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WINNING HIS WINGS ***




Produced by R.G.P.M. van Giesen




[Illustration: cover (front)]


[Illustration: cover (spine)]




Winning his Wings




BY
PERCY F. WESTERMAN
LIEUT. R.A.F.

"No boy alive will be able to peruse Mr. Westerman's pages without
a quickening of his pulses." - Outlook.

Winning his Wings: A Story of the R.A.F.
The Thick of the Fray at Zeebrugge: April, 1918.
With Beatty off Jutland: A Romance of the Great Sea
Fight.
The Submarine Hunters: A Story of Naval Patrol Work.
A Lively Bit of the Front: A Tale of the New Zealand
Rifles on the Western Front.
A Sub and a Submarine: The Story of H.M. Submarine
R19 in the Great War.
Under the White Ensign: A Naval Story of the Great
War.
The Dispatch-Riders: The Adventures of Two British
Motor-cyclists with the Belgian Forces.
The Sea-girt Fortress: A Story of Heligoland.
Rounding up the Raider: A Naval Story of the Great
War.
The Fight for Constantinople: A Tale of the Gallipoli
Peninsula.
Captured at Tripoli: A Tale of Adventure.
The Quest of the "Golden Hope": A Seventeenth-
century Story of Adventure.
A Lad of Grit: A Story of Restoration Times.


LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LTD., 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.




[Illustration: THERE WAS NO TIME FOR QUESTIONS. DEREK COULD DISCERN
SEVERAL FIELD-GREY FIGURES ADVANCING RAPIDLY]




Winning his Wings

A Story of the R.A.F.



BY
PERCY F. WESTERMAN
Lieut. R.A.F.


Author of "With Beatty off Jutland"
"A Lively Bit of the Front"
"A Sub and a Submarine"
&c. &c.



_Illustrated by E. S. Hodgson_



BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY




Contents


CHAP.
I. ON PARADE
II. DEREK'S FIRST FLIGHT
III. THE DERELICT
IV. THE NIGHT RAIDER
V. THE NEXT DAY
VI. ACROSS THE CHANNEL
VII. WHEN THE HUN PUSHED
VIII. THE HUN BOMBER
IX. A SLIGHT DISTURBANCE
X. KAYE'S CRASH
XI. THE JAMMED MACHINE-GUNS
XII. BOWLED OUT
XIII. THE COUNT'S RUSE
XIV. WITH THE TANKS
XV. OUTED
XVI. THE SHELL-CRATER
XVII. TURNED DOWN
XVIII. THE FIRST DAY AT SABLERIDGE
XIX. U-BOAT VERSUS MOTOR-BOAT
XX. THE BLIMP AND THE SKATE
XXI. AN INDEPENDENT COMMAND
XXII. A MOULDY STATION
XXIII. AN ERROR OF JUDGMENT
XXIV. THE GUARD-SHIP
XXV. SALVAGE WORK
XXVI. CHRISTMAS EVE
XXVII. HARD AND FAST AGROUND
XXVIII. TO THE SEA-PLANE'S AID
XXIX. IN THE INTERESTS OF THE STATE
XXX. THE CHOICE




Illustrations


Page

THERE WAS NO TIME FOR QUESTIONS. DEREK COULD DISCERN SEVERAL
FIELD-GREY FIGURES ADVANCING RAPIDLY _Frontispiece_

GV 7 TO THE RESCUE!

IN A COUPLE OF STRIDES HE OVERTOOK THE MAJOR, AND BORE HIM
BACKWARDS TO THE EARTH

SHE PRESENTED A PUZZLING PROPOSITION TO FRITZ

THE TASK OF GETTING HIM ON BOARD WAS NOT AN EASY ONE

IT WAS A CASE OF TAKING ONE'S CHANCE WITH THE APPROACHING STORM




WINNING HIS WINGS



CHAPTER I

On Parade


"On parade!"

The cry, taken up by a score of youthful voices, echoed and re-echoed
along the concrete-paved corridors of the Averleigh T.D.S. - such
being the official designation of the Training and Disciplinary
School - one of those mushroom-growth establishments that bid fair to
blossom into permanent instruction schools under the aegis of the
juvenile but virile Royal Air Force.

Ensued a wild scramble. The morning mail had arrived but five minutes
before the momentous summons. Some of the cadets had seized upon
their share of letters, and had retired, like puppies with dainty
tit-bits, to the more secluded parts of the building, in which little
privacy is obtainable. Others, with scant regard for their
surroundings, were perusing their communications when the order that
meant the commencement of another day's work brought them back to
earth once more.

"Where's my cap? - Who's pinched my stick? - George, old son, what did
you do with those gloves of mine you had last night? - Now, then, my
brave, bold Blue Hungarian bandsman, get a move on."

The wearer of the latest pattern of the R.A.F. blue uniform raised
his hands deprecatingly. One of a few similarly attired amid a swarm
of khaki-clad flight-cadets, he was beginning to feel sorry for
himself for having been up-to-date, and vindictive towards the Powers
that Be who had given instructions for him to appear thus attired.

"Chuck it!" he exclaimed. "Not my fault, really. If this is the
R.A.F. idea of a sensible and serviceable get-up, I'm sorry for the
R.A.F."

"It'll come in handy when you sign on as a cinema chucker-out _après
la guerre,_ George," chimed in another, as he deftly adjusted his cap
and made sure that his brightly-gilded buttons were fulfilling those
important functions ordained by the Air Ministry Regulations and
Service Outfitters. He shot a rapid glance through the window, for
the long corridor was now ejecting the crowd of cadets in a
continuous stream of khaki, mingled with blue.

"Buck up, George!" continued the last speaker, addressing a
slightly-built youth who, red in the face, was bending over his
up-raised right knee. "What's wrong now?"

The individual addressed as George - and in the R.A.F. it is a safe
thing to address a man as George in default of giving him his correct
name - explained hurriedly and vehemently, directing his remarks with
the utmost impartiality both to his would-be benefactor and to a
refractory roll of cloth that showed a decided tendency to refuse to
coil neatly round his leg.

"These rotten puttees, Derek!" explained the victim. "I've had a
proper puttee mornin' - have really. Got up twenty minutes before
réveillé, too. Razor blunt as hoop-iron; hot water was stone cold;
three fellows in the bath-room before me; an' some silly josser's
pinched my socks. Not that that matters much though," he added,
brightening up at the idea of having outwitted a practical joker.
"I'm not wearing any. Then, to cap the whole caboodle, I lost a
button off my tunic in the scrum at the mess-room door."

Derek Daventry, one of a batch of newly-entered flight-cadets at
Averleigh, was a tall, lightly-built fellow of eighteen and a few
months. Dark-featured, his complexion tanned by constant exposure to
sun and rain during his preliminary cadet training, supple of limb
and brimful of mental and physical alertness, he was but one of many
of a new type - a type evolved since the fateful 4th day of August,
1914 - the aerial warriors of Britain.

The second son of a naval officer, Derek had expressed a wish to
enter the Royal Air Force, or, rather, the Royal Naval Air Force as
it then was, from the moment when it became apparent that the
schoolboy of to-day must be a member of one of the branches of His
Majesty's Service to-morrow. Captain Daventry, R.N., D.S.O., and a
dozen other letters after his name, was equally keen upon getting
Derek into the navy by the post-entry of midshipmen process, thus
making good an opportunity that had been denied the lad at an age
when he was eligible for Osborne.

"It's not only now," declared Captain Daventry. "One has to consider
what is to be done after the war."

"Time enough for that, Pater," rejoined Derek. "The end of the
'duration' seems a long way off yet."

"Possibly," said his father. "On the other hand it may be much sooner
than most people imagine. Of course I know that there are thousands
of youngsters similarly situated to yourself, but the hard fact
remains that the war must end sooner or later."

"But the R.F.C. and the R.N.A.S. must carry on," persisted Derek.
"Flying's come to stay, you know."

"Quite so," admitted the naval man; "but unfortunately that doesn't
apply to flying-men. The life of an airman, I am given to understand,
is but a matter of three or four years, apart from casualties
directly attributable to the war. The nervous temperament of the
individual cannot withstand the strain that flying entails."

"You're going by the experience of pioneers in aviation, Pater,"
replied his son. "After the war, flying will be as safe as motoring.
When I'm your age I may be driving an aerial 'bus between London and
New York. In any case I don't suppose the Air Board will turn a
fellow down when his flying days are over. They'll be able to make
use of him."

"You are optimistic, Derek."

"Yes, Pater," admitted the flying aspirant, "I am. It's a new thing,
and there are endless possibilities. I only wish I were six months
older. It's a long time to wait."

Captain Daventry still hesitated. An experienced and thoroughly
up-to-date naval officer, he understood his own profession from top
to bottom. The navy, notwithstanding rapid and recent developments,
was a long-established firm. There was, in his opinion, something
substantial in a battleship, in spite of U-boats and mines. But the
wear and tear of an airman, the fragile nature of his craft, and
above all the uncertain moods of the aerial vault made flying, in his
estimation, a short-lived and highly-dangerous profession, albeit men
look to it with all the zest of amateurs following a new form of
pastime.

"Hang it all, Pater!" continued Derek, warming to his subject; "the
Boche has to be knocked out in the air as well as on the sea.
Someone's got to do it; so why can't I have a hand in the game?"

"I'm not thinking of the war, but after," replied his father. "Since
you're keen on it, carry on, and good luck. The after-the-war problem
must wait, I suppose."

And so it happened that in due course Derek Daventry presented
himself for an interview at the Reception Depot of the
newly-constituted Air Ministry. That ordeal successfully passed, and
having satisfied the Medical Board, after a strenuous examination,
that he was thoroughly sound in mind and body, the lad found himself
an R.A.F. cadet at a large training-centre on the south coast.

Here his experience was varied and extensive. In a brief and
transitory stage, the mere soldiering part of which he tackled
easily, thanks to his school cadet training, he was initiated into
the mysteries of the theory of flight, the air-cooled rotary engines,
wireless telegraphy, aerial photography, and a score of subjects
indispensable to the science of war in the air. Then, punctuated by
regular medical examinations - for in no branch of the service is the
precept _mens sana in corpore sano_ held in higher esteem - came
additional courses in the arts of destructive self-defence:
machine-guns, their construction, use, and defects; bombs of all
sizes and varieties; aerial nets, their use and how to avoid them;
the composition of poison-gas and "flaming onions"; how to avoid
anti-aircraft fire; and a dozen other problems that have arisen out
of the ashes of the broken pledges of the modern Hun.

The days are past when the ranks of the old flying-corps were filled
by and rapidly depleted of hundreds of hastily-trained
pilots - specimens of the youth and manhood of the empire who were
passed through the schools in desperate haste and pitted against the
scientific but undoubtedly physically-inferior German flyers. Now the
R.A.F. trains its "quirks" deliberately and methodically. While on
the one hand there is no dallying, there is on the other no
injudicious haste, and before a cadet takes his wings he must
thoroughly master the intricacies of a 'plane while the huge monster
lies pinned to the earth. In due course, provided the most critical
of instructors are satisfied, the budding flying-man develops into a
flight-cadet and finally emerges, trained and provided with the best
machines that money and brains are capable of producing, to help to
gain the mastery of the air.

Derek Daventry had now entered into the flight-cadet stage, and on
the morning following his arrival at Averleigh T.D.S. he found
himself entering upon a new and highly-interesting phase of his
career - the actual experience of flight.

"I'll give you a hand," he said, addressing the youth with the
refractory puttee. "We'll lash the job up somehow. After all there's
a medical inspection after parade, so the jolly old thing'll have to
come off again. The main business is to fall in before the parade
starts."

With Derek's assistance Flight-Cadet John Kaye contrived to encase
his leg in the long strip of khaki cloth. True, there were projecting
folds and creases that might cause sarcastic comment from his
flight-inspecting officer, but the fact remained that his attendance
on parade was an accomplished fact.

The cadets and airmen had fallen in in their respective
"Flights" - R.A.F. equivalent to platoon - when the bell gave out its
four double clangs, for at Averleigh they kept ship's time, possibly
as a sop to the naval element absorbed from the old R.N.A.S. The
Sergeant-Major, having satisfied himself as to the dressing and
alignment, advanced to within a few paces of the Adjutant, the latter
a youth who was within a few months of attaining his twenty-first
birthday, and on whom weighed the responsibility of a thousand odd
men. Round-faced and boyish in appearance, he already sported three
metal bars upon his sleeve - the only outward and visible signs of
three wounds received in action with the Huns in Flanders and on the
Somme.

The Sergeant-Major saluted. The soft south-westerly breeze carried
away the sound of his voice from the stiffly-motionless ranks. The
salute was returned, then -

"Parade - stand at - ease! Fall in the officers!"

Derek, standing by the side of his chum Kaye in the front rank of No.
4 Flight, was conscious of the approach of his Flight-Commander.
Along the face of the Flight the Captain passed, swiftly
"overhauling" the appearance of every cadet. Yet, somehow, Kaye's
delinquency in the matter of the absent tunic button was passed
unrebuked.

"Rear rank, one pace step back - march!"

Cadet Kaye breathed freely once more. The ordeal, as far as the front
rank men were concerned, was over.

But before the inspection was completed came an unexpected diversion.
It was all the fault of Gripper, the Major's bull-terrier and
mascot-in-chief to the Averleigh T.D.S. If Gripper hadn't forgotten
time and place, and hadn't taken it into his head to chase the
mess-room cat across the parade-ground, the inspection would
doubtless have gone on without a hitch. But the bull-terrier was off,
nearly capsizing the Colonel, while in his wake a heavy cloud of dust
rose sullenly in the air. Gripper had no intention of hurting
Satan - the huge black cat. It was merely an effort on his part to
pass the time of day with his feline chum; but unfortunately Peter,
the large sheep-dog, and Shampoo, the Skye terrier, had misgivings on
the score, or perhaps they felt that they were being left out in the
cold by Gripper's sudden disappearance from the parade. They, too,
joined in the chase.

Evidently Satan regarded three tormentors as being beyond the limit.
Climbing upon the balustrade of the verandah in front of the
officers' mess the cat eyed the three excitedly-leaping dogs for
nearly a quarter of a minute. Then, before the animals realized what
it was about, Satan gave the bull-terrier a smart scratch on the tip
of his nose just as Gripper reached the zenith of a prodigious leap.
Then, following upon the initial success, the feline sprang fairly
and squarely upon Peter's woolly back, administered a cuff with a
taloned claw, and immediately directed his attention to the luckless
Shampoo.

The Skye, finding himself pursued by the namesake of the Prince of
Darkness, bolted precipitately towards the ranks of No. 4 Flight;
while Gripper and Peter, having first shown an inclination to
chastise each other for being the cause of their discomfiture,
started in pursuit of Satan.

So far, officers, cadets, and men had thoroughly enjoyed the
diversion, but when the terror-stricken Skye ran yelping between the
lines, and Satan, finding himself exposed to a rear attack, promptly
leapt upon the shoulders of a cadet-sergeant, No. 4 Flight began to
grow unsteady on parade. To make matters worse Gripper and Peter,
dividing their attention between the cat and themselves, were
scrapping and yelping around the men's feet. Later on many of the
cadets faced Hun "anti" and machine-gun fire with equanimity, but the
knowledge that only a few folds of puttees intervened between their
calves and two jaws armed with particularly aggressive teeth was too
much for their newly-instilled habits of discipline.

For quite a minute pandemonium reigned in the shattered ranks of No.
4 Flight, until the Colonel, in stentorian tones, suggested that it
was time that the performance drew to a close.

It was not until Gripper had been enmeshed in the folds of a leather
flying-coat, and Peter deftly capsized by a sergeant who seized him
by his legs, that things began to assume a normal aspect. Satan's
claws were disengaged from the cap of the cadet who had formed his
pillar of refuge, while Shampoo was curtly bidden to clear out; and
once more No. 4 Flight formed up and "right dressed".

"Parade - 'shun!"

Accompanied by the characteristic clicking of hundreds of heels, the
parade stood rigid while the C.O. received and acknowledged the
Adjutant's salute. Then -

"Parade - stand at ease; caps off!"

Every head was bared as the Colonel began to read the short form of
Divine Service. Simultaneously the "church pennant" - another
concession to the naval side of the R.A.F. - was hoisted to the
yard-arm of the flagstaff.

"... we pray Thee to give thy Fatherly protection to us and to our
Allies on land, on the sea, and in the air."

The drone of a biplane two thousand feet overhead served as a fitting
accompaniment to the invocation. It reminded the budding airmen that
ere long they, too, would fall within this category of suppliants for
Divine protection. Soon they would be tasting of the joys and perils
of flying; of life, perhaps of death, in that domain that was every
day becoming more and more under the sway of man.

"Parade - caps on! March off!"

The morning ceremonial was over.

"No. 4 Flight: move to the right in fours. Form fours - right! Left
wheel - quick march!"

It was not until the cadets were marched to a remote corner of the
vast parade-ground and ordered to stand easy that Daventry turned to
his chum.

"You got through that all right, old man," he observed. "The Captain
didn't spot your missing button."

"Didn't he, by Jove?" replied Kaye, a broad smile overspreading his
features. "He did - but he couldn't say a word. He'd a button missing
himself. What's the move now?"

"Medical inspection, and then our first flight," replied Derek.




CHAPTER II

Derek's First Flight


Derek Daventry had passed through several medical examinations since
his entry as a cadet of the R.A.F. but this one in particular was a
thoroughly strenuous test. Having been put through the usual ordeal
as regards his keenness of vision and hearing, lung capacity, and
heart action only a few weeks previously, it came as a surprise that
he should again be "put through the mill". It was but one example of
the solicitude of the R.A.F. for its budding airmen, and of the
determination to receive the very best material for flying. The
authorities realize that it is easy for a reckless youth to ruin his
constitution in a very short time, and consequently no steps are
spared to keep the quirks in the very pink of condition.

The preliminary examination over, Derek had to undergo special tests
through which every cadet must emerge with credit before being
allowed to "take the air". Blindfolded, he was handed a small cube of
wood on which was a tuning-fork supported by a small disc. The cube
he had to lift vertically up and down three times without upsetting
the equilibrium of the fork. Then came the "walking the plank" test,
which consisted of traversing the length of a narrow plank while in
blindfolded condition. Followed, a variety of seemingly simple but
really intricate tests to prove the lad's capability of undergoing
various experiences that the art of successful flying entails. The
final one consisted of handing Daventry a wineglass brimful of water.
This he was told to hold, without allowing a drop to escape, while
quite unexpectedly a pistol-shot was fired within a few feet of his
left ear.

"Passed," was the M.O.'s crisp verdict; and Derek was curtly bidden
to dress and proceed to the flying instruction-ground.

Outside the cubicle he cannoned into Kaye, who had likewise passed
the ordeal.

"Didn't half give me a twisting, old man," he confided. "How many
more of these stunts are there before we get our wings?"

Together the chums made their way between the busy "shops" until they
reached the flying-ground - a vast expanse of closely-cropped turf,
bounded on three sides by shelters for the various types of 'planes.
Some of these shelters, hurriedly erected in the breathless days of
'14 and '15, were mere canvas "hangars" supported by a maze of rope
shrouds like gigantic tents. Others, prophetic of the permanency of
the infant science of aviation, were massive structures of
ferro-concrete, provided with huge sliding doors, and capable of
withstanding the heaviest gale. At various points long cone-shaped
bags of silk served to indicate the direction of the wind, the
knowledge of which is of paramount importance to the tyro in his
attempts to "take off" and "land" correctly.

Ungainly 'planes - for, like swans, they waddle awkwardly when out of
their natural element - were being hauled out of their hangars.
Others, taxi-ing under their own power, were lurching and rolling
over the grassy sward, each with a pair of panting, perspiring
mechanics hanging on to its long, tapering tail. Others were already
up, practising straightforward flying under the guidance of
experienced instructors, for fancy stunts, permitted only to the
cadets in the advanced courses, were forbidden in the immediate
vicinity of the aerodrome.

Donning leather coats and flying-helmets, and drawing on enormous
sheepskin garments that resembled exaggerated thigh-boots, the two
chums presented themselves at the chief instructor's office. That
worthy's reception of them was brief and to the point.

"Cadet Daventry, you're for K5; Cadet Kaye, G4. Mornin'."

"So we separate for the time being, George," remarked Derek, as the
twain left the building. "Good luck, old man. See you at lunch, I
hope."

The finding of K5, signifying the fifth hangar in K lines, afforded
no difficulty. Already the machine was out, four or five mechanics
being busily engaged in tuning-up the engine and testing the controls
under the observant eye of a young officer, who, apparently bored
stiff with the whole performance, was smoking a cigarette and
fondling a terrier pup - but one of the small army of mascots
maintained by the Averleigh T.D.S.

Lieutenant Rippondene, Derek's instructor, was in appearance an
overgrown schoolboy. As a matter of fact he was just twenty, and had
been flying at the front for more than two years, until a piece of
shrapnel had put a temporary stop to his activities in strafing the
Boche. Until he could prevail upon a normally adamant Medical Board
to allow him to cross the Channel again, he was being employed as
flight-instructor to the quirks of Averleigh Flying School.

He was full-faced, and showed a decided tendency towards corpulence.
In his flying-helmet and leather coat he strongly resembled a jovial
friar, and it would have been difficult to realize that those podgy
hands were capable of keeping a shrapnel-torn "'bus" under absolute
control. On one occasion he had been beset by five Huns, yet,
according to the testimony of his observer, "the old merchant was
grinning from ear to ear during the whole strafe".

"Hop in!" was the Lieutenant's greeting, much in the manner of a
motorist offering a youngster a lift on the road.

Derek obeyed, clambering into the fuselage of the double-seater
"Dromedary" by means of metal-shod niches in the side of the
khaki-painted body.

The instructor, throwing aside quite two-thirds of the original
length of the cigarette, followed, and, dropping into his seat like a
crab retiring to its lair, drew on a pair of gauntlets.

"Right-o!" he continued. "Tell 'em to swing her."

"Contact, sir - contact off," was the continued slogan of the air
mechanic, as he strove to swing the large two-bladed propeller, or
"prop." as it is invariably termed in the R.A.F.

Nothing of the desired nature resulting, Derek turned and looked
enquiringly at his instructor. Rippondene's face was wreathed in


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