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Title: Above the French Lines - Letters of Stuart Walcott, American Aviator: July 4, 1917, to December 8, 1917
Author: Walcott, Stuart
Language: English
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Letters of Stuart Walcott,
American Aviator: July 4,
1917, to December 8, 1917

Princeton University Press
London: Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press

Copyright, 1918, by

Published April, 1918
Printed in the United States of America




  Introduction (from the _Princeton Alumni Weekly_)        1

  From Princeton to France                                 7

  Stuart Walcott’s Letters                                14

  The Final Combat                                        89

  Stuart Walcott (a biographical note by his father)      90


  Stuart Walcott in His Aeroplane                           Frontispiece

  Stuart Walcott at the Front                             Facing page 38

  War Cross with Palm, Awarded in Recognition of
    Walcott’s Service                                     Facing page 66



[From the _Princeton Alumni Weekly_ of January 30, 1918.]

It is now seven weeks since the dispatches from Paris reported that
Stuart Walcott was attacked by three German airplanes and brought down
behind the German lines, after he himself had brought down a German
plane in his first combat on December 12, 1917, and that it was feared
he had been killed; but even now, after the lapse of nearly two months,
it is not definitely known whether his fall proved fatal, or whether
the earnest hope of his friends that he is still alive may be realized.
The reports are conflicting. A cable message of January 7 said that in
Germany it was reported that S. Walcott had been killed by a fall on
December 12 near Saint Souplet; but Dr. Walcott received a letter on
January 19 which holds out some hope that the fall was not fatal and
that his son may be a prisoner in Germany. This letter, dated December
17, is from a young aviator named Loughran,[A] who was Stuart Walcott’s
roommate at the flying station. He gives this report of what was told
to him by an observer and pilot who saw the combat:

  “On the 12th of December at 11:30 a. m., there were five pilots to go
  out on high patrol, including Stuart and myself. But I was prevented
  from going, because of a wrenched ankle. Stuart and the other pilots
  left here at 11:40 a. m. for high patrol, which means they are to fly
  above the thousand metres. Two of the pilots had to return because of
  motor trouble, leaving one pilot whom Stuart was following.

  “At 12:50 a. m. they ran across a German bi-place machine. The
  French pilot attacked first, but had to withdraw because of trouble
  with his machine gun. He reports that the Spad [Stuart Walcott’s
  machine], that had been following him, he last saw a thousand metres
  above him, or the German. Also that the German had gone back over
  his lines. The infantry and artillery observers report the French
  pilot’s attack and combat. And that six minutes later the German
  returned over our lines. And that the Spad that was seen flying
  at a very high altitude, came down and attacked the German, and
  succeeded in bringing him down in flames. In doing so he had to fly
  quite a way over the German territory. And that the Spad had started
  to return, when three German fighting machines were seen diving on
  him, and forcing him down. The Spad was last seen doing a nose-dive
  perpendicular, behind their lines. That is all the information I have
  received up to date.

  “This is what makes all the boys think that Stuart is alive:

  “A nose-dive perpendicular is used very often in combat, but is very
  dangerous, as it is very difficult for one to come out of and yet
  have their motor running; that reason might force him to land; also
  there was very little chance for him to get away from them by flying,
  as they were above, and the only sensible thing to do was to land;
  and as we were only three days in this _secteur_, the French think
  he might have been mixed up as to the direction for home; or that
  he was slightly wounded and could not turn his machine toward the
  French lines.

  “I have tried every way possible to get information about Stuart. I
  have sent the numbers of his motor and machine to Major S. yros, who
  is trying to trace it through the Red Cross service.

  “One of the French pilots of this _escadrille_, who is a very good
  friend of your boy, shot down a German biplane on 13th of December.
  The machine fell behind our lines. The pilot was dead before reaching
  the ground. But the observer was only slightly wounded, so the boys
  of that _escadrille_ have asked the commander of the group if we
  could be permitted to go and talk to the German, as he may know
  something about the Spad that fell behind his lines the day before.
  We hope to know whether we will be permitted to do so or not,

  “It takes two months before we receive the report from Germany
  officially. In the meantime you will read all sorts of reports in the
  newspapers. But I will cable or have Capt. Peter Boal do so, if I get
  any news that is true.

  “The case of Buckley, the American who fell Sept. 5, was reported as
  being in flames from five thousand metres down, and fell in German
  territory. The observers reported that it landed on its back and
  burned completely. His parents were notified of his death; newspapers
  reported the terrible death he died. Well, Sir, on November 25 we
  received a letter from him, saying he was enjoying the best of health
  and was satisfied with his surroundings in the prison camp in Germany.

  “So we are all hoping the same for Stuart.

  “I have all Stuart’s personal things, and will give them to Capt.
  Boal the first chance I get.

  “Mr. Walcott, it is beyond words for me to try and tell you how
  grieved we all are about Stuart, and how great a loss it is to the
  Escadrille, for him to be away. He was more than liked by every
  member and officer, and gave promise of doing great things, was
  always up in his machine trying to better himself in combat flying;
  there never was a minute that he was idle, if it was possible for
  him to fly. And never a more generous and kinder boy. Only the night
  before the patrol he last went out on, he gave me every care in the
  world, got up during the night to make sure I was comfortable and to
  do anything he could for my ankle.

  “From one who has been with Stuart through all his training, and
  roommate on the Front,

                                 “Yours respectfully,
                                                       “E. J. LOUGHRAN.”

This letter was written before the cable dispatch of January 7, from
the International Red Cross, which seems to establish definitely the
fact that Stuart Walcott gave his life in support of the endeavor to
“make the world safe for democracy.” In further and final evidence, a
letter dated February 5, 1918, informed Dr. Walcott that the Red Cross
agent in Paris had reported “Stuart Walcott’s grave has been found.” An
accompanying map from Loughran shows that the spot where Stuart Walcott
fell is on a hill a little South of Saint Souplet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Benjamin Stuart Walcott was of New England ancestry. His earliest known
American forbear was Capt. Jonathan Walcott of Salem, Mass., 1663-1699.
Later, one of Capt. Jonathan’s descendants, Benjamin Stuart Walcott,
served in a Rhode Island regiment during the Revolutionary War. On his
mother’s side two ancestors served in the Continental Army and in the
Revolutionary War.


Stuart Walcott was a senior at Princeton in the winter of 1916-17.
In view of his approaching graduation in the spring his father wrote
to him that he had best begin to think about what he was to do after
graduation in order that he might get on an independent basis as soon
as practicable. In response under date of January 7, 1917, he wrote:

   “You spoke of my being independent after I graduate in the spring.
  If I go to Europe, as I want to, to drive an ambulance or in the
  aeroplane I will be doing a man’s work and shall be doing enough to
  support myself. If the work is unpaid, it is merely because it is
  charitable work and as such is given freely. If you want to pay my
  way, I will consider it not as dependence on you, father, but as a
  partnership that may help the Allies and their cause. I will furnish
  my services and you the funds to make my services available. If not,
  I will be willing to invest the small amount of capital which has
  accumulated in my name. I have been thinking of this work in Europe
  for over a year now, and am still very strong for it. I don’t know
  what the effect will be on myself, but if it will be of service to
  others, I think that it is something I ought to do.”

Being assured that the expenses would be provided for, he then began an
investigation as to the best method of procedure to obtain training as
an aviator. In a letter dated January 26 he said:

  “Many, many thanks for sending me the book on the French Flying Corps
  by Winslow. I read half of it the night that it came and stayed up
  late last night to finish it. He gives a very straight, interesting
  and apparently not exaggerated account of the work over there, which
  has made it somewhat clearer to me, just what it is that I want to
  get into. Now I am even more anxious than I was before to join the
  service over there. The more that I think about it and the more that
  I hear of it, the more desirous I am of getting into the Flying
  Corps. If a man like Winslow with a wife and daughter dependent on
  him is willing to take the risk involved, I see no reason why I
  should not.

  “You mention the Ambulance service in your last note. I have thought
  of that quite a little and would definitely prefer the aviation.
  The ambulance is worth while, I think, in that it gives one an
  opportunity to be of great service to humanity, but not so much so as
  the other. There will be a number of my classmates who will enlist in
  the American Ambulance this spring, but the air service appeals to

He then made arrangements with the American representatives of the
Lafayette Escadrille to go to France on the completion of his college
year. On January 29 he wrote:

  “I will get a physical examination in a few days. In regard to
  getting the training over here first, I do not think that it would be
  worth while. The instruction over there would be first hand, bright,
  for a definite purpose and on the whole superior to what I could get
  here. I could also be picking up the language and the hang of the
  country at the same time.”

On February 24 he received word that his papers presented with his
application for admittance to the Franco-American Flying Corps assured
him on their face of a welcome when he presented himself in Paris. He
was informed that if he utilized his spare time in availing himself of
any and every opportunity to familiarize himself with flying, it would
shorten his stay in the Student Aviators School in France. On March 26
he wrote:

  “I haven’t been able to find out anything definite about the school
  at Mineola. As yet, no change has been announced to my knowledge, in
  reference to hastening up the course in event of the coming of war.
  Over a hundred men have left college [Princeton] already to start
  training for the Mosquito Fleet, and the rest of them are drilling
  every afternoon. What do you think of the advisability of stopping
  college and going to some aviation school? Considering that it takes
  several months to become at all useful as an aviator and that war is
  practically inevitable now, I think it would be wise to get started
  right away.”

And again, on April 3:

  “I saw in the morning paper that the American fliers in France would
  be transferred to American registry immediately after the declaration
  of war. When you next see General Squier, I wish that you would sound
  him on the probability of a force being sent to France to learn to
  fly according to French methods. That is the one thing above all
  others that I want to get into. If there is any chance of that I do
  not want to get involved in anything else....

  “It is quite certain that seniors who leave college now, to go into
  military work, will receive their degrees. I would not object to
  losing the work as it is not my present intention to keep on with
  theoretical chemistry and that is what I am devoting my time to this
  spring. From the standpoint of education alone, I think that my time
  could be more profitably spent in the study of aviation.”

Leave was granted by the University, and on April 6 Stuart Walcott
was appointed a special assistant to Mr. Sidney D. Waldon, Inspector
of Aeroplanes and Aeroplane Motors, Signal Service at Large. He
immediately reported to Mr. Waldon and worked with him through April.
May first he went to Newport News, Virginia. May 2 he reported:

  “My first trip up was this afternoon with Victor Carlstrom. We were
  out 16 minutes and climbed 3,500 feet. It was all very simple getting
  up there--a little wind and noise and some bumps and pockets in the
  air--a glorious view of the Harbor. Then we started to come down.
  First, I saw the earth directly below through the planes on the
  left. Then the horizon made a sudden wild lurch and Newport News
  appeared directly below on my right. This continued for a little
  while and then we started down at an angle of about 30 degrees to the
  perpendicular, turning as we went. I later learned that Carlstrom had
  executed a few steep banks or sharp turns and then spiralled down. It
  ended with a very pretty landing, following with a series of banks to
  check speed. Flying from my first impression is a very fascinating
  game and the one I want to stay with for a while. I have signed up
  for 100 minutes in the air. While this hundred minutes will not make
  me a flier by any means I think it is well worth the while in that it
  gives me a little element of certainty in going abroad. I will know
  if all goes well that I am not unable to fly.”

The next day he wrote:

  “Two flights this morning, 25 minutes _in toto_. The greatest sport
  I ever had. Wonderful work. I did most of the work after we got up a
  safe distance.”

Having obtained a certificate of 100 minutes flight and passed the
necessary physical examinations, he left for France, arriving at
Bordeaux May 31, and soon reported at Avord for training.



                                                           July 4, 1917.

Dear H----:

... My work here is going well, although slowly. Those in my class
ought to get out by October if nothing goes wrong. There are some
150 Americans learning to fly now in France, besides the ones the
Government may have sent over--more than a hundred at this one school,
and the oddest combination I’ve ever been thrown with: chauffeurs,
second-story men, ex-college athletes, racing drivers, salesmen, young
bums of leisure, a colored prize fighter, ex-Foreign Légionnaires, ball
players, millionaires and tramps. Not too good a crowd according to
most standards, but the worst bums may make the best aviators. There’s
plenty of need for all of them.

There are lots of Frenchmen here also and a big crowd of Russians,
mostly happy youngsters having a very good time. They’re always in a
hurry to get up in the air and are continually breaking machines and
their necks. The Americans have an endless streak of luck in being able
to fall out of the air and collect themselves uninjured from amidst a
pile of kindling wood which was the machine. As yet I haven’t done any
piloting in the air, so can’t talk very wisely about the glories and
thrills of slipping through the ephemeral clouds. All I have learned is
that almost any kind of a dub can be a pilot, but that there aren’t a
lot of very good ones. The idea is to get enough practice to become a
good one before arguing with the elusive Boche at a high altitude.

It looks over here as though there would be about two years more of
war, judging from what most people say. It is to be hoped that after
twelve to eighteen months we will be able to take France’s place at
the front, for she deserves to be relieved and will have to be. Even
now, France is almost spent; it will be England and the United States
who will finish the war. This war is a terrible thing, but for America
it is an opportunity as well. I am glad that we have at last come into
it and that it will be no half-way fight that we must put up. The
Canadians have been about the best regiments in the war. Why shouldn’t
America be as good?...



                                         ESCOLE D’AVIATION MILITAIRE
                                                    AVORD, CHER, FRANCE.
                                            Friday, July 13, 1917.

You see it’s Friday, the thirteenth, my lucky day, and I’m happy
because the work is going well. First, I’ll tell you about a smash I
had a week or so ago.

The roller or _Rouleur_ class which I smashed in has the same machine
as those that fly with a 45 P motor. Only it is throttled down, and we
are supposed to keep it on the ground--just about ready to fly, but
not quite getting up--a speed of about 30 m.p.h. When there is the
slightest wind we can not roll, because the wind turns the tail around
and swings the machine in a circle--a wooden horse--_cheval de bois_.
I rode about the end of the list Saturday--and the wind had come up as
the day got on. Work stops at 8:30 a. m. always because there’s too
much wind. My first sortie or trip went O.K. with a considerable breeze
on the tail, but on the second there was too much wind and after I got
going pretty fast--around she went. The wind caught under the inside
wing and up it went. Smash went the outside wheel, and a crackle of
busting wood. All the front framework of wood that holds the motor was
smashed--a pretty bad break. The monitor was a bit mad and talked to me
a bit in French.

The next morning I was called in to see the chief of the Blériot
school, Lt. de Chavannes, a very nice officer. He told me that my
monitor was not satisfied with me--that he had told me to do something
(cut the motor when the machine started to turn) three separate times,
and that each time I had intentionally disobeyed, that if anything like
that happened again I would be radiated (discharged from the school).
That was quite the first I had ever heard of it and I was so mad at the
monitor that I could have kicked him in the head. I tried to explain to
the Lieutenant but he never heard a word, so I just gurgled with wrath
and didn’t do anything. But yesterday we got another monitor who is a
different sort.

The class after _rouleur_ is _decollé_--it is the same machine, but one
gets off the ground about a metre or two, then slacks up on the motor
and settles to the earth. It is strictly forbidden to _decollé_ in
the _rouleur_ class. This morning I had a sortie in the _rouleur_ and
all of a sudden noticed that I was in the air a bit--managed to keep
it straight and get out of the air without smashing. The monitor said
nothing so I _decolléed_ on all the sorties. When I got out the monitor
explained that it was strictly forbidden to go off the ground in the
_rouleur_ class, that I shouldn’t have done it, and then asked me if I
would like to go up to the other class. Whereupon consenting, I am now
in the _decollé_ class, leaving sixteen rather peeved Americans who
arrived in the _rouleur_ the same time I did, who can perform in the
_rouleur_ quite as well as I can and who will remain in the _rouleur_
for some time yet. They’ve no grudge against me, however, as it was
only a streak of luck on my part. Later in the morning I had some
sorties in the _decolleur_ and got up two or three metres. The wind was
too strong, so my trips were a bit rough, but nothing was damaged--so
hurrah for Friday, the thirteenth.


                                                          July 17, 1917.

The work has been going very well since last I wrote you, which was
only two or three days ago. I told you about at last leaving the
blessed roller; I never was so relieved in my life. The first evening
in the _decollé_ class, I was requisitioned to turn tails and the
morning after there was too much wind to work. The _decollé_ is the one
where you go up two or three metres and settle down by cutting speed.
The first time I had three sorties in the wind, bounced around a lot,
but did no damage. The next time was first thing in the morning. Two
metres up on the first, four or five on the fifth--strictly against
orders. I even had to _piqué_--point the machine toward the ground--a
little, which is not at all _comme il faut_ in the _decollé_. But these
Frenchmen are funny chaps--sometimes they will get terribly angry and
punish one for disobeying, and again they will be tickled to death
with it. If I had smashed while doing more than I was told to, there
would have been a lot of trouble; as it was, no objection--and the
monitor personally conducted me to the _piqué_ class with a very nice

Now there are two _piqué_ classes: one with a _piste_ about a
quarter of a mile long, in which one is supposed to do little more
than _decollé_, get up about five metres and _piqué un tout petit
peu_--hardly at all. After comes the advanced _piqué_ with a much
longer _piste_ on which one can get up 100 metres (300 feet). On my
first sortie in the _piqué_, I was told to roll on the ground all the
way, so continuing my policy, did a low _decollé_. Next I was supposed
to do a two metre _decollé_, so went up ten and _piquéd_. Had ten
sorties in that class one morning, getting as high as I could--about
twenty metres--and went to the advanced _piqué_ that night--last night.
Four sorties there last night with a machine with a poor motor, so
didn’t get up over a hundred feet.

And this morning I did my first real aviating. There was a bit of wind
blowing, so the monitor, Mr. Moses, only let a Lieutenant and me go
up, as we had gone better than the others last night. First it was a
bit rainy and always bumpy as the deuce--air puffs and pockets which
require the entire corrective force of the wing warp and rudder to
overcome. My last sortie was decidedly active. The wind had developed
into a bit of a breeze which is to a Blériot like a rough sea to a row
boat. Two or three times I got a puff that tipped the machine ’way
over--put the controls over as far as I could and waited. It seemed a
minute before she straightened. The trouble was that the machine was
climbing and therefore not going very fast. If I had _piquéd_, it would
have corrected quicker. I had no trouble at all in making the landing.
Hopping out of the machine, I saw the head monitor rushing over to
Mr. Moses on the double, shouting volubly in French and berating him
severely. I gathered that he had been watching my manoeuvres, expecting
something to fall every instant, and that he strenuously objected to
Moses’ letting me go up. Work stopped there for the morning, and it was
very fully explained to me what the trouble was. If I have some sorties
there tonight, I go to _Tour de Piste_ (Flying Field) in the morning. I
may be on Nieuport in two weeks.

I am now beginning to see the advantages of the Blériot training. There
is a great deal of preliminary work on or near the ground. In all
other aviation training, such as at Newport News, 90 per cent of the
work is in making landings--in piquéing down, redressing at the proper
moment and making gradual connections with the earth. I haven’t made a
really bad landing yet and the reason is that I have been in a machine
so much on and near the ground, that I have sort of developed a sense
or feel of it, and almost automatically redress correctly, and settle
easily. Also I can tell pretty closely what is flying speed because of
the work on the rollers. It’s the same way with all the other students
only I know it now from my own experience.

And this morning I began to realize that my hundred minutes at Newport
News was invaluable. I not only found out some of the tricks of a
master hand (Carlstrom) but also developed a bit of confidence in the
air, and air sense, without which I could have got into trouble this
morning. My bumpy ride this morning is absolutely invaluable. I’ll
probably never have so much trouble in the air again, because a fast
machine or even a Blériot with a good motor, would hardly have noticed
these puffs. It was a bit risky, I guess, or the head monitor would not
have been worried, but now that it’s over, I know a lot more.


                                                        August 11, 1917.

Dear ----[B]:

You have certainly developed into a wonderful correspondent.
Honest-to-goodness, a letter you started my way about a month ago was
quite the most satisfactory and amusing thing I’ve received since I’ve
been over here. Based on practically no material, yet it was alive
with interest, every line. There’s nothing like a finishing school
education. If I thought that you could knit, I would immediately
appoint you as my _marraine_ (godmother), for it’s quite possible for
one person to have more than one soldier and I am but a soldier of
the second class in the French Army. As I understand it, the chief
duty of a _marraine_ is to write letters--you’ve started that in good
style--and to knit wool scarfs, which the devoted soldier hands to a
French peasant woman to unravel and make a pair of socks out of....

Many Yale boys have wandered in upon us of late, Alan Winslow, Wally
Winter, George Mosely, and others. Also Chester Bassett, late of
Washington and Harvard University, who I believe has the good fortune
to be acquainted with you, a very recommendable young man. They tell me
that Cord Meyer is aviating at some camp nearby, but, not having any
machines, they have to spend their time touring the country in a high
powered motor.

Had a long and gossipy letter from Pat the other day, containing
details of many weddings and engagements, even unto young ---- ----.
All my classmates are doing the same stunt. How about being original
and waiting until the war is over and seeing who of the competitors
are left? I quite expect to be, but it’s luck I’m trusting to; there’s
a lot of war left in the nations of Europe. One never can tell; I
may come home on permission in a French uniform with a wing on my
collar.... When the American Air Service is a little further along, it
may be that we will be taken over from the French Army.

I finished up in one division of the school the other day and passed
to another for brevet, the tests for a military aviator. I sort of
have the impression that I wrote you a few weeks ago about it, but
not being sure, run the risk of repetition, which, if any, I hope you
will excuse. This epistle is being written out at the _piste_ (flying
field), waiting for the wind to drop enough to fly, and with me seated
amidst a bunch of Russians, so if there are any superfluous “iskis” or
“ovitches” in this, you will understand why. The Russians are great
fliers; in fact they know so much about it that they never listen to
their monitors and as a result break more machines than all the other
pupils combined. A month ago five of them went to the next school for
acrobacy and in a week every one of them had killed himself. I pulled
a bit of the same Russian stuff in the spiral class of the Blériot.
All the work is solo--never a flight double command so one has to get
instructions on the ground and follow them in the air.

I used my head and senses in performing my first spiral, instead of
shutting my eyes, doing what I had been told and trusting to God. The
result was that I made one more turn than I expected to and that quite
perpendicular, not at all _comme il faut_ in a Blériot. Why something
did not break has been the wonder of the Blériot school. But nothing
did and we got down all right. Another time I planted a cuckoo on
her nose, which is not at all encouraged by the monitors. ’Tis quite
a trick to balance a monoplane on its nose on the ground, but I did
it--quite vertical she lay, with me in the middle struggling with the
safety belt and wondering which way it was going to fall. My final
appearance in the Blériot school was likewise spectacular. The left
wing hit a hole in the air which the right one didn’t. Naturally things
tipped; then they wouldn’t straighten and the only thing to do was to
dive to the low side. I did, but forgot to shut off the motor. A very
steep and fast spiral resulted in which I lost 500 feet in a half-turn
in about two seconds, I think, all with the motor going to beat the
cars. I must have been travelling at many hundreds of miles an hour.
Once again nothing broke, but it was no fault of mine that it didn’t....



                                                        August 25, 1917.

I started for my altitude test three days ago. The requirement is one
hour above 2,000 metres. I got to 1,950 metres and one cylinder refused
to fire, so I was forced to come down. The next morning I tried again,
got to 900 metres and the magneto ceased to function, thereby stopping
all progress. I glided toward home, but didn’t have quite the height
to make the _piste_, so had to land in a nearby field, just dodging
a potato patch. A flock of curious sheep came around and carefully
examined the machine, getting considerably mixed up in the wires of
the open tail construction and leaving considerable wool thereon. When
the mechanics eventually got the motor going, I started off, didn’t
get quite in the air before the motor went bad and then I ran into
a bean patch, gathering about a bushel of beans with the same tail
wires. Yesterday morning I tried again, climbed to 2,000 in fourteen
minutes and to 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) in forty minutes. I went
up through some light clouds and when I got to 3,500, the top of my
recording barograph, more clouds had formed and I was practically shut
off from the earth, nothing but a beautiful sea of clouds below me, a
very beautiful sight. One other machine was in sight, far below me, but
on top of the clouds. Not wanting to get lost I came down through the
clouds and stayed out my hour just above 2,000 and below the clouds,
where the air was very much churned up, keeping me very busy. Just as
soon as the time was up I came down with a pair of very chilled feet,
making the 2,000 metres in five minutes to the ground. No work since
then on account of bad weather.

This morning I attended my first Catholic funeral, that of the
commandant of the school who was the victim of a mid-air collision, a
very unusual accident. The other machine got down safely though badly
smashed. Everybody in camp attended the funeral in the chapel of the
Artillery Camp next door. I understood none of the service, but the
music by a tenor and a ’cello was excellent. While the cortege was
going down the hill to the cemetery, a Nieuport circled overhead very
low for half an hour or more and dropped a wreath. It was a very
impressive ceremony.

I expect to start on triangle and _petit voyage_ in a few days. When
they are done, I will be a breveted flier in the French Army. Then
comes _perfectionné_ work and acrobacy, so it will be quite a while yet
for me.


                                                        August 31, 1917.

Dear ----[C]:

Here it is almost September and I am still a dog-goned _élève pilote_.
Verily, every time I think of how the time passes along without
results, I go wild. My complaint is caused by the west wind, which
has blown about twenty-five days during the month of August and seems
likely to continue well on into September. The only variety is an
occasional storm. For the past two weeks I’ve been waiting to start my
voyages, two trips to a town forty miles away and back and two other
triangular trips about 180 miles long each. When they are done, one
becomes a _pilote élève_; and there’s a great if subtle difference when
the words are reversed. An _élève pilote_ is the scum of the earth,
looked down on by mechanics, pilots, monitors, and everyone else; a
_pilote élève_ can wear wings on his collar and is as good as any one
else. He is permitted to fly in rough weather, to take chances and is
not in so much danger of getting radiated if he gets in trouble. The
proper thing to do on a triangle or _petit voyage_ is to have something
bust directly over a nice château; make a skilful landing on the front
lawn under the eyes of the admiring household and then be an enforced
guest for a few days until one is rescued by a truck and mechanics. One
has to be very careful where the _panne de moteur_ catches him lest he
have to make his landing in a lake or on a forest, which is apt to be
a bit awkward. One chap, an American, has been out on a triangle for
two weeks, staying at some country place, and there are four others at
another school near a big town waiting for weather to return. Reports
give us to believe they are having a much better time there than we are

Between here and the point for the _petit voyage_--a little bit off the
route, is the big future American aviation camp and also an Artillery
camp. There are quite a bunch of fellows there, Quentin Roosevelt,
Cord Meyer, etc., I think. Every American that has left on his voyages
in the last month has stopped there against all orders and been
bawled out by the monitor. One has to keep a recording barometer or
altimeter machine, a barograph, during the voyages, which indicates all
stops. One chap came back home the other day with a barometer record
showing beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had made a stop of about
fifteen minutes _en route_. The monitor saw it, said, “_Alors_, all
you Americans stop off there, I don’t like it.” Then the chap tried to
explain how he had had a _panne_ and come down in a field out in the
country somewhere, fixed the motor and come on home. He almost got away
with it, but the monitor happened to snook around a bit and noticed on
the tail very clearly written a good Anglo-Saxon name, the name of the
town, and the date--quite indisputable evidence. I fully expect to have
a _panne_ there myself before long.

By the way, to declare a short pause in my chronicle of aviation, how
about all those “letters that are to follow”? If you try to tell me how
good you are to your Belgian soldier, I refuse to believe a word until
you treat me in the same way. And I also refuse to accept anyone as a
_marraine_ (isn’t that what you call these fairy godmother persons one
is supposed to correspond with during the war and marry afterward?
How inconsiderate some of them are, to take three or four soldiers,
just assuming that not more than one will survive; however, they may be
wise to have more than one iron in the fire. But my parenthesis grows
apace.)--I say I refuse a _marraine_ until she approves her ability.
But let me see again. Does said _marraine_ have to be a complete
stranger? It seems to me that is customary, and also usually they are
of different nationalities. All of the foregoing weak line will be
interpreted as a mere plea for that other letter. I’ve never made this
“absence makes the heart grow fonder” stuff at all. Even ---- has given
me up; I remain to her only another of the forgotten conquests (?) of
the dead past....

This odd person, Bassett, wandered in all dressed up like a patch of
blue sky and I just had to let you know he was here. With absolute
confidence in each other’s integrity, we put our loving messages side
by each. By the way, he _is_ a good scout, don’t you think? I have
gotten to like him immensely since he has been here. I never had a
better time in my life than one evening in Paris with Chet. However
quiet the party, he is the life of it.

It must be that I take my weekly shave--in cold, cold water, with a
dull, dull razor. Oh, happy thought! Tell the father and brothers hello
from me. Also tell ---- to drop me a line of what he’s doing and when
he’s coming over.



                                                      September 1, 1917.

The wild man in the Nieuport was out again this morning giving some one
a joy ride. There is a long straight stretch of road in front of our
_piste_ and he came down that several times, a nasty puffy wind blowing
which bothered him not at all, flying only two or three feet off the
ground. In front of the _piste_ is a telephone wire crossing the road.
He came along the road 100 miles an hour until almost on top of the
wire and jumped up just in time to clear it by a few feet--really
beautiful work. He goes all over the surrounding country flying low,
hopping over trees and houses, sometimes turning up sideways to slip
between two trees a bit too close together to fly through; sometimes
dragging a wing through the space between a couple of hangars or doing
vertical _virages_ just in front of them. It doesn’t seem possible that
any man can be so much a part of his machine, can be so consistently
accurate that he never misses. For this chap, Lumière, has never had a

A chap named Loughran started off on one of his brevet voyages a few
days before I got ready for brevet. He got quite a ways along, ran into
a storm, went above it, got caught in a cloud, kept on for quite a long
way being drifted by a strong wind, then came down through the clouds
and found that they were only 400 feet above the ground. After a while
he found a place to land and came down safely. He went to a farmhouse,
got his machine guarded and tied down. In the meantime word had spread
over the countryside that an aviator had come down there and the entire
population came out to look him over. A grand equipage drove up with
a Count who lived in a nearby château. He insisted that Eddie come to
the château and accept their hospitality. There the fortunate Ed stayed
five days; the Countess talked English, and also some house guests. He
hadn’t brought a trunk so borrowed razor, etc., from the Count; went
down to see the machine every day in the baronial barouche. Whenever
he went to the little town in the vicinity all the kids followed him
around the streets and when at last he left, he was presented with a
multitude of bouquets and had to kiss each and every donor. He brought
back pictures of the château--a delightful looking old place--and
numerous addresses.



                                                      September 4, 1917.

At last the two weeks of wind and rain has ceased and now it is
perfect weather--a bit of a breeze and lots of sun for the last two
days. Yesterday morning there weren’t enough machines to go around so
I did not work, making the eighth consecutive day I hadn’t stepped
in a machine. Last evening I at last and with much rejoicing started
out on my “maiden voyage” to another school about 60 kilometres away
(37.5 miles). It was delightfully easy--nothing to do but climb two or
three thousand feet and just sit there and watch the country unfold,
comparing the maplike surface of the earth spread out below with the
map in the machine. In good weather it is very easy to follow, spot
roads, towns, woods, rivers and bridges. Railroad tracks get lost at
high altitudes and are harder to find anyway. One has to keep an eye
open for a place to land within gliding distance in case of a _panne_
always, but the country is so flat and so much cultivated around
here that it is absurdly simple. I endeavored always to keep some
pleasant looking house or château in range in case of trouble, for the
French are proverbially hospitable to aviators _en panne_ (lying to,

Coming back yesterday evening, the sun was pretty low and the air
absolutely calm, nothing but the drone of the motor and the wind; the
only movements necessary an occasional slight pressure on the joy
stick to one side or the other to keep the proper direction. I came
very nearly going to sleep, it was so peaceful up there; several times
closed my eyes and swayed a bit. As a matter of fact one is perfectly
safe at that altitude--anything over a thousand feet--because the
machine, at least this particular type, won’t get into any position
from which one cannot get it out within 200 metres at most. But
nevertheless I haven’t tried any impromptu falls as yet.

This morning I repeated the same identical performance, because for
some reason we have to do two _petits voyages_, and had much the same
kind of a time as yesterday. On the way home one cylinder quit its job
and threw oil instead, covering me from head to foot and clouding up my
goggles so I had to wipe them off about every minute. When I got back
the mechanics decided that that motor had died of old age and would
have to be repaired, so I am again without a machine. Have watched a
beautiful afternoon pass by from the barracks when without my luck I’d
be working. But with a machine and weather, I can be finished tomorrow;
two triangles to do about 200 kilometres (125 miles) each and I can do
one in the morning and the other in the evening and then I’m breveted.
Perhaps by day after tomorrow I’ll start _perfectionné_ on Nieuport. I
hope so.


                                                      September 9, 1917.

Since my last to Father, I have had some very interesting times. First,
I finished my _brevet_ with very little excitement, made all my voyages
and only got lost a little bit once. Then I saw two machines on the
ground in a field, made a rather dramatic spiral and steeply banked
descent amidst a crowd of villagers and got away with it; then found
that the machines belonged to two monitors who were bringing them
from Paris and had effected a _panne de château_. Being asked what I
was doing, I fortunately found a spark plug on the burn and got that
repaired. The rest of it was very easy, a bit of flying in the rain
which stings the face a bit, but is not bad otherwise.

Since I have been on the Nieuport. There are three sizes of machines on
which one is trained, starting with the larger double command and going
to the smallest. At Pau, we get another even smaller, about as big as
half-a-minute. Four times I went out without a ride--bad weather,
crowded class and busted machines, the same old story. Then last night
I had my first rides with a monitor who is rather oldish, crabbed and
new at his job, a brand new aviator. As you know, when an airplane
takes a turn, it does not remain horizontal but banks up: _comme ça_
(if you can interpret that illustration--it shows signs of remarkable
imaginative power)--_alors_, one banks to take a turn and uses the
rudder only a very little because the machine turns along when banked.
There is a sort of falling-out feeling the first few times until one
becomes a part of the machine.

To get back to the story, this monitor does not like to bank his
machine and sort of sidles round the corners, keeping it quite flat
and almost slipping out to the outside of the turn. I have done many
fool things in a machine and made many mistakes, but never have I been
so scared in anything in my life as when riding with this monitor. A
monitor is supposed to let the pupil drive as much as he is able, but
this bird never let me make a move, and when we got through told me I
was too brutal. I was never madder in my life and cursed nice American
cuss words all the way home. There’s a fifteen kilo ride in a seatless
tractor back to camp to improve a bad humor.

Well, this morning I saw some more rides impending and didn’t like it,
so asked the _chef de piste_ to put me with another monitor. He had
to know why and I registered my kick, which practically said that the
first monitor didn’t know his business and couldn’t drive, that I was
scared to ride with him. The _chef_ was a bit sarcastic and told me
to take two rides with another monitor to show how _I_ could make a
_virage_. I did it the way I’ve been accustomed to, made a fairly short
turn; when we got down, the monitor said “_Epatant_” (Am. “stunning”)
or something like that to the _chef_. The _chef_ had meanwhile
communicated my complaint to the first monitor and he was the maddest
man I ever saw. Demanded what “_Ce type là_” (indicating me) wanted,
said the _virages_ I had just made were dangerously banked (the monitor
I was with didn’t mind, though) and then all three started arguing
at once at me and I spelled all the French I knew. About that time I
thought of what you had just told me in a letter about trusting in
Latin, which advice and remarks I have come to agree with very much (my
admiration for the French has waxed less daily), and here I realized
that I had very successfully made a fool out of a man who was supposed
to be my teacher, and he fully resented it.

Then, of all things, the lieutenant, without further remarks, said I
was to continue with my first monitor. My heart sank into my feet.
I had visions of staying in that class without rides or with only
rides and fights for months; I rode no more this morning and what was
my delight to find this evening that my bewhiskered pal had left on
permission. I got another monitor, a fine one who put his hands on the
side of the machine and let me do everything with a bit of assistance
on the landing, which is different from what I’ve been doing on the
Caudron. Seven rides and a finish--the twenty-three-metre tomorrow
morning. I wasn’t very good, but got by.


                                                     September 14, 1917.

Things for me are going all right. Have made progress on the Nieuport
since last I wrote and will fly alone soon. As regards the U. S. Army,
things are at a standstill until I get to Paris which will be a week
or so. I hope to go to the front in a French _escadrille_ and in an
American uniform. Some say it can be done; some that it cannot. It
sounds so sensible that I am afraid there must be some regulation
against it.


                                                     September 27, 1917.

Since last I wrote a regular letter, considerable has taken place.
First, I am now at Pau, having finished up Avord. Have sent postcards
to Father right along to keep track of movements. After _brevet_ was
over, I did not take the customary permission of forty-eight hours, but
went straight to work on Nieuport, D. C. (double command). One cannot
learn a great deal riding with an instructor--only about enough to keep
from smashing in landing, because one never knows when the instructor
is messing with the controls, when it’s one’s self. There are five
kinds of Nieuports--differing mainly in size, the smaller being faster
and more agile in the air, better adapted to eccentric flying. They are
28, 23, 18, 15, 13 (the baby Nieuport). At Avord I had about a week of
D. C. on 28 and 23 (the numbers refer to size of wings) with several
days of no work. Then some days on 23 alone and finally on 18 alone.

The landings are a bit different from those of the machines I had been
flying as they are faster and the machines are quite nose-heavy. In
the air the nose-heavy feature makes them “fly themselves”--that is,
according to the speed of the motor the machine will rise and climb
or _piqué_ and descend, with never a touch from the pilot. If the
weather is not very bad, the Nieuport will correct itself automatically
from all displacements. But in landing the nose-heavy feature causes
a great many _capotages_. If the landing isn’t done about right with
the tail low--over she goes on her nose or all the way onto her back.
It is a very common occurrence and has become almost a joke. When a
pupil capotes, everybody kids him--no one hurries over to see if he is
hurt, not at all; he climbs out from under, usually cursing, and in ten
minutes the truck is out to salvage the wreck.

It is astounding the way smashes are taken as a matter of course.
Yesterday one chap in landing hit another machine, demolishing both but
not touching either pilot. Being worth some $15,000 or $25,000, but no
one seemed to worry--it’s very much a matter of course. The monitor
was a little peeved because he will be short of machines for a few
days, but that was all. I’ve seen as many as ten machines flat on their
backs or with tails high in the air, on one field at the same time. For
myself, I haven’t capoted or busted any wood since the Blériot days.
But I’m knocking on the wooden table now. On several occasions it has
been only luck that saved me, as I’ve made many rotten landings.

Well, to get back to the diary. After finishing at Avord, I waited
around for two days to get papers fixed up, requested and obtained
permission and then decided not to use it and left straight for Pau
after fond farewells to the friends I’ve been with for three and a half
months. Looking back, I didn’t have such a bad time at Avord after all,
though I did get terribly tired of the living conditions.

My trip to Pau I put down to experience. I discovered one schedule not
to travel by in future. Leaving Avord at 2:15 I got to Bourges at 2:45
and found that the train left at 7:29. Fortunately, there was another
chap from the school on the train, Arthur Bluthenthal, an old Princeton
football star, whom I have gotten to know quite well, so we managed to
waste the afternoon together. At 7:29 I started another half hour’s
journey, at the end of which the timetable said that the train for
Bordeaux left at 10:30 (this is all P. M.).

At this town there were some American engineers, so I embraced the
fellow countrymen in a strange land. Finished up a not very gay evening
by attending the movies, a most odd institution. Clouds of tobacco
smoke obscured the screen, and most of the action was around the bar
at one side of the hall. Nobody was drunk, but nearly every one was
drinking and very gay. This was merely Saturday night in a small town
of the Provinces--not in gay Paree. At 10:15 I got in a first class
compartment and tried to find a comfortable position in which to sleep.
At 2:15 A. M. I had mussed up my clothes considerably, lost my temper
and not slept a wink. Then we had to change again. The rest of the
morning I sat opposite an American officer, a queer old fogey, and
we tried to kid each other into thinking we were sleeping, with no
success. Arrived at Bordeaux at 7 A. M., and found that the train for
Pau left immediately, so I missed out on breakfast, too--Oh, it was
a hectic trip. My idea of a very unpleasant occupation is that of a
travelling salesman in France.


                                                       October 22, 1917.

Ah, ----[D]:

Once more I take my pen in hand to lay at your feet the burdens of an
overwrought (how is that word spelled?) mind, said burdens being caused
by a most unpleasant captain. Just because I was in Paris for a day and
a half without a permission, he handed me eight days of jail, and today
for nothing at all he hauled me out in front of the entire division
and got quite angered when I told him in extremely broken French that
I hadn’t understood a word. But as the jail doesn’t mean anything and
doesn’t have to be served, I am not worrying very much. The afternoon
is misty and there isn’t a chance of flying, so he takes particular
care that nobody leave the _piste_ though there is absolutely nothing
to do there, no chance to get warm or comfortable. Which at least gives
me a perfect alibi for poor penmanship as I’m sitting in a machine and
quite uncomfortable.

Thoughtless creature, so much like the rest of your sex, why did you
not tell me where Albert was to be over here, or what he was going to
do, or what service he was in, or at least that he was in France? I
cleverly deduced the latter from your letter, but did not know where to
find him. When I got your letter I was at Pau, not far from Bordeaux
(Didn’t I write you or postal-card you from there?). Afterward at
Paris, I talked to a few very dressed up ensigns with wings on them
somewhere (Walker is the only name I remember), and they told me that
---- was near Bordeaux and in the same group with themselves. So if,
etc., I might have gone to see the Big Boy.

Yesterday I went to see Billy and another classmate in an artillery
camp the other side of Paris. They are officers of the U. S. A. and
live as such, which incites in me much envy as I am still a mere
corporal of France and treated with no more than my due--not quite as
much I sometimes think. That was the expedition that brought the jail.
Lots and lots of people are getting over here now. I’ve seen Heyliger
Church and Kelly Craig who are about to become aviators somewhere.
Porter Guest just became breveted (that is, a licensed pilot) and was
considerably seen in Paris shortly after--no end of college friends are
over here and even an occasional American girl is seen in Paris. No
friends as yet.

Your letter--I asked at Morgan Harjes about Miss ---- and found that
she is at the front in a hospital, so I can’t very well find her in
Paris. I’m sorry as I would very much have liked to. What one might
call permanent people are very nice to know in Paris. I don’t know
anything about the front yet, but if I’m near Miss ----’s hospital,
will try to get acquainted.

What you said about ---- and his going, I can pretty well appreciate.
There isn’t a thing in the world to worry us unmarried and very
independent young men over here. If something happens to us, it will
bother you all back home a great deal more than us. It’s very, very
true that women have the heaviest and worst part of war. I had to
write a letter the other day to the mother of a pal over here who
shot himself when out of his head. A fine pilot and an exceptionally
charming fellow, how I pity his poor mother. It’s almost unbelievable
the number of women one sees in black here in France. Thank God, it
can never become that bad at home, for the war will never get so close
to us as it has to the French.

I haven’t the inspiration to compose an imaginative aeronautic thriller
today about the experiences of a boy aviator. Since last writing, have
finished Nieuport at Avord, went to Pau and there did acrobacy, came
here to Plessis-Belleville and started Spad, now await assignment to an
_escadrille_ which ought to come within a week. Haven’t broken any wood
since Blériot days, but have been a bit more rational and done about
average good work. The preliminary training is over--combat training
doesn’t amount to anything till we get to the front. I’ll be on a
monoplace machine surely. So in my next you can expect to hear mighty
tales of combating the Boche at a high altitude. I’m beginning to hear
that it’s nothing but a lot of routine work, few combats and pretty
soon a frightful bore: I refuse to believe it and hang on to romance
for all I’m worth.

Give my regards to a whole lot of people and tell them I haven’t quite
given up all hope of a letter though almost. My friends as a group are
not very strong on letter writing. There are only a very few shining
exceptions like yourself and verily they do make of me the heart glad.

But enough of this, ’tis bootless, so I sign myself,

                                                    Thine as of yore,


                                               Escadrille Spa-84,
                                                 Secteur Postal 181,
                                                    Par A. C. M.--Paris.
                                                   November 1, 1917.

Well, I’m here--in sight of the front at last. To date I haven’t been
out there yet and won’t for a few days more as they take lots of care
of new pilots and don’t feed them to the Boche right away. Probably day
after tomorrow the lieutenant in command will take me out to show me
around the lines and after that I’ll take my place in patrols with the
others. The work is exclusively patrolling, establishing as it were a
barrage against German machines and preventing as far as possible any
incursions of the French lines. As the big attack is over, there is
comparatively little activity. Sometimes one goes for a whole patrol
without being fired on and without seeing an enemy machine anywhere
near the lines. During the three days I’ve been here, the group has
accounted for several Boches without any losses whatever. Young
Bridgeman of the Lafayette Escadrille had a bullet through his fuselage
just in front of his chest, but suffered no damage except from fright.

There are several _escadrilles_ in the group, a _groupe de combat_--it
is called--all have Spads which makes it very nice. The Lafayette, 124,
is of our group and have adjoining barracks, which makes it very nice
(I seem to repeat) for us lone Americans in French _escadrilles_. We
drop in there far too often and the first few nights I used the bed
of the famous Bill Thaw’s roommate, away on permission. Did I write
you that one morning he brought in Whiskey to wake me up, and my eye
no sooner opened than my head was buried under the covers. Whiskey is
a pet--a very large lion cub, which has unfortunately outgrown its
utility as a pet and was sent yesterday, with its running mate, Soda,
to the Zoo at Paris, to be a regular lion.

They are a very odd crowd--the members of the Lafayette Escadrille,
a few nice ones and a bunch of rather roughnecks. Their conversation
is an eye opener for a new arrival. Mostly about Paris, permissions,
and the rue de Braye, but occasionally about work and that _is_
interesting. Nonchalant doesn’t express it. When Bridgy got shot up as
mentioned above, they all kidded the life out of him and when he got
the Croix de Guerre, they had him almost in tears--just because he’s
the kiddable kind.

But in talking about the work--for instance, Jim Hall: “I _piquéd_ on
him with full motor and got so darn close to him that when I wanted to
open fire I was so scared of running into him that I had to yank out of
the way and so never fired a single shot.” Or Lufberry just mentions in
passing that he got another Boche this morning, but those ---- observer
people won’t give him credit for it. He has fourteen official now and
probably twice as many more never allowed him. Some days ago during the
attack he had seven fights in one day, brought down six of them and got
credit for one. Which must be discouraging.


                                                       November 5, 1917.

Well ----[E]:

Here I find myself writing to you without waiting for the usual two
or three months to elapse. Do you realize that it was over five and a
half months ago that I left my native land? It doesn’t seem near so
long to me. Just at present I have about thirteen hours a day to write,
read the _Washington Star_ and _New York Times_, eat an occasional
meal (we only get two over here, worse luck), build fires in the stove
and stroll for exercise. The rest of the time is devoted to sleep. A
terribly hard life that of an aviator on the western front! No _appels_
(meaning roll calls), discipline or inspections. Only, if there should
happen to be a good day, one might be wanted to fly a bit. So far (I
have only been out here a week) we have had perfectly ideal aviators’
weather--nice low misty clouds about 300 or 400 feet up, which quite
prevent aerial activity and yet one is not bothered by mud or
depressed by rain. In the morning, one awakes, pokes his head out the
window, says “What lo! more luck, a nice light _brouillard_” and closes
the window for a few hours more of sleep. Really I have done more
resting the past week than most people do in a lifetime!

To get statistical, I finished up at Pau (from where I sent to you
a letter, _n’est-ce-pas?_) a month ago, and then spent two very
unpleasant weeks at Plessis-Belleville near Paris, at the big dépôt
for the front, waiting to be sent to an _escadrille_, with nothing to
do but a little desultory flying, nurse the system, food, weather,
lodging, discipline, etc. Eventually my turn came and, with another
American, I was dispatched to Esc. SPA 84, where we arrived after the
usual delay passing through Paris. That’s one nice thing about this
country: all roads lead to Paris. Sent from one place to another, it is
a safe wager that one goes _via_ Paris, and always takes forty-eight
hours there and gets permission for it if he can. There are a few
Frenchmen there still, but on the streets one sees almost entirely
American, British or British Colonial officers--occasionally a French
aviator and of course clouds of sweet and innocent young things--yes?
Nearly all of my classmates are over here and get to Paris every once
in a while, so all I have to do is to sit at the Café de la Paix and if
I wait long enough, some one I know will surely come along.

Well, to get back on the track, we eventually found ourselves members
of le-dit Esc. SPA 84--one esc. of a _groupe de chasse_, which means
that we will have patrolling work to do mainly and not protection
of observation or photo machines--which they tell me, is fortunate.
Also we have good machines--the best there are, which might not have
happened had we been sent to another type of _escadrille_--purely good
fortune. The much advertised Lafayette Esc. No. 124, is a member of the
same group, is located near us and does the same work, which makes it
much pleasanter for lone Americans. We use their stove and tea of an
afternoon quite freely as our quarters are new and not fixed up. But
say, when we do get going, everybody will be in to see us. We’ll have
a cosy, beautifully wallpapered room clustering around a stove.... The
men of 124 are a rather good crowd--not much different from any crowd
of Americans, a bit rough but most of it affected because they’re
away from home, very hospitable, rather daredevil or hard-hearted
(whichever you wish to call it--the way they talk about each other’s
narrow escapes, coming falls, the mistakes or misfortunes of departed
brothers, and there have been several) and very mixed, centering around
Lieutenant Bill Thaw, of the French Army, who impresses me as being
very much of a leader and an unusually fine type. There is one tough
nut from a Middle Western Siwash-like college, who was probably still
ungraduated at 27, and a quiet, innocent looking kid who seems to have
just got out of prep school; of course, the tough guy tears the little
one. Then there are a couple of old Légionnaires--rather superior and
terribly tired of war, quite unenthusiastic, but I dare say congenial
when one gets under their hide or fills it full of booze. And Jim
Hall, the author chap--quiet, reserved, almost simple in his lack of
affectation and boyish in his enthusiasm. (Gad, how he wants to get
his Boche and he almost thinks he did the other day, but it wasn’t
verified. He followed him down from 1,500 to 200 metres, shooting all
the time, and thinks he must have brought him down)....

Did I mention above that I am at present in the status, practically,
of a non-flying member? On arriving at the front, one is not rushed
straightway to the cannon’s mouth, but rather allowed to get acclimated
a bit first, to have a few preliminary voyages to look around, etc.
During my week here, there has been little flying and I haven’t even
seen the front, only heard the guns occasionally. Of my three flights,
two were just short _tours de champs_. But the other: never in my
wildest Blériot days did I do a wilder one. Coming from Pau where I had
tried some stunts, I thought I was a bit of an acrobat, second only
to Navarre, Guynemer and a few others. So arriving at a safe height,
I started to go through the _répertoire_. First came a loop which
got around to the vertical point--a quarter turn and then slipped,
ending in a vertical corkscrew or climbing barrel turn or whatever you
want to call it--then losing momentum and just naturally tumbling. I
didn’t know what was going on--only that it wasn’t right; they told
me afterward. After that came the _renversements_ and vertical turns,
etc., and not a thing came out. Lost--I got lost thirty times and
had to hunt all around to see where I was. Nothing went right and
I kept getting madder and madder and poorer and poorer. They were
all laughing down below and wondering what was going on up there.
Eventually the party ended--one of the old pilots told me that that one
flight equalled about thirty hours over the lines and the commander
advised against a repetition of the performance, and so I went and lay
down. Two hours later I began to feel that perhaps I could stand on my
feet again; did you ever have _mal-de-mer_?

So now I really ought to begin to learn something, having acquired that
all essential first knowledge of ignorance, which all good students
should have. And in the meantime perhaps I shall go and combat the Wily
Hun. Said W. Hun need not worry about my bothering him if he doesn’t
keep fooling around under my nose till I’m ashamed not to go after him.
I’m not bloodthirsty a bit, especially till I learn to fly, and the
lack of combats isn’t going to keep me awake nights for a while yet.

But the bunkmate seems to have gone to bed; it’s almost ten--a most
unprecedented hour for me to be up, so the end approaches. Kind
remembrances as usual--use your discretion and don’t forget that long
tale of “Washington Social Tid-Bits” you spoke of--gossip if you

                                                            As ever,

       *       *       *       *       *

                                                           The Next Day.


Your letter on just arriving home has been with me some time and truly
brought joy to my heart in this desolate land. (The “desolate” seems to
fit in though not applying to the land in question at all.)...

Chester Snow is aviating under the auspices of the U. S. Government. I
last heard from him in a postal written on the last stop of the last
triangle of his brevet, so he should be through training before much
longer. The other Chester, Bassett, is still at Avord, so I can not
deliver your note to him....

Your other question referred to the army I am in, and is easily
answered by saying that the U.S.A. has as yet done nothing but talk
about taking us over. “Us” now refers to upward of 200 Americans, I
think, either in French _escadrilles_ or well advanced in the French
schools. Constantly all summer, we have been “going to be transferred
in two weeks.”

Another quiet, non-flying, slightly rainy day has passed. This isn’t
perhaps the most ideal spot in the world for a winter resort, from the
point of view of comforts, but, considering the ease of conscience
because one is not in the position to be called _embusqué_, it is
really not half bad. It’s starting to rain again rather harder; I
wonder if the roof will keep out water?

                                                      Yours, etc.,
                                                                B. S. W.



                                                      November 10, 1917.

You know November in France. I’ve been here almost two weeks now and
am still _à l’entrainement_, that is, I haven’t started in to do any
regular work yet. Only five times have I been able to fly in two weeks.
But I’ve got my own machine, and mechanic, everything is in order and
I’ve been assigned to a patrol the last two mornings when it rained.
Tomorrow again at 8:50 with four others--patrol for one hour and fifty
minutes at about 15,000 feet, back and forth over our sector, sometimes
over our own lines, sometimes in Bochie. I’m getting very impatient
to get started. In what few flights I’ve had, I’ve been working on
acrobacy a bit and am gradually learning a few simple things; twice I
stayed up a little too long and had to lie down a few hours afterward,
almost seasick.

I like Spa 84 very much indeed. The Frenchmen there are much more
regular fellahs than most of those I’ve been with in the schools.

Wertheimer, a sergeant, is a sort of informal and unadmitted chief
of the _sous-officiers_. It is he that speaks English and has helped
us a lot in getting settled, etc. Very much of a gentleman he is,
and understands a bit Anglo-Saxon customs and eccentricities, always
gay and an indefatigable worker. We have all been arranging the one
big room of our barracks--dining room, reading room, and probably
eventually American bar. The walls are covered with green cloth,
green paper (of two different shades and neither quite the same as
the cloth), red cloth (on top as a sort of frieze) and red paper. The
ceiling is done in white cloth to keep in heat and lighten the room.
A monumental task it has been, especially as materials are hard to
get and expensive. Wertem (as Wertheimer is called) and Deborte have
done most of the work. Deborte is also _chef de popote_, which means
housekeeper, and a very efficient man. For four francs per day we are
fed amazingly well, especially when one realizes that we are near the
front in a country which has had three years of war. Deborte hasn’t
the pleasantest manner in the world at times, but usually is very
agreeable, willing to tell me things about flying or the _escadrille_,
always ready to work, and a dependable man in the air. And Verber who
rooms with Wertem,--he speaks a little English, has a great deal of
trouble understanding it, but is picking up. Wears a monocle all the
time because he’s got a bum eye, carries a stick and has an extremely
eccentric appearance, but withal is very agreeable and a very valuable
man. He has the habit of taking long trips all alone far into Germany
just to see what is going on. Pinot is the name of the little roly-poly
chap everybody calls Bul-Bul, who used to be a mechanic and now is a
very good, merry pilot. He has a great _pension_ toward Pinard, is
violently but not at all objectionably non-aristocratic, is forever
laughing or kidding some one, walks on his hands to amuse people, and
is the delight of all the _mécanos_. Demeuldre is a very quiet sort of
school boy type who has been a pilot of biplanes and reconnaissance
machines for a long time. He came to the escadrille recently with a
record of two Boches as pilot of a biplane (that is, his machine gun
man did the shooting and they both get credit), and a few days ago
brought down a German in flames, his first as _pilote de chasse_. There
are two others away on permission, whom I don’t know yet.


                                               SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE,
                                                      November 13, 1917.

Dear Father:

Campbell was in the Lafayette Escadrille and they are a member of the
same group as Spa 84, so I have asked them about him. He was on a
patrol with another chap, they attacked some Boches and when it was
over the other chap was alone. Campbell was brought down in German
territory and so reported missing. I believe that the chap he was with
has seen and talked to Campbell’s father or some close relative since.
Another chap named Bulkley was brought down in similar circumstances
about the first of September. Ten days ago, word was received from
the American Embassy that he had communicated with them, a prisoner
in Germany. There are many similar cases, where men brought down with
crippled machines or wounded escape destruction by a miracle. The only
sure thing is when a machine goes down in flames or is seen to lose a
wing or two.

For instance, there are two officers in the group who are in the best
of health and daily working. Several months ago, they were on patrol
together, collided in the air. One cut the tail rigging completely off
the other and they separated, one without a tail and the other with
various parts of a tail mixed among the cables and struts of one side
of his machine. They both landed in France, one on his wheels followed
by a _capotage_ or somersault turnover, the other quite completely
upside down. Then a term in the hospital and back they are again.
Kenneth Marr, an American, had the commands of both his tail controls
cut in a combat, the rudder and elevator, leaving him nothing but the
_aileron_--the lateral balance control and the motor. He landed with
only a skinned nose for casualties and got a decoration for it.

Another chap in an attack on captive balloons, _drachens_, dove for
something like 10,000 feet _vertically_ and with _full motor_ on,
thereby gaining considerable speed as you can imagine. He came right
on top of the balloon, shot and to keep from hitting it, yanked as
roughly as he could, flattening out his dive in the merest fraction of
a second. Imagine the strain on the machine! When he got home, all
the wires had several inches sag in them; the metal connections of the
cables in the struts and wood of the wings had bit into the wood enough
to give the sag.

Machines are built to stand immense pressure on the under side of the
wings. In some acrobatic manoeuvres I was trying the other day, I made
mistakes and caused the machine to stall and then fall in such a way
that the full weight was supported by the _upper surface_--by the wires
which in most machines are supposed merely to support the weight of the
wings when the machine is on the ground. Yes, the Spad is a well built
machine, the nearest thing to perfection in point of strength, speed
and climbing power I’ve seen yet. Of course it’s heavy and that’s why
they put 150-230 HP in them. The other school, that of a light machine
with a light motor--depending for its success on lack of weight rather
than excess of power, may supplant the heavier machine in time--I can’t
tell. So, as anyone who knows has said right along, there is a long
way to go in the development of the J N or even the little tri-plane,
before American built planes get to the front. Of the bombing game, I
don’t know anything at all.

Yesterday there was a _revue_ here in honor of Guynemer, and
decorations for the pilots of the group who had won them. Three
Americans received the Croix de Guerre--members of the Lafayette
Escadrille. Lufberry, the American ace, carried the American flag
presented to the _escadrille_ by Mrs. McAdoo and the employees of
the Treasury Department--besides the two aviation emblems of France.
He was called to receive his decoration “for having in the course of
one day held seven combats, descended one German plane in flames, and
forced five others to land behind their lines” (which means that he is
officially credited with one, his thirteenth, and that the other five
though probably brought down, do not count for him because there were
not the necessary witnesses required by the French regulation). Being
the bearer of the flag, he was a very worried man to know what to do
with the flag when he should go up to get his medal, till one of the
fellows in 124 (the Lafayette) came to his rescue.

For a military _revue_ it was decidedly amusing. Aviators are not
very military. The chief of one of the _escadrilles_ was commissioned
to command the mechanics who are plain soldiers with rifles and
steel helmets for the occasion. He is a bit of a clown and amused the
entire gathering, kidding with the officers. The pilots of each of the
five _escadrilles_ were in more or less formation, most of them with
hands in their pockets for it was chilly, and presenting a mixture
of uniforms unparalleled in its heterogeneity. Every branch of the
service represented and endless personal ideas in dress. Because of
the occasion, _repos_ has been granted to the entire group for the
afternoon, another group taking over our patrols. So that after the
_revue_, everyone had the afternoon to waste--a sunny day which is
quite unusual this month. Within a half hour, every machine that was in
working order was in the air--forming into groups and then off for the
lines, just looking for trouble--a voluntary patrol they call it. Which
opened my eyes a bit to the spirit in the French service after three
years of war.

Word from Paris that those Americans in the French service who have
demanded their release to join the U. S. A. have obtained that
release--which probably means that all we wait for now ... is the

This afternoon I took another trip with one of the old pilots to look
over the sector. We stayed over France and didn’t get into trouble
although there were lots of Boches around. Hope to get really started
soon.... An amusing one this morning: two pilots from the group were
on patrol and attacked a single German about two kilometres behind
the German lines. They completely outmanoeuvred him, he got cold feet
and started for the French lines, giving himself up. The funniest
part about it is that the machine gun of one of the attackers was
jammed and he couldn’t possibly have hurt the Boche--just had the
nerve to stay and throw a bluff. They came back to camp just before
dark this evening, one of them flying the German machine and the
other guarding him in a Spad. The machine is an Albatross monoplane
(biplane)--finished in silver with big black crosses on the wings and
tail--a really beautiful thing. It flew around camp for several minutes
before landing. It is the second machine that has been scared down
since I’ve been out here.


                                                    AT THE FRONT,
                                                 SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE,
                                                      November 17, 1917.

At present things are hopelessly slow on account of bad weather, so
I have a good deal of time to write and naught to write of. I still
am waiting for my baptism of active service which is assigned for
each day and held up on account of fog, low clouds or rain. In the
afternoon it usually lifts a little, not enough to fly over the lines,
but sufficient to permit a little _vol d’entrainement_, a practice
flight around the field. I’ve been taking every chance to learn to
fly, practicing reversements, vertically banked turns, 90° nose dives,
etc. Two day ago, we had a very interesting mimic combat in the air.
The Boche machine, which has been captured, and a Spad, both driven by
very clever pilots, manoeuvred for position during fifteen or twenty
minutes at 1,000 feet or less, back and forth over the field, doing
almost every possible thing in the air--changing direction with
incredible rapidity, diving, climbing, wing slipping, upside down
dives--everything under the sun.

Two of them were at it again today in two Spads, just manoeuvring.
What a lot there is to learn! When I got through acrobacy at Pau, I
had the impression that that kind of stuff was relatively easy--now I
know different. For the present I’m working on the system of try one
thing at a time--get that fairly well and then commence another. And
small doses--ten or fifteen minutes for an acrobatic flight, not more,
because one can easily get dangerously sick in a very short time. Not
that there is any particular peril in getting ill in the air, only it’s
beastly uncomfortable!


                                      AT THE FRONT--SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE.
                                                  November 30, 1917.

The rumor at the Lafayette Escadrille this evening is that they have
been at last transferred. Of course they had similar rumors many
times before. For myself I am becoming rather indifferent, very well
satisfied here except for weather, and getting what I came over here

Father mentioned something about a monitor’s job (after I had had
experience at the front). My present inclination is decidedly against
the idea. There is no job in the world I like less to think of and
there are plenty of people who want to get comfortably settled in the
rear, so let them, say I, and may they enjoy it. It is not a very
pleasant job. As a retirement after a period of service at the front
it is another matter. Of all people I can think of I have the smallest
right to an _embusqué_ job at present--so here I hope to stay. Whether
I fly with an American or French uniform I don’t care very much at the
present moment. I had rather get a Boche than any commission in the
army, but one cannot always tell about the future; perhaps after a few
good scares I’ll be ready to jump at a monitor’s job.


                                                       AT THE FRONT,
                                                       December 1, 1917.

I tried to give you all some idea of the strength of a Spad in a letter
a while ago. At home people speak of a factor of safety, meaning the
number of times stronger the machine is than is necessary for plain
flying. The Spad is made so that a man can’t bust it no matter what he
does in the air--dive as far and as fast as he can and stop as brutally
as he can--it stands the racket. Of course, motors do stop and if it
happens over a mountain range--well, that’s just hard luck.

Have had a few patrols since last I wrote. One at a high height,
4,000-4,500 metres, considerably above the clouds which almost shut
out the ground below, wonderfully beautiful sight but beastly cold,
and a couple when the clouds were low and solid. The patrol stays at
just the height of the clouds, hiding in them and slipping out again
to look around. If it gets below, the enemy anti-aircraft guns pepper
it whenever near the lines and at a low altitude that is rather
awkward--so the patrol shows itself as little as possible.

It’s lots of sport to try to keep with the patrol: be behind the
chief of patrol, see him disappear and then bump into a fog bank, a
low-hanging cloud and not see a darn thing. Then dive down out of the
cloud wondering whether the other guy is right underneath or not;
shoot out of the cloud and see him maybe 500 yards away going at right
angles. Then bank up and turn around fast and give her the gear--full
speed to catch up and so on. See a Boche regulating artillery fire,
start to manoeuvre into range and zip! he’s out of sight in the clouds
and the next you see he is beating it far back of his lines. Not very
dangerous this weather, but lots of fun.


                                                     December 3rd, 1917.

Dear ----[F]:

Thanks for the merry, merry wishes for the gay Xmas season and I’ll
try to remember them when the day comes along. Sundays and holidays
are not very much noticed here at the front, except that on Sunday the
mechanics all get full of _pinard_ and song and devilment--the _pinard_
(meaning cheap red ink used by the French in place of drinking water)
is of course responsible for the two latter. In the villages, the
entire male population likewise drinks much wine and everyone--man,
woman, child, dog, and domestic animal, parades the streets--dressed
up all like a picture book (applying mostly to women and children).
Occasionally they cross the sidewalk, but the middle of the street is
_the_ place to walk.

One Sunday, I went to church, the first time since last Easter, I
think, to attend the mass given for the departed brethren of the
_escadrille_. The chapel is in a little town a few miles from our
camp. Along in the Middle Ages or anyway a long time ago, there was a
beautiful cathedral there--now the town is insignificantly small. The
front of the cathedral is standing almost in its entirety and the walls
for a little way back, dwindling down into glorious ruins and finally
tumbled masses of rock and stray pillars. Where the back wall once
stood, there now runs a little brook (I almost called it bubbling, but
it happens to be an unusually dead and not over-clean little stream).
The chapel is a place about as big as a minute, snuggling in beside the
big front wall of the ancient cathedral. The service was meaningless
to me--what wasn’t Latin was French. I followed the fellow in front of
me and didn’t miss it once on the getting up and down (fortunately,
_militaires_ don’t have to kneel, I suppose because they appreciate the
fact that most of them wear breeches made by French tailors).

But they fooled me once. What must have been the village belle (what
a village!) passed a little button bag affair in baby blue ribbon,
and gathered up the shekels. I dropped mine in and horror--here comes
the young sister with an identical bag and asks for more and I was
unprepared and had to turn her down amidst my blushes. I thought she
was working on the other side of the house as we used to do at evening
service and to this day I don’t know why they took up two collections
though it has been explained to me three times in French.

Have had some very pleasant trips over the German border (present, not
1914), have watched a few Archies bursting at a safe distance away and
seen some specks which were Boche planes, but am not ready to write a
book yet. Yesterday morning we had the first sortie at 6:45 daylight. A
solid bank of clouds over the camp here at 2,000 metres. The lines are
parallel to a river and a few kilometres north. The edge of the cloud
bank was over the river, sharp as if cut by a knife and all Germany
cloudless. We slipped out from under it and back on top just in time to
see the sun get over the horizon--almost as far away as Rheims, which
we just cannot see. The river and canal were just silver ribbons on a
black cloth stretching for miles due east. Under us we could make out
the ground on one side and the clouds on the other, and to the west
the cloud bank continued to follow the lines, a gloriously beautiful
panorama. The cloud bank stayed nearly the same the two hours we were
up. From a distance above or below, a cloud is just a big, soft, quiet
cushion of cotton fluff, but near to it is a seething, irregular,
tossing, furious jumble of mist.

We saw a few Boches, far behind their lines. An hour after we were
back, they said that Lufbery had just brought down another machine,
his 15th, in flames. He was using a new machine and the gun was not
properly regulated--seven balls were in each blade of the propeller,
yet it held together and brought him home. I was down at the Lafayette
hangars talking to Bill Thaw, and here comes the mighty man in a
hurry from reporting his flight. With fire in his eye he got in his
old machine and off again for the lines. At noon he had brought down
another, which hasn’t yet been officially _homologué_, but is none the
less sure for that. Thaw brought down one this morning. They are doing
well, these men of the American Escadrille--still French, however,
though shortly to be transferred, we hear.

May your Xmas be a happy one, and the new year and those to follow
bring you ever better fortune than the last one.



                                                       December 8, 1917.

Dear ----[G]:

I got the Sunday _Star_ a few days ago and there was that same old
picture and ---- staring me in the face! A very nice write-up, I
thought it. What a bunch of big-wigs they did gather together! We
packed up bag and baggage yesterday and flew off to a new place, and
here we are waiting for the baggage to catch up. I have grave fears
that there may be some fighting one of these days, and if so, I think
it will be about time for me to get out of this war. Cheery oh!



                                                       December 8, 1917.

Yesterday we were awakened at 6 and told that we were going to move
out, bag and baggage at 2. So now as new barracks were not ready we
came down here last night and have been seeing the sights of the town
since. It is full of Americans, ambulances, doctors, Y. M. C. A.
workers, everything but fighting men which I trust we’ll see before



On December 12, while on patrol, Stuart Walcott met a German biplane
carrying two men. Three cable reports agree that he shot down and
destroyed this machine about two and a half miles within the German
lines. He then started back for the French lines and was overtaken by
four Albatross German planes. He was overcome and his machine went down
in a nose dive within the German lines, it being assumed that either he
was shot or his machine disabled.

There was still a hope that he might have escaped death. Inquiries were
at once instituted through the American Red Cross and the International
Red Cross, with the result that on January 7 a cable came from the
International Red Cross stating that it was reported in Germany that S.
Walcott was brought down during the afternoon of December 12 near Saint
Souplet, and that he was killed by the fall.


[A biographical note written by his father.]

Benjamin Stuart Walcott was sturdy and self-reliant as a boy and very
early developed strong personal initiative, good sense and courage. I
find in my notebook under an entry of July 6, 1905, a few days before
Stuart’s ninth birthday, that with him and his brother Sidney I had
measured a section of over 10,000 feet in thickness of rock with dip
compass and rod in northern Montana, and that that night we slept out
on the Continental Divide after a sandwich apiece for supper. On July
16, “Went up the Gordon Creek with Stuart and cut a few trees out of
the trail.” And on the next day, “Stuart assisted me in collecting
fossils from the Middle Cambrian Rocks.”

In 1906 Stuart helped in gathering Cambrian fossils in central Montana,
and in recognition of his effective work one of the new species of
shells was named after him, _Micromitra_ (_Paterina_) _stuarti_.

He also assisted in British Columbia in geological work during the
summer of 1907, and in 1908, when twelve years old, he was placed with
one packer in charge of a pack train operating in what is now the
Glacier Park, Montana, and in southern British Columbia. On this trip
one morning I heard faint rifle shots, and upon overtaking the pack
train found Stuart shooting away with a 22 gauge rifle at a grizzly
bear, which was some distance down the slope below the trail. On
reminding him of the danger, he said he wanted to drive the bear away
to prevent a stampede of the animals.

Both at home and in school his actions were largely influenced by a
determination first to know what was the right thing to do, and guided
by this habit, when it looked as though the United States would enter
the European War, he decided that it was his duty to take part in it.
When the Lusitania was sunk he felt strongly that the United States
should take a positive stand in favor of the freedom of the seas, that
the rights of Americans should be protected even if it meant war, and
he was ready to fight for it.

In common with the majority of the youth of America, he had the feeling
that it was a patriotic duty and privilege to offer personal service
to the Nation when its ideals and motives were assailed by a foreign
foe. He first offered his services to the Signal Corps and received a
temporary appointment. Realizing that training as an expert aviator
could be more quickly obtained in France than in this country, he went
to France and enlisted in the French Army with the expectation of being
transferred later to the American forces. This would have been done
prior to his being shot down within the German lines on December 12,
had he not been awaiting action by the United States Aviation Service
in France in examining and arranging for the transfer of the American
aviators in the French Army to the service of the United States.

Throughout his life the dominating thought was to be of positive
service wherever he might be placed. At the same time he was thoroughly
a boy and enjoyed a frolic and fun as much as any one of his companions.

He prepared for college at the Taft School, expecting to enter Yale,
and passed the examinations for that university before he was sixteen.
Upon further consideration he selected Princeton, largely because of
the preceptorial method of training, and was a senior when he decided
to enter the service of his country.

Stuart was an unusually well balanced boy and youth; his moral
convictions were sound, definite, and expressed by action rather than

                                                     CHARLES D. WALCOTT.


[A] Loughran himself was killed in combat, in February, 1918. Attacked
within the German lines, by four enemy planes, he succeeded in getting
back over the French lines, but was there brought down. He was buried
near Châlons. The Lafayette Escadrille attended his funeral.

[B] One of his school friends.

[C] One of his school friends.

[D] One of his school friends.

[E] One of his school friends.

[F] One of his school friends.

[G] One of his school friends.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber’s note:

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

  On page 4, the name Major S. yros appears. The transcriber is unable
    to ascertain if this is a typographical error or intentional.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Above the French Lines - Letters of Stuart Walcott, American Aviator: July 4, 1917, to December 8, 1917" ***

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