clustered villages, and the quaint mosaic of
fields, unrolled away from me as we mounted higher on the long wings
whose edges now and then gleamed in the moonlight. Here and there were
the little glowing specks of candles or lamps burning in distant houses,
and some of the twinkling illuminations of the French signals. Far away
in the mist a star-shell gleamed watery white and slowly faded away.
Beneath were the four white flares of the aerodrome and the little space
of lit-up ground with an occasional gleam of light near the long line of
hangars which I could see faintly below me.

Higher and higher we climbed. Every now and then I stood up and shone my
torch on the two engines to read their dials, and to see if they were
giving full power. Towards the north we moved, towards the gleaming
Moselle and the distant star-shells of the lines. Then the French
observer grew restless, and looked over the side, and down at the
compass in his cockpit, and at the timing signal-lights beneath. At
last, when we were eight or nine miles from the lines, he gave his
verdict--the almost inevitable word _Brouillard_. He thought it was too
misty. He stood up and leaned back to the pilot, and shouted his words
of explanation--

"_Trop de brouillard!_ No good! It will be very bad by Metz!"

We turned back disappointed, and drew nearer to the lighted rectangle of
the aerodrome far below. The pilot pulled back his throttle. A sudden
and almost painful silence followed the roar of the engine. In an
agreeable tranquillity after the incessant clamour we had known so long,
we glided downwards towards the queer world of the deep shadows. Slowly,
slowly over the dazzling acetylene flares we floated. The most critical
moment had come: the pilot was going to make his first night landing. I
sat silent and unmoving, my left hand again subconsciously holding the
edge of the machine in readiness. The ground grew imperceptibly nearer.
We were below the level of the sheds. I felt a little vibration quiver
through the machine, and then another. We had touched ground.

We slowed down and drew up near our hangar. I dropped out of the
machine, beneath which the disappointed mechanics were gazing at the
unbroken surface of the brown paper pasted below the bomb-racks, and
walked over to my cabin through a little pine wood. The rose-shaded lamp
still shone softly. As I took off my heavy flying kit I recalled with a
feeling of foolishness my fears and dreads when I had left it, and felt
how wasted my sentiment had been.

Almost the next night we started again. Once more I dressed in the heavy
flying clothes, and collected my maps and impedimenta. Again I bade a
sad farewell, and again sat beside the pilot, feeling weak and frail.
Again we rose up in thunder across the lighted aerodrome towards the

The world lay before us hard and clear. No white scarves of mist were
flung over the dark woodlands. The horizon lay almost unveiled, and
above was the deep immensity of the night. Here and there across the
country we saw the scattered lights of cottages and the twinkling of the
French guiding stations. To the north were the brilliant star-shells,
and far, far away in the mist glowed dully the little red flame of some
blast-furnace beyond the lines.

As we drew nearer and nearer to Pont-à-Mousson, I felt how the meaning
of the lines had changed. Formerly they had come to be a barrier almost
impassable even by thought. I had felt that this was _our_ side, that
was _theirs_! Long had the trenches lain in the same place in this
area. Now it seemed wonderful to be able to see signs of occupation
beyond the German war-zone. Our intended crossing seemed a sort of
sacrilege, the execution of an act seemingly impossible. I felt as
though I had put out my hand to the moon, and had touched a solid
surface. It was hard to believe that our machine could in a flash change
from the area of one great sweep of nationality and ideas and character
to the other, and could pass unhindered, untouched across that frontier
of death to every living thing upon the ground.

So as I grew nearer and nearer to Pont-à-Mousson and saw a few scattered
lights beyond the star-shells, I began to wonder who sat beside the
light--what German soldier or officer read a despatch or wrote a letter,
in what sort of hut or dug-out. Then the pilot's hands would move with
the wheel, and we would swing round in a circle. Again before us lay the
French signal-lights, and far away the faint glow of our aerodrome.

Then we swung round again towards the north. The Frenchman's arm went
up, and dropped, pointing straight ahead across the star-shells which
rose here and there slowly, white blossoms of light which burst out
into a white dazzling flare, and gradually drooped and faded away.

I sat with my legs dangling, and my hands crossed in my lap, feeling I
had got to take what was coming unprotesting. Defenceless and frail I
seemed as I sat beside my pilot, with nothing for my hands to do--with
no control over the machine or over my destiny. My heart sank lower and
lower ... and then we were right above the lines. In the pool of vague
darkness below I saw the star-shells rising up and lighting a little
circle of ground, and dying away, to be followed by small and spitting
flashes of rifle fire from either side of the lines, where I knew some
wretched soldier lay in No Man's Land, flat in the mud, in fear of his

A few minutes passed, and I began to realise that I was over German
territory. The height indicator recorded 7500 feet. The engines
clamoured evenly, and the speed-indicator registered fifty miles an
hour, showing that we were still climbing steadily. The pilot sat
immobile on my right--his heavy boots firmly on the rudder, his
fur-gloved hands on the black wooden steering-wheel, which scarcely
moved as we flew steadily on. The electric bulb in the cockpit shone on
his determined chin and firm mouth, but his fur-edged goggles hid those
eyes which looked, now forwards to the horizon and to the dark shape of
the Frenchman with his curious helmet in front, now downwards to the
compass and the watch and the instruments of the dashboard. Keen eyes
and ready were they, I knew well, watching everything, noting

I wondered what lay in his brain, and what were his real feelings as he
steered the enormous machine dead ahead into the hostile territory. My
own fears had begun to leave me a little. I looked round with interest
to see what was going to happen, and began to hum my invariable anthem
of the night-skies, which I have chanted during every raid--the
Cobbler's song from "Chu Chin Chow":--

    "I sit and cobble at slippers and shoon
    From the rise of sun to the set of moon ..."

Then on my left, a mile or so away, I saw four or five sharp red flashes
whose spots of light died away slowly, like lightning. I felt excited.
They were anti-aircraft shells. They were meant for us. We had been
heard, then, and our presence was realised. I glanced at the pilot, but
he had seen nothing. His face was fixed steadily forwards, so I decided
not to tell him. Now I began to look all over the sky, above, below, and
on either side, looking for shell fire, and trying to pierce the gloom
to see enemy machines. I was on the alert, for I realised that we were
heard though unseen, as we crept like thieves above the land of a people
who wished us ill.

Then ahead of me I became aware of a beautiful sight, which I have never
since seen near the lines--a city in full blaze. There lay a sea of
twinkling, glittering lights with three triangles of arc-lamps round it.
It was Metz and its three railway junctions. I stood up and looked down
on the amazing scene. There lay to our view vivid evidence of German
activity. I could see here and there through the jumble of lights the
straight line of a brilliant boulevard. It seemed strange to think that
down there moved and laughed German soldiers and civilians in the
streets and cafés, all unconscious of the fur-clad airmen moving high
up among the stars in their throbbing machine.

The explanation of the fearless blaze was simple. The Germans in those
days had an agreement with the French that Metz should not be bombed,
and therefore they realised that it would be safer if its lights were
kept on, so that it might not be mistaken for any other place.
Gradually, however, we passed by this city lined in glittering gems,
leaving it a few miles on our right. Ahead of us the intermittent red
glare of scattered blast-furnaces burst occasionally on the dim carpet
of the country, blazing out for a moment and then fading slightly--to
blaze out again before they died away, as the unavoidable _coulées_, or
discharges of molten metal, were being made.

Still there was no apparent opposition. No searchlights moved in the
skies; no shells punctured the darkness. The French observer, who was
responsible for the navigation, looked carefully below and then at his
map. We were evidently drawing near to the blast-furnaces of
Hagendingen. Then he turned round and began to shout instructions. The
pilot could not quite understand what he said, so I assisted him. It
was strange to be arguing in English and French, the three of us, a
mile and a half in the air, fifteen miles beyond the German lines. We
became so interested in our explanations and translations that we forgot
our surroundings altogether.

"Let me talk to him. Qu'est ce que vous désirez dire, monsieur? Où est

The Frenchman pointed an energetic finger downwards.

"Là! Là!"

"He says it's just ahead, Jimmy! Shall I get into the back?"

"Just a minute. Monsieur--c'est temps maintenant to drop the---- What's
drop, Bewsh?"

"Laisser tomber! I'll tell him. Est ce ... all right! _You_ tell him,
then! Look at the port pressure. I'll give it a pump!"

So went the conversation high above the earth at night in a hostile sky.

Then I lifted up my seat and crawled to the little room behind, which
vibrated fiercely with the mighty revolutions of the two engines. I
stood on a floor of little strips of wood, in an enclosure whose walls
and roofs were of tightly stretched canvas which chattered and flapped
a little with the rush of wind from the two propellers whirling scarcely
a foot outside. Behind was fitted a round grey petrol-tank, underneath
which hung the twelve yellow bombs.

I lay on my chest under the pilot's seat, and pushed to the right a
little wooden door, which slid away from a rectangular hole in the floor
through which came a swift updraught of wind. Over this space was set a
bomb-sight with its sliding range-bars painted with phosphorescent
paint. On my right, fixed to the side of the machine, was a wooden
handle operating on a metal drum from which ran a cluster of
release-wires to the bombs farther back. It was the bomb-dropping lever,
by means of which I could drop all my bombs at once, or one by one, as I

The edge of the door framed now a rectangular section of dark country,
on which here and there glowed the intermittent flame of a
blast-furnace. I could not quite identify my objective, so I climbed
forwards to the cockpit and asked the French observer for further
directions. He explained to me, and then suddenly I saw, some way below
the machine, a quick flash, and another, and another--each sending a
momentary glare of light on the machine. I crawled hurriedly back, and
lay down again to get ready to drop my bombs.

Below me now I could see incessant shell-bursts, vicious and brilliant
red spurts of flame. I put my head out of the hole for a moment into the
biting wind, and looked down, and saw that the whole night was
beflowered with these sudden sparks of fire, which appeared silently
like bubbles breaking to the surface of a pond. The Germans were firing
a fierce barrage from a great number of guns. They thought, fortunately
for us, that we were French Bréguets, which flew much lower than we did,
so their shells burst several thousand feet beneath us.

I was very excited as I lay face downwards in my heavy flying-clothes on
the floor, with my right hand on the bomb-handle in that little
quivering room whose canvas walls were every now and then lit up by the
flash of a nearer shell. Through the quick sparks of fire I tried to
watch the blast-furnace below. Just in front of me the pilot's thick
flying-boots were planted on the rudder, and occasionally I would pull
one or the other to guide him. The engines thundered. The floor
vibrated. Below the faint glow of the bomb-sights the sweep of country
seemed even darker in contrast with the swift flickering of the barrage,
and here and there I could see the long beam of a searchlight moving to
and fro.

Then I pressed over my lever, and heard a clatter behind. I pressed it
over again and looked back. Many of the bombs had disappeared--a few
remained scattered in different parts of the bomb-rack. I looked down
again, and pressed over my lever twice more,--my heart thumping with
tremendous excitement as I felt the terrific throbbing of power of the
machine and saw the frantic furious bursting of the shells, and realised
in what a thrilling midnight drama of action and force I was acting. I
looked back and saw by the light of my torch that one bomb was still in
the machine. I walked back to the bomb-rack, and saw the arms of the
back gunlayer stretching forwards, trying to reach it. I put my foot on
the top of it and stood up. It slipped suddenly through the bottom and

In a moment I was beside the pilot.

"All gone, Jimmy! Let's be getting back, shall we?"

I leant forward and hit the French observer on the back. When he turned
I asked him what luck we had had. He was encouraging, and said that the
bombs had gone right across the lights of the factory. Below us now
still burst the barrage of shells, whilst one or two stray ones burst
near the machine. From the direction of Briey a strong searchlight swept
across the sky and hesitated near us, and began to wave its cruel arm in
restless search in front of the nose of the machine. As it drew nearer
and nearer my hand tugged the pilot's sleeve a little, with a hint to
turn. He looked down at me and smiled, and carried on. I knew that he
felt no fear, and was less nervous than I was. Little did I guess when I
watched, like a frightened rabbit pursued by a slow hypnotising snake,
that one searchlight moving in the pool of the night skies above Briey,
how I should, later on, steer the machine through a forest of moving
beams over Bruges or Ghent. That solitary searchlight was bad enough,
and was full of the evil cunning which makes searchlights a greater
dread to the night airman than shell fire. To be searched for by
searchlights is ever more demoralising. It is as though you stood in
the corner of a dark room and an evil being with long arms came nearer
and nearer, sweeping those arms across the velvety darkness, and you
knew that there would come a time when they would touch you, and

Past Metz we flew onwards, and the city could no longer be seen. It lay
in darkness, for our bombs had been dropped. Its lights had served to
keep it safe. Now, lest it should be used as a guide, the city had died
like a vision of the brain, and where had lain that filigree of
sparkling diamonds was the unlit gloom.

The shell fire died away and stopped. The white beam of Briey moved
vainly across the sky, darting in one swift swoop across a quarter of
the heavens, and then hanging hungrily in some suspected corner before
it moved onwards again.

I felt supremely confident and at home. I felt I could "dance all
night." I felt that for hours I could go soaring onwards over the
country of the enemy with this triumphant sense of power. Fear had left
me. I was not conscious of being in the air. I sat solidly and at ease
on my little padded seat beside the pilot, whose arm I had
affectionately taken. I peeled the scarlet paper and the silvery
wrappings from the bars of chocolate, and pushed a fragment into his
unresisting mouth. We were three or four miles from the lines, but from
the danger point of view we were as good as across them. I stuck a
photograph behind one of the dials in the cockpit, and it kept on
falling on to the floor so that I had to replace it. I fished out three
or four mascots from my pocket, and stood them up inside the machine. I
began to sing loudly. It was a mild reaction after the strain, which I
had not been conscious of, but which had nevertheless been there.

It was a wonderful feeling to know that the job which I had dreaded was
done, and that I had come through it safely. I wondered what the Germans
thought of that huge load of explosives which had fallen all at once,
for a Handley-Page could drop then about three times more bombs than any
other machine in use on the Western Front. The Gotha, with its smaller
load, had not yet come into action. The Germans must have realised that
it was the beginning of a very unpleasant time for them.

At last the white star-shells rose and fell beneath us, and we left them
behind. Towards Nancy I could see a silver strip of river and a few
twinkling lights. Near it lay the glare of a night landing-ground. Ahead
of us rose coloured rockets from one of the guide positions. On and on
we flew, and then we saw the lights of our own aerodrome far ahead. The
pilot throttled the engines, and we began to glide down through the
darkness to the row of flares. When we were over the rectangle of
illuminated grass we circled down in wide sweeps, and landed gently in a
long glide.

We stopped by the hangars, and the crowd poured round us again. This
time with what delight the eager mechanics saw round the edges of the
bomb-racks only small shreds of brown paper, which showed that the
machine they had tended so well had done its work, and had taken
destruction for them beyond the lines!

With what glow of pleasure I climbed down from the machine, and
arm-in-arm with the engineer officer walked awkwardly though joyfully to
our cabin! The photographs of my friends seemed to smile on me with
genial thanks, and the bed seemed more than ever inviting. We talked,
and talked, and talked. The raid was described a thousand times over as
we drank hot coffee and munched biscuits. Looking backwards, it seems
strange that we should have been so excited after a short raid like
that; but it had been a new thing achieved--an adventure successfully
carried through.

When at last I got back to the cabin alone I began to think of the
effect of my bombs. I pictured the ambulances hurrying down the distant
roads to the hospitals. I thought of the women even then learning the
news of their husband's or son's death. My head was throbbing and aching
with excitement. A mad procession of unending thought went pouring
through it at a headlong pace. I lifted the blind and looked out of the
window to the wet chill dawn. The sickly stars flickered like pale
gaslamps. The dirty moon staggered towards the East, while the West wore
a dingy dressing-gown of crimson and tawdry green. The scenes of the
night were thronging through my imagination. I could picture it all--the
white faces of the dials before us; the pulsing of the engines; the
pressing of the bomb-handle; the clat clatter of the falling bombs; the
waving searchlights; the impetuous flashing of the shells; the ride home
across the dim country; the landing, and the release from fear.

I felt restless and unwell. Again I looked at the humid greasy dawn.
Thoughts of the silly death and destruction and agony beyond Metz came
to me. I got into the white sheets, but they could not cool my throbbing
forehead. My frantically working brain would not let me sleep. I tossed
and turned, and dozed off for a moment, only to find myself once more in
the air--only to see once more the cold electric light shining on my
pilot's fur-gloved hands and set mouth, only to hear the deafening
thunder of the motors--and to wake up again.

So passed a sleepless night. Morning brought to my tired eyes and
tight-drawn skin, to my strained nerves and slack body, no joy or
happiness in life....

Thus was achieved the first raid. I felt anxious for more. I forgot the
fear, and remembered the excitement, as human nature always does. I
wanted to go to Friedrichshafen or Karlsruhe. Night meant at time of
travel. The stars called to me to be up amid their steely glitter,
thundering onwards to some far distant place.

Then came the usual sudden order. Again we had to change our aerodrome.
We were told to return to Luxeuil, whence we were to fly to Dunkerque.

Farewells were said in cold grey Nancy, strange city of the Vosges with
its genial populations, its jolly cafés.

Through a hailstorm we flew to the long-loved aerodrome at Luxeuil. Old
friends were met again, but even in our brief absence it had changed and
many familiar buildings and faces had gone.

I managed to borrow a Curtiss machine and flew alone, very badly, in
order to take my ticket.

The next morning, in spite of the threatening weather, we flew to Paris.
At a height of a thousand feet or less, just under the troubled grey
masses of cloud, we flew on. I followed the country below with anxious
eyes, relying on landmarks to show me the way. I identified each road
and railway and village. I checked by the map each little patch of
forest, each little lake.

Once I was carried away by the chorus of a song which made me dream a
little as I sang. I looked down. There lay the straight road quite in
order as I left it, but alongside appeared a forest which was not marked
on the map. I became worried. I knew that once I had lost the way I
would be badly adrift.

Just in time I discovered that I had passed a fork in the road as I sang
to myself, and we had not turned as we should have done. Thereafter I
kept my eyes on the alert, till finally we reached the outskirts of

When we were low over the roofs near Villacoublay I happened to look at
the height-indicator. To my surprise it registered zero. I gave the
pilot a violent nudge and pointed it out to him. Then I realised that
the aerodrome at Luxeuil, on which the indicator had been adjusted, was
several hundred feet above sea-level, and that, now we were over lower
country, our height might be registered as nothing, when in reality we
were a few hundred feet above the roofs.

If there had been a mist we might have been in a difficulty, as our
height-indicator would have been useless. We would not have had the
good fortune of an airman who on one occasion got overtaken by a thick
mist in England and wished to land. He knew the country was flat, so he
glided down into the mist very gently, and when the height-indicator was
just above zero he climbed out of the machine and sat on the edge. He
saw the finger of the dial actually touch the zero mark, and jumped....
So accurate was the instrument that he was not hurt. He was flung down a
bank, and was badly shaken up, but was no worse for it. The amazing part
of it was that the aeroplane, a very stable machine, landed itself
correctly and was found in a field a little farther ahead without a wire

We landed at Villacoublay, and rushed into Paris by car to spend a gay
glittering evening in the capital. We were up early next day, and
motored out to Villaconblay, and were soon on our way to Dunkerque.

A little past Boulogne the low-drifting clouds were left behind, and we
flew into glorious April weather. On the left, to my great joy, was the
sea and the surf-lined sweep of the coast. Below was the patchwork of
fields and meadows, whose colours were so soft in the sunlight that the
country looked like a carpet of suède leather dyed with many a rich
shade of cream and brown and purple and dull green, in oblong
patternings. Across this lovely mosaic ran straight roads which linked
up the compact little towns. Here and there lay a canal like a bar of
steel, blue and slender.

The machine moved forward with an absolute steadiness. The pilot took
his hands off the wheel, glad to rest himself after the terrific bumping
we had been enduring under the clouds since we left Paris. The engines
droned contentedly. The burly engineer P.O. in front looked downwards
with delight at the sunny plain which moved towards us with such a
stately and even progress. Flying became really comfortable for once,
and very monotonous.

Calais passed. Gravelines, with its starfish fortifications, moved by on
our left-hand side. Dunkerque lay ahead. I began to look for the
aerodrome. I had not been told exactly where it was. I knew it was
between Dunkerque and Bergues, near the canal. Nearer and nearer to
Dunkerque and its line of docks and its ramparts we drew. Still I could
not find the aerodrome. The pilot grew impatient. Then I saw in the air
ahead of us the familiar form of a twin-engined machine. It was another
Handley-Page. It swept downwards in wide curves. I looked below it and
saw, by a wide field, a few brown hangars in front of which stood other

The noises of the engines ended. We drifted down and landed. We were met
by an officer with a megaphone, who gave us very curt instructions as to
where the machine was to stop. We expected to be greeted as heroic
travellers, so this abrupt welcome rather surprised us. When we
disembarked, however, we found that several Handley-Pages were coming
back from a daylight patrol off the coast to Zeebrugge and back. I
caught the edge of my pilot's eye and knew he was wondering as I
was--what nasty new business was this?

We went into the mess, very tired after our long journey by air from one
end of the lines to the other, and while we were sitting at the table a
heavy-booted and furred observer came in with very bright eyes and said
to the C.O. of the station--

"Rather good luck, sir! We saw a couple of destroyers ten miles north of
Zeebrugge. Dropped our bombs on them. Direct hit on one! Seemed to be
sinking when I left!"

The C.O. was delighted, and as the observer left the room I felt what a
fine spirit of adventure there was in flying when a man could land out
of the skies so flushed with achievement. He had sunk a destroyer in the
enemy's waters. What a splendid conquest for one man! I felt near the
sea again. I felt proud of my naval uniform. I felt glad I was in the
Naval Air Service. A breath of the sea swept through the room, which
drove away all the sad memories of rather bitter days far, far away near
the Vosges.

That night I walked alone under a haggard moon down a treeless road that
wound beside a canal. The wind sighed across the flat ploughed fields.
Towards Ypres I saw the incessant flash and flicker of artillery fire.
For a moment I stood looking to the north-east, towards the lines.

Then would it have been fitting to have seen, as a fantastic prelude to
my fantastic nights, what I often saw later from Dunkerque--a
glittering string of emerald green balls rise slowly up in the
profundity of the night, to droop over and hang awhile in the blue
velvet of the night skies before they died away.



    "Towards the silver glittering sea we go
    And cross the foam-streaked coast, and leave behind
    The fields...."

           --_Crossing the Channel._

In the train on the way to Dover my pilot told me, with a dismal
expression over-shadowing his face, a piece of bad news.

"Do you know," he said, "while we were on leave a Handley got shot down
off Zeebrugge! ---- was the pilot, and I think he was drowned. One
gunlayer was saved, badly wounded. A French seaplane which picked up the
other got shot down too! We were well off at Luxeuil!"

With this discouraging information, casting a gloom over the immediate
outlook, we crossed the Dover Straits by destroyer, and arrived at the
aerodrome to find it busy with these daylight patrols.

My pilot had no machine in action, so, though he was not wanted, I was
allocated to a machine on the first patrol that took place. There was a
certain amount of concern at the aerodrome in connection with the
missing pilot, who was very popular, and I was glad to hear that we were
to be accompanied by a patrol of triplanes. This was good news.

One of the pilots, who had been on a daylight Handley-Page patrol, had
described it in his inimitable way as follows:--

"We were tooling along merrily, about ten miles off the coast, when a
Hun seaplane came up from Ostend--a nasty little green blighter. A
'tripe' just turned round--just turned round, mind you, and the Hun
seaplane looked at him and went down quick. When we were off Zeebrugge,
Sinjy, my observer, saw some little specks off the Mole. Of course he
wanted to have a look at them--he is a full-out beggar--said they were
Hun torpedo-boats. We turned on and flew right towards the coast. Sinjy
was full out and got ready to drop the bombs. Then he decided they were
just trawlers. It was just in time, then--_woof_--about a hundred
shells burst all at once just behind our tail. Every battery on the
coast must have opened fire at once. They were just waiting for us to
come right in and then let go. I shoved the nose down to 80 knots and
shifted like smoke out to sea!"

That was very encouraging, especially the part about the triplanes, so
really I felt very anxious to go, although I was frightened. I have
often felt this mingled eagerness and apprehension, and I have come to
the conclusion that although I do not want to do the job, I want to have
_done_ it, to have had so much more experience behind me. Perhaps this
is the impulse behind so many deeds done against personal inclinations.
You think far enough ahead to realise how pleasant your feelings will be
when you have passed through some danger or some excitement.

One afternoon, after many delays, we started on a coastal patrol. The
machine had a crew of five: the pilot, a tremendous fair-haired fellow,
resolute and impulsive, a real Viking, who towered above me, and three
gunlayers, one in the front and two behind. We carried a small load of
bombs, and were under orders to bomb any vessel which was attacked by
the leading machine, and were also told that no vessel this side of the
Nieuport piers, the seaward end of the lines, was to be touched.

The flight was a small one, of three machines only, and the leading
machine was distinguished by white streamers attached to the outside
struts of the starboard and port wings.

It was a sunny day when we left the ground, and rose up in great circles
over the huddled red roofs of Dunkerque, and the pink-and-white seaside
suburb of Malo-les-Bains.

The leading machines started to fly down the coast towards the lines
before we had gained any height at all. Our engines were running badly,
and we were well below the other machines, so the pilot asked me what I

"Leave it to you!" I said--one half of me whispering "Go back!" the
other half whispering "Push on!"

"Well, I'll see!" he said, as he pulled back the control wheel almost as
far as he dared without "stalling" the machine. The engines complained;
the finger of the speed indicator wobbled undecidedly about 48 miles an
hour, and the height indicator slowly moved to 4000 feet.

So we passed over La Panne, as the two leaders flew bravely along the
coast soaring upwards like swallows, while we followed gamely but
ignobly behind. When we could distinctly see the Nieuport piers and the
Belgian Hoods stretching down towards Dixmude, the leader turned out to
sea. Then to our joy he evidently realised our plight, for instead of
flying on at an angle away from the coast, he swept round in a big
circle to give us a chance to rise up to his level. Then he turned once
more out to sea, the second machine followed him, and we, still many
hundred feet below them, straggled behind.

Above us now flew, gleaming white against the blue afternoon sky,
several triplanes, whose flashing wings brought us their message of
protection. The outlook did not seem so bad after all. The pilot, in a
red silk pirate cap with its tassel blown out by the wind, looked down
at me smiling. I wore a blue silk cap and was wearing an ordinary
overcoat and a muffler, and my thin walking shoes looked very silly
hanging a few inches off the floor in that great machine. The sunlight
came streaming into the cockpit, the sea glittered with a friendly
spaciousness beneath us, and this voyage in the wind seemed a pleasant
spring adventure far from the dangers of war.

We steadily drew away from the coast, whose misty outline lay some way
below us to our right. When we were abreast of the Nieuport piers, and
were about to cross into enemy waters, we could scarcely see more than
the edge of the shore and a mile or so of country inland.

When we had flown on for a few minutes more, I heard a sudden loud
crash. At once I looked to the engine to see if its indicators gave hint
of trouble. They were quite normal. Then I looked back and saw, through
the square framework of the tail, a cloud of smoke.

I turned quickly to the pilot and shouted, "We're being shelled!"

He looked back, and turned to me dubiously.

"What the blazes is it? It can't be the Westende guns--we're too far
from the coast!"

Then I saw below me three or four shell-bursts leaping out near the
water, not far from two destroyers which were lying below us, small and
slim lines of black on the sparkle of the sea.

"I can't make it out!" he said. "It's very rum. Let's push on!"

Some way ahead of us rose and fell the dark outlines of the two other
Handley-Pages, and we could notice that curious optical delusion of the
air, the apparently slow revolution of their propellers, blade after
blade appearing to go round in a jerky fashion, though in reality they
were whirling invisibly at a speed of 1600 revolutions a minute, or even
more. The only explanation of this spectacle, which can often be seen by
an airman, is that the vibrations of his machine affect his eyes like
the rapid shutters of a cinema camera, and he has continual momentary
glances of the propeller in a fixed position.

Soon we were abreast of Ostend, and we could see the inland lake of its
Bassin de Chasse lying beyond the edge of the coast. We passed Ostend,
and far ahead of me to my right I could see the curve of the Zeebrugge
Mole, very small and dim in the distant haze.

I scanned the sea with my eyes, looking in vain for submarines or
destroyers or seaplanes. No mark of any kind broke the shining surface
of the water. Now and then a triplane or a "D.H._{4}," flying on some
coastwise expedition, slid up to us and dived down past us, or flew a
hundred feet above our heads, showing its distinguishing letters and its
red, white, and blue cockade. The pilot sat beside me, his huge body
almost half out of the machine, his aquiline nose and pronounced chin
driving firmly through the rush of the wind, which flapped and fluttered
our silk caps; the sunlight shone with the pale gold of spring across
our shoulders and arms, and though I was ten miles out to sea in a land
machine off an enemy shore, I felt curiously safe, curiously unafraid.
The sea seemed to be a safeguard. Little did I know that I was passing
over the scene of my midnight tragedy a year later, when I was to regard
the sea in a different aspect--when I was to learn by a bitter lesson
its pitiless power.

The machines in front of us swung round to return. We swung round too,
to give ourselves a chance of gaining height before we were passed. This
was not needed, for to our amusement we saw that whereas, as was only
natural, the other machines had flown up the coast with their nose well
in air, climbing steadily, now they were returning homewards with their
noses well down, getting out of the danger zone (and it _was_ a danger
zone for a slow cumbersome Handley-Page) as quickly as possible.

They passed nearly a thousand feet beneath us, and this time we followed
them easily. When we were almost abreast of the Nieuport piers once more
I suddenly saw a little puff of hard black smoke appear in the air in
front of us. Its clean-cut outlines grew less distinct and more hazy as
it spread and grew thinner. Another puff appeared near it and a little
above it, and in turn began to enlarge and dissipate.

"Why! They're shelling us!" exclaimed my pilot.

I looked below. There lay the two destroyers steaming slowly in circles.

"I believe it's those confounded destroyers!" I said. "They must be
British too, off here. Can't they see our marks, blame fools?"

Two or three more shells appeared between us and our two companions,
who were now going round and round in circles evidently very
mystified. It looked so amusing that we could not help laughing, now
that the fire was not meant for us. Then the shells came over to us
again. It was a curious sight. You would look out into the blue sky and
the mist-bound coast, and suddenly, in absolute silence (for the roar of
our engines deafened us), would appear, out of nothing, a perfectly hard
outline, looking as solid as a piece of coal or a crumpled top-hat.
There it would appear in a second of time and would hang in they sky--an
apparent mockery of gravity. Its outline would flux and change, it would
writhe and roll round into an ever larger expanse of vapour, its edge
would grow soft and more ragged, and in a few minutes it would be a
little cloud of haze and nothing more.

Suddenly the pilot exclaimed, "It _is_ them, the swine, I saw them
fire!" and impetuously threw round the wheel and pushed forward the
rudder. The machine swung round at a tremendous pace, and a most curious
incident occurred. Ahead of us were the two machines, some way below us,
with their noses pointing downwards. Now to our amazement we saw them
mount up, up, up, into the sky, with their tails down as though they
were climbing furiously, and then the coast shot round and rose up into
the sky as well.

In the midst of this mad inversion of the universe the pilot turned to
me and calmly said--

"What the blazes has happened, Paul--it looks all wrong? What shall I

"Shove her nose down, old man!" I said. "It looks mighty rum to me--but
we'll get out somehow!"

The universe swept round us again, the coast fell down, the
Handley-Pages dropped below us with their noses towards the sea. The
pilot looked at me, I looked at him.

"What on earth was that?" he said.

"Must have been jolly nearly upside down!" I suggested, feeling a bit

The memory of that brief and mystified conversation, as we sat side by
side in a machine which had assumed some incomprehensible position, has
remained in my memory as one of the strangest moments I have known.

The shells still burst near us and the pilot got annoyed.

"Let's drop our stuff on them! Get in the back! They can't be British.
They must be able to see our marks. We're only seven thousand."

"Well! What about the leader? We daren't do it unless he does--we'll get
in a thundering row. Anyway they are just off our coast!"

The leading machines still flew round undecidedly. The destroyers below
still fired their occasional shells. One burst rather near us.

"I'll bomb them and chance it--the swine!" said the pilot, "You get in
the back!"

"All right, you take the responsibility!" I said, and climbed into the
back of the machine and lay on the floor under his seat. I pulled open
the sliding-door and a burst of wind came blowing up on my face. Below
me lay a little square of sea, on which I could see no destroyer, but I
could tell by the way it was racing under us that we were doing a steep

Still the two little black shapes of the destroyers did not come into
the frame of the picture. I put my head out below the machine and looked
for them. I could not see them. If I had I was determined to drop my
bombs on them whatever they were.

I hurriedly got back beside the pilot and asked him what he was doing.

"I decided not to touch them, old man! I want to bomb them--whatever
they may be. Anyway the leader's gone off--we better follow."

Some way ahead of us were the two other machines flying homewards. We
toiled on behind them, receiving a few parting shell-bursts as a
farewell. Out to sea we flew till we were off Dunkerque, and then we
turned in towards the coast. We passed over the crowded docks, and over
the brown roofs of the town, gliding down with our engines throttled
back, when suddenly I looked to the left and saw that one of the
propellers had stopped dead. My heart jumped into my throat, and I took
the pilot by the arm.

He looked round and told me to get into the back in order to try to
start up the engine. I hurried into the little canvas-walled room and
gripped the metal starting-handle, and tried to turn it again and again
in vain. The sweat poured off my forehead, my arm ached, but I could do
nothing. It would not move.

I got back to the pilot, and told him.

"All right!" he said. "I'll land her somehow!"

We were getting near the aerodrome, on which, to my great relief, a
machine was "taxying" towards the hangars. It was a relief to see that
the aerodrome was clear, because, with no motive-power to take us off
the ground again, or to swing us round in a hurry, we should be helpless
if we were to land when some other machine was in the way, and we had to
land at once. So, as we faced the wind, and I saw the pilot very wisely
stop the other engine, I felt rather anxious, and hoped it was going to
be all right. If we "undershot," we might land on a shed or a hedge; if
we "overshot," we might run into a ditch--there would be no means of
preventing the calamity. The pilot must have perfect judgment, and must
touch the ground at the right moment.

So I sat beside him, very tense and on the alert, longing to give my
advice, but knowing it was best to keep silent, even if I thought he was
wrong, lest I should confuse his judgment.

Knowing he was probably feeling the strain of responsibility, since four
other lives than his own depended on his skill, I just gripped his arm
and said--

"Priceless ... priceless ... we're going to do a topping landing...."

To the right we swung, and then to the left, as we did an "S" turn, to
lessen our gliding distance.

"Ripping, old man! We'll just--do--it--nicely.... Hardly a bump!...
Well! that was some landing!"

The feat had been achieved, and we had landed with both propellers

Soon we were in the mess eating our "4½-minute" or hard-boiled eggs,
drinking tea, and talking excitedly about the flight, our faces flushed
with the wind, our hair dishevelled.

Then the glow of pleasure is felt, when the flight is finished, the
danger is over, and you can rest, feeling that the rest is well

An evening report from a reconnaissance squadron informed us that the
destroyers had been seen steaming into Ostend harbour. Our feelings can
be imagined. Lost chances like that bite deep, and when I met the pilot
many many months later on his return from a German prison camp, after
the Armistice (for he had landed with engine failure behind the German
lines), he said to me--

"Oh, how I wish we _had_ bombed those two destroyers! What a chance!
What a chance!"

This incident illustrates well the curious point of view of an
air-bomber. If those destroyers had been British, and the pilot had
ordered me to bomb them, I could have done so with equanimity. If at any
time I had been sent at night to attack a British town I would have
released my bombs with no feeling of horror; indeed I would not have had
any feelings at all. At first sight that statement sounds brutal and
incredible. Let me say that I could not stand on a beetle without a
feeling of repugnance. It has made me feel sick to shoot an animal in
pain. The idea of killing is repulsive to me.

The explanation is that the airman dropping bombs does not drop them on
human beings. He presses a lever when the metal bar of his bomb-sight
crosses a certain portion of the "map" below him. It is merely a
scientific operation. You never feel that there are human beings, soft
creatures of flesh and blood, below you. You are not conscious of the
fear and misery, of the pain and death, you may be causing. You are
entirely aloof.

I have knelt in the nose of the machine over my objective, and have
pressed the bomb-handle at the critical moment without ever having seen
the bombs in the machine. After a certain time I have seen in the
darkness below flash after flash leap up from the dim ground. In my mind
those _flashes_ have been caused by the movement of my handle. I have
not thought of yellow bombs dropping out of the machine, whirling
through the air with an awe-inspiring scream, and exploding with a cruel
force as they strike the earth. It is as though I had pressed an
electric switch, and had seen a lamp glow in response in some far
distant signal station.

If I had been taken to a scene of devastation, and had been shown a line
of mutilated bodies, and had heard some one say, "You did this!" I
should have been overcome with remorse and sickness, and would have gone
away in tears of shame and loathing. Yet in the air, when the handle has
been thrust home for the last time, and the bombs are actually
scattering their splinters of death, I would get back to my seat and
laugh and say--

"That's done, Jimmy! Let's push home!"

Once at Dunkerque I saw a street closed by a barrier, round which was a
crowd of quiet people. There in the middle of it was a house which had
been demolished by a German bomb during the night, and in the cellar lay
thirty or forty dead or dying people. Men worked frantically at the
crumbled wreckage. An ambulance drove through the barrier. Next to the
driver sat an old man with the tears streaming down his cheeks. His wife
lay dead in the back.

I turned away with a feeling of horror, and said to my friend--

"I never want to bomb again!"



    "The cunning searchlights haunt the midnight skies,
    Where chains of emerald balls of fire rise,
    To mingle with the spark of bursting shells--
    High in the darkness where the bomber dwells!

    We know the meaning of the sudden glare
    Of dazzling light which blossoms in the air:
    For us the green and scarlet rockets blaze
    And whisper urgent secrets through the haze."

           --_The Night Raid._

From the aerodrome at Dunkerque five Short night-bombing machines were
operating. These were large single-engined machines with a very long
stretch of wings, and, apart from the Handley-Pages, were the biggest
machines in use on the Western Front, and carried the heaviest weight of

While the Handley-Pages were getting ready, these Short machines, with
their ten wonderfully skilled pilots and gunlayers, slipped off
unostentatiously into the dark to Bruges and Zeebrugge, night after
night, and would come back to the dark aerodrome and land quietly, about
two and a half hours afterwards, with their bomb racks empty.

We would crowd round curiously, eager to learn what was to face us when
we started raiding on the bigger machines.

The airmen said little as they removed their helmets and coats, or drank
coffee in preparation for another raid the same night.

"Bruges is getting a bit hot. Good many flaming onions to-night. Seem to
be more searchlights!" was the kind of comment made.

These airmen continued their raids, a little disdainful of the fuss and
excitement about the Handley-Pages. They realised that they were doing
the job, and that four bombs dropped are better than fourteen about to
be dropped.

When the larger machines were ready to go, it was decided that they
should operate from another aerodrome near the coast in order that our
own aerodrome might be left clear for the Shorts.

I was not allowed to go on the first raid, as my pilot's machine was not
in action, so I drove down to the aerodrome at dusk to act as an
assistant ground officer. The machines were ready in a corner, and were
to proceed to Ostend.

Night fell. The engines roared. One after the other the machines swept
up and blotted out the stars in their passage. The noise of the engines
died away, and the uneasy night was left undisturbed.

I climbed over the sand-dunes on to the beach, and stood looking
north-east towards the lines. Far away I could see many a sign of the
restless activity of the war-time night. Flash succeeded flash on the
horizon, some dull and red, some brilliant and white. Here and there I
could see the faint, almost invisible, arm of a searchlight waving
evilly across the sky. Then I would see very slowly, very deliberately,
a row of "green balls," like a string of luminous jade beads, rise up
from the ground and climb up, up, up, into the darkness, begin to bend
over like a tall overburdened flower, and vanish one by one. Another
string would follow them, apparently on an irregular curve. Though fully
twenty-five miles away, they had all the hard glitter of jewels, and
were very luminous and beautiful.

As I stood watching this strange alluring sight, there were two
deafening unexpected reports behind me--the most vicious urgent noises I
have ever heard. I flung myself flat on the sand, face downwards, arms
thrown out. Report after report followed, each one drawing nearer to me.
I began to dig, in my desire to be as little higher than the ground as
possible. I wished that I were a razor-shell. I felt convinced that the
next bomb would be on my back. At last the succession of awful crashes
stopped. I lay still, my mouth dry with fear, waiting for the fall of a
"hang-up"--the most unreliable bomb of all.

However, no more explosions shook the ground, and the noise of the
French anti-aircraft batteries broke the silence of the night instead. I
stood up and ran to the aerodrome, stumbling across the sand-dunes and
the tufts of dry grass. In the gloom on my right I could see the black
columns of smoke which tower above the ground, recording the position of
the explosions.

When I reached a deep ditch, I waited a little. I did not want to cross
the flat expanse of the aerodrome without feeling sure that the danger
was all over. I had the same lingering desire to remain near safety that
you feel when playing "musical chairs" and you are near a vacant seat.

I saw a French marine, with the fear of death in his face, coming
towards me. He had probably been in the ditch. (Lucky fellow!)

"What was it? Did you hear?" he said. "Not nice, was it?"

He was evidently delighted to see somebody. He wanted the moral support
of a companion--another terrified human being. I felt the same, and was
glad to see him. He looked so terrified that it made me feel I must not
appear to be in the same condition.

So I replied airily--

"Oh! Not at all nice! But not very near. Not dangerous, you know!" (My
heart had hardly then left my throat.) "I'm going back to the hangars!"

He walked with me. Maybe he felt that I would be some sort of cover if
any more bombs were dropped. I felt the same.

Thereafter the whole night was full of hidden mysteries. In the
direction of Calais, tracer shells, like curving hot coals, moved
through the sky continuously. The air was full of the hum of engines.
There was a talk of Zeppelins. Everything was uncertain.

Then one by one the machines returned and landed with dazzling flares
blazing away beneath their wing-tips.

Before dawn we drove back to our own aerodrome, and went to bed.

Our machine was ready for the next raid, and we were detailed to go to

In order to save repetition I will describe the first raid, and include
in it other incidents which happened during subsequent night trips.

I wish to draw the contrast between the first few flights, when we made
mistakes, and had to find out everything by doing it--and the later
trips, when we had evolved a better scheme of attack, and, knowing what
to expect, countered each move of opposition before it came, almost as
in a game of chess. So in this chapter I will give a composite
description of earlier raids, and in my next chapter give a detailed
account of a cold determined attack on a highly-fortified objective of
whose defences we had gained experience.

The machines are lined up on the seaward aerodrome. I have my celluloid
map-case with its coastwise map on one side, and on the other the more
detailed map of the district round the aerodrome which we are to bomb.

I climb into my seat and sit beside the pilot. The door is slammed
behind us. The pilot blows a whistle, and the chocks are pulled away
from the wheels. With our engines running gently on either side we await
the order to leave. Then, half a mile in front of us, we see the wide
slow flash of a bomb. Another follows it a short time after, and then
another. Each is nearer to us, and I can hear the crash of the

"Bombs!" I say to the pilot. "I don't like this! Bit rotten being bombed
before we leave the ground!"

As the last bomb flashes in front of us we receive the order to start
away. On go the engines with a roar, and we move across the grass. The
nose drops down slightly as the tail leaves the ground and we begin to
assume flying position. It is very unpleasant rushing across the dim
aerodrome like this, not knowing when a bomb is going to burst on you
or near you, and conscious of the fact that somewhere in the darkness
above is a German aeroplane, perhaps waiting for you.

Suddenly there is a jerk at my head, and my invaluable fur-lined
mask-goggles have vanished, being snatched away by the rush of air. This
means that I shall have no goggles to wear during the whole raid.

The nose shoots up into the air, and with a vibrant beat from the
engines we mount into the star-bestrewn sky, and turn out over the
sand-dunes towards the sea. We move away from the aerodrome at once, and
the occasional red flashings of bursting bombs show us that we are wise.

Dunkerque passes on our starboard side. Its defences are very
suspicious, and we are taken for a German machine. Shells begin to burst
near us, though we are scarcely a thousand feet off the ground.

I load my Very's light pistol with a cartridge, and fire over the side
"the colour of the night." I continue to do so until the shell-fire
stops. The town lies in darkness, but I am faintly conscious of its
hidden wakefulness as it lies angry and apprehensive. Below can be seen
a few faint specks of light from the ships anchored, for safety's sake,
off the shore.

We fly onwards along the coast, climbing steadily. We keep the pale line
of the beach near enough to our starboard side to be able to follow it
easily. The engines run evenly. The dials are steady. In front of us the
air-speed indicator hardly wavers. It is a time, not of trouble and
anxiety, but of mere waiting. The strain has not yet begun. With the
near approach of the German territory the whole mental outlook of the
airman changes, and every nerve automatically becomes on the alert. Now,
however, there is the same sense of mild interest felt in an ordinary
daytime flight over friendly territory. The country lying to our right
is creditably dark. Not one gleam of light shines in the stretch of
vague shadows, save where at a large coastwise munition plant a red
flame leaps up for a moment and dies away.

In the far distance can be seen an occasional misty flash from the
volcanic region of Ypres. A little nearer a tremulous star-shell glows
white through the haze, and slowly droops and dies.

La Panne is passed, and we begin to turn out at an angle away from the
coast. We are nearly six thousand feet from the ground, and are still
climbing. We sweep round in three or four wide circles to gain a little
more height, and then fly straight ahead.

At the end of the lines by the piers of Nieuport we are six miles or so
from the coast. At Ostend I can see a vague cluster of searchlights
moving restlessly and rather undecidedly across the sky, dredging the
sky with their slim white arms in an evil and terrifying manner. I ask
the pilot to turn out at a sharper angle, in order that he may pass
Ostend quite ten miles out to sea. There is a visible menace in
searchlights, and we avoid them like poison unless it is essential to go
near. It requires a very strong nerve to fly right ahead to a thicket of
moving beams of light. We used to allow six or seven miles margin, and
would willingly add several miles to our journey on the wrong side of
the lines in order to make a detour.

As we are passing Nieuport I see two small points of light suddenly
appear. They rise up and swell into two bright flares--one scarlet and
one emerald. These flares die away, and at once several more
searchlights become active near Middelkerke. It is the German "hostile
aircraft" signal. Off Middelkerke itself we see two more flares, and
when Ostend, with its forest of moving beams, lies far to our right, yet
another sinister group of red and green lights rises up as we are
"handed" along the coast from point to point.

Below us now is the expanse of sea. Above us are a few scattered stars,
which have challenged the radiance of the moon. To the right lies the
dimly seen line of the coast, fringed, as far as we can see, with a line
of searchlights waving outwards over the sea. At Ostend an aerial
lighthouse flashes at a regular interval, giving signals of guidance to
the German aircraft abroad in the darkness. Slightly behind us are the
occasional star-shells, and a hurried flash gives evidence of military
activity on the land.

We are almost 8000 feet up, and with the fringe of searchlights as a
barrier I am not easy in my mind.

"Pull her up to nine thousand, if you can, Jimmy; it's hardly high
enough yet! Try and pull her back a bit! We'll have to cross the coast
in about ten minutes."

I am feeling that my scheme of going to the objective by land was by far
the best one. The coastal section of Belgium had two fronts--the
trench-line from Nieuport to Ypres, and the coast-line from Zeebrugge to
Nieuport. There was a strong searchlight barrier by the sea; there was
none behind the German front lines. Therefore, if you were to proceed to
a land objective by the sea route you had to face two organisations of
defence--first at the coast, and then at the objective. If you went by
the overland route you had only the searchlights at your objective to
tackle. The fewer obstacles there were to meet, the better I was
pleased; and I felt that it was bad management if in an attack on an
objective I was troubled by the defences of any other point.

Thereafter I used the overland route, even when attacking places on the
coast, until my final accident. It was as much a question of morale as
anything. If you crossed the German lines about Nieuport there was no
opposition. Your lights were extinguished. You moved into an unopposing
darkness. You never felt that the people below knew that you were
there. Ghistelles on the left shot up a couple of towering lights,
which moved vainly towards you. Thorout gave birth to one pale beam,
which you might ignore. If, on the other hand, you moved down the mast,
you saw that cruel waiting fence of white weeds stretching up into the
dark pool of the night--a visible and threatening sign of hostile

So, as we pass Ostend, I look along the coast-line with a feeling of
fear. We are going to cross the shore between Zeebrugge and Ostend, at
Blankenberghe, which is the most weakly defended spot.

Suddenly my pilot strikes my arm.

"Look! There's one of their patrol machines with a searchlight!
There--_there_--to the left!"

I turn and see, moving very swiftly, half a mile in front of us, a
brilliant light. The pilot shouts again.

"It's turning towards us! Get in the front, quick!"

I crawl through the small wooden door into the nose of the machine, and
unstrapping the Lewis gun get it ready for action. The light sweeps
round to the right, but it is going downwards, and the German airman
has evidently not seen us. I wait a minute or two and examine the sky
all round us, but can see nothing. With a feeling of relief I kneel on
the floor and wriggle back into my seat behind.

"By _Jove_! Did you see that, Bewsh?" says the pilot. "The devil! We'll
have to look out."

Ahead of us now we can see the tall powerful searchlights of Zeebrugge
moving in slow sweeps over the sky. Under our right wing lies Ostend. We
are off Blankenberghe, and the time has come to cross the coast. We are
eight thousand five hundred feet above the sea, and are not likely to
gain much more height, and, at any rate, we are anxious to get the work
done and to return home.

To the right we turn and move steadily towards the waiting coast. In
front of us lies the waving line of searchlights. Inland, to the left,
can be seen in the distance the turmoil of Bruges. The beams of light
sweep across the stars; shells burst in the sky; and now and then there
float upwards strings of fantastic green balls, sparkling like gems as
they bubble towards the upper levels, where they float gaily for a
moment parallel to the ground before they fade away.

Below, near the coast by Blankenberghe, an aerial lighthouse flashes and
flashes--_Four shorts_--_one long_--darkness: _four shorts_--_one
long_--darkness. Now we are getting near to the restless weeds of light
which begin to move outwards in search of us. The pilot throttles the
engines slightly, for we are getting within the range of these clutching
tentacles. I feel very nervous and frightened.

On either side of us now move the slow gliding beams--broad and pale
shafts of light stretching high, high up above us in the darkness,
blotting out the stars, and stretching far, far beneath us to a tiny
spot of light on the black edge of the coast.

With these arms of light coming up to us from the ground we begin at
once to have a sense of height, which normally you never have when in
the air. The searchlights, running from the earth to our level and past
us, join us to the ground and give us a measure of distance and an
opportunity of contrast. With these tall, enormously tall, thin pillars
of light near us moving to and fro in a hypnotising swing, we feel
very, very high off the ground, and realise how remote from the earth we
sit on our little seats in the fragile structure of linen and steel and

Beneath us now lies the vast and bottomless pool of the night sky. From
the blue depths there comes pouring up, like the exhalations of some
sinister sea creature in the primeval ooze, bubbles of green fire.
Suddenly in the darkness appears a round bead of emerald light, another
one appears beneath it, and then another, and a whole necklace pours
upwards as though a string of gems had been pulled out of a fold in a
black velvet cloth. In simple curves they soar past us into the upper
sky, where perhaps they die out on their upward rush, or turn over and
begin to drop downwards before they fade into mere red sparks falling

Now are we towering high over the black edge of the coast in the
pinnacles of the slim searchlights which challenge us in front, and move
to the right and left of us. We are conscious of our hostility to those
below, and rejoice to creep unseen, unnoticed, across this sentinel
barrier. Around us the occasional ropes of brilliant emeralds wander
upwards in regularity and silence, and for a rare moment we are
conscious of being in the air at night. To our left Zeebrugge flings
into the sky a dozen beams of powerful light, fortunately too remote to
challenge us. To our right Ostend echoes the threat. We are just between
the two danger zones, unassailable, but by a short distance only, by
both of them.

I am learning the mistake of crossing the enemy's sea frontier instead
of his land frontier. I am worried and harassed at the very beginning of
my travel across his territory, instead of becoming settled down and
used to being in an enemy sky before the visible danger of searchlights
appear to challenge my passage.

We pass slowly, silently, through the suspicious beams of light. To the
right and left we twist and turn as one of the swords cuts the sky near
us. I draw my arms to my side to make myself smaller so that I may
wriggle through the sharp edges of danger without being touched. Apart
from the risk it is exciting, though very nerve-trying. When at last we
are through the barrier, and regain the undefended inland region, there
is a great feeling of relief.

Our engines are opened out, and we fly level again. Beneath us are the
pale roads, and the dark lines of canals, and the chiaroscuro of
villages and forests. Five or six miles to our left we look down into
the cauldron of Bruges. It is a wonderful and awe-inspiring sight, and
as it does not threaten us to-night we look at it with keen interest.
The most noteworthy feature is a vicious-looking row of four
searchlights, near together and spaced at even intervals, like a line of
footlights at a theatre. These four beams of light move across the sky
in strange and unpleasant formations. Now the two end ones stand upright
while the two central ones sweep forward. Now the whole four move to and
fro in a determined and formidable sweep. Now the two middle ones cross
each other in a gigantic X of light, and the two outer ones sweep to and
fro with the beat of a mighty metronome. We called these four lights the
"Lucas Cranwell" lights, as they were like a landing light set of this
name which we were experimenting with on our machines. Later on in the
year, to our great relief, they were removed. The moral effect of a
group of lights like that is very great. You were frightened before you
approached the objective. They were a clever set of lights, too, because
on one occasion they were _switched_ right on to our machine and held
it, without any preliminary groping in the sky.

In addition to the "Lucas Cranwell" lights are five or six other
powerful searchlights standing in a circle round the town, moving to and
fro in a languid and sensuous way. Ferocious little spurts of light on
the ground in a dozen places indicate the position of anti-aircraft
guns, and here and there in the sky appear the quick and vivid flashes
of the bursting shells. To complete the picture of activity the lovely
necklaces of flaming jade rise up in great curves--sometimes only five
or six in a string--sometimes twenty or thirty at once.

Now comes the time when I have to begin to seek my objective. Up to the
present, the coast-line and the centres of activity at Ostend,
Zeebrugge, and Bruges have rendered the use of a map unnecessary. I
have scarcely had need to look over the side. Now, however, I have to
begin to do some work.

I know by the waving searchlights that I am about six miles south of
Bruges. I look over the side and see a main road running S.S.E. I
identify it on the map and see that a railway should shortly appear.
Soon I distinguish, with difficulty, the thin line of a railway track,
which is a difficult thing to see by night or day--the best guide being
any kind of water--canals, rivers, or lakes--then a good white road, or
a forest, and lastly a railway line.

We cross the railway, and I identify a branch line running away from it.
We turn N.E., and at the end of seven or eight minutes I see the bold
black line of a canal whose peculiar curves it is very easy to identify.
The volcano of Bruges flames up into the night to our left, while beyond
it we can see the aerial lighthouses of Ostend and Blankenberghe
flashing regularly on the hazy horizon. Flushing sparkles cheerfully
ahead of us, and along the Scheldt glitter the Dutch villages.

We turn round to the right and fly on. We are now moving on a straight
course, and I identify in turn each bend in the canal, each thin road,
each queer-shaped forest. The aerodrome draws near. I see in the
distance the little wood near which it lies. Then I can see the pale
shape of the landing-ground, which looks slightly different to the
surrounding fields owing to its made-up surface. We sweep round in order
to be able to face the wind and to approach it in a good line. We turn
again and begin to fly straight ahead.

"I'm getting in the back now, Jimmy," I shout. "Fly straight on. If I
give two greens or two reds swing her round quickly. Turn very slowly
for one green or one red!"

I crawl into the back, throw myself on the floor, kick my legs out
behind me, and slide to the right the door beneath the pilot's seat. A
biting wind beats on to my face, making my eyes water and blowing dust
all over me. I remove a safety-strap from the bomb handle to my right
and look below. There lies a square of pallid moonlit country. The
aerodrome is not in view yet. I push my head out, turn it sideways, and
look forward.

A mile or two ahead I see the little forest. I try to calculate whether
we are steering straight for it or not. It seems to me that we are
flying too much to the left. I pull myself inside the machine again,
take off a glove, shine a torch on a little row of buttons on the frame
of the door, and press the button on the right. A green light glows in
the cockpit, and, looking at the bomb-sight, I see that the machine is
swinging towards the right.

I poke my head through the bottom of the machine again and see the
position of the aerodrome a good deal nearer. Now, however, we are too
much to the right. Inside I pull my head and press the left-hand button.
A red light glows in front of the pilot. I look down again. The small
wood is in view, but even as I look the bomb-sight travels across it
from the right well over to the left as the pilot swings the machine
round in obedience to my signals.

Anxiously I press the button to the right again. Five or six times I
press it quickly. Across the aerodrome the sight swings toward the
right. Just before it crosses the middle of it I press the middle
button. A white light glows before the pilot--the "straight ahead"
signal. I have not given it soon enough, however: the machine is not
checked on its rightward swing in time. It stops the turn with the sight
well to the right of the aerodrome. I look at the luminous range-bars of
the sight. We are almost over the objective. If I do not alter the
direction I shall not be over the aerodrome when the time has come to
drop the bombs. I flash the red light a second. The machine flies on. I
press my finger on it and hold it there. Round to the left it swings. I
look carefully down the range-bars of the sight. They are almost in

I press the central again and again, trying to judge the moment when I
can check the pilot, so that the swing of the machine will stop as we
come over the aerodrome. I misjudge it. The bomb-sights are in line with
the aerodrome, but we are swinging rapidly to the left. I press the bomb
lever once quickly to release two bombs. If I released any more they
would straggle in a line right off the objective. My hands are almost
frozen, my eyes are running. I feel discouraged and unhappy. Down below
I see two red flashes appear near the hangars, leaving two round
moonlit clouds of smoke on the ground.

I climb up beside the pilot, but before I have time to speak he asks

"Dropped them all, old boy? How did you do it?"

"Couldn't do it, Jimmy. I'm _awfully_ sorry. It's this beastly signal
light system. It isn't direct enough; I wish I could guide you better.
It isn't your fault, but I can't stop you in time. I'll try again in a
second if you swing her round."

In a great circle we sweep round to our old starting-point, and I get
ready to make another attempt.

"I'll try very hard this time, old man. Let's get into the wind as near
as we can, and you steer by some light, and I'll try to give as few
changes in direction as I can. The worst is, I can't see the beastly
aerodrome till we are almost on top of it, and then I can't get a decent
'run'. We must get that front cockpit position!"

I stand up and look over the front, and try to fix the exact position of
the aerodrome and its surroundings in relation to the machine.

I hurry into the back and look through the trap-door again. I can
hardly see, owing to my running eyes; but I wipe them dry, and look
intently ahead in a horribly uncomfortable position, my head and
shoulders hanging out of the bottom of the machine. Right ahead of us is
the pale shape of the aerodrome. The pilot is flying magnificently. We
are moving steadily forwards. As we draw nearer, I wriggle back into the
machine and look down the bomb-sight. The thin direction-bar lies right
across the aerodrome. I joyously press the middle button, so that the
white light laughs out: "Good! Good! Good!" into the pilot's face. We
begin to drift slightly to the right. I do not touch the key-board, but
stand up and push my body forwards beside the pilot and shout

"Turn her very slightly to the left, Jimmy! We're doing fine! We'll get
her this time! I'll press central when we're on it."

In a flash I am underneath the seat and looking at the bomb-sight. It
swings slowly, slowly to the left. Just before it arrives over the
aerodrome I press the white light button deliberately. The movement
stops, and the bomb-sight begins to creep steadily forwards over the
hangars and surface of the aerodrome. With my anxieties past I have a
wonderful feeling of relaxation and happy excitement. Just before the
two luminous range-bars actually touch the edge of the line of hangars,
I grasp the bomb-handle and begin to press it forward slowly. I hear the
sharp clatter of opening and closing of the bomb-doors behind me, and I
see two plump bombs go tumbling downwards below the machine. Again, and
a third and a fourth time, I press forward the bomb-handle, and can feel
the little drags on it as I release bomb after bomb. I look behind, and
see that they are all gone. I shine my torch through the racks to make
sure, and I see the gunlayer busy with his torch also. I look below
through the door, and see four or five bomb-flashes leap out across the
aerodrome, while behind them lies apparently the smoke of others near
the hangars. I slam the door to with a feeling of thankfulness, and get
back to my seat.

"All gone, Jimmy! No 'hang-ups.' You did jolly well; they went right
across the aerodrome. Let's push north-west back to the coast. I'm
absolutely frozen."

I have a hurried look at my pressure-dials, to see that they are all
right; and when I have adjusted them, I uncork my Thermos flask, have a
comforting drink of hot tea, and eat some chocolate. I beat my gloved
hands together and try to restore the circulation, and stamp my feet on
the floor. Feeling tired and cold, I sit on my seat with my head on my
breast, feeling languid and limp after the subconscious strain.

Towards the distant coast-line, with its steady flickers of lights at
Ostend and Blankenberghe, we move, forgetting already the place on which
we have just dropped our bombs. The turmoil of Bruges has subsided--only
two wary searchlights stand sentinel at either side of the town, alert
and scarcely moving. Those two are enough to give us warning, however,
and we sweep to the left to leave the simmering inferno well to our

Below lies the pallid moonlit country,--field and forest, chateau and
canal,--clearly etched in a soft black pattern of shadows and dim light.
Far, far to the south Ypres flashes and flares on the horizon, with its
night-long artillery fire.

Now that our job is done, we are not so fearful of being over enemy
country, partly because we are used to it by now, and partly because we
are leaving the interior farther and farther behind us, minute by
minute, as the coast-line draws nearer.

Unexpectedly I notice below the machine a curious white patch on the
face of the country. Then I see others behind it, and realise that the
coast-line is becoming swiftly blotted out under a layer of clouds.

"Jimmy! Look--clouds! We'll have to go carefully," I remark, and have a
look at the compass. "Let's turn a bit more south-east, and we are bound
to see Ostend."

We turn swiftly, and in a few minutes are above a white carpet of cloud,
through which, to my joy, I can see very hazily the flashing light of
Blankenberghe to my right. Over towards Zeebrugge rise a few parting
strings of green balls as the last British machine turns out to sea.

For ten minutes we fly on by compass, which I check by the coldly
glittering North Star, that shines faithfully for us high in the deep
blue of the sky.

Then I see, running to and fro, and round and round, on the carpet of
the clouds, little circles of light. Now and then one comes to a rift
on the bank, and for a moment a beam of light shoots up into the sky,
only to vanish again. The Ostend searchlights are vainly looking for us;
our engines have been heard.

Now we are approaching a new formation of clouds, lovely towering masses
of cumulus, pearl-white in the light of the moon. Over an unreal world
of battlement and turret, of mountain summit and gloomy valley, we move
in a splendid loneliness beneath the scattered stars. This billowy world
of soft and silvery mountain ranges is made the more strange by the
restless discs of radiance which run and swoop and circle and dance in a
mad maze of movement across the curving pinnacles and ravines. Now and
again a searchlight, striking into the heart of some towering summit of
cloud, illuminates it with a glorious radiance, so that it seems for a
moment to be woven of the fabric of light.

Suddenly the scene becomes even more fantastic, for in one place on the
clouds appears a spot of vivid green. The spot of light spreads and
spreads until it is a circle of emerald light, a mile or more in
diameter, and from the extreme centre appears a ball of brilliantly
green fire which pops out of it quickly, to be followed by another and
another, until the whole chain of beads have freed themselves from the
entanglements of the vapour and rush gaily upwards high over our heads,
to end their brief career in a lovely splendour above the milk-white
billows of the cloudy sea.

Another point of cloud glows green, there is another swiftly expanding
circle of colour, and another string of these quaint gems float upwards
in a swaying curve. The sight is one of such exquisite loveliness that
it is difficult to describe it. It is all so beautiful--the
star-scattered vault of night, gold flowers in a robe of deepest blue:
the soft white wonder of the rolling clouds, mile upon mile, as far as
you can see, moonlit and magic, a playground for the gambolling figures
of light which, like a host of Tinker Bells, rush deliriously from side
to side, climb up hills and slide down valleys, and jump excitedly from
peak to peak: the expanding flowers of emerald light from whose heart
rise the bizarre bubbles of scintillating brilliance, to live through a
few glorious seconds of ecstatic motion before they die in the immensity
of the night.

It is a scene of a strange and ever-altering beauty, and one that very
few eyes have seen. It is a world beyond the borders of the unreal.
Forgotten is the material country of fields and forests far below--as
forgotten as it is unseen. To a paradise of vague moon-kissed cloud we
have drifted, and float, dreaming, between the stars of heaven and the
purgatory beneath.

Then for a moment a great rift in the barrier appears beneath us. Across
the dark space with its edges of ragged white lie two hard beams of
light. Then we see, far below, a chain of green balls rush up from the
darkness, and as they appear they light up a great circle of the earth,
and slowly there appears nearly the whole of Ostend lit up by a ghostly
greenish light. I see the shining sea, the line of the shore broken by
the groins, and the huddled roofs of the houses. For a moment the scene
is clear and distinct, then with the upward course of the balls of light
it dies away, and the two searchlights throw blinding bands across a
pool of obscurity.

What we have seen, however, is a sufficient guide. We know we are above
the coast. The machine swings to the left, and above the rippling
spots of light we roar on westwards. Soon we leave this fantastic
dancing floor behind us, and, seeing through the misty curtains a watery
glow of white light blossom out into a hazy gleam and fade away, we know
that we are somewhere near the lines.

Onwards we fly, watching the compass, watching the North Star, watching
the pale veils of vapour beneath us. The cloud barrier grows thinner,
and more and more rifts appear in it. About ten minutes after we have
passed the lines, we see ahead of us a pale searchlight flash in the
masses of cloud, now shooting up through a gap, now losing itself in the
lighted edges of a floating wisp. It flashes three times, and stops.
Again it appears, three times stabbing the sky, challenging us with the
"letter of the night" in Morse code.

I load my Very's light pistol and fire it over the side. A green light
drifts down and dies. The searchlight goes out; we fly on.

"That light is somewhere near Furnes, Jimmy. Let's put our navigation
lights on now; I'll try and pick up some landmark below,--the coast if I
can ... it's awfully thick to-night!"

Beneath in the murk I can see now and again a twinkling light, and then,
to my delight, I pick up the shore. We fly on above it for a quarter of
an hour. Then the pilot begins to get anxious.

"Can you see Dunkerque yet, old man? We ought to be there!" he asks.

I look below, and see sand-dunes and the unbroken coast running a little
way on either side into the mist, which has now taken the place of the

"Can't quite make out, Jimmy. We had better fly on a bit. We must be
past La Panne!"

For four or five minutes we fly on. Once I lose sight of the coast, and
ask the pilot to turn to the right, not telling him the reason. To my
relief I pick it up again before he suspects that I am lost.

"Anything in sight yet, Bewsh?" he asks. "We must be up near Dunkerque
by now. We can't have passed it!"

Still the unbroken coast below.

"I'd better fire a light," I suggest.

"All right," he says. "Carry on--stop a minute, though! We _are_ over
the lines, aren't we?"

"We _must_ be ... I think. We passed Nieuport miles back. I can't make
out where we are. I'll give a white!"

I load my Very's light pistol and fire it over the side. A ball of white
fire drifts below towards the mocking emptiness of the mist. I stand up
and look all around. Through the haze comes no welcome gleam.

"No answer, Jimmy! What _shall_ we do? If we go on we'll get miles down
towards Calais! If we go back, we get over the lines. Go up and down
here, and I'll try to find Dunkerque--it _must_ be somewhere near!"

I fire another white light, and then another. No answer comes from the
ground. No searchlights move across the sky. All we can see is a vague
circle, bisected by the coast-line--one half being sea, the other half

Then, in my excitement, I accidentally fire a Very's light inside the
machine. The ball of blazing fire rushes frantically round our feet and
up and down the floor. I hurriedly stamp it out amidst the curses of the
pilot, who says later that in my eagerness I picked it up and threw it
over the side.

Now I press a brass key inside the machine which operates our big
headlight. R-O-C-K-E-T-S, I flash piteously; and again, _Rockets_.
Another Very's light I fire, and then click and clatter the key,
"_Please fire rockets_"; and again, "_Rockets--we are lost!_"

"What shall we do?" asks the pilot in a hopeless voice. "Shall we land
on the beach? I am getting fed up!"

"Just a second--I'll ask Wade."

I climb into the back and flash my torch through the bomb-racks. I see
the face of the gunlayer in the ray of light. Pushing my head and
shoulders into the maze of framework, I shout out at the top of my
voice. The gunlayer shakes his head. I go forward and ask the pilot to
throttle down a little.

The noise of the engine dies away. I hurry back and shout out again.

"Can you make out where we are, Wade? I'm quite lost. Have we got to

"Don't know, sir. I don't think so! I can't make out at all!"

I climb back into my seat, and say--

"Put the engines on again! It's no good. He doesn't know either! I don't
know _what_ to do!"

The key taps once more the vain appeal. Again and again I fire a white
light. The floor round my feet is strewn with the empty cartridge cases
of brown cardboard. I feel depressed and tired and irritable. What a
silly end to a raid, it seems, to lose yourself right over your own
aerodrome! It is undignified. I am ashamed to have had to ask the
gunlayer where we are. I feel a pretty poor observer.

Then I see in the mist a little ahead of me a white light rise up and
die away.

"Look, Jimmy! A white light! Good! They've seen us at last!"

But the pilot is not so trustful, and says--

"You're quite sure it isn't the _lines_?"

"Oh no! I'm sure! Throttle down a bit and glide that way!"

As we draw nearer I suddenly see the two piers of Dunkerque and the
docks materialise in the mist, and on the other side the dull glow of
landing flares from an aerodrome.

"No! It's _not_ Ostend! It's all right, old man! There's St Pol! I'll
fire another white!"

I fire for the last time, and scarcely has my ball of light died out
before the answering signal soars up from the ground.

The engines are throttled, and we drift downwards on our whistling
planes over the long basins of the Dunkerque docks. When we are about a
hundred feet off the ground I press a small brass stud in front of me. A
white glare of light bursts out under our right wing tip and throws a
quivering radiance on the dyke round the aerodrome, on the hangars, and
on the landing field itself, at the end of which are two or three red
lights. We sweep gently on the surface of the ground, and before we have
stopped rolling forwards, a little figure runs towards us flashing a
light, and we hear its voice call--

"Turn to the left soon. The ground is full of bomb-holes ... where those
red lights are!"

Guided by the figure on the ground we "taxi" up to the hangars and stop
our engines. In a second I am on the ground.

"Didn't you see our Very lights?" I asked almost rudely. "Didn't you see
us flashing signals? I signalled Rockets--rockets--rockets--till my hand
ached! We got lost. We were going to land on the beach. Why didn't you
help us?"

"We _wondered_ what you were doing. We saw you firing lights on the
other side of Dunkerque! But, I say, things have been humming here since
you left!"

I can find no admiring audience for the experiences of the raid. Every
one is eager to describe the German attack.

"By Jove! you were lucky to be away to-night!" says one. "They've been
bombing us ever since you left. They must have dropped a couple of
hundred during the night. No damage was done. The C.O. nearly got hit.
He lay flat and one burst on either side of him. All the time you were
bombing them they were bombing us!"

No one wants to hear our adventures. It is human nature all over again.
They want to tell us what happened to them.

"Off Ostend we saw one of their patrols. It had a whacking big----"

"But you should have heard them whistling. Bob and I were talking
outside the mess, when suddenly we heard----"

"We got over the clouds coming back. You ought to have seen the----"

"You've _missed_ something, ... and I reckon you're lucky! The noise was

And so on, and so on goes the one-sided conversation of the two
self-centred groups!

So ended a raid which is to my mind very unsatisfactory. I realise that
we have to learn by experience, and I feel that to-night I have been
taught a great deal. I am determined to have the bomb-sight and
bomb-handle fitted in the front cockpit, so that with a splendid field
of vision I can steer the pilot by the direct wave of my hand, by means
of which I will be able to show emphasis or the reverse. The personal
touch is essential. I will also be able to watch the enemy's defences
and to counter them as much as possible.

In my next chapter I hope to show how this worked out in practice, and
what it was like to attack a volcano such as Bruges.



    "Sleep on, pale Bruges, beneath the waning moon,
    For I must desecrate your silence soon,
    And with my bombs' fierce roar and fiercer fire
    Grim terror in your tired heart inspire;
    For I must wake your children in their beds
    And send the sparrows fluttering on the leads."

           --_The Bombing of Bruges._

Overhead sounds the beating of many engines, and here and there across
the stars I can see moving lights. The first two or three machines are
already up. The carry-on signal has been given. A machine which has just
left the aerodrome passes a few hundred feet overhead with a roar and a
rush. Its dark shape blots out the stars, and I can see the long blue
flames pouring back from the exhaust-pipes of the engines.

I walk along the dim path and a shadowy figure meets me.

"Is that you, Dowsing?" I ask, recognising my servant.

"Yes, sir!"

"I'm just off on a raid. Fill my hot-water bottle about quarter-past
nine, and put it right at the bottom of the bed. If you think the fire
too hot move my pyjamas back a little."

"Good luck, sir!"

I pass on to the aerodrome. To the right is the mess, near which is the
control platform where the raid officer stands all night despatching
machines and "receiving" them as they return. A crowd of officers and
men, wrapped in heavy overcoats, stand in groups watching the departure
of the machines. In the middle of the aerodrome shine the lights of the
landing T of electric-light bulbs laid across the grass. To the left are
the vast hulks of the hangars, in front of which are lined up the
machines yet to go.

Passing by two machines whose engines are running, I come to my own.
Under its nose stand half a dozen mechanics. One hands me a piece of

"Wind report, sir!"

Flashing my torch on it I see it is a report of the speed and direction
of the wind at different heights up to 10,000 feet, information which
has been obtained by a small meteorological balloon whose drift has
been watched through an instrument on the ground.

Among the mechanics stands another figure as heavily muffled as myself.

"Are you my rear gunlayer?" I ask him.

"Yes, sir! Mr Jones told me to...."

The engine just above our heads is started up with a sudden deafening
thunder. I take the gunlayer by the sleeve towards the tail to hear his

"Oh! Yes! You have never been on a raid. I'll tell you what to do. I
warn you Bruges is pretty hot, but, touch wood" (the tail-plane is
near), "if we are lucky we will come through. Mr Jones is a very good
pilot, and _I_ don't like taking any risks. Don't you get worried. It
will be all right. You know all about the Lewis guns, don't you? Good!
Well, if a German searchlight holds us, open fire on it at once. Only if
it _holds_ us, mind, not if it merely tries to find us, or the tracer
bullets will give us away. If a German scout attacks us, open fire on
him at once with your machine-gun. When I have dropped my bombs--you
will be able to see me in the front cockpit--shine your torch on the
back to see whether any have hung up. If one has stuck in the back
racks near you, get him through somehow,--stand on him if necessary. If
you want to say anything to me flash your torch over the top of the
fuselage--you know Morse code, don't you?--and I will answer you back in
Morse code. You'd better get in the back now. Don't worry! If you feel
frightened, remember I am just as frightened as you--if not more!"

He walks up towards the nose of the machine, stoops under the tail to
the rear of the main planes, and climbs up into his little platform in
the back. I walk round the wings to the front of the machine and, facing
the two propellers, walk slowly and carefully between their two whirring
discs until I come to the little step-ladder under the triangular door
on the floor. I walk up it, and with a certain amount of difficulty work
my unwieldy body and my various impedimenta through it, assisted by the
two engineers who have been starting up the engines from inside.

I suddenly remember the wind report, so I climb into the front cockpit,
and, shining my torch on the bomb-sight fixed in front of the extreme
nose, adjust it in accordance with the report, for I know from which
height I intend to drop my bombs--that height being the greatest
possible, as we are going to Bruges.

As I am turning the little milled adjusting wheels, the machine on our
right moves off with a sudden roar of power. I hurry back and sit beside
the pilot.

"Are you all right now, Paul?" he asks. "We are next off."

A wave of noise sweeps over to us from the middle of the aerodrome as
the next ahead, gathering speed, rushes across the aerodrome. We both
watch it with slowly turning heads.

Gradually the machine rises, and with a change of note roars up into the
sky above the farm buildings to the left.

A series of flashes from a signalling-lamp on the control platform. It
is the _next-machine-away_ signal. The pilot at once opens up the
engines. We move slowly across the grass, bumping and swaying as we pass
over the uneven ground. When we come to the end of the landing T, the
starboard engine is put on, and we swing round to the left till the line
of electric lights stretches ahead of us. The noise of the engine dies
away. The pilot takes his goggles out of a wooden box, which he hands
to me, and snaps them over his eyes. He straps himself in his seat with
a safety-belt, and pulls on a pair of fur-covered gloves.

"You quite ready, old man?" he asks.


"We'll start off now! I think it will be all right; don't you?"


Soon we are off the ground. Below the wings streak the little lights of
the cross-bar of the landing T. I can see the illuminated blades of
grass round the bulbs. We climb up and up, and clear with ease the roofs
of the farm buildings. Over the tall trees lining each side of a wide
canal we pass, and beneath us lie the coruscating scarlet and white
lights of a railway junction. I can see the fiery red smoke of a
locomotive moving down one line of tracks.

"What a target!" says the pilot. "Have a look at the engines!"

I switch on my torch and shine it on to the two engines, to see whether
the sinister white scarves of steam and water are sweeping back from the
top of the radiators. Fortunately, to-night the engines are working
splendidly. If either engine were to be boiling, after one or two
efforts to prevent it, the pilot would land the machine at once. If not,
disaster would probably follow, as it did during my last terrible raid.

For a while, as ever, I am a little nervous of looking below. I prefer
to hunch myself inside the big collar of my overall suit, and to make
continual adjustments of the petrol pressure, which is recorded on two
little dials whose pointers move slowly forwards or backwards in
accordance with my opening of the release or the pressure tap.

A thin pencil of light flashes upwards from the coast-line east of
Dunkerque. Four times it flashes--long, long, short, long. It goes out,
and one is conscious of the town wrinkling its forehead, listening
intently, uneasy, wondering. Again the searchlight stabs the sky four
times and goes out.

"Challenging some one at Dunkerque!" I remark to the pilot.

"Expect it is a Hun. We had better keep well clear of it!"

A third time the searchlight throws upwards its anxious inquiry, and
this time, still receiving no answer, it is not extinguished but moves
across the sky hesitatingly, nervously.

Flashes leap up from the ground at several places round the town. In a
few seconds the red sharp spurts of the bursting shells appear suddenly
in half a dozen places across the sky.

"Barrage!" mutters the pilot. "We'd better get clear away or we'll get
bothered. Here we are! They're shelling us! Fire! _Fire!_ We're only two
thousand up!"

I hurriedly push a green cartridge into the Very's light pistol and pull
the trigger. The explosion barks out, and a green globe of light drifts
below us. The shells, which had been bursting unpleasantly near us, now,
to our great relief, cease.

"Surely they can see our navigation lights! It's no good! We will have
to get height somewhere else!" grumbles the pilot, turning the machine

We fly over to a "blind spot," and, climbing in great circles, see our
height indicator record in turn, three, four, and then five thousand

"Let's push off now!" says the pilot. "We're high enough!"

"Make it five thousand five hundred, old man! The wind is with us the
whole way! We want to be at six before we cross the lines if we are to
get up to nine by Bruges."

The patient pilot makes one more wide turn and then faces east, and
flies ahead on a direct course.

On the left the line of the sand-dunes edges the misty sweep of the sea.
In the north a strange sign is in the skies. Great streaks of white
vapour, resembling moonlit clouds, stream from the horizon towards the
zenith, spreading like the ribs of a fan. This beautiful vision of vast
scarves of light, motionless and majestic, hangs over the sea with a
splendid nobility, and, as we discover later, it is the sublime Aurora

Following up the stretch of sand-dunes I see near the lines the
twinkling lights in the hutments near Coxyde, and at the Nieuport piers
the occasional flash of a gun and the red burst of a shell. Here and
there along the floods rise and fall the tremulous star-shells. To the
right Ypres flickers and flashes, stabbing the horizon with incessant
daggers of flame.

When we are about seven miles from the trenches I crawl into the back
and press hard forward the fusing lever, which draws the safety-pins
from the bombs hanging in rows behind us. I tie up the lever with string
to make sure that it will not slip, and resume my seat beside the pilot.

We approach Furnes, and, as we expect, we see a pale white beam of light
leaping upwards in front of us, and vanish, and leap up again and
again--as it flashes the challenging letter of the night.

"All right! I'll give them a green!" I say to the pilot as I load the
Very's light pistol and fire it over the side. A green light drops, and
dies. Again the thin beam of light flashes its anxious challenge towards

"Curse! I'm not going to fire another! Surely they can see us!" I say
irritably, having been rather worried by these searchlights before.

"Go on, Bewsh! You'd better fire another--they'll start shelling us!"
comments the pilot.

Meanwhile the searchlight, having received no satisfactory answer to its
inquiry, apparently, remains in the sky, where it is joined by its two
watery brothers who move querulously to and fro within half a mile of

"Go on! Fire a light!" says the pilot.

"Oh, I'm fed up with these fools! It will only give warning to the
Germans. They won't find us! It's a waste of lights!"

"Fire a light--and don't talk!" orders the pilot.

I do so with an ill grace, muttering under my breath.

The searchlights do not go out, and, assisted by our green light, sweep
on to the machine.

The pilot begins to get really angry.

"Hell to them! What is the matter? Look at them--right on the machine.
Fire a green, and keep on firing them! They are giving away our course
and position. I'll get some devil shot for this when I land ... give
them another ... that's right! What is the matter with them?"

So he storms on, ablaze with a natural anger. The searchlights lose us.

We are now about three miles from the lines, so the pilot presses a
switch on the dashboard, which extinguishes the wing and tail navigation

Below us the reflection of a drooping star-shell on the waters of the
floods rises towards its falling counterpart, and as they meet I can
almost imagine that I hear the hiss of the burning globe of light.
Another star-shell rises below us throwing a brilliant radiance over a
circle of flood and water-filled shell-holes and a twisted line of
trench. In turn it sinks quivering to death. Two sharp red flashes leap
up in the dim country beyond the German lines, and in a few seconds I
see, on the ground beneath, the swift flash of the bursting shell, and
another near beside it. In one place is a faint red glow where perhaps
some wretched soldier tries to keep warm by a fire in some inconceivable
shelter in the mud. Glad am I to be an airman, well-clad, well-fed, and
warm in my sheltered aeroplane, with the thought of the welcoming fire
and white sheets and hot-water bottle which will greet me when I return,
to buoy me onwards through the momentary discomforts of a few hours in
the air! As I see the water-filled shell-holes shining in the moonlight
like strings of pearls, and picture the cold and the mud and the
desolation, I realise that it is the infantryman, the man on the ground,
who suffers most and has the worst time. I snuggle up in my warm furs
at the very thought of the misery which is not mine.

We hang right above the lines now. Over the wings I see the faint
quivering glare of light, cast upwards by some star-shell far below over
the lonely floods. In front of us two sharp flashes again appear on the
German side of the lines, to be later answered by the flame of two
bursting shells on the ground behind us.

We turn to the right, and for a little while fly along over the lines
looking for a landmark to help us onwards. Though we know the way well
enough, and could travel to Bruges by instinct, we know by experience
that it is best to travel along some fairly well-defined route in order
to keep a close check on our position in case at any time we get lost,
or fall into any trouble.

Soon we see the circular mass of poor Dixmude--shell-shattered and
mutilated--lying at the landward end of the black waters. Stretching
eastwards from it, into the heart of the German territory, is the thin
line of a railway. We sweep to the left and fly eastwards again, leaving
the lines steadily behind us.

A few minutes pass, and then we see to our left the two mighty beams of
the Ghistelles lights stab upwards into the night, and move slowly and
with an uncanny deliberation across the sky. There is something
strangely alive about these searchlights. They appear to have a volition
of their own. They seem to be seeking the hidden terror of the gloom
with their own intellect. Look at them! They lean over towards one
corner of the sky--keen swords of blue white steel, piercing upwards
fifteen thousand feet of darkness. They have heard something: they are
suspicious. In that one corner they move, sweeping, sweeping, through a
small area. They wait motionless, then again they hear the faint hum of
the hidden traveller; again they stalk wearily with tense eager arms,
strained with the expectation of touching the evil presence for which so
anxiously they grope. Suddenly one swings over a vast segment of the sky
with a hurried gesture. Does some new menace approach--or is it
deceived? It sweeps uncertainly for a few moments, and then darts back
to join its companion who has not been faithless to his steady
conviction. Look at them, slowly rising more and more upright as the
unseen machine draws more and more above their heads! You can imagine
them following the object of their hate, growing ever angrier as they
fail to discover it. Then--look! look! half-way up the beam there is a
spot of light! They have found the elusive night-bird! The other beam
leaps over to it with a vicious grip and holds it too. See the two beams
crossed like a gigantic pair of scissors, and in the hinge a white speck
whose quickening movement is followed, followed, followed by the
inexorable tentacles.

Flash, flash ... flash. Shell upon shell bursts, sullen and angry,
above, below, on either side of the blinded bird, lit up so clearly and
helplessly. Spurt, spurt, spurt of flame on the ground! A few seconds
pass like the ticking of a clock--flash, flash, flash--the answering
shells burst into brilliance near the crossing of the two beams.

"Oh! Look, Jimmy! They've got somebody over Ghistelles! By Jove! They
_have_ got him too. He is not going to escape. They are giving him hell.
Look! I say ... That was a close enough one ... and another! He _is_
having a rough time! Wonder who it is!... Bombs! Look--one, two, three,
four! He is dropping them on the aerodrome--probably had engine failure,
and wants to get back!"

Faster and faster moves the little bright spot in the searchlight as the
anxious pilot pushes the wheel farther and farther forward. Still the
searchlights follow it, and now lean at a wide angle over towards the
lines. Then the beams of light begin to move irregularly. They have lost
their prey. Still they grope towards the west, but now they sweep up and
down, and to right and left, vainly trying to recapture the intended
victim, which has freed itself. They can still hear him, for they lie
over towards our direction, moving but slightly in their restless
probing into the obscurity of the night, which, with friendly darkness,
hides their home-bound enemy from their useless eyes.

With gladness I witness the fortunate escape, and once more turn to my
own work. In front of us now stands a challenging sentinel--the solitary
beam of Thorout.

It is but a pallid and slender blade, moving uncertainly across the dark
depths of the sky, and scarcely to 10,000 feet does its menace seem to
reach. It is an almost negligible threat--yet I feel uneasy. The fear of
the searchlight, of being clutched by a hand of light, overcomes me.

"That's Thorout, Jimmy! Shall we push on? Let's throttle and turn!" I
suggest, looking sideways at my pilot's face.

"Oh! Not yet! We will go right ahead!" he answers.

Steadily forwards we fly, and it is easy to see how, with the ever more
distinct roar of our engines, the searchlight becomes more excited and
more eager to find us. Nearer and nearer, with a slow beat from side to
side like a pendulum, it draws towards us. I almost want to pull back my
head to avoid having my nose taken off. Then the searchlight flashes on
the machine for a moment, becomes tremendously excited, and leaps back
again towards us.

The pilot swiftly pulls back the throttle and throws over his wheel. The
thunder of the engine ceases; we turn to the left and leave him

Now the time for activity approaches. Near Ostend flashes the incessant
lighthouse. To the right near Blankenberghe flashes its companion. Soon
I know we will reach the wide canal running from Ostend to Bruges,
which will lead me so directly to the docks that, once I have
distinguished it, I will be free from any further anxiety about finding
my way, and I will be able to devote my whole attention to the problems
of attacking Bruges.

Six or seven minutes pass and then I see, far below me, running across
the moonlit mosaic of the fields, the straight black line of a canal.
Slowly we pass over it, and then I ask the pilot to turn the machine to
the right. The machine sweeps round, and I stand up and, looking out
over the nose so that I may see the canal, give the order to stop when
we are flying parallel to it.

"Jimmy! I am going to get into the nose now. We are about seven miles
away. I am going to drop the bombs down-wind. I shall drop all at once.
See here--these are my signals! Right hand out--turn to right. Left hand
out--to left. Hand straight up--dead ahead. One hand on my
head--half-throttle the engines. Both hands on my head--throttle the
engines altogether. When I have dropped I will wave my arms. I think it
will be all right. I will try my best. I will adjust the pressure

I look to my pressure gauge, and adjust the necessary taps. Then I
collect my case and my torch, shout out "Cheero! Good luck! It will be
all right!" and kneel on the floor of the machine. I unlatch the little
door in front of me and crawl through it, and shut it behind me. Now I
am kneeling in the cockpit, whose sides come a little above my waist.
Around me is the ring of the Lewis gun mounting. I grasp this, and,
lifting a lever, turn the machine-gun round till it is behind me and out
of my way. I look over the nose of the machine, and shine my torch for a
moment on to the bomb-sight which I adjust for our height. On my
right-hand side, fixed on the floor, is the little bomb-handle, held
safely by my piece of string. From this short vertical bar of wood runs
a Bowden wire back under the pilot's seat to the bombs, which are some
fifteen feet behind me.

A wonderful spectacle is now before my eyes. I can see the whole Belgian
coast in one long sweep to Holland. On the left, and a little behind me,
Ostend haunts the night with its pale restless beams of light, while
near it to the east flashes the aerial lighthouse of de Haan. Along the
edge of the shore is a fringe of moving beams, as far as Zeebrugge,
where another thick cluster wheel and hover in the sky. There a rich
chain of emeralds floats upwards to some suspected menace, and a few
shells burst in a scattered group above the distant Mole. On the left,
beyond these signs of an uneasy enemy, lies the dim and unemotional sea.
Ahead of us, like a sea of twinkling gems, glitters Flushing. Along its
quays shines a white line of electric arc-lamps. The dull silver band of
the moon-kissed Scheldt winds through the dim territories of Holland,
and on either side the Dutch villages flicker with little lights. Ahead
of us, unlit and waiting, lies the dark circle of Bruges with the water
gleaming in its docks on the left, and a little light on the factory to
the right of it. While far far away to the east over remote Ghent
ghostly searchlights dance in a goblin measure.

Two problems face me as I kneel there in my little cockpit in the
forefront of the machine. In the first place, I know well that there are
nine hundred or a thousand Germans waiting round that black town for me.
By the fourteen searchlights; by the forty or more anti-aircraft guns;
by the machine-guns; by the "green-ball" batteries; by the
sound-detectors, the signal positions, the controls--they are
waiting--nine hundred or more trained eager men, determined to stop me
taking these fourteen bombs to their docks, so crowded with destroyers
and submarines, with soldiers and stores and ammunition, and all that
they are most anxious to keep intact. I am equally determined to drive
home my blow if I can.

That is my first problem. My second problem is a more subtle one. If we
are heard, we are doomed. So clever are the searchlight operators that
if one murmur comes down to them from the dark skies, their powerful
beams of light will leap over to us and hold us in a grip of radiance
which will dazzle us. Our only weapon is silence. The only way we can
become silent is by throttling down our engines. If, however, we
throttle down our engines, we begin to lose height. Therefore if we
throttle down too soon, we will be so low when we arrive over the docks
that we will be seen by those on the ground. The searchlights will be
turned on to us, and, blinded and shelled, we will become impotent, and
perhaps will be destroyed. If, on the other hand, we throttle down too
late, the men on the ground will hear us before we are silent. Again the
searchlights will swing over to us and will blind us. So it is necessary
for me to give the order to throttle at the last possible moment I can,
and I must be very careful, for a second too soon or too late may ruin
all my plans. Therefore I kneel down and lean over the front, looking
below intently, trying to read every sign and signal, trying to work it
all out, watching my height and my speed and my distance--trying to
think what the Germans are thinking almost before they think it

No light, no sign of activity, breaks the darkness below. We are as yet
unexpected. I glance behind for a moment, and in a spirit of bravado
throw a kiss to the pilot as he switches on the lamp which shows him the
white faces of the instruments in the engine casing. For a moment the
light gleams, and then is extinguished. On the pilot's face, steady and
determined, the cockpit lamp shines faintly, and as I turn forwards I
feel that I have behind me, to follow my advice, a strong man with whom
I am safe--unto the last moment of safety.

Three miles ahead of me now lies the dim circle of the town. I look at
the pallid phosphorescent figures of the height indicator. The wan line
of the pointer lies over the luminous 8. I look down below, and steadily
we move forwards. Now we are getting very near, and cold and
wind-battered, I kneel upright with a feeling of triumph because I have
drawn so close unobserved. Soon we will be able to throttle, and will
glide in with no difficulty. Everything is going splendidly. I have
worked it very well. I am tremendously pleased with myself. I was
frightened of Bruges. Bruges! Why--I laugh to myself--it will be easy.
There is nothing to be afraid of. So with a boastful sense of ease I
lean against the side humming the cobbler's song from "Chu Chin Chow,"
my invariable night anthem.

Then suddenly, like a mighty spear, a powerful searchlight leaps up to
my left, and its wide blue-white beam, with its sense of thrust, as
though the light was pouring upwards, lies a few hundred yards in front
of us. My heart jumps inside me. My hands grow clammy. My mouth tightens
with dread. A wave of hot fire followed by an icy chill sweeps over me.
Another great spear is flung upwards on the right, and the two towering
shafts of dazzling light cross in front of us like a gigantic pair of
scissors of gleaming steel.

At once I put one hand on my head to give the signal to throttle the
engines down a little. I dare not stop them entirely as yet. We are not
sufficiently near. I hear the clamour lessen and change, and immediately
the two searchlights, so strong, so vividly menacing, identify our
position more accurately, owing to the momentary alteration of the note
of the murmur amidst the stars, and they sweep even nearer to us. I
watch and wonder and hope. The white arms become undecided and move far
far away from us, wheel round in a great circle, and swiftly one becomes
a dull red beam across the stars, and below a dull red eye which slowly
fades away. What relief--what a sense of danger past is mine then! The
other ray of light in answer fades to obscurity, and once more, to my
joy, we are moving in darkness, unsuspected and unsought-for.

Bruges lies below, scarce a mile and a half away. I dare not risk
detection a second longer. Slowly, deliberately, I place both hands on
my head and turn round, and in the moonlight I see the pilot's gloved
hand go forward to the aluminium throttle which he slowly pulls right
back. The noise of the engines dies swiftly, completely. The nose drops
as we begin our long silent downward glide. No longer does the roar of
the engines beat upon my ears, but I can hear that most wonderful of all
sounds to a night-bomber--the whistle of the wind through the wires and
on the planes, which tells me that we are no longer heard by those
below. I begin to peer downwards, checking my aim. The direction bar
swings slowly off the docks to the right. I throw out my left arm, still
gazing downwards. The movement of the bar stops, and gradually it moves
to the left across the rectangles of the harbours. It swings past them
as the pilot turns the machine. I now throw out my right hand, and in
response the machine swings back. Flinging my arm upright before the
moving bar has become central I stop in time the too rapid turn of the
machine, and slowly, slowly we move straight forwards over the dark and
unlit basins where shines not one little hostile light or flicker. I
hurriedly gaze through the luminous range bars, fixed at right angles
to the direction bar. The time has not yet come. Holding my hand
upwards, I keep the machine dead ahead in a straight line. I am becoming
more and more excited. The strain has become intense. I have forgotten
everything--forgotten that I am two miles in the air, forgotten that my
bare hands are freezing, forgotten that I am in a hostile place. My
whole being is concentrated on keeping that little bar of metal laid
across the two black patches below. I am not conscious of being above
human beings--it is not a real countryside which lies beneath. It is an
unlit map made up of lines and curves and patterns and round spots. I am
entirely impersonal: I have become a surveyor at his instrument waving
his hand to make corrections.

The two pale-glowing bars come in line with the edge of the nearest dark
rectangle. I throw my arm upright for the last time, and then, putting
my right hand behind me, I catch hold of the bomb-handle with a firm
grip and push it over at a moderate speed. One, two, three, four little
tugs I feel on it as the four hooks are pulled away from the four bombs
fifteen feet behind me. I pull it back and push it forward the second
time, scarcely looking over the front as I do it. I lean forwards over
the nose, and see that the direction bar has drifted slightly. Throwing
out my left hand, I see the bomb-sight move to the left, and then push
forward again for the last time the bomb-handle. At once I move it to
and fro, six or seven times quickly, in case I have not pushed it
forwards far enough at any time, and failed to release any bombs. As
soon as I have finished I turn round, crawl through the little door,
twisting sideways to avoid jerking the great rudder on which rests the
brown leather of the pilot's boot, stand up, and turn again and sit
down, shouting breathlessly--

"All gone, Jimmy! Turn quickly! South-west--down-wind. Got a priceless
line. There'll be hell to pay now! Keep throttled--whatever happens."

I stand up and look down at the dim pattern of the docks. This is the
most exciting moment of the raid. I know the fourteen bombs are going
down--the Germans do not know it, and I know they do not know it. For
the moment the men in the air are triumphant. There we move in silence
and unseen above the very heart of the enemy's stronghold. The fourteen
bombs are whirling at a terrifying speed towards the docks, and the
valuable material which they contain. No one below expects the sudden
disaster which inexorably draws nearer and nearer. What use are the
waiting watchmen a thousand strong? What use are your plans, O ye
cunning enemy,--what use your well-oiled guns, the clear-polished lenses
of your great searchlights--the long belts loaded with your green-tipped
pom-pom shells? We have come, we have struck home! Down, down below with
intent eyes I gaze, waiting to see the bursting of the missiles. Hours
seem to pass. I wonder if the bombs have failed to explode; I wonder if
they have dropped. In a fever of expectancy I peer to the gloomy bottom
of the great pool of night. Then a great flash leaps out of the earth
and slowly fades, leaving by the dim strip of water a pale moonlight
cloud of smoke. Another and yet another leap up in the basin itself.
Then another and yet two more burst on ahead in a line. "Ah! good!
good!" I mutter to myself. Seven bombs clearly I see explode, and then I
can scarce see the ground at all, for with the bursting of these first
bombs the whole fourteen searchlights are flung into the sky like a
handful of white ribbons of light, and begin at once to move to and fro
in a slow determined motion. Above us, below us, to right of us and to
left of us, behind us and in front of us, move these brilliant bands of
up-pouring light. So bright are they that some, though they are seventy
or eighty feet away, throw a white radiance over the machine. The dim
country is slashed and cut across by these almost dazzling beams which
wheel and hesitate and cross each other in gigantic patterns. Against
the stars over our heads move their long pale arms, which slowly fade as
height destroys the power of their thrust.

A few seconds after the appearance of this company of searchlights there
rise from three or four points in the neighbourhood of the docks long
chains of vivid green balls, which cast an unearthly gleam upon the
water of the basins, and light up with their fantastic glow a circle of
vaguely-seen country. Right in front of us they pass, passing upwards
in an orderly hurry and giving a greenish tinge to my hands, the pilot's
face, and to the planes on either side. They bend over slowly in the
upper sky, and one by one fade away to red sparks dropping swiftly.
Through the thin trails of vertical smoke left by their passage we pass,
and I am reminded of the magic beanstalk of the fairy tale, rising up
into unimagined heights and joining the world of reality to a world of

Then breaks into action the third weapon of this opposition--of this
turbulent maelstrom to which I gave birth when I pressed over the wooden
lever in the cockpit. Four little red flashes break the darkness below,
and then two more a mile away, then four others to the west, and yet
four more ... as anti-aircraft battery after anti-aircraft battery comes
into action against the machine. Four or five seconds pass, then, a few
hundred feet away, appears a swiftly-vanishing flame. Another appears to
the left, and dotted at random here and there they leap out and vanish
in quick succession, shell-burst after shell-burst. Round puffs of white
moonlit smoke whirl by us as we go gliding onwards in silence, and
untouched, through this turmoil of flame and radiance.

On all sides move the long blue-white swords of dazzling light--thirty
feet wide they lie right before us, barring our way. To our right and
our left they follow us, trying, trying to touch us. Behind our tail
they dog us relentlessly, yet seemingly in vain. Below they lie across
the vast depths of the sky, blinding our eyes and hiding the country
from our sight. Above they move, pale beams, across the ten thousand
watching stars. Here and there among their white anger move the jealous
ropes of glowing jade, which pass upwards in swaying curves and mingle
their green brilliancy with the searchlights' glare, which is clearly
reflected on our great wings. Shell after shell, red, vicious, and
sharp, bursts and bursts above us and around us--protesting with its
storm of temper at the vain groping of the searchlight--the useless
beauty of the green balls. Lastly, the swift-moving streaks of the fiery
tracer bullets from the machine-guns cut across the sky in a dozen

Wherever we may look we see this boiling volcano of shell and bullet,
searchlight and green ball. White, green, and red play the colours over
our hands and faces. The chorus of the bursting explosive clamours
around us, and above its sound we hear the splendid noise of the
fourteen bombs, the sound of whose detonation has at length risen to us
from the earth far below. When we hear that welcome sound we realise
that our duty has been done, and we have driven the blow home. We are
exhilarated by the thought, exhilarated by this ferment of opposition.
Its very power only seems to show us that the enemy must value what he
is defending so fiercely. I almost want to sing with delirious joy. What
matter the blazing rays of light--what matter the crashing shells and
the chains of emerald balls? We are inviolable, and we will continue our
enchanted immunity from danger.

Then I become suddenly conscious of a glare upon the machine. I look
down to the left, and at once I see a great dazzling eye of light, so
brilliant and strong that it shimmers and wheels and boils as I gaze
into it. We have been caught by a searchlight, and held. In a swift
moment I see the long arms in the sky about us move with a common
impulse towards the machine, until wherever I look I see eyes, eyes,
eyes in a vast circle around us.

"Oh, Jimmy! They've got us! _They've got us!_" I cry out. "Shove on the
engines, and push her down to ninety! Keep straight on--quick! _quick!_
Push her down to ninety!"

No need is there now to be silent. We are by chance discovered, and are
in the pitiless grip of fourteen powerful arms of radiance. Wherever I
look there is light, light. I cannot see the ground below; I cannot see
the stars above. We swim in a sea of brilliance. I am as blinded as when
at times I have met upon a dark country road at night some car with huge
head-lights, whose white glare has dazzled me and pinned me to the side
of the road in fear. Each of these searchlights upturned against me now
are many times more brilliant than the acetylene lamps of a car, and
there are fourteen of them.

I am tense and quick-breathed. I feel stripped, naked, and ashamed. I am
most tremendously conscious of my visibility to those below, and know
that one and all they hate me. I put my hand across my eyes. I crouch
lower inside the machine. _Crash, crash ... crash!_ Ah! Now the shells,
no longer scattered in an idle barrage, begin to explode near the
machine, which, like a white bird, at the apex of a gigantic pyramid of
light, so slowly crawls through the sky.

"Jimmy! They're shelling us! Shove the nose down--shove the nose down!
Make it a hundred!"

Red flash the shells through the white haze of light in which we move.
Green pour the bubbles of light in upward progress by the machine. Over
the wings and over my pilot's grim-fixed face play the three colours,
scarlet, emerald, and brightest white, in an unending, ever-changing
ripple of colour. Now sounds the staccato and unexpectedly loud thunder
of the machine-gun behind us as the gunlayer begins to direct downwards
to one of the searchlights a stream of fiery tracer bullets. What use
are they, I wonder? If one searchlight is destroyed there are yet
thirteen to hold us in their grasp.

My heart is jumping wildly inside me. I make my hands adjust the brass
taps at my side so that the fingers of the white-faced dials keep to the
needful figure, but I know any second there may be a rending crash, and
we may spin swiftly down and down.... Still we are held. Still the
dazzle of light lies round us--still the blue-white eyes of fire stare
at us with their hypnotising whirl and boil of brilliancy which makes
them look so huge although so distant. Still the whole machine is
clear-cut to the smallest wire in their all-exposing luminance.

I grip the pilot's arm in my fear and shout to him--

"Oh, Jimmy! Keep her going! Keep her going! Make it a hundred! We'll
soon be free!"

"But we're only four thousand! We can't go any lower!" he answers.

"Push on! Speed is what matters! Keep her to a hundred, and we'll get
through if we can!"

Now do I feel my mascots in my pockets and think for a swift sad moment
of those I love best. Will it never end, I wonder? For hours the shells
seem to have flashed and crashed round us. For hours the searchlights
seem to have revealed us white in the black night. Then I become somehow
conscious that the light on the machine is a little less. Looking behind
me I see one or two beams moving erratically across the sky. They are
_beams_, and not eyes! At last, then, we are getting beyond the range of
the defences! One by one the searchlights slide away from the machine
and swing up and down, pale shafts now, above or to the side of it. The
shell-fire dies away. A string of green balls pours upwards half a mile
away to our left. Two searchlights alone hold us, then they lose us, and
to our almost indescribable relief we are moving in the darkness, whose
friendliness never before have I so loved, whose protection never before
have I so vividly realised.

My forehead is wet with perspiration. My hands shake, my knees feel
weak. The ending of the strain has left me feeble, and the reaction for
a time is almost painful. The physical feeling of sinking inside me
remains for a little while, but soon I begin to feel normal.

"Oh, Jimmy! Jimmy! Aren't you glad that is all over? It put the wind up
me! I don't think we got hit, though. Look at Bruges--she is mad!"

Over the weary city still glide and hover the thin beams of light,
vainly regretting their lost prey. A few useless shells leap into red
brilliance here and there among the stars, while the last lovely chain
of green balls rises upward through the night. To the dim north, by the
docks, glows the dull glare of a fire, where some bomb has gone home.

To the west we fly onwards in the moonshine over the pale pattern of the
fields. Far ahead glimmer the white flames of the star-shells in the
mist along the floods.

The sense of duty well done, of dangers faced and conquered, gives an
exhilaration which has made the whole night of terror worth the while.
The moments of dread through which we have lived have been so vivid, so
intense, that they have left us cool-headed and tranquil, and now we
know that we are on the way home, and that we go to rest and

Minutes pass, and below us gleams the fading loveliness of a star-shell.
To the left flickers Ypres. On the right at Nieuport one shell bursts
out along the coast, beyond which lies the vast expanse of the quiet

Minutes pass, and below us shines the little T of lights at Coudekerque.
Down drifts our light--up drifts the welcome answer. Softly we sink
towards the world, which slowly, slowly grows real from out a map....
Gladly I drop through the little door when we have at last drawn up
beside the mighty hangars. Gladly I stretch my cramped legs and walk for
a while unfamiliarly upon the grass. Gladly at last I switch off the
light in my bedroom, and curl up in the sheets with my feet upon the
hot-water bottle. On the ceiling gleams the fire-light. Voices sound
more rarely in the cabins. Suddenly I remember something, and call out--

"Who was it getting hell over Ghistelles?"

"Bob!" comes an answer from some near-by cabin.

"I say, Bob! Did you have a bad time?"

"Twenty-five holes in the machine! Jack shoved the bombs right across
the aerodrome, though--he's not a bad observer!"

"Shut up, Bob!"

"Good-night, Jack! Good-night, Bob! Good-night, Bill! Good-night,

"Good-night, Paul!"

"Good-night, Jimmy--it wasn't so bad, was it?"

"No! Good-night, Paul!"

Soon I drift to sleep and the well-loved world of dreams.



    "When in the East the evening stars burn clear,
    We know our time of toil is drawing near;
    For as the evening deepens in the West,
    It brings an ending to our day-long rest.

    One after one we slip into the gloom,
    And through the dusk like great cockchafers boom;
    High in the stars you hear our mournful cry,
    As we sail onward through the sapphire sky."

           --_The Night Bombers._

I suddenly wake, and sit up in bed with strained ears. I have a dim
recollection of a noise. Then I hear three or four dull explosions like
distant gunfire, and out wails the piteous appeal of "Mournful Mary" at
the Dunkerque docks.

_Zoop-zoop_ ... bo-o-o-o-m!

The last is a tremendous explosion.

I wonder what is happening.

"Did you hear that? Any one awake?" I call out softly.

"That you, Paul--what can it be?" answers a voice in the darkness from
some near-by cabin.

"I'll go and see."

I step out of bed and walk to the door at the end of the hut. In bare
feet and thin pyjamas I look straight out to the east, but faintly
lighter than the dark skies above in which the stars still shine
undimmed. The night is very cold and silent. On the left of Dunkerque a
few pale searchlights move slowly across the sky. I see a few flashes
and then hear the sharp reports of the guns. It must be an air-raid.

I hurry into bed again and call out: "Can't see much! must be a raid!"
and then begin to drop off to sleep, when again I hear the wail of the
hooter, followed by the dull reverberating crash.

Sleep comes with difficulty. Again and again I become conscious of
tumult in the real world beyond my dreams. Again and again I hear the
distant thunders. When I next wake it is getting light, so I walk to the
door of the hut. Outside I now can see the flat countryside, desolate in
the greyness of early morning. To the left are the towers and chimneys
of Dunkerque, and on the little road running past the aerodrome are a
few rough carts, piled high with bundles and shawled women, leaving the

_Zoop-zoop_ wails the syren. Out leaps the sudden roar of an explosion,
and suddenly I see towering high above the roofs a tall column of dust
and smoke, from which little black fragments are dropping back in a

"Bob! Bob!" I call out.

A sleepy "Hullo!" answers me behind my back.

"They're shelling Dunkerque! It must be a fifteen-inch gun!"

The pitiful column of refugees, of women taking their children and a few
precious bundles of clothes, or articles of furniture, away to some
place of safety, rapidly increases.

As far as you can see the road is dotted with the little groups. Some of
the poor people are riding; some follow a cart; some push perambulators.

Again the syren wails; again the tall plume of black smoke shoots up
near the town; again the shower of wreckage drops from it.

Sleep is impossible. I get up and dress, and go to the mess for
breakfast. We now know that the shells are bursting every seven minutes,
and when six minutes have passed we talk less, and listen, and wait.
There is the sudden crash, and through the window can be seen the earth
shooting up in a field a little to our side of the town. The next shell
is only a few fields away. I hurriedly finish the meal, and walk out of
the mess to go to a hangar at the other end of the aerodrome, whose
erection I am supervising.

I have just left the camp behind me, and am beginning to walk across the
great field, when, in the very middle of it, some two hundred and fifty
feet away, appears a solid black fountain of smoke and earth, quite
seventy feet high. I stand transfixed with amazement and excitement as
the roar of sound sweeps by me, and a few seconds later I hear the
remote boom of the gun, twenty-eight miles away, near Ostend. The earth
drops down again, the smoke clears, and I run panting across the ground
to the low heap of earth which I can see in the distance, above the

When I get there I find there is a huge crater some thirty-five feet
across and twelve or fifteen feet deep. At the edge are two pilots, who
shout breathlessly--

"We've got the base-plug! Look here! Don't touch it--it is almost red

There in the yellow loam lies the drum of clean white steel marked with
the symbols M 38 and a crown. I touch it with a wettened finger and hear
a quick hiss. The metal is unbearably hot still, and it is small wonder
when it is realised that it has travelled twenty-eight miles, and risen
and dropped thirty-three thousand feet in a little over a minute. Though
it is only the base-plug, it is some twelve inches across, and later,
when cold, requires removal in a wheelbarrow into which two men can
scarcely lift it.

Meanwhile I search eagerly for fragments. I find half-hidden a twisted
piece of metal, and am just about to lift it when the syren in the docks
gives warning of the approach of the next shell. Taking advice from the
axiom that a shell never falls twice in the same place, we slide down
into the crater and wait, a little nervously. We hear the dull boom of
the explosion, and scrambling to the top, see to the south of the
hangars a cloud of smoke rapidly disappearing. The wind is evidently
causing the shells to deviate, as they are falling farther and farther
away from the town. The German spotting machines have been driven away
by the British scouts, and so the gunlayers at Leugenboom (descriptive
name!) are trusting to luck, as their early shells were so successful.
One of the first, indeed, struck the Casino at Malo clean in the middle,
and cut a slice out of it as with a knife. Only the previous night a
divisional headquarters staff had moved into it, and thought it a rare
billet after weary days behind the lines in the French sectors further
south. Dawn brought to many of them a swift and unexpected death.

Carrying my hot lump of steel in my handkerchief I hurry over to the
skeleton of the semi-erected hangar. The men, only naturally, seem
little inclined to work. For five minutes they stand to their duty, and
then, as the hooter blows, I give the order to take cover, and they go
down the sides of the canal until the crash of the explosion shows that
the menace has passed.

The French have very quickly organised the hooter system. Some one says
that a look-out at the lines, on seeing the flash of the gun, presses a
button which rings a bell in Dunkerque. The signal is sent on to the
man in the light-ship at the docks, and he pulls the string of his
syren. The complete operation only takes some ten or twelve seconds, and
as the shell is travelling for well over a minute it gave ample warning.
As a matter of fact, such a system, if it does exist, is not necessary,
as the shells are falling at an exact interval of just over seven

The order is now given by the C.O. for work to be abandoned, and for the
men to take cover. With one of the pilots I make a tour of the
neighbourhood, examining the shell-holes in the surrounding fields. The
columns of earth and smoke shoot up at regular intervals some half a
mile away, and we do not trouble much about them.

I return to the aerodrome and, meeting another friend, walk back across
the field. A whistle is blown.

"That's old Charlie!" he says. "He's sitting in the canal with a
stop-watch and a whistle. The C.O. put him on to it. Let's sit down till
it has gone off!"

I suggest going on, as we are just as safe anywhere. He sits down on the
edge of a small patch of growing corn; I sit beside him. Suddenly, while
we are arguing whether we should go on or not, I seem to see something
through the back of my head. I look quickly round, and there, towering
some eighty or ninety feet high, only a few yards from us, is a tall
fountain of black earth and uprising smoke, like the great genie which
whirled upwards from the bottle in the fairy story.

"A shell--lie down!" I yell, and throw myself face forwards on the
ground with my hands over the back of my head. In the moments of waiting
before anything happens, I realise that I cannot be killed by the actual
explosion of this shell although it is so near, as I have lived to see
it, and then ... thump, thump, on my arms, my back, and my legs the
pieces of earth begin to beat. They are heavy and, since they are
dropping from some fifty feet or more, are very painful. The dust and
stones rain down all over me and all round. I can hear the returning
earth thundering on the ground. Faster and faster come the blows upon
me; it is very much like being caned, and I know that at any moment a
heavy piece of metal may drop and crush my skull. I cannot get up and
run; I am in some way hypnotised. Beside me I am conscious of my friend
cowering close against the ground as well. For seeming hours the hail of
missiles continues, and I receive some very severe blows. At last it
ceases. We scramble to our feet and begin to run away through the smoke,
and then the eternal instinct grips us. We turn, and run back to get
souvenirs from the crater. The size of it staggers us. It is almost big
enough to put a motor omnibus in ... and the place where we were sitting
is only a few feet away from the edge of the hole.

"By Jove, Milly! We are lucky! It's a good thing it's a fifteen-inch
shell. If it had been a small bomb the splinters would have killed us!"

We slither and slide to the bottom of the pit and gather fragments of
steel. The shell seems a very personal one to my mind, as it has fallen
within five feet of me when it was fired twenty-eight miles away. As I
turn over a piece of hot metal with my foot it is difficult to believe
that that piece of metal ten minutes ago was near Ostend, and now it is
here at Dunkerque. I seem to see the portly German sergeant-major in his
grey-green uniform pressing the lever on the great gun to cause the
mighty explosion which hurled that shell, which is as tall as me and
weighed a ton, nearly thirty miles. Even now the coatless gunners sweat
at the loading of the next shell into the grooved and shining breech.

We have decided that the canal bank is safer, and we hurry in that
direction. It is lined with mechanics and officers, sitting low down
near the edge of the water. My pilot greets me with mingled reproof and
joy. He had seen me stagger out of the smoke of the shell rubbing the
more bruised portions of my body, and thinking I was wounded he had sent
off for the ambulance.

It is rather amusing in the canal. At the end of five minutes some of us
become restive, and climb up to the top and walk about. "Charlie,"
dapper as usual, with his monocle screwed in his eye, sits looking at
his watch.

"Six minutes!" He says, "Now then, some of you blighters, do you want to
get killed?" He lifts the whistle and blows. Leisurely, but not too
slowly, we walk down the side of the bank and make ourselves
comfortable. We look at our watches. Six minutes and a half have passed
since the last explosion. Now comes the uneasy time. We know the
gigantic shell will explode somewhere near us in thirty seconds. There
will be no warning whistle or sound of any kind. We will simply have to
wait. Such precautions and nervousness in regard to shell-fire on active
service may sound strange, but it must be remembered that we are
twenty-two miles behind the lines, and so have been far, far beyond the
range of shell-fire. We have had no previous experience, and there are
no dug-outs of any real use for our protection.

The seconds slowly pass. People cease talking. Then, somewhere--its
position cannot be located by the ear--there is a dull thud. That is the
shell actually striking the ground. It has a delay fuse of a fraction of
a second. Then the roar leaps out and dies. We rush up to the top of the
bank and see the column of smoke just on the other side of the mess. A
few seconds later the stones and earth come rattling down on to the
roofs of the hangars and huts.

So passes the morning. As soon as a shell bursts the C.O. despatches an
officer on a motor-bicycle to its position, if it is near any farm
buildings, to see if he can render any assistance. This is a very good
scheme, for on the left we can see thin red flames, flickering palely
in the sunlight, rising from a farmhouse. Another big barn on our right
later receives a direct hit, and when we visit it we find the labourers
frantically throwing aside great bales of hay, under which is buried an
unhurt cow.

At last the shelling stops, and in a little while work is resumed. In
half an hour or so the syren wails out again, and it is thought that
Leugenboom has once more fired. This is not the case, however, for
against the pale blue of the sky we see the tiny white puffs of shrapnel
smoke. The noise of the anti-aircraft batteries grows louder and nearer.
More and more white puffs appear in the sky, but we cannot see the
machine. At last some one shouts, "There it is!" A little, almost
transparent, white shape crawls infinitely high over our heads. The
shells are nowhere near it, and it is hard to keep it in sight. It is
some four miles high, and is a photographic machine which has been sent
over to make records of the damage done by the shelling.

As with craned necks we watch this little bird-shape, so far from its
own friends, it is strange to think of the two little muffled figures
high up there, probably very frightened, but going on to do their work.
I, at any rate, have a secret hope they will get back. On and on the
aeroplane moves away from its lines. The guns around us crash and bark,
the seconds pass, and one, two, three, the white shrapnel puffs leap
into existence and rapidly enlarge into thin vapoury clouds. There is a
continuous roar of the engines of the scout machines which, with their
tails well down, are climbing upwards as fast as they can, to attack the
machine above.

The pallid bird turns slightly and passes over our heads, photographing
the vicinity of our aerodrome. The shrapnel comes tinkling on to the
roofs of the camp, and now and then, with a long, rapidly growing
whistle, a "dud" shell or large fragment of steel drops near us.

After a leisurely quarter of an hour the German machine turns to the
east and rapidly increases its speed noticeably, with its nose down and
the wind driving it homewards. Soon we can see nothing but the distant
shrapnel puffs. The machine has gone, with the precious plates in its
camera, to a remote aerodrome near Ostend.

"Bob" comes to me and says he is going to test his machine, and offers
to let me take control. Soon we are three thousand feet over Dunkerque,
and I can see dotted around the fields the great craters of the
shell-holes and smoke rising here and there from fires in the town
itself. After a while he says--

"Like to fly her now? I'll get right into the wind. Slip into my seat
quickly when I get out!"

He carefully turns the machine till it is facing the wind, takes his
hand off the wheel to test the stability, alters direction slightly, and
feeling satisfied pulls back the throttle. The noise of the engines dies
away as the machine begins to glide downward. He stands up on the rudder
and I crawl in behind him and sit on his seat. He moves his body to the
left so that I can grasp the wheel, and as soon as he takes his feet
from the rudder I place mine firmly on the foot-rests of ribbed rubber.
With my hands and feet on the controls, I sit in the huge machine as we
glide downwards singing. The speed indicator creeps back to thirty-eight
miles an hour.

"Shove her nose down--keep it at fifty, you fool!" the pilot yells.

Forward goes the wheel, and the fingers of the height indicator creep up
to fifty-five. I find I can easily steer the machine, and it is no more
difficult than the little Curtiss's of old days at Luxeuil.

"Shove on the engines now,--slowly!" orders the pilot.

I catch hold of the aluminium throttle and push it slowly forward. The
engine wakes to energetic life. I am conscious of the new forward
impulse given to the machine, and the rudder begins to vibrate
frantically beneath my feet. The country in front of my eyes begins to
sway to the right. I am slipping. I try to remember which to turn to the
right in order to convert it--the wheel or the rudder. I move the wrong
one, and the country sways to the right still more and more. I get
excited and push the nose down and turn the wheel over, and at last,
amidst the curses of the pilot, regain a more or less even balance.

I then try to make a turn. I push the rudder to the right, and it goes
hard over. As a result the machine slips violently, and the little
bubble in the "slip tube" rushes from the centre and tries to creep out
of one end. I fling over the wheel to reduce the slip, and the machine
banks terrifically, but a little more accurately, for the reluctant
bubble returns towards the middle of the tube. The pilot curses more and
more luridly, but I have learnt the lesson that the rudder has to be
allowed to go over a little way, instead of being pushed over, as it has
a natural tendency to go hard forward on one side or the other. For a
while I fly the machine fairly decently, to my great joy, and then I
change places with the pilot, who, to instruct me, does some steep
banks, but so accurately that not only does the bubble remain motionless
in the middle of its tube, but a little wooden rabbit-mascot, which I
stand on a shelf inside the machine, does not fall over, though we are
at an angle of some sixty-five or seventy degrees to the ground.

We glide gloriously down through the sunlight and land on the aerodrome,
avoiding carefully the three deep craters.

There is an interesting interlude before lunch which gives a momentary
agony to many of us. An American flies over to the aerodrome and begins
to carry out the wildest acrobatics with his fast "Spad" machine. He
dives downwards till he is moving at a hundred and fifty miles an hour,
flies at that speed a few feet over the ground between two lines of
hangars, and shoots vertically upwards and rolls the machine over and
over in every possible way. For five minutes or more he does this,
growing ever and ever more reckless and daring. Then he climbs up, up,
and up, and over the middle of the aerodrome stops still and dives
downwards in a steep spiral. Faster and faster drops the machine till it
is spinning like a leaf. Lower and lower it drops in a terrible mad
whirl ... and vanishes behind the hangar without changing its direction
or coming under apparent control. There is a groan from those who have
seen the tragedy. Every face grows white--every heart grows heavy. We
have been behind the hangars and luckily have not seen the end.

"I'm not going to see. It's no good. It will only turn me up!" I say,
and walk to the edge of the hangars. There in the middle of the
aerodrome is a scarcely discernible pile of broken wreckage--just a
crumpled heap a few feet higher than the ground. Towards it from all
points of the compass are streaming crowds of mechanics. I stand
watching. I will not go over. I can do no good, and the sight will
unnerve me for days. It is a fatal mistake for those who fly to see
those who have died while flying.

Then I see standing by the machine a little figure. I wonder who it can
be so quickly on the scene. The little figure seems to take something of
its head, and to unwind a muffler from its neck. I begin to run over
toward the wreckage, a wild hope surging through me. It is--it is the
airman. He is alive and seemingly not hurt. His face is yellow with
bruises and is red with blood. It is a terrible sight, but he is
laughing gaily, perhaps a little hysterically.

"Oh! I am all right! I'm all right! I got into a spin and couldn't get
out in time!"

An ambulance comes up, and he gets into the back and drives off, waving
his hand cheerfully. Amazing fellow! It appears that just before he
struck the ground he pulled the machine out of the spin into a steep
bank and struck the ground with one wing when he must have been flying
at nearly two hundred miles an hour.

I may say that never once during the war did I see a crash happen in
which a man got killed--nor did I ever see a dead man; and I may also
say that the first fatal accident which happened to anybody in any of
the squadrons to which I was attached, from October 1915 to April 1918,
occurred in my last flight when my pilot was drowned and, owing to my
injuries, I left the squadron. Night flying in those days was, so it
appeared to me, a safe though exciting occupation. At any rate (and I
touch wood as I say it!) not only did I lead a charmed life, but
wherever I went trouble seemed to fly away. There were no accidents of
any serious nature, or any damage caused by enemy attacks at any place
to which I was attached. Two months after my crash eight hundred bombs
were dropped in two nights on Condekerque aerodrome, and it was so badly
damaged that it was abandoned. There were also many casualties. This is,
however, by the way.

When we have examined the wreckage curiously, and all the inevitable
photographs have been taken, we proceed to the mess for lunch, and
during coffee I suggest to a friend of mine, an eighteen-year-old baby
with fair hair, that we have a look at the war and visit the lines in a

"All right," he says, "if you tackle Charlie!"

Charlie is the transport officer. He is not far from sixty, but by
shaving twice daily and wearing waisted coats he preserves an air of
perennial youth. He has been, and done, everything in his life--from
ringmaster to pageant manager, from running flying meetings to the
caring for Kings at royal performances. He is one of those wonderful
young "old stagers" in the war who really were fearless. He would go
over the lines every night if he could, and indeed had been low over the
German trenches in the daytime--"shooting up the blighters" for fun. He
was the raid officer, and, as such, stood to his post on the
"band-stand" all night, despatching machines and seeing them back. In
his hands were the responsibility of our life or death. He loved us all,
and would do anything for us. When the man beside him was killed in the
big raid, he carried on his work, smoking his cigarette, with his
eyeglass in his eye. His favourite expression, if we did not raid owing
to weather, was--

"Gor perishin' blimy with pink spots! If you put wings on my old
band-stand I'd fly her through Hell backwards! Why don't you go on a
raid to-night--you blighters never do any work?"

So having given him a whisky-and-soda, I take him into a corner and
unveil the plot.

"All right! Tell Dimmock to give you a tender. Mind you draw that
cartoon of me or you'll never leave the perishing aerodrome again!" he

In a few minutes we are on the Nieuport road, and for half an hour we
rush in the tender beside a canal, past various kinds of French and
British transport waggons. No one challenges us, and even as we pass the
frontier the French and Belgian guards look at us with scant curiosity.

"_Aviation Navale Anglaise!_" we chant as we pass. Well they know the
Royal Naval Air Service whose cars have haunted the roads now for many
years. Well they know whose are the fighting scouts that rise up towards
the skies above Dunkerque.

Through La Panne we clatter, and then the feeling in the air begins
somehow to change. We sense now that the lines are nearer, and indeed
they are only eight miles away. We pass through an area full of hutments
and dumps and depots of various descriptions. The increasing number of
notices and signs give unmistakable evidence of our proximity to the
zone of action. The roads are now packed with lorries and cars through
which we can hardly pass. On the left all the time is the unbroken line
of the grass-covered sand-dunes hiding the not-far-distant sea from our
eyes. Then suddenly the traffic thins and vanishes. We turn a corner and
face a stretch of empty road, and know that now we are really near the
front. Half-way down the road we pass a look-out tower built up among
the trees, and near by is a warning notice.

The road is absolutely empty, and we begin to feel a little nervous. We
come to another corner by which is a wrecked house, in a corner of
which, however, the inhabitants are still dwelling. All round are shell
craters filled with suspiciously fresh yellow clay. Here and there
broken trees lean sadly against their neighbours. I see an officer in
khaki near by and I hail him.

"Is it far to the lines?"

"Straight up the road--I wouldn't take your car any farther than the end
of the trees, though, and if I were you I should leave this corner. The
Huns are rather fond of it, as we have got a battery here. They fired a
hundred and fifty shells, mostly six-inch, after tea yesterday!"

"Push on, driver!"

Down the road we move swiftly between the splintered trees of a little
wood. On the left are tattered canvas screens on frames. In some places
great holes have been torn in them by shell-fire and the ragged fabric
trails downward towards the ground. A whistling sound steals faintly on
to our ears; it grows louder and deeper, with a sense of progression,
and it ends in a heavy crash somewhere to our left. Again and again we
hear the shrill whine deepen to a roar, and end in a burst--as large
shells sail over to some hidden mark near the coast.

We are beginning to feel a little nervous, but are very keen to go on.
It is a weird drive in this still deserted road, with its
roughly-filled shell-holes and its broken leaning trees on either side.
The wood ends on the outskirts of the town, which lies in front of us, a
queer panorama of wrecked buildings of pink brick whose bared and
half-broken roof rafters lie against the sky like some dismal and
gigantic snake, while the whole has the unreal aspect of stage scenery.

Here we leave the car, and tell the driver to drive away from trouble
should the German shells begin to fall near him. We walk into the
shattered town with its tawdry shabby appearance of the back of an
exhibition. Along the road the canvas screens flap slightly in the wind,
above them appear the crumbled tops of ruined buildings, while every now
and then we hear a bang, bang, bang, from the direction of the German
trenches, and this noise has all the hollow artificiality of imitated
gun-fire at a show or a circus. A few seconds pass, and crash! crash!
crash! sound three slightly better imitations of shells bursting. The
whole thing seems unreal: the buildings are so pink and villaesque:
chocolate and motor tyre advertisements are painted on them: their
doorways and walls are decorated with ugly porcelain ware and coloured
tiles. It is as though a great battle was waging through the prim little
lanes of the most innocent-looking villa town on the English coast,--it
indeed is what is happening on the Belgian coast, except that here the
buildings are still even more ugly and modern. There is no feeling of
real danger--in spite of the deserted streets, and the occasional sound
of a door being loudly shut, which is some not far distant shell
exploding behind the strange screens.

We turn to the left and enter the town. Here is evident a little more
animation. Soldiers saunter up and down, as though on the promenade
listening to the band, the straw hat of English summer being substituted
by the yellow-painted shrapnel helmet. Shells are now whistling in the
town, and give a slightly more credible impression of artillery fire as
the hollow bang of the explosion is followed in each case, a few seconds
later, by the clatter and tinkle of the roofs and walls of Nieuport
returning in pieces to ground level.

We ask the officer the way to the front lines, as if asking the way to
the pier at Margate.

"First to the left--across a canal--turn right--and across the Yser!" he
says obligingly; and adds, "You better get gas-masks and shrapnel
helmets at the Salvage Dump over there!" ("Towels and bathing costumes
at the little hut on the left," he might be saying!)

We enter the salvage dump--an empty front room littered with all kinds
of implements, and ask for the apparently necessary gas-mask and helmet,
which are carefully dusted by a whistling sergeant. Carrying these
helmets in one hand and the masks slung over our necks, we proceed
towards the front. Now here for one moment we realise that we really are
near a real war, for round the corner walk a couple of nonchalant
Tommies carrying a stretcher, covered with a blanket, from beneath which
protrude two heavy boots, toes towards the ground.

We hurry on and turn to the left and come out into the open, across
which we move erratically, for, at the whistle of each shell, we sit in
a crater until the noise of its explosion encourages us to proceed.

"I feel sure we should not be out here!" says my friend. I feel inclined
to agree with him.

We reach a bank in which soldiers are hiding like rabbits in a warren.
In little square holes the stolid, cheerful-looking men sit; here one
smokes, there one cooks bacon, in another place one reads. Outside some
of the cave doors a pair of socks or a shirt hangs out to dry. The
existence seems to them the normal one, and returning to the life of the
remote past they seem to have found a rough contentment.

At last we enter a trench and wander along it for five or six minutes,
till through a turning on the left we see a narrow ditch leading to a
wide muddy canal. We turn down this side trench and walk to the side of
the water, over which is slung a narrow suspension-bridge about four
feet wide, made of boards laid side by side.

We walk across this, and half-way over to the other side we meet an
officer, and ask where the front is.

He laughs, and inquires who we are, and offers to take us to the mess,
and suggests that we should wear the shrapnel helmet instead of our soft
naval caps. We cross the bridge and walk down another trench to a
farmhouse, covered with little white boards with D.A.Q.M.G.'s and
D.A.D.O.'s, and other incomprehensible mysteries of staff hieroglyphics.
I do not know quite what I have expected a staff mess to be like, but I
know when I descend a damp ladder to a dim cellar lit by candles, and
see a cheerful crowd of officers eating bread and butter and tea at a
broken-down table, I am very surprised. I realise rapidly that a
sub-lieutenant in the Air Service has a better time of it, as far as
mere material comfort goes, than a colonel on his Majesty's staff.

"Found these two lads crossing the bridge with their shrapnel helmets
swinging from their hands; may I introduce you to Major Smith and
Captain So-and-so...." We are introduced all round and are given tea. No
one questions our right to be there at all. Our story of being curious
airmen from Dunkerque is believed. They are amused to hear of our big
shell experiences. They have heard the shells passing overhead like
express trains, although we had no indication of their approach at all.
After we have received some friendly blame for keeping them awake at
night with our engines when we pass over the Nieuport floods, the
colonel who met us details an officer to take us to an observation post.
We move down more trenches--Nose Alley, Nasal Avenue, Nostril Road, and
others--till we reach a little broken-down building, inside which we
penetrate through a small door. A pair of rickety staircases lead us up
to a loft where an officer and a sergeant gaze through a narrow slit
towards the east. On the ledge before them lies a map. They are keeping
a particular sector of German trench under constant observation for the
benefit of their own particular battalion.

Taking a pair of binoculars, I look and see the three British barricades
of sandbags, for the ground here is too wet to permit of the digging of
trenches. Men are seen sitting down or walking up and down behind these
breastworks, and beyond can be seen the spiky curls and haphazard pegs
of the barbed-wire entanglements. In the centre, a grey huddle of stone
indicates the site of Lombartsyde Church. Now and again a cloud of smoke
from a shell rises up behind the German trench. On the left are the
sand-dunes on which the tall, red, broken houses of Westende stand
desolate and fantastically suburban against the sky. I can see through
the glasses the great painted advertisements on them, and notice here
and there the missing roof, the shattered wall; but on the whole, save
for the blank square of the glassless windows, they look untouched
enough. It seems strange to think that the bare lifeless buildings of
that watering town are full of an unseen life, that up in those roofs
Germans are watching us only a few hundred yards away, as we are
watching them. It is strange and uncanny. This, then, is the
line--bleak, dead, full of a sense of ever-menacing danger, haunted by
the hovering phantom of Death. We take a last look and start back to the
car. The farther we go, the easier grows my heart. When at last we turn
the corner of the town and see the old grey tender with its driver
smoking beside it, I want to hail it as a welcome friend. Gladly we hear
its engine throb--gladly we feel the thrill of movement--gladly we move
down the eerie desolate road, by the canvas screens, the broken trees,
where sounds the wail and bang of the shells, like doors in a great
frightening empty house being shut and shut by some unseen and
terrifying phantom hand.

Swiftly we leave the desolate loneliness of war behind, and welcome is
the thought of the trim camp at the aerodrome with its flower-decked
mess and fire-lit cabins. When at last we sweep across the little white
bridge over the canal and stop beside the lawns of the quarter-deck,
over which flaps the White Ensign, I realise keenly the comfort and the
tranquillity of my life.

Now it is the twilight of dusk. Though day still reigns supreme in
untarnished brightness, there is a feeling in the air that the end is
coming, and night surely must vanquish soon. Out from the aerodrome are
being wheeled the Handley-Page machines, and I hurry through my task of
synchronising the watches. To-night I raid not, and from the beginning
my feelings are mixed. I am glad I am not going, and I am bitterly sorry
too, because I know when, in the late hours of starlight, one by one the
huge machines glide whistling to earth, and into the mess the furred and
helmeted airmen tramp on great fleece-lined boots, I will envy the
glorious sense of achievement, of well-earned rest, which will then be

Now I am told to take over the task of the duty officer who is going on
a raid. At once I proceed to the monotonous job of censoring letters,
because it has to be done, and it had better be finished early. How
weary a job it is, and how full of temptation! When you sit alone in a
little room with the pile of two or three hundred letters in front of
you, how easy it is to read but one in ten. It is then that a conscience
is a really great disadvantage. The letters are all the same, and as
they are read through it is very apparent what a race of bad
letter-writers we are. Seventy-five per cent read like this:--

     DEAR MUM,--Tell Alf that Sid has got my blue sweater; if he gives
     it to Joe he will bring it over to his squadron and Stan can bring
     it here. Give Em and Gert my love; I met Bob yesterday, he says Tom
     and Jack are fine....

The one splendid line in all is the splendid prayer written beneath the

_Roll on, Blighty_, or _Roll on, three months_, with all the passion of
loneliness and nostalgia throbbing in it.

It must be confessed that the description of a typical sailor's letter
is not far from the truth.

_Dear Mother, How are you? So am I. Fags. George._

Letter after letter is read through and initialled, and I get no nearer
to the soul of such of the writers as I know personally. Then I hear a
bugle blow the Rum call, and I proceed to the Ship's Steward's office to
superintend the issue of Rum. When the representative of each mess has
been served, it is the duty of the officer of the Watch to witness the
pouring out of the rum upon the ground, a proceeding watched with grief
by any casual spectators.

The preservation of the naval traditions in the Royal Naval Air Service
was of real value, and welded the service into a very loyal and proud
body. To some it may seem ridiculous that, even at air stations in the
heart of France, hundreds of miles from the sea, the "liberty men
paraded on the quarter-deck to go ashore in the liberty boat," when they
proceeded to Nancy by lorry. No one concerned, however, treated it as
anything but a matter of course, which is one of the greatest assets of
any tradition. The "ship's company" would be summoned from the "mess
decks" to hear the "orders of the day" read by the "First Lieutenant,"
and "the starboard watch had a make and mend." The whole service was
"navy" and felt "navy." Naturally the sea-going navy looked on it with a
little contempt and a great deal of scorn, but I doubt if it realised
with what pride and admiration we of the new service looked up to our
big brothers on the high seas. We watched them as a new boy at school
watches the _blasé_ young gentleman of two years' scholastic experience,
and furtively draws his hands out of his pockets if he finds that such
an attitude is not considered correct.

With the formation of the Royal Air Force, the naval branch of the air
service, at any rate, lost a possession so cherished and so sacred that
it scarcely dared talk about it. It was like being made to change a
religion and to throw up in a moment the faith and the ceremonial habits
of a lifetime. Underneath the khaki and the pale blue, to an officer and
a man, we wore, and still wear, the dark blue and gold buttons of those
splendid days.

Meanwhile the rum has been doled out in the mess with care and
argument, and I return to my letters. From the east now marches night
with swift advance, while the west shines scarlet and orange over the
chimneys of the huts of Dunkerque. The first primrose star of the
evening burns with a lucent glory in the forehead of the sunset, and the
whole evening is pregnant with coming events. Too beautiful is the hour
for work, and as I walk alone over the rose-tinted aerodrome I can hear
in the tranquil night the muffled beating of innumerable engines, and I
can see the lustrous flares dropping from the skies as on the ground a
thousand signals glow, a thousand lights are born and die. To the
darkening east I look, and I can picture thirty, forty, fifty miles away
the anti-aircraft guns, whose tarpaulin sheets are even now being
removed. I can picture the lean-nosed shells in their numbered
racks--the great glass lenses of the searchlights, the "green-ball"
machines loaded with long belts of cartridges. I look to my right at the
waiting machines, and it seems strange to think that those heavy
structures of steel and wood are destined in scarcely two hours to set
in furious action those silent lifeless weapons so far away across the
shadowy fields. The noise of an engine under trial sweeps over the
ground in surging waves of sound and dies away. The giants are
awakening, are stretching themselves, and are eagerly meditating the
time to come.

Soon I am dining in the lamp-lit mess, where at flower-decked tables the
laughing pilots sit, and I feel sorry I am not going onward with them to
the hidden dangers and exhilarations of flight in the darkness beyond
the lines; yet I feel glad also that my to-morrow is certain, but feel a
hanger-on among heroes, a useless camp-follower of legioned gods.

One after one the cheerful youths glance casually at their watches and
leave the mess for their cabins in order to prepare for the cold heights
to which they will soon climb. Heavily muffled and coated I go out on to
the dark aerodrome. Out roar the engines of the first machine as it
sweeps across the grass, and I have one momentary glance of the
resolute, preoccupied faces of the pilot and observer who are going to
ride through the flaming avenues of Bruges and Ostend on their swift
lean charger of steel and wood.

Machine after machine leaves, and, as ground officer, I shout
instructions upwards to the pilots through the clamour of the engines,
and as the pilot waves his hand as a sign of his imminent departure, I

"Cheero, Jack! Good luck!"

"Cheero, Paul!" comes the answer, and the engine leaps out into
deafening thunder, and with a beating throb the machine slips by, going
ever faster into the night.

Soon the last machine has left, and for a time we see the red and green
lights moving above us through the stars, and we hear the murmur of the
engines, and then at length silence reigns in the quiet uneasy night!

To the side of the canal I walk and peer out across the silent plain to
the dim east. A pallid star-shell gleams, and quivers, and sinks: a gun
flashes to the south near Ypres: then remote, remote, yet glittering
clearly, rises a tiny chain of green balls which climbs up, up, up into
the night. Near it can just be seen the pale arms of moving
searchlights, seeming scarce lighter than the darkness. Already the
great night-birds have pierced the frontiers of the enemy: already has
the battle of the night skies begun.

Then with an unexpected suddenness wails the panic-stricken appealing
cry of "Mournful Mary" at Dunkerque docks. Again and again it wails, and
its dying echo is taken up by a chorus of shrill and undignified hooters
and syrens in the district. What a sense of utter terror there is in the
sound! The town seems to have a corporate existence, and seems to be
screaming piteously, like some animal faced with a terrible and
unavoidable death. Again moans the chilling sound of the great voice of
Dunkerque, and down the coast the blue-white beams of the French
searchlights begin to wave nervously in an uncertain sweep. Three or
four anti-aircraft guns sound dully in the distance, and a few red and
futile shells burst high up in the star-strewn sky.

More and more searchlights come into action; nearer and louder guns bark
out their stupid blind anger. There is little movement in the crowd of
watchers on the aerodrome. Every one listens. Faintly yet surely can be
heard now the menacing chant of the enemy--bavoom, bavoom,
bavoom--steady, unaltering, ever progressing forwards.

"Huh! That's old Oberleutnant Finkelbaum from Ghistelles. He's always
first!" says a wit. "Come on, Finky ... you won't be found. That's
right--keep up the coast. You're after the docks, I suppose. Look out;
throttle, man--throttle, or you will get caught!"

_Bavoom--bavoom_, throb the two engines of the bold attacker, and our
sympathies and interest somehow seem to be with him.

"Turn in now, old man, turn in! Stop your engine--that's good--glide and
keep throttled--you'll be all right!"

Suddenly the droning above ceases, and the silence is more threatening
and sinister than the clamour. We do not feel quite so assured about the
unseen enemy, since we can no longer locate his position by sound.
However, we know that he is almost certain to be attacking the docks,
which lie some two miles away, so we do not altogether lose the sense of
being spectators.

A long minute passes slowly, then a wide fan-shaped flash of red light
appears beyond the town, whose roofs are for a moment silhouetted black
against its glare. It dies slowly, and another leaps up near it.

Some one begins to count--

"One, two, three ..."

Then rises up with an awful splendour and a strange deliberation a tall,
coiling column of fire, which, like a swiftly-growing tree, opens and
expands until it is nearly five hundred feet high--a huge fountain of
flame. Some oil dump has been struck. It is an amazing sight. Every
face, with open mouth and wondering eye, is lit for a moment in its red
light, and then it slowly fades and dies away, leaving a steady glow
behind the dark houses to show that a great conflagration is now in

"Nine ... ten ... eleven ... twelve!" ends the count.

Then crash after crash of ear-splitting noise sounds on our ears as the
noise of the twelve bursting bombs comes to our ears. The anti-aircraft
guns bark and crash stupidly round us, and among the stars appear the
quick and random spurts of the bursting shells. Aimless searchlights,
pale and puerile, move irregularly over the sky. Still there is no sound
above us.

"Keep throttled, Finkelbaum! Jolly good shooting. You push off to dinner
at Ghistelles; you've done your bit to-night," comments the wit.

Bavoom--_bavoom_--suddenly sounds the engine right above us, as the
machine opens out its engines as it escapes southwards from the
Dunkerque defences. Some of us stroll over towards the edge of the
canal. Of course there is no danger--he has dropped all his bombs--yet
there may be a "hang-up," and the back gunlayer may only just now be
finding it out.

Crack, crack--crack, crack, crack, clamours the machine-gun over by our
mess. Up rush the red sparks of the tracer-bullets.

"There he is--there--_there_--to the left of those two searchlights.
Open fire!" calls the C.O.

With a flash and a roar the little three-inch gun speaks out, and the
clatter of the falling shell-case can be heard above the scream of the
whining projectile. More machine-guns start their staccato tumult.
Tracer-bullets rush upward from a dozen places. The gun roars again. The
aerodrome is now thoroughly enjoying itself. Pale in the moonlight a
little bird-like shape on the dim blue tapestry of the night sky, I can
see the German machine moving swiftly eastwards to the lines. The guns
and machine-guns in a radius of five miles fire frantically and
erratically towards it, and in the midst of this discord is heard a fast
whistle which quickly develops into a scream. I slide down the side of
the canal in a cloud of pebbles and dust. The sound of a very near
explosion crashes on to my ear. I crawl up the canal and see a cloud of
black smoke not many yards away in the ploughed field beyond the canal.
The "hang-up" has been dropped. "Finkelbaum" has had his subtle revenge.

One after one now the twin-engined machines come roaring up the coast.
One after one they lay across the docks their deadly line of bombs. Fire
after fire is started, and in many places beyond the roofs can be seen
the red glow of the flames. Each attacker in turn is greeted with the
useless activity of the searchlights and the erratic flashes of
scattered shells. "Mournful Mary" wails and wails in miserable and
unavailing fear. One after one the great bombers, lightened of their
loads, sail lightly homewards to rest in the distant aerodromes of
Ghistelles or Mariaalter, followed, to be frank, with our
congratulations on their success, for we have too much a fellow-feeling
with them to wish them ill on their dangerous journeys.

It may seem strange, but if it was reported that eight Gothas had been
lost on a raid in England, the instinctive feeling was--

"Rotten! Poor devils! This job is getting dangerous!"

If all returned safely, however, we felt--

"Good! Good! Things are not so bad after all! The job looks like staying
pretty safe!"

Now some one reports that he can see the lights of a machine far away
near the coast. A renewed activity moves through the quiet band of

"White light, sir!" chants the look-out.

Through the silver skies falls slowly a ball of glittering white fire.
There is a short report, and from the upturned pistol of the raid
officer a white light shoots upwards and falls in a graceful curve.
Louder and louder grows the sound of the motors of the returning
Handley-Page. The red and green lights on its wings can be clearly seen.
Then the throbbing sound dies, the lights turn and vanish, and for a
time the sky is silent and empty. A faint hissing is heard, the lights
reappear, and then a dazzling glare breaks out in the sky, lighting up
the underside of the Wing to which it is attached. Lower and lower
floats the machine. Every eye is fixed intently on it as it draws nearer
and nearer the aerodrome. An excited officer, whose invariable habit it
is to land mentally each machine, begins to utter his hurried words of

"Now then, Andy!" he says, "shove your engines on, boy! Shove your
engines on! That's right! Pull her back! Hold her! Over the telegraph
wires! Throttle! Throttle...! _Throttle!_ That's right! Hold her back!
Hold ... her ... back! Gently! Gently! You're really on the ground, boy!
Take care--you're all right! Gently! On the ground! Thank God you're

With a triumphant roar from the engines, the machine sweeps round and
rolls up to the hangar.

We crowd round the nose and greet the furred and helmeted airmen as they
climb down from the bottom of the great machine.

"Yes! Dropped on Zeebrugge! Hell of a time! Caught three times! Yes!
Lots of Archie! Green balls nearly hit my tail! Yes! Ten on the mole!
Coming into the mess, Bill?"

So one by one these adventurers of the night skies, their eyes bright
with excitement, stamp proudly into the mess, and I feel jealous of the
glorious joy of life which is theirs, the sense of safety after passing
through so many great dangers.

The last German machine has long since landed in his distant aerodrome.
Two alone of our machines are to return. I walk casually up and down a
ditch near the "band-stand," throwing stones at shadowy rats playing in
the darkness, when suddenly I hear a voice say--

"There are two lights low down right over there ... yes! I can hear the
engine. He's getting very low! My God! Did you hear that! _He's

At once a mad wave of activity sweeps over everybody. Being duty officer
I at once rush to the garage.

"Ambulance away at once! Send two tenders with Pyrenes at once! Take
axes and saws--get lanterns--go across the fields!"

Car after car starts up and thunders across the little wooden
bridge. Over the fields hurry the men with saws and axes and
fire-extinguishers. Their lanterns sway and flicker for a while like
fireflies, and then disappear. The cold heartless beam of the aerodrome
searchlight lies parallel to the ground, splitting the darkness in the
surmised direction of the disaster. Somewhere out there in the gloom of
the empty fields lies the wrecked machine. Even as we walk up and down
in restless vain excitement they may be dead, or mangled and dying,
these friends of ours. We do not know who it is. Our one desire is to
save, save, save.

"My God! I wonder who it is! Thank Heaven, there is no fire yet! Can you
see flames, look-out? No? Thank Heaven!"

A terrible and bitter silence lies around. We have no news. Minute after
minute passes with awful slowness. The black night holds a secret which
almost distracts us. Nobody returns. There is nothing we can do. We must
wait, wait. Half an hour passes, and at last we see the headlights of a
car which comes slowly up the road, crosses the bridge, and moves up to
the mess. Carefully from the back seat are assisted two men. One has his
head bandaged with a white linen band. The other, wearing only a tunic
and a shirt, runs into the C.O.'s office on slim white legs.

"No one badly hurt," is the report. "Machine absolute crash. Darley's
head was under one of the engines, which pressed it more and more into
the ground. He was pretty lucky not to be killed! The Wing Commander's
head was under the other engine. It took twenty men to lift it off, and
he was afraid we would lift it before we had enough men. He did not want
it dropped back again! He had petrol pouring over his face, and was
quite drunk when we found him. He was singing! Lucky the machine didn't
catch fire. If it had ... well!"

"The man in the back wasn't hurt.... Yes! They got lost in the mist and
flew right into the ground--nearly a mile away! It was on the other side
of the canal. Two mechanics swam across--one stark naked, in spite of
the cold--plucky devils!" A great reaction follows the strain. Every one
is gay and chatters excitedly, until we remark that there is still a
machine missing.

"Who is it? Booth? His second trip, isn't it? Hope he is all right. Is
he overdue? Been gone three hours. Yes, he was to go to Ghent! I expect
he will be all right!" goes the low murmur of conversation.

Half an hour passes and the anxiety increases. There are more people
standing on the aerodrome looking towards the east in silence. Watches
are consulted rather furtively. Nobody wants to voice his doubt. Forced
laughter sounds here and there. To add to the uneasiness a white mist
begins to creep over the aerodrome. The searchlight is turned on, and
its thin white beam, slanting upward, only penetrates a little way into
the whirling vapour.

"White rocket!" cries the raid officer.

With a rush of noise the rocket passes upward and bursts into a cluster
of liquid-white stars. The searchlight splutters and hisses. The mist
lies cold and white and damp around us. Again and again the rocket
rushes upward with a dying noise, until its very sound makes us surly
and irritable.

Another half-hour passes, and then another. Still the raid officer
stands silent and waiting on his platform, the moisture of the mist
shining in little white drops on his heavy blanket coat. Still the
searchlight hisses. Still the rockets rush and burst. Every heart is
heavy. Every voice is silent. One by one the watchers move wearily to

Hope of return is now long past. The white beam of the searchlight is
cut off. The rockets no longer drop their white and lovely stars of
useless welcome through the night. I walk tired and miserable across the
aerodrome as in the east slowly spreads the first rosy flush of dawn,
and across my dragging boots the wet blades of grass throw their
sympathetic tears of dew.



    "Above the hostile lands I fly,
    And know, O Lord, that Thou art nigh,
    And with Thy ever-loving care
    Dost bear me safely through the air.

    Thou madest the twinkling Polar Star,
    Which guides me homewards from afar;
    And Thou hast made my greatest boon,
    The radiant visage of the moon."

           --_A Night Hymn._ Written sixty miles
                beyond the German lines.

Early in the war it became necessary to destroy a railway bridge some
way behind the German lines. This structure was an important link in the
enemy's lines of communication, and its destruction was of vital
importance. The work was given to one of the very early squadrons to
accomplish, and it was carried out in rather an unusual way.

From the moonlit aerodrome there rose into the quiet night a little
two-seater B.E. 2C. machine, with a pilot and an observer as the crew.
Soon this hummingbird of the darkness was winging its steady way across
the German front lines, and met as opposition only the scattered and
inaccurate firing of machine-gunners and rifle-men on the ground.

The observer closely compared his lamp-lit chart, and the pale map of
the moonlit country below him. With unerring certainty the airmen moved
across field and forest, farm and village, till they saw some distance
ahead of them the gleam of a silver streak of water. As they drew nearer
they saw the shining curves of a river, across which, at one point, lay
a straight black line. It was their bridge.

At once the noise of the engine ceased and the machine began to sink
gently on softly singing wires towards the ground. Bigger grew the
woods, wider the thin white roads, deeper the soft and velvety shadows.
Over the tops of some trees they floated. The rolling expanse of a field
rose up to them. The machine quivered and jerked, and soon was rolling
softly along the grass. Before it had stopped the observer had jumped
out, and he hurriedly lifted a bulky package from his cockpit. He waved
to the pilot. He heard the sudden roar of the engine, and the machine
slipped faster and faster across the field and rose up towards the
stars, leaving him alone on the ground in the midst of his enemies, many
long miles from his own lines.

Quickly he ran to the edge of a wood, and he was soon creeping silently
through the dim lattice-work of moonlight and rippling shadows. In a
little while he heard the soft murmur of rapid waters, and he came to
the edge of the river. He followed its course for a time, threading his
way through the trees near the bank. When he could see the bridge some
two hundred yards away he slipped into the river, and wading waist-high
in the water, with his precious packet held well above the surface, he
moved slowly and silently toward the moonlit arches of stone.

Above him he could now hear the hum of his machine, and he saw it sweep
overhead quite low down. It turned rapidly and dived down straight
towards the bridge, and he heard the _pok_, _pok_, _pok_ of its
machine-gun. With a great rush of sound it roared upwards again and
banked steeply almost above him. Now he could hear the noise of an
approaching train, and he saw the restless machine, whose pilot was
deliberately distracting the attention of the sentries by his acrobatics
and the noise of his engine, dive towards it. There was a sudden flash
of light and a very loud detonation. The pilot had released one of his
bombs. Then once more sounded the metallic hammering of his machine-gun.

Meanwhile the observer had reached the base of one of the stone piers
which supported the bridge. The excited sentries had not noticed his
presence, and now he was safely hidden in the gloom of the arch. With
the water swirling round his waist he worked feverishly to remove one of
the stones. At last it was loosened sufficiently to be withdrawn. In its
place he put his precious packet, which was a charge of high explosive.
This he secured firmly in position, and then, having set the fuse, he
began to return, through the water, to his starting place. Another swift
flash illuminated the leaves of the riverside bushes. It was followed by
a second thundering explosion, as another bomb burst near the crowded
troop train which still had not crossed the bridge.

In a few minutes he clambered up the bank and hurried through the magic
beauty of the moonlit wood. He reached the edge of the field where he
had landed, and stood waiting. He looked at the luminous face of his
watch. The pilot was going to allow him fifteen minutes. Fourteen had
passed. He knew his friend would not fail him whatever happened, so
though he stood, soaking wet and alone, surrounded by the now angry
enemy, he did not feel at all alarmed.

Overhead he heard the drone of the engine, which suddenly stopped, to be
followed by the faint, scarcely-heard hiss of the wires as the machine
began to glide downwards to the ground. Soon a shadowy shape moved
swiftly across the ground and stopped. The observer ran over to it and
climbed quickly into his seat. He shouted to the pilot of the success of
his operation, and then with a roar and rush was borne upwards, and to
his relief found himself flying swiftly once more through the friendly

Even as they turned to start on their long homeward journey a great
sullen roar rose to them from below, and they saw that no more across
the silver streak of the river lay a black line, for now it was
obscured by a cloud of smoke, which slowly dissipated and revealed a
great gap in the bridge, near which was the red glow of the locomotive
that no longer could take forward its carriages loaded with troops
destined for a now impossible railhead.

That happened in the early days of the war. Swiftly developed the
powerful arm of the air. Great were the changes in thought. Mighty the
new weapons of destruction....

       *       *       *       *       *

"C.O. wants to see you at once in the Mapping Office."

It is four o'clock on September 29, 1917.

I hurry to the little hut by the mess and pass through the door. Over
the long desk leans the grave-faced squadron commander, the great
pioneer of night-bombing. With a pencil and a ruler he carefully studies
a map.

"Is that you, Bewsher?" he says. "Look here, I want you to go to Namur
to-night; do you think you can do it?"

"I think so, sir."

"Well! Look! It is a hundred and twenty miles the other side of the
lines. There is a big railway bridge there--the Luxembourg
bridge--here--see! That is the only railway bridge for a hundred miles
of the river. If it is put out of action the German lines of
communication are badly broken. The Army H.Q. are very keen on it. It is
a great chance for the squadron--and a great chance for you. Brackley
will be the pilot. You had better go to see him. How are you going to
find the way?"

"Know the way up to Ghent, sir; shall go by landmarks after that!"

"Hum! Take my advice and fly by the compass, and only use landmarks as a
check! Well, you will see!"

Now ensues three frantic hours of activity. I hurry off to see Brackley,
who has just returned from leave, and at twelve o'clock was in Dover.
The time of preparation is one series of kaleidoscopic pictures--of
crawling inside a machine unfamiliar to either of us: of being taught
the operation of a new petrol pressure system: of watching the loading
of the four huge 250-lb. bombs, fat and yellow, which I have never
before had the opportunity of dropping: of drawing a line from Dunkerque
to Ghent, from Ghent to Namur, across the long green-and-brown map: of
pondering the patches of the forests, the blue veins of the river, and
thinking how in a few hours they will appear for me in reality, lying
below in the moonlight, etched in dim shades of black and dull silver:
of a strange dinner in the mess when semi-seriously, semi-facetiously I
write out my will, leaving to one friend my books, to another friend my
pictures: of having the document properly witnessed, and rushing out
amidst cries of good luck: of the lonely dressing in leather and fur in
my little hut: of the roar of the engines as we rise up at latest
twilight towards the glittering companies of the stars.

It is a quarter to eight. Eight thousand feet above the coast near
Dunkerque we move. My pilot is a senior officer, and I have never flown
with him before, so I sit quietly and do not talk, as I watch carefully
the dials of my petrol instruments, and also keep a careful eye on the
country below. The pilot looks at the engines with a satisfied glance,
and the machine swings round and points east.

Soon the dim pattern of the Dixmude floods lie below, reflecting the
gleam of a quivering star-shell. In the sky above Thorout appears a
dazzling Very's light which drifts and dies--German machines are abroad
in the darkness also. Far below now lies Thorout, and for a minute or
two its pale beam waves vainly and impotent in the moonlit sky, its
strength so dissipated that it is useless. Soon south of Ghent we move,
and see to our right the landing lights of the huge Gotha aerodrome of

I stand up and look across the pilot, and count the lights.

"Eight on each side--two red at the west!" I say.

"I make it more," he comments. "Count again!"

I make sure of my accuracy, and draw in my note-book a detailed sketch
of the landing arrangements.

"Look!" cries suddenly the pilot. "We've been heard!"

I peer down once more and see only the two red lights glowing on the
ground. The two lines of white electric lamps have been switched off,
for the drone of our engines has been heard high above the aerodrome.

Suddenly I realise that we will be heard through the whole of our long
journey. The absence of searchlights and shell fire in these undefended
regions makes one forget that from town to town, from village to
village, the report of our progress is sent to a thousand military
centres in a vast radius. Already our passage into virgin territory (for
not for years has country east of Ghent been bombed at night) must be
causing a sensation. Brussels must be apprehensive: Aix-la-Chapelle is
feeling anxiety: Cologne is uneasy.

Now ahead of us I can see what never before have I seen--the lights of
villages shining clearly in scintillating groups here and there across
the pale moonlit country. With my map on my knees I pick up and check
every railway and crossroad and forest below me in turn, and manage to
keep the machine exactly over the line marked on the map.

"We're all right, sir!" I say to the pilot. "See this straight road on
the map. There it is--there--see! See that forest crossing
it--well--there it is! I am quite sure of our position. We come to a
river soon ... look! look! do you see it--that silver streak over

The pilot nods, looks at my map, and turns on the bright engine lights
in order to examine the dials. To my slight discomfort he leaves them on
as he flies ahead, evidently feeling confident of our safety.

Far ahead I can see a light flashing and flashing in a regular code. I
presume it to be near Brussels, and point it out to the pilot. In a few
minutes through the slight haze of the distance appears a great number
of twinkling lights, and soon to our left I see a vast sea of
glittering, shimmering gems, with lines of lights radiating outwards
from it like the tentacles of an octopus. I suddenly realise that it is
Brussels, and with a cry of utter delight stand up to look down more
clearly at it. It is a wonderful spectacle. There, in one wide sweep
before my eyes, lies the whole city, triumphantly blazing out into the
night. I can see the long lines of the boulevards stretching through the
mass of lights, on the outskirts of which glitter little villages, from
which also radiate the lines of street lamps, as though illuminated
starfish lay here and there across the country. _Brussels_--_Brussels_,
beats through my brain as I see the Belgian capital, feeling safe in
its remoteness from the lines flaming bravely in the darkness. I live
through one of those rare moments of divinity which come to men when
they see before them for the first time some sublime spectacle which
perhaps has never been seen before.

In the middle of the town there flashes an aerial lighthouse. This is
rather puzzling, as the German night-bombing aerodromes are many miles
to the west, near the coast at Ghent and Bruges. I wonder for whom this
light flashes and blinks. Then I suddenly realise that perhaps one of
the infrequent Zeppelin raids is being carried out against England on
this wonderfully clear night.

Brussels passes. Road and forest and village flow beneath us in a
regular and expected stream. Slowly the minutes go by. Ten minutes to
ten says the watch. For over two hours we have been in the air, and our
engines show no signs of wavering. On them alone now depend our chances
of return. Soon I see far ahead of me the silver ribbon of the Meuse
shining in the haze of the horizon, and then the lights of Namur, cold
and sparkling, appear by the side of the river. I examine every tiny
landmark on the ground below, and check it with my map. There is no
doubt. There lie the lights of the town--there lies the forest on its
outskirts--there lie the two bridges, from one of which the thin black
line of the railway trails off into the distance.

"Namur!" I say to the pilot.

He looks down and flies round in a wide circle in order to examine every
point, and to ensure for himself that no doubt whatever exists as to the
identity of the place. He is quite satisfied, and turns the machine
towards the south-east. We cross the river south of the town as I
explain to him my intentions. I want him to turn north-west, against
wind, and to throttle the engines. We will glide down parallel to the
railway line, which will help me to get a good line. We will reach the
bridge at a low altitude, and I will drop my bombs. We will turn quickly
down wind to escape.

Before I crawl into the back I point out to him some very bright lights
in the direction of the Namur Zeppelin sheds, which seem to confirm my
supposition of the activity of German airships to-night. Then, with a
final word of explanation, I stoop through the door behind my seat and
lie on the floor of the machine. I slide open the little trap-door
beneath the pilot's seat, and see a small square picture of moonlit
country. Ahead there is just visible the curve of the river, and the
black line of the bridge across it. Beneath me runs the railway track
which is to be my guide. To my joy I can see, at one place upon this
thin dark line, the intermittent red glowing of an engine's fire-box. In
a swift moment I realise the actuality of the country below. For a
second it ceases to be a map and becomes peopled with busy human beings.
Oh, Namur (think I), ablaze with lights, you enjoy this moonlight night
of late September, far, far from the turmoil of war, little conscious
that overhead this very moment lies a fur-clad airman peering down at
you, preparing to drop his terrific missiles, packed with fierce
explosive! Laugh on in your cafés, you exquisitely-clad German
ambusqués! For me this moment is rich and ecstatic. Then the difficulty
of the task absorbs my mind. The noise of the engines has ceased.
Through the machine sounds the faint rush of wind hissing and sighing
round the tight-strung wires and planes as we sink lower and lower. My
bomb-sight draws nearer and nearer to the bridge. Pressing the buttons
of the direction indicator I steer the machine to right and left, as
green or red glow the lights before the eyes of the pilot. The direction
bar touches the bridge and drifts off to the left. I swing the machine
round quickly, again the bar crosses the bridge, again it drifts off. We
are flying slightly side to wind, and I can scarce keep the head of the
machine on a straight course. The pale-glowing range-bars draw nearer
and nearer, with a slow progression, to the black edge of the silver
river. Again I press the right button; again a green light glows; again
the machine swings towards the bridge. The range-bars cross the base of
it. I press over the bomb handle quickly, ... and again.
Clatter--click--clatter--click--click--clatter sound the opening and
closing bomb doors behind me as bomb after bomb slides out into the
moonlight depths below. For a moment I see the fat yellow shapes,
clear-lit in the pale light beneath me, go tumbling down and down
towards the dim face of the country.

I hurry back to my seat beside the pilot.

"Half dropped, sir. 'Fraid they will not get it. Oh! I am sorry, sir! I
am sorry! We drifted!"

One, two, three red flashes leap up in the water of the river some
hundred yards to the south of the bridge. One, two more flashes, more
rapid and brilliant, leap up on the moonlight embankment, leaving large
white clouds of smoke.

"Jolly good! You didn't miss by much!" he says encouragingly.

Boom--boom--BOOM--boom--BOOM! sound the five explosions as we turn. It
is strange to look at Namur--still sparkling beautifully with a wealth
of light under the stars--still unchanged, though we know that the
thundering clamour of these five unexpected explosions must have stirred
up the placid life of the little tranquil town till it is seething like
an ant-hill upset by the wayside. In the squares and streets must run
the alarmed population, rushing to and fro aimlessly, utterly terrified.
In the military headquarters the telephones and telegraphs must have
burst into a sudden activity. The vibrant roar of the explosions must
have been heard for a great distance. Even in remote Aix-la-Chapelle
the strolling Germans must have wondered at the far-away sound drifting
to them under the stars.

Again we fly to the south: again we turn and start on our second "run"
over the target: again I crawl into the back, steeled this time by a
great anxiety and a great determination, for I realise the enormous
responsibility which is mine. With the five remaining bombs behind me I
have, if possible, to destroy the great railway bridge, which to me will
appear only a small black match laid across the silver ribbon of the
river. If the bridge is destroyed or damaged the German communications
will be vitally interfered with, the moving of their troops will be
interrupted, the pressure on the British lines will be relieved. If I
fail, that much-desired relief will not take place, and therefore many
more British soldiers may be killed. That is not all, however--for
failure means that this expensive raid is wasted; the reputation of the
squadron is tarnished; the official approval of Handley-Pages as
long-distance night-bombers is reversely affected; and, least of all,
though of great importance to myself, my splendid opportunity for a
great achievement is lost. With this sense of responsibility weighing
heavily on me I lie down, peering through the little square hole. My
face is wet with the perspiration of anxiety in spite of the intense
cold of the biting wind: my hands shake with excitement. I decide to
take the machine to the river along the railway line, and slightly to
the east of it, and then to judge the wind drift so that the machine is
turned by it to the left, when I will press the starboard signal button
and swing the machine at an angle across the bridge, and then drop my
bombs. It is a great risk, and unless I judge exactly I will not

In a fever of apprehension, and with my whole being concentrated on the
relation of the fine wires and bars of my bomb-sight with the black
thread of the railway far below me, I lie on the varnished strips of
wood on the floor of the machine, my legs flung wide apart behind me, my
bare hands and face frozen with the icy blast of wind, my uncovered eyes
running with water. Nearer and nearer to the bridge draw the two
range-bars. Gently and rarely do I touch the starboard signal button,
to swing the machine again and again to the right as the wind drifts it
to the left. We are near the bridge--we are almost over it. I press the
starboard button determinedly, and I see the glow of green light
illuminate the dashboard. To the right swings the machine. White glows a
light as I press the central button. I look below quivering with
anxiety. The machine ceases its leftward drift and swings to the right,
and the two luminous range-bars are in line with the bridge. I grasp the
bomb-handle and once, twice, press it over. I look behind--the bombs are
all gone. It is all over! The irrevocable deed has been done! The
failure or success of the long raid is sealed. I climb clumsily to my
feet and look through the door beside the pilot.

"All gone, sir, I ... Oh! look, _look_!"

Upon the thin black line of the bridge leap out two great flashes,
leaving a cloud of moonlit smoke which entirely obscures one end of it.

"Oh--damn good--damn good!" yells out the pilot excitedly. "Hit it! _Hit
it!_ You've hit it! Oh--priceless--priceless!"

"Good--oh, sir! I am glad. It is hit, isn't it, sir? Two of them. I _am_

Almost crying with joy we shake hands, and he thumps me cheerfully on
the back.

"Something for you for this when we get back!" he says. "Oh! damn
good--damn good, Paul. Priceless--priceless!"

I look round, and in the back of the machine I see a sight which left
the clearest image of this raid in my mind. There stands the moonlit
figure of the tall good-humoured gunlayer, and with a characteristic
gesture I see him put out his arms with the thumbs pointing upwards--the
most sincere expression of congratulation he can deliver. My heart goes
out in gratitude to this solitary man who already, for nearly three
hours, has stood alone on a thin platform in the back of the machine,
watching and eager, knowing that he has no control over his destiny,
that his life lies in the hands of the little figure whose black head he
can see so far away from him in the nose of the machine.

Now we turn at once and start on our long homeward trail. Exhilarated
with a glorious feeling of success, so contented and glowing with joy
that I am not affected by the fact of being over a hundred miles from
friendly territory, I sit on my seat with legs gaily swinging, and read
Dickens, write letters and verses, drink tea and eat sandwiches, and
chatter incessantly to the pilot, who, in his satisfaction, does not

"You'll get something for this--if we cross the lines all right!" he
says with his usual restrained optimism.

Charleroi sparkles on our left. Near it at La Louvière flashes an aerial
lighthouse, whose presence I record on my note-book. Having found our
way to Namur by map, we seem to return by a curious kind of homing
instinct. We know where we are as if by second nature. Indeed so little
do I trouble that I mistake Courtrai for Roulers, but it makes but
little difference. Such confidence have I in our safety, so lovely is
the moon-drenched night, so friendly are the undefended skies, that we
fly on and on as in a stupor of utter bliss. We know that if we return
we are famous, and we know we will return. Song and laughter, and rich
thoughts of far-distant London and its proffered glories when next comes
leave, fill my drowsy brain. I hug the pilot's arm affectionately. At
twelve o'clock he was at Dover, now scarcely eleven hours after he is
coming back from Namur. How wonderful it is--how wonderful he is!

Ypres flickers to the left with its ever uneasy artillery fire. In our
ease we do not even trouble to cross the lines as soon as possible, but
fly on parallel to them, some five miles on the German side. At last we
turn and cross slowly over the white blossoms of the ever-rising,
ever-drooping star-shells.

Back towards Dunkerque we fly, and the pilot says over again to me--

"You did jolly well, old man. You'll get something for this--if we land

I wonder what his conditional clause will be when we are on the
ground--"if you live to get it"--probably!

Soon the welcome landing T glows far below us. We fire our white light:
at once the white light rises from below. "Charlie," the raid officer,
is faithfully on the watch, as he must have been now for long hours,
awaiting our return.

We glide downwards, and in a moment of exultation the pilot, to my
everlasting regard for him, sweeps a few feet over the aerodrome,
yelling with me in utter excitement--

"_Horray! Horray! Horray! Horray!_"

I lean far over the side screaming out my joy in this mad whirling rush
over the grass. On roar the engines: we sweep swiftly upwards again, and
turn, and land.

As soon as the machine has stopped crowds press round us. A Ford car is
waiting to take us over to the headquarters.

"Oh! Damn good," says the pilot. "We hit it--but I take no credit for
it. It was this child's show--he did it!"

"Bilge! You were great, sir. I never saw such steering!"

In the jolting little car we whirl across a bridge, alongside the canal,
and across a second bridge to my beloved camp, and our beloved C.O.

His words of congratulation at the news would be reward for a hundred
such trips.

"Well!" he says at last, "I suppose you did it by compass!"

"No, sir! By landmarks!"

When at last I walk back alone, under the starlit sky, to my cabin, it
seems utterly impossible to believe that I _have_ been actually to
Namur--that I have actually travelled over three hundred miles since I
last walked along that path a few hours ago. It seems incredible that
my soft right hand has actually this night caused damage and brought
death to that far, far remote place, which even now is in a state of
confusion. Vividly I realise the amazing wonder of flying; vividly I
feel the strange fascination of night-bombing, with its long journeys
and sense of domination--its sense of being almost divine.

Five weeks later, to the mapping office comes the intelligence report--

"_A Rapatrié reports:--On the night of September 29th Allied aircraft
successfully attacked the Luxembourg bridge at Namur, which was badly
damaged. 17 German civilians were killed._"



    "No gold of poetry will deck this tale,
      This gloomy record of an awful night;
    With pleasant words my fear I will not veil,
      Or hide the horrors of the fatal flight.

    So all seemed peace to us as we flew on,
      When suddenly the hand of heartless fate
    Passed lightly over us, and then was gone,
      But it had left a legacy of hate."

           --_The Ordeal._

"To-night an attempt is going to be made to sink blocking vessels,
filled with cement, in the harbour mouths at Ostend and Zeebrugge. It is
intended, as a distraction, to land specially trained men on the Mole,
where they are going to burn down and destroy everything they can.

"The whole plan has been under consideration for weeks, and has been
carefully worked out. We have been given the task of lending assistance
by two methods--by desultory bombing, and by dropping flares. I have
here a number of cards--one for each machine. On these cards are given
the exact details of the duty given to that machine. If you follow them
exactly the aerial operations will work without a hitch. Roughly, the
idea is like this: From 10 o'clock till 1 A.M. machines will be bombing
Zeebrugge Mole and Batteries incessantly--as one machine finishes,
another will carry on. Then, beginning from one o'clock--when the
bombing parties will be attacking the Mole--you will begin to drop
parachute flares to help the people on the ground to see what they are
doing. A great flare will be lit on a vessel twenty miles north-west of
Ostend to show that up to then operations are proceeding satisfactorily,
and also as a final check for time.

"This is a great opportunity for the Squadron. The work given to us, if
carried out satisfactorily, will be of enormous value to the Naval
units. I know I can rely on you to do what is required. Now this is the
list of the machines: First machine--Pilot J. R. Allan, Observer P.
Bewsher--bombs Zeebrugge Mole from 10.30 to 11.30--drops flares at 1

The Wing Commander reads on his orders in the crowded mapping office.
When the long and detailed list is completed, we pour out into the
twilight, wildly excited. Long had the secret been kept: no one knew
much of the plans.

The first thought which came to my mind was that of the marines and
sailors, somewhere out there in the chilly North Sea, who were in a few
hours to steam into an absolute inferno of death. I felt how terrible
would be my feelings if I had been one of them--and they were
volunteers. Then comes as a light relief the thought of the solitary
German sentry at the tip of the Mole, and the rude shock he was going to
have. Then the pilot to whom I was allotted claimed my attention.

He was a freckled, red-headed youth, brave, fearless, capable--easily
the most popular man in the squadron--a pilot with a wonderful
reputation as a night-bomber; he had behind him the record of
innumerable successful raids, when, in spite of all difficulty, he had
successfully driven home the attack. He was a Canadian from Montreal,
and the finest man I had met in the services. I was proud to have been
given the opportunity to act as his observer.

He joined me with my own pilot "Jimmy," now acting as Squadron
Commander, and so, to his chagrin, unable to take part in this raid.

"Here's Paul! Well, what do you think of it?"

"Hum! I've never been to Zeebrugge. An hour over the Mole sounds pretty
beastly. What I don't like though is that wait--eleven-thirty to
one,--that sounds pretty foul to me!"

"Jimmy!" he says, turning to my pilot, "I have got the wind up! I don't
know why! I don't like the idea somehow. I tell you frankly I'm windy
about it!"

"That's funny!" I remark. "I nearly always have the wind up--you ask
Jimmy--but I haven't to-night. I am rather looking forward to it. Of
course I have the usual cold feet, like I do before every raid, but
nothing bad. I reckon I'll be all right with _you_!"

Only a week ago I was in a convalescent home at Peebles in remote
Scotland, amidst the fir-clad hills, and now in the wide shadowy plains
of Northern France I prepare to start for a fierce night of midnight
attack and hostile defence over Zeebrugge.

To-night we are to fire no "carry-on" light, for whatever the weather
may be the raid must be carried out to assist the naval attack from the

A mist lies over the sea and land, and scarcely in the darkness can we
see the black line of the shore. A red and a green light glows in the
mist at Nieuport and fades. It is the first "hostile aircraft" signal of
the night, which little the Germans know is going to be such a frenzied
one and so devoid of rest. Again at Ostend glow the lurid signals in the
mist, and again near Blankenberghe. It is only ten. Not yet can we fly
on to Zeebrugge. We decide to fly right out to sea past the Dutch
frontier, to turn in over the border, and come back to Zeebrugge a few
miles inland from the coast.

At Zeebrugge glow red and green flares. We have been heard far out to
sea. Two searchlights shoot up into the sky, and stand slim sentinels of
blue-white light, undecided in the mist. The pilot throttles slightly,
and turns the machine out to sea. It is not intended that too early in
the evening should Zeebrugge be excited. Looking behind, I see that the
two searchlights have been extinguished. The suspicions which we
aroused have been allayed. Ten minutes past ten now. We turn to the
right and begin to fly in towards the Belgo-Dutch frontier. At twenty
minutes past ten we are nearly over the land, and I can just see the
little creek which marks the boundary line. We make a few wide circles
in order to pass away the time, and then, at twenty-three minutes past
ten we turn west and begin to fly towards Zeebrugge over the land.

Upwards stabs a searchlight, and then another and another. Eight or more
of them move across the sky before us. I cannot see the coast. The sea
and the land is welded into one dim whole by the dark mist. This makes
my task difficult, for one searchlight seems to be stationed much too
far to the right to be on the coast, and I wonder whether it is on the
tip of the Mole or on some patrol-boat.

The pilot throttles the engines, and we begin to glide downwards. I am
not anxious about the poor visibility, because I know well that to-night
the importance of our bomb-dropping lies not so much in its destructive
value as in its moral effect. Keeping my eye on two powerful
searchlights close together, which I feel sure are at the base of the
Mole, I peer through the door in the bottom of the machine and steer the
pilot with the signal-buttons. Never have I been to Zeebrugge before,
and the prospect has ever seemed so alarming that now in actuality I am
not as afraid as I expected. Nearer and nearer to the wide moving beams
of white light we move. I hear the scarcely-revolving engines clanking
slightly to either side of me, and I can feel the gentle rise and fall
of the machine in a long slow glide. A string of vivid green balls
suddenly rises up from the ground and lights up an expanse of sea and
the shadowy line of the sand-dunes. In front of us they rise, for which
I am grateful, as they give me a guide to my position.

Now the bases of the two swinging pillars of light which I have taken as
my mark lie beneath my bomb-sight. I press the bomb-handle forward
slightly, and climb up leisurely beside the pilot.

We glide sedate and silent between these tall blades of light which only
move slightly. We can scarcely be heard, and so they do not know quite
what to do. Far below flashes our first bomb. Each searchlight jerks
into sudden movement. A long string of green balls climbs dutifully up
to our left, and falls gracefully over and expires. I lean lazily and
singularly unafraid, in my seat, watching the vast scene of midnight
activity with a languid interest.

We cross the coast-line again near the Dutch frontier, and turn over the
sea towards Zeebrugge. Then begins a wild hour. Somehow to-night we feel
that nothing can touch us. We feel that we can in safety take any risks.
Again and again we fly into Zeebrugge. Through the mist the great white
beams stagger and wheel and swoop and wait. For once they do not terrify
me. In the haze I see the quick flashes of the guns, and shell after
shell bursts in a barrage over the Mole. In the ghostly light of the
incessant green balls I see the round puffs of the shell-bursts,
actually touching each other in a long line, so closely together are
they placed as a barrier.

We drop two bombs over the Mole at a low height, and, pursued by the
malignant searchlights and the rapid ineffectual flashes of the shells,
swing out to sea, turn in once more, and drop another bomb. Again and
again we do this, and so madly excited and conscious of safety do I feel
that I fire a bright light after each attack to show my contempt of the
defences. As the red or green light drifts down I see the searchlights
leap over towards it, and far below, above the shining waters, appears a
great white star-shell which the nervous and uneasy Germans have fired
over the sea, evidently feeling that to-night there may be some
unexpected trouble from below as well as from above.

In one of these quick tip-and-run attacks I lie gazing happily through
the square trap-door, and see a string of green balls rise towards me
from the centre of the Mole. As they rise they light up the whole of its
dim curve, and I see that, instead of the usual boom of four anchored
barges at its tip, to-night there are eight.

In a second I am beside the pilot.

"Roy! You know those four barges--off the tip of the Mole? Well, there
are eight to-night! Don't you think we should go back at once and have
it 'wirelessed' to the fleet so that the block ships know? We could be
back in time for our flare stunt!"

He shakes his head.

"No! We better carry on now. It would probably be too late; and anyway,
maybe they know!"

So I return to my scene of operations on the floor, and drop my last two
bombs near the Mole. Our work over for the time being, we turn out to
sea. As we move away, we see the shape of another great Handley-Page
pass exactly over us as it flies on to attack Zeebrugge Mole for another
hour. Our place is taken at once. The attack is being carried out, as
arranged, in exact detail.

Now, some ten miles from the unseen land we fly up and down on a
two-mile beat or so, waiting for the laggard minutes to pass. A few wan
stars shine sparely through the mirk, which ever grows thicker and
thicker around us. Now and again I see a misty chain of green balls rise
up in the distance, gleaming palely in the haze. Here and there, too,
move the weak beams of the searchlights. At last it is one o'clock, and
towards the north our steadfast gaze is turned as we await the great
flare which should record in a moment of dazzling light the imminence of
the terrific conflict that so soon is to take place. Far, far below in
that dim waste of sea, unseen yet somehow felt, the great fleet of
vessels must be drawing nearer and nearer, and these brave men must be
standing on the decks ready to die. A few minutes pass, and then
suddenly the pilot utters a cry.

"Look! The starboard engine's boiling!"

At once the clamour of the engine ceases, and I look quickly to the
radiator on the right, from the top of which is blown backwards a thin
streak of white water and steam. As the engine cools through inaction,
the ill-boding wisp of spray lessens and dies. Carefully, slowly, and
with an evident anxiety, the pilot pushes forward the throttle, and the
engines open out with a growing roar. On the little cap of the starboard
radiator our eyes are fixed. Slowly the slender white scarf appears
again, and grows wider and more evident in the darkness. It is the pale
finger of doom....

"We better go back at once!" he says, and turns the machine towards the

With engines partly throttled we begin to glide slowly downwards. I
stand up and peer below into the murk in an effort to distinguish the
distant coast-line. The night is too thick, however, and I can see

The long slow glide continues. For a little while no anxiety ruffles the
calm of my brain. I look vaguely at the compass, an instrument whose red
and blue face has long been unfamiliar to me. I look at the height
indicator, at the watch, and then gaze unperturbed below me to the black
emptiness of mist. Suddenly I realise we are only four thousand feet
above the sea, and are ignorant of our position. At that moment we sink
into an enveloping haze, half cloud, half mist. Below, above, to right
and left, we can see nothing--no stars, no light, no dim dark line of
land. We steer towards the west, and anxiously I watch the height
indicator. For ten uneasy minutes we move through this vapoury
blackness, and then break through it. Two thousand five hundred feet,
says the height indicator.

"I say, Roy, what shall we do? I can't see anything below. I don't know
where we are at all!"

"Drop a flare, Paul," he replies very calmly.

I crawl into the back, and, pushing forward a small metal lever fixed to
the side of the machine, I hurry forwards to my seat and look below.
Suddenly a light bursts into brilliancy beneath us, and I can see a
ball of white fire hanging below a frail white parachute. By this
quivering illumination is lit up a circle of cold oily water. We are
still over the sea.

"Sea, Roy! What shall we do? I can see no lights. I don't know where we

Two thousand feet records the height indicator.

"Drop another flare ... we will be all right, old man!" says the
splendid pilot.

Again I crawl into the back and push forward a lever. Again bursts out a
light beneath a little parachute. Again I see below a dim circle of
cruel, cold, waiting sea. All round us lies the damp empty mist. Far,
far away I can see the white beam of a searchlight, but whether it be on
land or on a boat I cannot tell. All I know is that it is too far
distant to allow us to reach it.

Again, at fifteen hundred feet, I drop a parachute flare. An icy fear is
creeping over my body now. Below, in the light of the third flare, still
lies the sea. We must glide down helplessly into the water, in the
darkness, and die....

"Oh, Roy!... Look! A boat!"

"Yes! I see it! I am going to land near it."

"But supposing it is a block-ship going into Ostend?"

"Fire white lights as quick as you can!" is his order.

For a moment we have seen in the pallid light of one of the hanging
flares the wide shape of a boat moving slowly through the sea, leaving a
broad white wake behind it. Near it, from one or more points, long,
thin, smaller wreaths of white vapour lie across the water, and are
evidently a smoke-screen.

Feverishly I begin to load my Very's light pistol, and fire it--load and
fire--and white ball of light after white ball drops and dies, drops and
dies. Just over the top of the masts of the huge ship we sweep, and
below I can see its decks, with all the orderly complication of a boat's
fittings, clear in the light of one of the flares.

"_Help! Help! Help! Help!..._" I scream with every ounce of my strength
in a long unending succession of pleading cries, leaning far over the

"We will be all right! Cheer up, old man!" says the pilot, smiling at
me. "We will be all right! Drop all the flares...."

I rush into the back, and push over quickly all the little levers by the
side of the machine. I climb forwards into my seat, and see that we are
only twenty feet or so from the water, which lies swelling and heaving
with an oily heartless calm all round us, lit up by the wavering light
of the parachute flares. For a moment I see the sides of a ship on the
right sweep past us and vanish. Then I realise we are just above the
sea, which now streaks below us: I see the two whirling discs of the
propeller on either side; I put one foot on my seat ... ready....

CRASH! Crack--splinter--hiss--there is a sudden, swift, tremendous noise
and splash of water, and I feel myself whirling over and over,
spread-eagle-wise, through the air. I hit the water with a terrible
impact ... there is a white jagged flash of fire in my brain, I feel the
sudden agony of a fearful blow ... and sensation ends.

I become conscious of an utter fear. In sodden flying clothes, now
terribly heavy, I find myself being dragged under the water as though
some sea-monster were gripping my ankles and pulling me under the water.
My head sinks beneath the surface, and, inspired by an absolute terror,
I frantically beat out my hands. I realise in a swift vivid second that
I am going to die--that this is the end. As my head rises again I become
conscious of the oil-glittering surface of the sea, shining strangely in
the light of the three flickering parachute flares which hang above me
like three altar-lamps of death. Here, in the irresistible weight of
these soaked clothes, only semi-conscious and quite hysterical, I begin
a ceaseless, piteous wail. "Help! Help!..."

In my weakness I sink again below the water, and thrust out my arms
wildly to keep myself up, panting furiously, and crying for help.

Some twenty feet or so away the top wing of the machine lies out of the
water at an angle, a dark high wall a hundred feet along. Inspired into
frantic energy by my sheer dread of dying, I begin to fling myself along
the surface of the water with the insane strength of despair. I kick out
my heavy legs, so cumbered with the great leather flying boots and huge
fur-lined overalls. Frenziedly I beat my arms. Again and again I sink.
Nearer and nearer grows the shining surface of the tight fabric.

"Oh! Help! Help!"

Under the water goes my agony-twisted mouth. Again I rise and resume the
unending cry to the empty night.

At last I reach the wing and begin to beat vainly upon its smooth steep
surface with my sodden leather gloves. There is nothing on which I can
grip, and with an ever-growing weakness I drag my hands down, down, down
its wet slope like a drowning dog at the edge of a quay. It seems awful
to die so near some kind of help. Kicking my legs out, I manage to move
along the wing and at last come to the hinge, where the wing is folded
back when not in use, and there I find a small square opening into which
I can thrust my hand.

With a feeling of immense relief I let my body sink down into the water.
One hand and my head are above the surface. So weak am I, and so heavy
my water-soaked flying clothes, that I can scarce hold up my weight.
Across my battered face is plastered the fur of my flying-cap. My
strength is so rapidly ebbing away that I know that in but a few minutes
I will have to leave go and drown unless I am helped. So once again I
send my sad wail across the cruel shining waters. Now and again I hear
a deep dull boom sound across the sea, and I presume that somewhere a
monitor is shelling the German coast.

Now I suddenly see sitting astride the top of the plane, some nine or
ten feet above me, a muffled figure. I think at once that my pilot is
saved and begin to shout out--

"Hello! Roy! I can't hang on! Oh! I can't hang on! What shall I do? Is
any one coming? Is there any chance?... I'm drowning, I'm drowning!"

"Hang on if you can!" comes the encouraging answer. "There is a boat

My strength, however, has almost gone, and it is an effort even to hold
up my head above the water.

Now does reason whisper to me to leave go. You have got to die one day,
it says, and if you sink down now and drown you will suffer scarcely at
all. Since you have suffered such agony already, why not drift away
easily to dim sleep and the awakening dreams of the new life. Leave go,
it whispers, leave go. Tempted, I listen to the voice, and agree with
it. Shall I leave go, I ask myself; and then instinct, the never absent
impulse of life, cries out, "_No! Hang on!_" and I hang on with renewed
strength inspired by the dread of approaching death.

"Hang on, hang on! The boat is coming up!" shouts the man above me.

"Oh! what are they doing? I can't hang on any longer!"

"They're lowering a boat--hang on--they'll be here soon!" encourages the
watcher on the wing.

Changing hands I turn round quickly, and vaguely see in the darkness a
motor-launch or some such boat, twenty feet or so away.

"Hurry, hurry, _hurry_!" I yell, dreading that my strength may give out
in these last moments of waiting. It seems utterly wonderful that I may
be saved. I realise how fortunate it is that the machine is floating. If
it were to sink but a foot or two, and the little hole through which my
hand is thrust were to go under the water with it, then I should not be
able to hold myself up, and would soon die. Still sounds the roar of
near-by explosions: still shines the smooth cruel sea around me: still
float the quivering flares above; then I hear the glorious sound of a
voice crying--

"Where are you? Give us a hail so that we can find you!"

"Here--_here_! Hanging on the wing! Do come quickly--_do_ come--I can't
hang on any longer."

I hear the splash of oars, and then two strong arms slip under my
armpits, and I am dragged up to the edge of the boat. I am utterly weak
and can use no muscle at all, so for a moment or two they struggle with
me, and then I fall over the side on to the floor, where I lie, a
sodden, streaming, half-dead thing.

"Save my pal! Save my pal!" I cry.

Down the wing slides the other man, and suddenly I see it is not the
pilot at all, but the back gunlayer.

"Where's Roy? _Where's Roy?_" I shout in a sudden dread.

"He never came up!" is the terrible answer.

"Oh! Save my pilot! Save my pilot!" I call out, bursting into sobs,
partly with hysteria at the ending of the strain, partly with utter
grief. "He was a wonderful chap ... one of the best ... one of the best.
Save him! Oh! Do save him! He can't be dead! _Roy!_ Roy! He was the
best chap there--ever--was."

It is too late. We are lucky to be picked up at all, for it is against
regulations. The row-boat goes back to the little grey motor-launch
which is protecting the monitor with a smoke-screen, and must go on at
once. We are pulled on board. An anxious-eyed and evidently very busy
naval officer comes to me.

"Are you wounded or anything?" he asks. "No? Good! I am so sorry we
cannot wait to look for the other man. Go down to our cabin and get into
blankets. I will send some whisky down! That noise? No! It's not the
monitor. It is fifteen-inch shrapnel shell being fired at us from

"Where are you going--anywhere near Dunkerque?" I ask.

"Yes! Going back now with the monitor! The stunt's washed out--bad

"_Washed out!_ All wasted, all wasted. Oh! Roy! Roy!"

I crawl down a ladder and slowly, painfully, take off my heavy flying
clothes. In a pool of water they lie on the floor, a sodden heap of
leather and fur. Looking in the glass, I see an unfamiliar distorted
face with a great enormous cheek, and wet hair plastered about the

Luckily the other man is not touched or damaged, and has been scarcely
even wet, so he lies more or less at ease in his bunk. This is his first
raid. He seems to assume that this terrible calamity is more or less a
normal occurrence. Soon I am lying in blankets with a glass of whisky
inside me. The mad panorama of the night goes rushing through my brain
in ever-changing vivid scenes.

"Purvis! Are you awake?" I call to the bunk on the opposite side.


"I say, you know--we are very very lucky. We have escaped every kind of
death in a few seconds. If I were you I would say a prayer or two!"

"I have, old man!"

"Say one for Roy too, won't you. Poor Roy--he was great! He never said a
word of fear to the last. He never lost his head or anything!"

So in pain of body and mind I toss and turn in the little cabin with its
swinging light, and hear the throb of the motor start and stop, increase
and lessen, through long hours, till, for a while, I drift into an
uneasy sleep....

_Zoop! Zoop!_ Suddenly sounds the old familiar sound of Mournful Mary
bellowing with fear. _Boom!_ sounds a loud explosion.

I sit up in my blankets and shout across to the other bunk. "Mournful
Mary! We must be back."

"I say, old man! Hear that? It's Leugenboom firing! I can't stand
15-inch shells on the docks this morning--let's get up and dress!"

After a while we borrow an assorted collection of naval garments, and at
last climb on to the deck. It is a glorious sunny morning, and we lie in
the middle of a little flotilla of neat grey-painted motor-launches
lying side by side up to the tall stone wall of one of the docks. I can
find no naval officer to thank, so walk from boat to boat till we reach
the little iron ladder set in the quay-side, which we crawl up with
difficulty till we are on the hot stone above. We start walking into
Dunkerque, the back gunlayer in socked feet; myself with bare head, hair
over my eyes, and back stooped in pain.

It is a strange walk. We are amidst civilisation, as it were, and
people look curiously at us. I stop a naval car. The driver pulls up
with evident reluctance.

"We are two naval flying officers--have just come down out to sea off
Ostend--we are not well--can you give us a lift?"

"No, sir! Ration car!" In goes the clutch, away moves the car and its
smart, rather contemptuous driver.

I stop another car. Again in an unfamiliar voice I begin my recitation--

"We are two naval flying officers--have just ..."

"Sorry, sir--got to fetch the mails!"

No one will help us. No car will give us assistance, though we are
obviously in trouble. Too far away from these people is war for them to
realise that from war's greatest menace we have just escaped.

We go into the French police office at the docks. There by the kindly
uniformed officials we are courteously treated. They, at least, make an
attempt to telephone through to our squadron.

Tired at the delay, feeling I must move and move through this unreal
city of sunshine and order, which lies so strangely about the dim
shadows of my soul, I go on, and, stopping a car, order the driver to
take me to the Wing Headquarters. The car is full of chairs, which are
being taken to some concert hall, and perhaps the driver realises
vaguely that the service does eventually touch reality, that there is
some remote possibility of accident, some remote chance of calamity, up
there, "towards the lines."

Through the dirty but splendidly familiar streets of Dunkerque we drive,
out through the fortification to the pink-and-white villas of Malo. I am
driving to the Wing Headquarters first, because I feel that a report
should be made at once to the Wing Commander.

We turn at last through a great stone gate, and circling round a drive,
stop at the bottom of a flight of steps, up which I slowly climb. By the
door stands an orderly.

"Where's the--Wing Commander--Mr--Fowler--I--want--anybody?"

"In the breakfast-room, sir--just down on the left," he says.

I walk down the passage with a strange feeling of fear. Now I have
returned to some definite place, to an organisation which can
comprehend me, the ending of the strain is bringing a strange dizziness.

I open the tall door and enter.

Two officers at their breakfast table look at me, and then slowly stand
up in utter amazement with opening mouths and wide eyes. In a second of
time I see the broken egg-shell on the plate, the carelessly folded
napkins, a half-empty toast-rack.

"Bewsher! Paul! Why--why--where have you been?"

"Haven't you heard? Hasn't--didn't the Monitor tell you?" I asked dully.

"No. This is the first we have seen of you. Oh! I am glad you are all
right. Where's Roy?"

"Roy! Roy! Oh! He's dead, dead--dead--in the sea--drowned in the
wreck...." And throwing myself on a seat, I drop my face on to my arms
on the table and burst into sobs, which shake my weary frame to the
bones as the scalding tears well from my tired bruised eyes.

Follows in my memory picture after picture--of lying for a few hours in
my little bed in the familiar cabin at the aerodrome, and of Jimmy
bending over me with his face drawn with anxiety, telling me of the
tragedy of the night, of Bob and Jack missing, of machines crashing: of
the Friends Hospital at Dunkerque in a little wood where we awoke at
dawn to hear the thunder of the 15-inch shells bursting on the docks: of
the Red Cross city at Étaples: of yet another hospital in the green
silence of Eton Square: of convalescence in the dream-garden of a great
house in Buckinghamshire.

One night I rode into Paddington and found Jack Hudson awaiting me.
Three months was it since I had dined with him on the tragic night of
April 10. He told me how, an hour after my accident, he had landed with
a shell-shattered engine in Holland; he had struck a canal at 75 miles
an hour, and had been upside down under water with his feet fixed on the
wreckage, and his machine had caught fire on top of him, and how by
burrowing down into the mud he had managed to free himself and to
escape. Unchanged by our experiences which we related as interesting
stories, we wandered happily along the twilight streets.

Infinitely remote, like a scarce-remembered dream, is the war to me
to-day. I seem ever to have been a civilian, ever to have strolled at
ease down sunlit terraces of London through the drowsy hours of an
English spring--but every night with the slow approach of azure twilight
I feel a strange stirring in my heart. As the first primrose star blooms
in the east, I seem to hear the roar of starting engines, and when, in
cold and sublime beauty, a silver moon rides high in the vast immensity
of the night, I yearn with an almost unbearable pain to be once more
sitting far above a magic moonlit world, to be moving ever onwards
through the dim sky, where here and there the white waiting arms of the
searchlights swoop and linger amidst the stars; where, beautiful and
enchanted, there rises in the distance a long curving chain of green
twinkling balls.

    _Dusk is our dawn, and midnight is our noon!
    And for the sun we have the radiant moon.
    We love the darkness, and we hate the light,
    For we are wedded to the gloomy night._



"Show a leg! Show a leg! Rise up and shine! Lash up and stow! The sun's
burning your bloomin' eyes out!"

So bellows the Master at Arms down the hammock flat, and I awake to see
above, outlined by the edges of the hold, a square panel of burnt blue
Asiatic sky.

Across my hammock strikes a scorching beam of sunlight, and in a few
moments I have pulled over my bare skin a washed-out overall suit and
have put my naked feet into a heavy pair of boots, and I am dressed for
the day. The hammock is lashed up, unhooked, and stowed, and at the
shrill whistle of "Fall in," I hurry up the companion to the blinding
heat of the aft deck of H.M. Kite Balloon Ship _Manica_, which a few
months before was a small tramp steamer. Being but a second-class air
mechanic (general), and so, therefore, in the lowest category, I stand
in the rear line of parti-coloured men,--some in khaki shorts and white
shirts, some in khaki jackets, some in blue naval coats.

"Parade. 'Shun. Answer to your names.... All present, sir. Parade, stand
at ease!"

The duty officer, in white flannel trousers and trim blue-and-gold coat,
calls us again to attention, and tells the master-at-arms to send us to
balloon stations at once.

"Parade--balloon stations--carry on!"

At once we break off, and hurry down the dim crooked gangway connecting
the aft deck with the balloon deck forward. Soon we break once more into
the sunlight, with the tall canvas wind screen on the left, and on the
right the clumsy orange bulk of the kite balloon lying along the wide
wooden deck, on which it is held by rows of canvas bags filled with
sand, which are hooked in clusters, like ripe fruit, to its netting.

My position is No. 1 starboard, so I hurry at once to the forward end of
the deck and stand by to remove the bags. The whistle is blown, and we
lift the bags up, and remove the hooks from the netting, and hang them
lower down. As bag after bag is moved the great bulk of the balloon
begins to rise up, until beneath its body can be seen the men working on
the opposite side of the deck. Now the network is out of reach, and
therefore we hang clusters of bags round the splicing of the ropes. Then
the balloon, its loose underside flapping slightly in the wind, is
allowed to rise sufficiently to permit the basket party to carry the
willow-woven basket to its position in the centre of the deck. As soon
as the basket is fixed to its rigging the balloon is dragged down again
by the men at the ropes, the sandbags are removed, and the balloon is
let up till the basket is just resting on the deck. The two observers,
with their charts and binoculars, climb aboard, and then the order is
given, "Let her up gently!"

We allow the balloon to rise until at last the ropes leave our hands and
hang rippling in the air above us. With a sudden hiss of steam and
clatter of machinery the winch in the corner begins to work, and slowly
the shining cable unwinds from the drum as the quaint orange shape rises
up, up, up, into the pale Wedgwood blue of the sky. At last the whine of
the winch ceases, and far above us the yellow balloon hangs like a
strange fruit, faintly swinging from side to side.

We fall in once more on parade, and I am detailed to the "Spud party,"
and "carry on peeling potatoes." Outside the little galley I sit on an
upturned bucket, peeling rather clumsily the great potatoes, which,
Argus-like, have a thousand eyes. As at ease I carry on this domestic
operation, I see in front of me, like a theatrical panorama, war in full
blast. Rising from the deep indigo-blue of the sparkling Ægean Sea lies
a long line of brown and yellow hills, dappled with the dull green of
scrub. The height of Achi Baba is a darker mass, with a flat top
reminiscent of Table Mountain. To the right the country slopes down to
Cape Helles, which is a biscuit-coloured point of land covered with a
crowded huddle of camps and hospitals, of white rows of tents, of horses
moving in long black lines, of transport waggons rolling up paths
leaving clouds of dust, of batteries of guns which every now and then
flash faintly in the hot sunlight, and from whose muzzles leap little
clouds of yellow smoke. Over this packed scene of activity occasionally
appear the white puffs of shrapnel smoke, which dissipate and vanish,
while here and there a great spurt of yellow smoke and black earth
shoots up as some high explosive shell bursts among the crowded depots
and stores. The air is full of noise--the buzz of aeroplanes; the
clatter of rifle fire; the staccato hammering of machine-guns; the heavy
boom of guns firing; the dull crash of bursting shells; the buzz of
flies on deck; the plop of peeled potatoes falling in a bucket.... So,
sitting at ease in the shade of the deck, we watch War casually, as
though it were a side-show arranged for our benefit, and indeed we are
entirely aloof. It seems incredible that there, a few miles away, on the
sun-baked hills, men are dying--that the leaping upward of that smoke
over on that hill records the scene of tragedy to perhaps a score of

Suddenly a very loud explosion roars out near us. I nearly fall off my
bucket with the momentary shock, and then walk to the railings. To our
right lies a lean grey cruiser, from whose foremost guns are rising a
great cloud of smoke. Evidently it has begun to fire on some distant
objective, guided by the observations from our balloon. Two swift lances
of flame leap out from the long muzzles, two sharp detonations thunder
past our ears, and we hear the long dying roar of the shell screaming
through the air across the peninsula. Again and again the six-inch guns
crash out, till at the end of half an hour the clamour ceases, and we
hear a whistle sound "balloon stations."

At once we hurry down to the deck, and stand at our posts waiting for
the descent of the balloon. For a time we sit in the shade, idly
talking, when suddenly some one says, "Hello! Look! It's a German!"

High over us, in the pale blue of the zenith, moves a little white
bird-like shape, whose turned-back wing-tips reveal it to be an enemy.
At once we look to the men standing by the two anti-aircraft maxim guns
on the bridge. They have not realised the danger.

"Hi!" we shout. "Look! Up there! He's right above us!"

_Zoop--zoop--zoop_ suddenly wails the ship's syren, sounding the hostile
aircraft signal.

"Take cover!" shouts the master-at-arms, and as the men start running
down the sides of the deck to the gangways, the little twelve-pounder on
the poop crashes out with its first shell; and one of the machine-guns
begins a furious clatter as, with muzzle pointed vertically upward, it
opens a useless fire against the small shape of the aeroplane almost
exactly above us.

Now it is my rather unenviable duty to stand on the deck holding a
little flag with which to signal to the men on the winch, which is in
furious action as it strives to bring the balloon down as quickly as
possible. Owing to the noise of the steam-engine, the men will be able
to hear no shout of command, so it is my task to transmit orders to them
with my flag. The deck is deserted now, save for the few officers and
petty officers. Again and again the anti-aircraft gun on the poop roars
out, the rising shell hurries upwards with an ever fainter scream, until
at last a little white puff of smoke appears in the thin blue sky far
to the right or left of the evil shape which moves forward so
relentlessly, and is now almost over us.

I realise the bombs may even now be dropping. I know that in a few
moments I may be dead. I feel terribly frightened, but glad that I have
something to do. The hand holding the flag shakes a little. I begin to
sing one of the Indian love lyrics:--

    "When I am dying
      Lean over me, tenderly, softly...."

Crash--_pok_--_pok_--_pok_--_pok_ ... sound the guns. Then with a loud
boom a great column of water, smoke, and steam, nearly ten feet across,
rises up to the right of us near the ship. _Pok_--_pok_--_pok_ sounds
the maxim. I wonder if there is another bomb coming.

    "Stoop, as the yellow roses droop,
      In the wind from the ..."

_Boom_--the second bomb bursts some eighty feet away to the left. Both
have missed; the menace is passed.

With a feeling of relief I say a short prayer, and watch with an easier
interest the little white puffs of smoke which trail across the sky
behind the rapidly-fading aeroplane, like flowers scattered in the path
of a passing deity. The machine-guns above me at last cease their
clamour. The grey barrel of the gun on the forecastle spits out its
flame and smoke for the last time. The winch ceases its clatter and is
reversed in order to allow the balloon to rise again; for, the danger
being past, it is required to work with the _Queen Elizabeth_.

Now the whistle sounds for breakfast, and soon we sit at our narrow
wooden tables in the afterhold, eating moist bread and terribly yellow
salmon, and drinking washy tea. We talk of food, food, food incessantly,
picturing the glories of past meals in London, the exquisite repasts
which will be ours when we return; we dream of white tablecloths, of
flower vases, of toast-racks, and white china, and bacon, hot, sizzling,
curling.... We are a strange crowd--artists, stokers, solicitors,
clerks, blue-jackets, soldiers, architects, chauffeurs,--all are mixed
together. The better educated men are A.B.'s; the P.O.'s are telephone
operators or old service men. It is as strange a company as any in the

The meal is over, and I climb up on deck, and see that between us and
the long mottled hills of Gallipoli lies the huge but graceful shape of
the _Queen Elizabeth_. Her fifteen-inch guns are tilted at a high angle,
and are turned towards the coast. It seems evident that she is about to
bombard some position, and that our balloon is going to "spot" for her.
I walk down the gangway to the balloon deck and stand near the little
telephone cabin, where the operator sits at a table with the receivers
strapped over his ears, in direct communication with the bridge and the
balloon observer high above. I look through a little glass window, and
become a witness of a stupendous feat which illustrates vividly the
amazing power of destruction of modern artillery.

The pencil in the operator's hand writes--

  "9.10. Balloon to _Q.E._ Transport 16,000 tons in narrows
      M17 x2 steaming slowly N.W. Can you open fire?

  "9.12. _Q.E._ to Balloon. Am about to open fire.

  "9.13. Balloon to _Q.E._ Transport now M17 x3. _Q.E._
      fired ..."

There is a sudden deafening noise and I hear the roar of a shell
screaming at a terrible speed through the air. The roar slowly lessens,
and suddenly its tone drops about six notes as it passes over the coast
and moves above land instead of water. For nearly a minute I can hear
the ever low whine of the shell, which dies away in a faint thud.

  "9.14. Balloon to _Q.E._ O 500. R 200," writes the

The shell has fallen five hundred yards over its target, and two hundred
feet to the right.

  "9.15. _Q.E._ fired ..." writes the pencil.

Again the tumult breaks out, again the shell roars, and changes its
note, and dies away in a little remote explosion.

  "9.16. Balloon to _Q.E._ O 200 ..." writes the pencil.

The watchers in the balloon have seen a white column of water leap up
just beyond the little black shape in the ribbon of the narrows twelve
miles on the other side of the hills.

  "9.18. _Q.E._ fired ..." continues the record.

This time the slow dying wail of the shell ends in a long tremulous

  "9.19. O.K...." writes the pencil.

The vessel has been struck. Then with an uncanny precision the writing

  "9.21. Vessel sinking. Forepart under water.

  "9.23. Vessel submerged to forward funnel.

  "9.25. Stern only visible above water.

  "9.26. Vessel entirely submerged."

It seems incredible. The whole drama has been enacted with the same
orderly speed as the movement of the pencil. The great grey battleship
has, with three shots, sunk a large transport packed with a thousand men
and a considerable cargo of supplies, which lay some fifteen miles away
out of sight on the other side of a high range of hills. The blind
sailors have loaded their guns and have fired according to the
instructions given by the little figures swinging high in the blue
morning sky in a creaking basket hung from a drowsy yellow balloon....
Standing here by the little cabin I have been a witness of a wonderful
feat, and an awe-inspiring example of the scope of modern weapons.

This kite balloon of ours is the first ever used by the British, and
this magnificent achievement which I have just seen recorded is the
biggest triumph it has accomplished. It is naval history in the making.
I walk away across the hot raised balloon deck feeling strangely small,
strangely unimportant in an age of huge strength and mighty

Now the whine and clatter of the winch recommences, and the balloon
begins to descend slowly. When it is some five hundred feet above the
deck the whistle is blown to call us to "balloon stations," and we hurry
along to our appointed positions beside the tall wind-screens. Nearer
and nearer comes the balloon; larger and more ungainly grows its yellow
bulk, and soon the handling ropes are within reach. Catching hold of the
ends, we quickly thread them through ring-bolts and pull them steadily
till at last the balloon reaches deck, and the two observers climb out
of their baskets.

We are evidently proceeding to some new position where the balloon is
going to be used again, for it is not bagged completely down, but is
merely temporarily weighted by clusters of sandbags in the rigging, and
we stand by the ropes which are lashed to the side. After half an hour
or so we receive orders to prepare to let the balloon up again. The two
observers return with their binoculars and charts, and once more the
balloon rises upwards. I am now told off to oil the gas-pipe which leads
from the gas-cylinders aft to the balloon deck. This is a job which I
like, because I can look over the side and see what is happening. So,
with my can of yellow oil and my handful of cotton-waste, I watch a
half-hour or so of fierce battle. We lie some five miles off the land
near Achi Baba, where the lines run into the sea, and it is soon evident
that an attempt is being made to advance. Between us and the shore lie
several destroyers and a cruiser, and in a few minutes they start firing
rapidly. I hear the sharp sound of the guns, and then a few minutes
later the thud, thud of the exploding shells, and from the cliff leaps
up one, two, three shrubs of yellow coiling smoke, which quickly enlarge
into trees, and at length fade away in tall masses of vapour. Soon the
edge of the cliff is a maelstrom of smoke and flame. Yellow, white, and
black burst the shells, and as fast as the smoke of one salvo thins out,
the fan-shaped puffs leap out again in the middle, and add more
turbulence to the volcano. Just over the ground appear white puffs of
shrapnel smoke. Again and again, in the same place, they appear like
magic flowers in the air, and grow bigger, and frailer, and fade. The
air is rent and torn with the sound of the explosions, some incredibly
loud and vivid, some distant and dull, while to this chorus of tumult
lies as a background the delicate wooden click and clatter of remote
rifle and machine-gun fire, sounding like the fingers of a child beating
a tattoo on a kitchen table.

Now and again a great shell bursts half-way down a ravine in the side of
the cliffs, and fills it for a time with a coiling cloud of yellow
smoke. Little figures can be seen moving along the skyline, and here and
there flash bayonets and equipment. As I watch, I mechanically rub my
oily rag up and down the pipe, up and down. It seems hard to realise
that the tragic climax of war is being enacted out there before my eyes.
That men are dying, are screaming in agony with terrible wounds, are
whispering their last messages for their beloved ones in England to some
comrade bending over them. For me it is merely a wonderful scene, a
spectacle as in a play.

Then suddenly a whistling sound strikes a swift chill into my heart.
Louder and louder grows the noise with all its sense of hostile
approach, and ends at its summit with a dull explosion. Fifty feet away
a column of water and steam hangs above the blue placid sea, and slowly
fades, leaving a creamy-white disc on the water to show where the shell
has burst. Another whistle sounds and another, and both end in the noise
of an explosion, but from my present position I cannot see where the
shells have fallen. Another one sounds, however, and grows so loud that
I run instinctively into the nearest cabin, though it is no real
shelter. I hear a loud explosion, and returning cautiously to the rail,
see, some way down along the side of the boat, a white circle of foam,
whose edge actually touches our hull, so close is it.

Below in the engine-room I hear the clang of the telegraph, and the
growing mutter of the engines as we start to draw away from the coast.
The whistle sounds for balloon stations, and I hurry along the deck and
down a ladder to my place. The winch is pulling the balloon down as fast
as it can, and every now and then above its tumult we hear the long
whine and burst of a shell, whose explosion we cannot see owing to the
high canvas screens which shut us off from a view of the sea. It is a
most unpleasant experience, for the boat is only a small 4000-ton tramp
steamer, with the thinnest of decks, and it is loaded with cylinders of
compressed gas, with petrol, and with shells, and there is a "muse"
balloon full of gas in the hold beneath the forward deck as well. The
effect of a shell-burst on the boat will be at least pyrotechnical, and
probably very fatal. At last the balloon is down on the deck, the basket
is released, the "bagging down" operation is completed, and the ship
steams full speed out of range of the hostile artillery.

Now for a time we lie off the long golden beaches of Suvla Bay with the
dark orchards behind it, beyond which the slim white minarets rise from
among the hills. It is the hot drowsy hour of noon. Four or five
transports lie near us, while the inevitable trawlers in couples, with
noses cocked perkily in the air, sweep the water slowly for mines.
Behind us lies the grey shadow of Imbros in the distance. From the
mainland comes the occasional dull sound of shell fire, while the
crackle of musketry rises and falls as though on a gusty wind.

We sit on the poop under an awning to obtain a little protection from
the fierce heat of the sun. Around us lies the calm deep blue water. A
few people talk; now and again the daylight signalling-lamp clatters on
the bridge: it is an hour of absolute peace.

Suddenly a great tension sweeps over the crowd of men on the deck. Every
face changes its expression from utter tranquillity to absolute
amazement and apprehension.

"_Look!_" says some one.

There, lying terribly clear on the rich blue of the sea, is a thin
creamy ribbon of foam running from a point a mile or so away right to
the middle of the ship. For a second I realise that it is the track of a
torpedo, and I stiffen myself to receive the explosion. Nothing happens.
I realise at once that the danger is past, though it seems incredible
that we have not been struck. The gun on the forecastle barks out twice,
and looking over to the other side of the ship I see two columns of
spray leap out of the water near a round patch of white foam, from which
a thin white ribbon also runs to the side of the ship. We suddenly
understand what has taken place. A submarine has fired a torpedo at us,
point-blank, from scarcely twenty yards away; it has passed right under
the engine-room, and gone on another mile or so till its face is
extended. The first ribbon we saw was the track of the torpedo going
_away_ from us.

At once the hooter wails out the signal, "abandon ship stations," and
the "attacked by submarine" flag is hoisted at the mast. The engine-room
telegraph sounds frantically. The ship begins to move forward, and
slowly passes the long white spear of death which struck into us, and
yet left us miraculously untouched. I can hardly take my amazed eye away
from it. So uncanny and awe-inspiring is it, laid across the dark and
placid blue of the sea, which sparkles innocently under the cloudless
sky of an Ægean June.

The sound of our hooter and the sight of our flag, however, has wakened
the drowsy fleet to a furious activity. As I begin to adjust the
life-belt round my shoulders, in obedience to the "abandon ship
stations" orders, I see the transports gather speed as they make for
Mudros Bay in great zigzags. The admiral's yacht does not trouble about
twisting or turning to avoid the hidden menace, but ploughs at top speed
in a straight line for safety. The destroyers rush round in frantic
circles, the other balloon ship, the _Hector_, begins to steam rapidly,
while its balloon is still in the air, and it can be seen with what
speed the yellow gas-bag is being jerked down by the straining winch.
The sea is now a scene of furious energy. The white streak of foam
across the water has broken the drowsy moontide spell; in front of every
bow is a feather of spray, behind each stern a white zigzag wake. Every
ship is pointed one way--towards the welcoming boom of Imbros.

Suddenly I hear a brief exclamation.

"Look at that boat! Yes! By Gaba Tepe! It's been hit. It's the
_Triumph_, isn't it? It looks like it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Over towards the dark olive groves of Gaba Tepe--those olive groves
which so long sheltered a great gun whose position could not be
discovered--lies the grey outline of a battleship. It can be seen that
it is slightly out of the perpendicular, and a little puff of vapour
comes from it as the steam-pressure in the boiler is released to avoid
explosion. Slowly it tilts over till it is at an angle of forty-five
degrees to the water. Every now and then a gun flashes on it as the
gunners fire at the submarine which has attacked it. The dark shapes of
destroyers draw nearer and nearer to it. It lies stationary at a deep
angle for a little while, and then begins to turn over at a slow
deliberate speed; lower and lower it falls, until for a moment it lies
flat on the surface, and then ... all we can see between us and Gaba
Tepe is the blue water on which move the little destroyers, evidently
picking up survivors. The most splendid sight is to see the little
flashes on board as the gunners, true to their traditions, keep their
guns in action to the last.

We watch the tragedy in silence: it seems difficult to realise that in
the last few minutes we have seen the destruction of a powerful vessel,
with a crew of eight or nine hundred men on board. A solemn feeling
pervades the ship, and there is no laughter among us.

We pass a transport steaming out of Mudros Bay and signal to it. Quickly
it sweeps around, and returns to the little island, moving at full
speed in great zigzags. The menace of the sea has rendered the blue
sparkling water of the Ægean a dangerous home for any boat. No longer
can we lie at ease day after day off the sun-baked hills of Gallipoli.
We must needs live a tip-and-run life,--do our work, and return to
safety behind submarine defences.

So, with the grey shadow of sublime Samothrace hanging above the sea to
our right, we sail into the peace of Mudros Bay, round which the
thyme-scented hills of Imbros lie sleeping in the afternoon sun.



    Transcriber's note:

    _Underscores_ have been used to indicate _italic_ fonts.
    Inconsistent hyphenation and accents have been left as written.

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