Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

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long one. The two biplanes were now practically alone, although a
flight was visible at a great distance to the south-east.

The objective, Les Jumeaux junction, was now in sight, like a
four-pointed star; for all around the converging railway lines were
sheds and huts that were not in existence three months previously.
That the spot was protected by anti-air-craft guns there could be
little doubt, while Derek could see a huge sausage-balloon being
rapidly hauled down - a sign that Fritz was aware of the approach of
British 'planes.

Suddenly Kaye swerved from his course and held on in a southerly

"Wonder what's happened to the old bean?" thought Derek. "He was
making straight for the jolly old place, and now he's wandering off
the track."

Fifteen seconds later Derek solved the mystery, for, approaching the
British biplane, was a small monoplane of unmistakably Hun
construction - one of the admitted failures of the German Air Service.

The Hun hesitated, banking and circling as if doubtful whether to
meet the British craft or to seek safety in flight, while Kaye, all
out, bore down to the attack.

"Kaye'll mop him up in a brace of shakes," declared Derek, as he too
swung round. "I'll stand by and see the scrap."

Then, seized by an inspiration, he added, "Supposing Fritz has a card
up his sleeve?"

Just then the German spun round on one wingtip and began to fly from
his antagonist. Kaye's biplane was then about four hundred yards away
from, and considerably higher than, the monoplane, and manoeuvring in
order to pump a trayful of ammunition into the other's tail.

"Juggins!" ejaculated Derek; "he's let himself into a pretty hole.
Properly tricked."

For out of a rift in the clouds, through which the brilliant sunshine
poured dazzlingly, three large Hun triplanes swooped. It was an old
trick, but Kaye looked like falling a victim to the ruse. His whole
attention centred upon the monoplane, which was merely a decoy, he
was quite ignorant of the presence of three machines that were
waiting to pounce down upon the swallower of the aerial bait.

Derek began to climb, at the same time changing direction in an
attempt to intercept the trio of Huns. Without a doubt they had
spotted him, but contemptuous of the almost insignificant EG 19 they
held on, with the evident intention of first strafing the pursuer of
the decoy, and then "mopping up" the second British machine.

Suddenly the decoy, finding that Kaye was perilously close to his
tail-plane, dived vertically. Kaye promptly followed suit, while the
triplanes, owing to their dead-weight, hesitated to imitate the
dangerous stunt.

For a good two thousand feet the Hun monoplane dropped like a
plummet, with its engine all out and a long trail of vapour from its
noisy exhaust. Then the Hun began a loop that finished him. Making
too sharp a curve, the monoplane burst two of the most important
tension-wires, and the next instant the wings folded like those of a
resting butterfly.

Kaye, finding his antagonist crashing, flattened out, and, as he did
so, became aware of the presence of the three triplanes and of his
chum flying at full speed to intercept them.

Without hesitation Kaye joined in the fray. There was no loss of
time, for the combatants were approaching an aggregate speed of well
over two hundred and twenty miles an hour.

A mutual exchange of machine-gun fire produced no visible result,
although several tracer-bullets passed perilously close to Kaye's
'bus. Then, banking steeply, the triplanes again endeavoured to

It was Derek's opportunity, and he seized it. Broadside on to two of
the Huns, he let fly with his machine-gun. Down went one of the
triplanes in flames, while the second, considerably damaged, rocked
violently until the pilot succeeded in getting the machine again
under control.

Fitting a fresh drum of ammunition, Derek again manoeuvred to renew
the attack. As he swung round he saw, to his consternation, that
Kaye's 'bus was falling, while long-drawn tongues of flame showed
that his chum's machine was not only shot down, but that it was shot
down in flames.

Filled with a blind rage, and eager to avenge his comrade, Derek
dived steeply upon the triplane that had sent Kaye's 'bus on its
headlong flight.

The German machine-gunner at the after gun was pumping in lead as
fast as he could. Bullets, many of them of the tracer pattern,
whizzed and screeched past the little British machine. A tension-wire
snapped like a harp-string, one end cutting through Derek's
flying-helmet and drawing blood from his forehead. He was dimly
conscious of jagged rips in his leather coat, of rents in the planes,
and particularly of a bullet cutting a deep groove in the three-ply
decking of the fuselage. Then, just at the critical moment, the gun
jammed badly.

Desperately Derek strove to rectify the defect, the 'bus meanwhile
steering itself. Once he glanced up to see where his antagonist was.
The triplane had vanished. Struck in a vital part a few seconds
before the jamming of the British aeroplane's gun, the Hun was
falling absolutely out of control.

To change over the two automatic-guns was a matter of a few moments;
then, again fit for action, the biplane made towards the remaining
Hun. The triplane, however, had had enough. With her powerful engines
all out she incontinently fled from her much smaller antagonist.

Leaning over the side of the fuselage Derek looked earthwards. The
ground was well-wooded, and apparently flat, although the pilot knew
the deceptive aspect of undulating land when viewed from a height.
Two columns of smoke, trending towards the west, marked the spots
where the British and the Hun machines had descended in flames.

Vol-planing spirally, Derek kept a sharp look-out for signs of enemy
occupation. He saw none. No Boches sent their obnoxious
shrapnel-shells screeching through the air; no field-grey patrols
opened fire with their rifles and machine-guns upon the now
low-flying biplane. There were no signs of the civilian population.
Thirty miles behind the battle-line Derek had struck a desolate and
deserted patch of what had been, and was soon to be again, the soil
of La Belle France.

The British and German machines had crashed within four hundred yards
of each other. Which was which Daventry could not determine, for
already the huge triplane and its small antagonist were little more
than heaps of fiercely-burning debris.


The Jammed Machine-guns

An irresistible impulse prompted Derek to make a landing. It was
something more than morbid curiosity or sentiment that made him do
so. Why he knew not, but land he did, pancaking faultlessly in an
untitled field covered with long, rank grass.

Scanning the immediate vicinity, and finding nothing of a suspicious
character, Derek descended from his 'bus, and, automatic-pistol ready
for instant action, made his way towards the nearest pyre.

Fifteen yards away was a battered corpse, lying in a hole three feet
deep made by the terrific impact. By the colour of the flying-coat,
in spite of its being badly burnt, Dick knew that it was not his
chum's body. A short distance away, and almost hidden in the grass,
were two more bodies, those of the Hun pilot and one of the

While Derek was contemplating the wreckage, he saw someone
approaching - a figure literally crawling on hands and knees.

It was Kaye. In spite of the blistered face, burned and battered
coat - which was still smouldering - Derek recognized him. At full
speed he ran towards him, thankful to find his comrade alive, and
still more so to find that Kaye could both see and speak.

There was no time for questions. The sharp whine of a bullet, quickly
followed by others, gave stern warning that a Hun patrol had arrived
upon the scene. Derek could discern several field-grey figures
advancing rapidly across the untilled fields, the nearmost being only
eight hundred yards away. Grasping Kaye's arm, Derek ran. It was a
case of discretion being the better part of valour. With bullets
whizzing past their heads, the two pilots succeeded in reaching EG
19, through the planes of which the German missiles were cutting
furrows in the doped canvas.

Assisting Kaye to mount the fuselage, and telling him to throw
himself at full length in the wake of the pilot's seat, Derek swung
the prop. The motor fired, faltered, and stopped. Advancing the spark
at the risk of a back-fire, he made a second attempt - this time

Daventry rose across the wind. It was a precarious business, but,
with a dozen Boches running with the wind, and only a short distance
away, there was very little choice in the matter. Pursued by a
fusillade of innocuous shots, the monoplane climbed rapidly and
steeply to a height of two thousand feet.

A thump in the ribs made Derek turn his head. Kaye was hanging on
with one hand and pointing to the only serviceable machine-gun with
the other. Daventry understood: his companion was mutely proposing
that they should return and give the Hun patrol a little lesson upon
the folly of attempting to fire upon a serviceable British machine.

"Work it, then!" bawled Derek, and, putting the 'bus into a steep
vol-plane, he made for the spot where the Huns, winded by their long
run over heavy ground, were gathered in a tempting group in the open.

Directly the Boches saw that the biplane was descending in their
direction they scattered. The field was dotted with grey-clad figures
making a bolt for cover that did not exist.

"We've got 'em cold!" exclaimed Derek, as the machine, moving at will
at a speed of over a hundred miles an hour, was directly above the
heads of the terrified men, who at their best were not able to run at
one-tenth the rate of the biplane. "Why the deuce isn't Kaye turning
on the tap?"

He waited in vain to catch the rapid reports of the deadly weapon.
The opportunity passed. EG 19 was beyond her quarry. To ensure
opening fire, the biplane had to turn again to approach the
panic-stricken Huns.

Derek glanced over his shoulder to find Kaye feverishly manipulating
the mechanism of the gun. Like its fellow, the weapon had jammed at
an awkward moment.

"'Pose some sort of good luck attends even Huns at times," he
soliloquized. "There's one blessing, I've scared 'em stiff. Now for

He laughed to himself at the idea of calling the ramshackle
collection of huts comprising the aerodrome as "home", then, putting
the old 'bus up, he turned towards the British lines.

In spite of a load well above that for which it was constructed, the
single-seater behaved magnificently. Derek took her up to nine
thousand feet in order to cross the opposing lines at a fairly safe
height, as far as danger from gun-fire from the ground was concerned.

Presently he caught sight of an object in the air at about a distance
of two miles. It resembled an inverted bottle with a stumpy neck.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "if that's not a Hun with invisible wings
I'm a Dutchman. Wonder if it's old Von Peilfell's 'bus? There was a
rumour that the old brigand was buzzing around in this sector. And
our guns are jammed, too."

Kaye also noticed the approaching aeroplane, and called Derek's
attention to it. Just then the Hun, encountering an air-pocket, dived
a couple of hundred feet, the sun glinting upon the transparent
fabric of the broad wing-spread.

"Hun!" he bawled. "Von Peilfell's, for a dead cert."

Derek had to make up his mind. There was a choice between flight and
pure bluff. He chose the latter.

The Hun and the British machines were on widely-converging courses.
Already the lurid colourings on the former's fuselage were plainly
visible. He was closing with the evident intention of taking stock of
a possible opponent.

"I'll make him sit up," declared Derek, as he swung round and headed
straight for the Hun.

Count von Peilfell - for it was he who piloted the gaudily-painted
'bus - at first made no effort to avoid a possible collision. It was
not until Derek was within fifty yards that he dived steeply, and,
looping, came up under the tail of the British biplane, a manoeuvre
which Derek encountered by looping and practically sitting on his
adversary's tail.

Thus both the British pilot and the Hun had a chance which they ought
to have seized, but neither of them opened fire. Derek knew why he
could not; his opposite number was in a similar plight.

For a space of four minutes the pair engaged in bluffing tactics,
each trying to "put the wind up" the other by bearing down at full
speed and then adroitly avoiding a disastrous collision.

Then the encounter fizzled out. British and Hun machines set off on
parallel courses at a bare fifty yards apart, the respective crews
laughing and gesticulating at each other as if mortal combat in the
air was a thing unheard of.

"In working order!" shouted Kaye, tapping the rear machine-gun.

"Good!" yelled Derek in reply. "We've had enough of this joy-stunt.
Let rip right aft."

Without a shadow of doubt the Hun, had he been similarly placed,
would have fired a tray of ammunition straight at his opponent, but
British airmen are made in a different mould. Even at critical
moments the innate sporting instinct shows itself.

Directing the muzzle of the gun away from the tempting target
afforded by the gaudily-hued Hun, Kaye let rip. For a moment Von
Peilfell's face - or rather that portion of it not masked by his
goggles - showed consternation and astonishment; then, realizing that
the "fool Englander" was chivalrously throwing away a decided
advantage, he gave a farewell wave with his gauntleted hand, banked,
and was soon a mere speck in the sky.

Four minutes later EG 19 passed over the opposing lines, not a
hostile air-craft being in sight, although five thousand to seven
thousand feet below the air was "stiff" with 'planes bearing the
distinctive red, white, and blue circles. Evidently Fritz was in for
a very sticky time, to use a common service phrase.

A violent bump, followed by a succession of sideslips that well-nigh
flung Kaye from his precarious perch, gave unpleasant warning that
even at a height of nine thousand feet there are dangers from the
ground. Ten, perhaps twelve, miles away a long-range naval gun was
busily engaged in shelling the Boche back-areas, and a fifteen-inch
shell approaching the zenith of its arc is no respecter of persons.

By the aid of his maps Derek succeeded in locating his position. He
was a good twelve miles to the south-east of the aerodrome, which,
considering the various side-shows connected with his patrol, was
hardly to be wondered at.

Then, with less than a gallon of petrol on board, EG 19, despite her
bullet-wounds and the weight of a passenger, made a good landing
almost at the entrance to the hangar.

"Feel a bit rotten," admitted Kaye, as ready hands assisted him to
the ground. "Not a bad stunt, was it? A sticky time, but - - "

His voice trailed off into an indistinct murmur.

"Hang on to him, somebody," shouted Derek, leaping from his 'bus.

Supported by two other pilots Kaye was carried off, while Derek,
knowing that all that could be done for his chum would be done,
hastened to make his report to the Flight-Commander.

As soon as possible he made his way to the field-hospital where Kaye
had been carried. The pilot was still unconscious, suffering from no
less than three shrapnel-wounds, in addition to being severely burnt
by the flaming petrol and shaken by his involuntary crash.

"Wonder if it will be a Blighty business?" thought Derek. "He'll be
horribly sick about it if the war's over before he's out again. But,
by Jove! it looks like it. We've got Fritz cold."


Bowled Out

Fritz was now well on the homeward trail. He knew that the game was
up, but, reluctant to give up the booty, was still maintaining a game
of bluff. Forced back by relentless pressure on all fronts, deserted
by her played-out allies, Germany was on the point of throwing up the
sponge. She knew full well that Foch was ready to deliver a decisive
blow and gain a victory the like of which the world has never seen.
There remained a chance - to enter into an armistice with the
victorious Allies. Better, from the Huns' point of view, to
temporize, and be prepared to make sacrifices of territory and
material, than to lose millions of fit men, who might, at no distant
date, be available for the service of the Fatherland.

There were rumours of peace in the air. The British and French
troops, although "fed up" with fighting, were loath to let their foes
escape from the noose. After more than four years of strenuous
warfare, enduring unheard-of discomforts and privations, they were
reluctant to allow the Hun to temporize. They wanted a fight to the
finish and to deliver a knock-out blow.

It was early in November that Derek Daventry, now a full lieutenant,
R.A.F., was sent on detached duty to a flying-base situated nearly
fifty kilometres behind the aerodrome occupied by his squadron.

The journey was to be performed by car. For certain reasons Derek was
not allowed to fly in the still serviceable EG 19, one of the chief
being that there were papers of a highly-confidential nature that
were not to be delivered by air.

Seated in a high-powered car of a type that in pre-war days only a
millionaire could afford to own, Derek set off. His driver, in civil
life a racing-chauffeur on Brooklands track, was a man who knew his
job, and revelled in the knowledge that no blue-coated policeman
lurked in ambush on the _pavé_ roads. True, there were the military
police to take into consideration, but, except at cross-roads and in
towns and villages, there was no speed-limit.

Jolting, bumping, sometimes leaping clear of the ground, and
frequently swinging round corners with only two wheels touching and
slithering over the ground, the car continued its mad, exhilarating
pace. Speed-lust gripped both driver and passenger. The keen autumnal
air acted like a tonic, while the long-forgotten experience,
ground-travelling, where the sensation of speed is far greater than
in flying at a height, filled Derek with an uncontrollable
exuberance. He wanted to shout at the top of his voice; to urge the
driver to even greater speed. He even detected himself in the act of
waving airy greetings to pompous "brass hats" by the wayside.

In a very short space of time the car had cleared the maze of roads
and huts and was speeding across a country devastated by war, and
temporarily passed over by the contending forces. The landscape was
pitted with waterlogged shell-holes and dotted with jagged stumps of
trees, with an occasional gable-end to mark what was once a peaceful
dwelling. Shrapnel-riddled Nissen huts, derelict tanks, and transport
vehicles added to the desolation of the scene, the only human element
being supplied by gangs of Chinese road-menders, while occasionally
mechanically-propelled wagons and lorries of the supply column were

Happening to glance skyward, Derek saw that an aeroplane was passing
overhead. There was nothing out of the ordinary in that; for months
past the air had been stiff with air-craft, and hardly anyone
troubled to crane his neck to watch one.

Derek gave a second look, and looked again, keeping his eyes fixed
upon the descending biplane as far as the jolting and lurching of the
car would permit. Then, leaning forward, he touched the driver on the

"'Bus in difficulties," he shouted. "Slow down, and see what

The speed of the car diminished. The biplane was vol-planing in short
spirals immediately above. Evidently the engine had "konked out" and
the pilot was seeking a suitable landing-ground.

Down came the machine, pancaking badly. Both tyres burst
simultaneously with a loud report, while the tail rose in the air
like a mute signal of distress.

Out of the pilot's seat clambered a figure dressed in the regulation
outfit. Hardly troubling to examine the damage to his 'bus, he pushed
up his fur-rimmed goggles, and, waving his arms, began to run towards
the road with the intention of attracting the attention of the driver
of the motor.

Derek gave orders to stop, and awaited the arrival of the pilot.

"Mornin', Jimmy," exclaimed the new-corner, on seeing that Derek wore
the R.A.F. uniform. "Can you give me a lift as far as Le Tenetoir

"That's where I'm bound for, old son," replied Derek. "What's wrong?"

"Run out of petrol. Union leaking, I fancy. Rotten old 'bus - never
gave a fellow a chance. They are all alike, dash 'em."

"Jump in," interrupted Daventry brusquely. "I'm in a hurry. No, not
here, in the front seat, if you please. Right-o! - full speed ahead,
driver; let her rip!"

Derek leant back against the cushions, and, holding his precious
dispatch-case with one hand, meditatively contemplated the
castor-oil-stained back of the airman in front.

With a sudden jerk the car pulled up before the sentry at the
entrance to Le Tenetoir aerodrome. It did the tyres no good, but the
driver chose the lesser of two evils, since it was decidedly
unhealthy to ignore a challenge in war-time, especially when a sentry
is smart with his trigger-finger.

"Thanks, old bird!" exclaimed the pilot of the disabled machine,
taking advantage of the car being at a standstill, and alighting
agilely. "Good of you to bring me home, you blinking Samaritan. See
you later in the mess. I'll be on the look-out for you."

Derek signed to the driver to keep the car stationary, then, when the
stranger was out of earshot:

"Who is that officer, sentry?"

"Dunno, sir," replied the man. "We gets such a lot o' new officers
'ere it's no tellin' who's who."

"Thank you," replied the Lieutenant. "Carry on, driver."

Arriving at the orderly-room, Derek handed over his documents, and
waited until the C. O. had drafted a reply and had passed it on to be
typewritten. By the time the official reply was in order, nearly half
an hour had gone.

This part of the business completed, Derek was free to commence his
return journey. Instead, he strolled into the officers' mess, where
he was not surprised to find that the man he had befriended was not

He looked round to see if he knew any of the crowd of flying-men. To
his satisfaction he recognized a pilot who had been with him at

"Hallo, Canterbury!" he exclaimed. "So you're out here?"

"And well I know it, you old merchant," replied the Lieutenant,
shaking Derek's hand. "Had quite a sticky time ever since I joined
the squadron. Well, how goes it? Anything I can do?"

"Can you find me the Orderly Officer?" asked Daventry.

"Behold in me the Orderly dog," replied Canterbury, with mock
obeisance. "For this day only - until next time. What is it?"

"You have a number of big bombers here?"

"Yes; a number," was the guarded reply.


Canterbury waved his hand in a comprehensive sweep.

"Out there," he answered. "But why this curiosity?"

"Look here, old man," said Derek earnestly. "You can vouch for me. I
want to get hold of an armed party. I'll explain why as briefly as I

"By Jove! Is that so?" ejaculated Canterbury, when Derek had reported
the details required to back up his request for an armed party.
"Right-o! I'll turn out a crowd in half a shake. Wait till I've
informed the 'Adjy.', and then we'll see what's to be done."

Lieutenant Canterbury was as good as his word. Having explained
matters to the Adjutant, he led a file of airmen to the hangars,
where the secret battleplanes were jealously hidden from prying eyes
by an elaborate camouflage scheme.

At the first of the sheds, in which the giant machines assembled for
the purpose of bombing Berlin were stored, the Orderly Officer halted
his men.

"Carry on, Daventry," he said. "See if your merchant is knocking
around. We'll stand by in case of an accident."

Derek's investigation of the first shed drew blank. As he was
entering the second he came face to face with the flying-officer he
had befriended.

"Hallo, George!" exclaimed the pilot of the disabled machine. "You're
just the fellow I wanted to see. Hung around the mess for a deuce of
a time, but it was _na poo._"

"Better late than never," rejoined Derek. "We'll stroll back. S'pose
you can spare the time?"

The officer hesitated. Then:

"Right-o! I'm on!" he exclaimed. "Can't stop very long, though. I'm
on a special stunt with these bombers. By the way, do you happen to
know - - "

Derek laid his hand heavily upon the pilot's shoulder.

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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanWinning his Wings → online text (page 6 of 16)