The Flying Officer 06

The Officers‘ Mess at Mont St. Eloi was composed of two large Nissen huts, joined together in the middle by a square wooden building of nondescript architecture. To adopt theatrical terms, the curtain rises to disclose the officers of the squadron taking their ease after dinner. The gramophone is playing, a game of poker is in violent progress, and the general flow of conversation is punctuated by such remarks as:

“ - and went into a spin right away.”

“- I don’t care - Phyllis Monkman is marvellous in the new show."

“- Four kings! The next round’s on me.”

“- When's the next Canadian Mail due, Whitey?"-and so on.

It is this cheerful moment of the day, when everyone is care-free, that our Wing Commander selects to send us our orders for the following day’s warfare. Like a messenger from the Gods in a Greek play, but rather differently mounted, a motorcyclist arrives as it were from Heaven and discloses to us poor mortals the particular brand of Hell which we are to expect on the morrow. Generally a notice on the board is sufficient to break the news to us, but on this occasion our Commanding Officer comes in and indicates that he wishes to have a talk to us. He explains that the Infantry are to indulge in a big push towards Cambrai and that half-a-dozen pilots are to set out – individually – to watch the main roads ten miles or so behind the German lines. Our instructions are to report concentrations or heavy movements of enemy troops and to do our best to harass their communications. The pilots to do this work are selected and final orders given. The rest of the Squadron will, we are told, carry out offensive patrols as usual, to prevent the Hun doing to us what we hope to do to him.

This sounds as if the next day is likely to be interesting and eventful - to put it mildly – and the Squadron, to fit itself for the stern work ahead, goes to bed earlier than usual. At least five minutes earlier.

By all the rules of story-telling, the day of the great offensive should dawn Fine and clear. But unfortunately not so-it dawns foul and windy, with clouds at about 500 feet all over the sky. It will be appreciated that if the clouds are at this height, a pilot, to see the ground, cannot fly higher. Five hundred feet is low enough to make a machine a target for every kind of fire from the ground.  Archie - the anti-aircraft gun – will have those clouds ranged to an inch, and altogether the prospect of a jagged piece of steel or an ounce or two of lead in some intimate portion of the anatomy seems more than probable. At such reflections it is realised how true are the immortal lines of the poet who pointed out that it is a lovely war.

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