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Chapter 26

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 28
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. II
Chapter XXVII

Girding on Their Swords

That voyage across the Atlantic through the War Zone seemed like a sporting adventure, either in a liner running alone or in the huddled convoy blundering slowly along without lights and ready to scatter hell-bent if a hidden submarine slipped a torpedo into some fat cargo-boat. Tourists stayed at home. There were no personally conducted parties under the chaperonage of the omniscient Mr. Cook. The ocean had become sinister and mysterious. It was dotted with imaginary periscopes and tragic with true tales of drowning ships and open boats.

Crowding on steam to run the gantlet of those last few hundred miles, decks aquiver to the kick of the screws, bluejackets standing by the guns, all hands nervous, and then the sight of the destroyer escort that came plunging out from Queenstown, or the yachts and seaplanes from Brest! How we all loved the Navy in such moments as these.

Gates and Lovett were the first members of the Unit to make the passage, sailing in the St. Paul on August 15, 1917, to report at Admiral Sims's London headquarters for further instructions. Vorys and Sturtevant followed a month later.

Close behind them was the group of seven, McIlwaine, Coombe, Landon, Smith, Walker, Beach, and Ingalls. From these various sources one may fit together some impressions  p2 of the voyage as being more entertaining than when made in time of peace. Vorys said his good-byes ashore — pitched in just the right key — no swagger, but off to the front — and went down to the St. Paul, expecting to sail that same day. Friday, the 13th, however, was apparently too much of a jinx for the skipper to ignore, so he laid over until Saturday.

'Al and I were disgusted,' says John. 'There is no anticlimax as bad as one of those Patti farewells, so we sneaked up town to a show in the evening, afraid we might see somebody we knew. After the good ship finally made up her mind to go to sea, Al and I stood watches on the bridge all the way over. This made the other passengers sleep a lot easier. Al got a terrific scare from the phosphorescent wake of a porpoise that made a bee‑line for the ship's quarter and then reassuringly turned and skipped over the bow wave.'

A similar episode disturbed the composure of 'Hen' Landon and his shipmates in the Philadelphia. He avows that the trip over was a series of wild rumors and thrilling stories, so that the Baby Ace (Ingalls) and I, who were in the same cabin, slept in our clothes, armed with our trusty .45 Colts with which we swore to sink any sub that torpedoed our boat. The Kaiser must have got wind of it, for we arrived at Liverpool without mishap. Only once did I have any cause to be frightened. Ken Smith and I were taking the afternoon air and discussing the submarine question, so that we would know what to do if one did come up, when he suddenly grabbed my arm and pointed at the bow. Right there I nearly died in my tracks as a big porpoise jumped diagonally toward us, and I was all braced for the shock of the explosion. We both decided that it was kind of chilly on deck so went into the smoking room where the steward revived us.'

Kenneth Smith had that sentimental feeling when the  p3 ship moved away from the wharf in New York. It wasn't a girl or home, sweet home, or anything like that. What stirred him to the depths was an enormous sign on the building of the National Biscuit Company. With a sigh he observed, 'I wonder if any of us will ever see that sign again.' It was a moving speech.

MacLeish made the crossing in October and speaks of it in one of his letters:

The trip so far has been most remarkable. The weather has been perfect except for one day, when it was quite rough. We have been in the danger zone a day now, and we just got our convoy this afternoon. It was rather a pathetic sight to see the men and women pace the deck with that vacant, distant look in their eyes — so like a caged animal — and one could see that it had become a physical effort for them to search the horizon any longer.

I have tried hard not to, but all the way over I've been wondering whether I'll make a good fighting flier. I need several characteristics, or rather a complete change of attitude. I am fairly sure that as soon as I get busy the change will take place. It's curious but I wonder whether it will change me very much. I'm still more or less of a boy, and I have always doubted whether I'd ever grow up, but I guess my time has come. One thing I must develop, and that is the ability to lead and to organize. They say that any man may become a leader if given sufficient responsibility. I hope it's true.

Curtis Read, sailing in November, made brief notes in his diary, no more than suggestions of this scene and that. He expected to fill them in from memory. These broken bits, however, convey something of what he saw and felt:

Nov. 24th. Left for Liverpool on S.S. New York — camouflage — 3 6 in. guns, 2 3 in. noticeable. Interesting-looking crowd. Poor Mother; it certainly was hard for me to say good‑bye. She is the most wonderful woman in the world. I really felt so sorry for her that I almost cried myself. Ferry-boats full of people waving au revoir.

Nov. 27‑30th. Rough sea. Snowstorm. All the stewards on  p4 board certainly have confidence in the old boat. Vaudeville Saturday night. Bishop Lloyd and Bishop Brent aboard. Miss Burke's fine talk about woman's part in the war. Bishop Brent read poems. Quartet, two passengers, two sailors. That evening Jeb Stewart in smoking room. Story at Tangiers.º Story of Miss Burke's — Portsmouth women — 'price of butter won't come down.' Father Neptune and his Wavelets. Thanksgiving service.

Dec. 2nd. Two destroyers met us Sunday night, one pink and one blue camouflage. They certainly are faithful little boats. Blinking at night. Blimp, silver color, meets us. Lots of fishing boats. Land on starboard bow. Arrive early in the morning. Fool life preservers. Go to Consul's to get transportation to London. Interesting talk with British officers on way to Cambrais.º 'Fed‑up on it.' Bad business. Station crowded with troops. Arrive London at night — walk to Charing Cross Hotel. Ambulances full of wounded at station. Darkness of London. Quiet — great number of wounded men. Romance all gone. Horrible actuality only thing left. Blue stripe for wounded. No liquors served to them — better for convalescence. Have supper at 'Cheshire Cheese' with Mike Murray and Phil Page. Quaint old inn. Air raid gossip. Go back to hotel tired and cold.

Dec. 3rd. Got up early. Rotten bed, disagreeable maid. Broken bottle. Report to Naval Attaché, 30 Grosvenor Gardens. Streets full of wounded. Wonderful uniforms of the English. Same stern coldness, no hurry attitude. Almost despair. If America could only realize, etc. Evidently in a great hurry to get us over. Signs of something doing? Leave for Southampton — sad farewells at station. Train crowded with troops. Arrive Southampton. Dock scene — sadness — pretty effect of lights. Leave on pacquet-boats British naval officers — cheers. 'Mud in your eye.' Officer looking for steward. 'Carry on.'

There it all is, as the rest of the Yale Unit perceived it in first impressions — an England that was almost in despair, but stubbornly carried on — a London that was darkened and cold and tired, whose streets were filled with disabled men, but whose pavements echoed to the tramp of fresh battalions bound across the Channel — the sad farewells mingled with the defiant rattle of the drums. It was a long, long way to Tipperary. Another air raid  p5 to‑night? This was not the war as Broadway or Pennsylvania Avenue knew it.

It was a grim, self-absorbed London into which these young American aviators wandered with a certain sense of bewilderment. They were like bits of driftwood in the lash of a mighty tide. At home they had been given prominence — the Unit stood for something, on the campus and in the public mind. It was active in plans for the creation of a naval aviation force on a grand scale. What did all this amount to in London which had to deal with facts, not dreams?

In France and England there were no American air stations in active operation, no planes, almost no material. Kenneth Whiting's little force of officers and men, who had tarried in France because they didn't know where else to go, was doing its best to start something with borrowed quarters and equipment. The impressive programme of construction and offensive tactics — the Northern Bombing Group, Dunkirk, Killingholme, Pauillac, Eastleigh, and the Italian base — were all in the nebulous future.

For the members of the Unit the procedure was to report at 30 Grosvenor Gardens and there to be told to go to Paris where Lieutenant Commander Whiting would send them to the French training schools. Gates and Lovett, the vanguard, followed this route and landed in Tours, as the first assignment. Sturtevant and Vorys varied this by proceeding to Hourtin. These and other French stations were incidental to turning up at Moutchic sooner or later. The place was the scene of a more or less continuous Unit reunion.

It was when the dashing seven — count 'em — seven, McIlwaine, Ingalls, et al., invaded Grosvenor Gardens en route to France that the memorable scandal occurred. For the moment it overshadowed the conduct of the War. And few events of that particular time seem to have etched  p6 themselves so deeply, and so painfully, upon the minds of the unhappy malefactors. Admiral Sims was absent in Paris, fortunately for his own peace of mind. Bob Lovett, who was not among those present, went out his way to hold them up to derision in such unbridled language as this:

The standing joke on the Unit, and one told at almost every mess, described the strange manner in which Coombe, McIlwaine, and a couple of others reported at London headquarters. It appears that they put on white gloves successfully, but their efforts to attach their swords were nothing to write home about. Captain MacDougall said that his staff spent the most hilarious ten minutes he ever remembers when these fine-looking and exceedingly natty officers strode into the room with these fine-looking and exceedingly natty officers strode into the room with their swords on hind part before, the sway-strap being buckled to the hilt, and the entire arrangement being hooked on in the very best landlubber style. They created a lasting impression, and had it not been for the fact that Dave Ingalls wore the same uniform for thirteen months, the entire Unit would have gained an enviable reputation as the Beau Brummels of the air.

Here Lovett becomes guilty of personalities even more unpardonable, and no more than a sample should be permitted to pass the censor. He goes on to say:

I believe it was reported in Paris that from the proceeds of this crowd's contributions to Murray's dance hall in London, enough surplus remained to add another room to the building so that 'Chip' McIlwaine might have more space in which to shake himself and his partner.

McIlwaine gives his own version of the scene at 30 Grosvenor Gardens. He supplies certain details that serve for historical accuracy. He also constructs an alibi for himself.

How to report was the burning question — whether in khaki or blues, with or without swords. Walker and Coombe were all for formality. Ingalls, Smith, and I (having inside information)  p7 were contrary-minded. The last three named purchased Sam Browne belts and swagger sticks and sauntered into H. Q., and somehow got away with it. The others donned their blues and swords, but here another problem arose — how to wear the swords. Again there was a division of opinion, and each man stuck to his own idea.

Consequently four timid naval aviators trailed in to report, looking like the remnants of the Serbian army. They didn't know whether to wear their hats because they had side arms; one had a sword knot and the others none, and, worst of all, one poor goof dropped his sword from the hook and trailed it along the floor as he entered the sanctum. The curtain drops on great confusion among the noble young aviators, sarcastic remarks by the C. O., and a disorderly retreat. Smith, Ingalls, and I enjoyed the show immensely, but the actors turned sore when we demanded an encore.

Walker, as one of the goats, pleads no extenuating circumstances and makes a candid confession, to wit:

Before we left for London we were informed that there was a book called the Navy Regulations, and in this service bible we found a paragraph which said in a general way that on reporting to any admiral or commanding officer in a foreign port, or embassy, it was quite the proper thing for a naval officer to wear his sword. On our first morning in London we decided that we must groom ourselves for the important occasion of reporting to Admiral Sims in the correct fashion and strictly according to naval etiquette.

Therefore four out of the seven of us girded on our swords, the three others having been tipped off that only in peace time was this regulation observed and that in war such trifles were over­looked. Accordingly McIlwaine, Coombe, Landon, and myself reported to Naval Headquarters, some with our swords one way and some the other way, and were very impertinently told to look up the regulations and find out how an officer did wear his sword. This made us feel very badly as we had looked forward to this entrance as one of the supreme moments. However, it turned out to be far from that, and the four of us walked out with our tails between our legs.

Reginald Coombe presents a version slightly different,  p8 with certain facts omitted in the other confessions. It is important that nothing should be omitted, in order that the complete record may be preserved for posterity.

On the trip over we had met a Naval Reserve lieutenant who claimed to know the regulations by heart. He insisted that we should wear swords and white gloves on reporting to the Naval Attaché in London. Of our party of seven, four were in favor of this, the other three were not. Not to mention names, four of us reported in blue uniforms, yellow gloves as the nearest thing we could find to white, and swords. It was most unfortunate that none of us had ever seen a sword worn before. We walked in with them dangling, or back‑end‑to, or in other curious positions. Fortunately the Naval Attaché was not present and we were received by his aide, a somewhat younger and more lenient man, who dismissed us with instructions to report next day without swords and meantime to study the regulations. Not to be outdone by us, the other three members of our party blew into headquarters, some two hours later, decked out in forester green uniforms and Sam Browne belts. They were able to put it over our group because the officers who received them had never seen an aviation uniform before and asked all about it — was it comfortable and so on.

Such was the distressing introduction to darkest London! That these were young men of sterling merit is proved by the fact that they were able to live it down. For once the joke was on the peerless Wags! The seven remained in England a fortnight, buying clothes, visiting the impressive naval air station at Felixstowe, making acquaintances, and adjusting themselves to the extraordinary conditions of life in the shadow of war. They met Captain Hutch I. Cone, who commanded the U. S. Naval Aviation Force, and he displayed a lively interest in them. Confused and unfamiliar as they were, it was very useful to have him outline the plans for the growth of the service, even though these consisted largely of hope and expectation.

 p9  On October 9th they left for Paris by way of Southampton. Crossing the Channel, so elaborately guarded and patrolled, with the wind bringing the distant rumble of artillery fire, was another novel experience. The small steamer was crowded, of course, British and French soldiers, Red Cross nurses, a few privileged civilians, and no accommodations to be found. Sam Walker felt chilled and indisposed — smoking too much or something like that — and was chased out of a warm nook in the boiler-room. After that he became friendly with a steward and curled up on a plate-warmer in the galley for the rest of the night.

He was to be the guide and handy man in a strange land, having served in the American Ambulance and therefore knowing French customs, etc. He would attend to the baggage, find the train, smooth the path. According to his comrades, he landed them in trouble with so many spluttering officials at Havre that Ingalls and 'Fat' Smith had to take matters in hand and utilize the three or four French words they knew between them.

They arrived at Paris at three o'clock in the morning, piling into four decrepit cabs. McIlwaine found himself alone in one of them with a mountain of bags. The driver had been celebrating a saint's day, or a victory at the front, and drove in a series of zigzags, banging into one curb, then into the other, or stopping his engines in the middle of the fairway. A naval officer is never dismayed. 'Chip' climbed to the box and navigated by means of intermittent star sights and bow and beam bearings, thus avoiding shipwreck until the Grand Hotel was sighted in the offing.

At this time the naval aviation headquarters in Paris consisted of two or three small rooms at 23 Rue de la Paix. Of Kenneth Whiting's hundred officers and men, some had been selected for training as pilots in the land school at Tours where they received the French brevet after passing  p10 the test. This was offered by a course in flying-boats of the F. B. A. type at a French naval school at Hourtin, with the finishing instruction at Saint-Raphael, on the Riviera.

This was the programme which the party of seven men of the Unit expected to pursue. They learned that Lovett and Gates had passed through the stages of Tours and Hourtin, while Sturtevant and Vorys were still at the latter station. It was announced, however, that the army authorities had closed the Tours school to naval fliers, and the seven therefore were ordered to report to the only American naval aviation station in France, at Moutchic.

After an all‑day trip from Paris, they reached Bordeaux and were met by Lovett, who was kicking up considerable dust in helping to organize the Moutchic school. They had looked forward to seeing Bob as a reliable informant and a friend in need. He had promised to give them the dope. This he did. All the good cheer he passed out could have been packed in a thimble. There was no sunny optimism in his system. Henry Landon describes it, with feeling.

Bob called us all into one room and we sat on the edge of our chairs and waited fairly pop‑eyed, I never saw a more anxious bunch of fellows in my life. We were all keen to be up and doing, ready to hear the date of our first encounter with the Boche. Well, Bob sat down and with that serious expression of his proceeded to give us the worst dose of cold water imaginable. It certainly took the pep out of me, for the moment, and several others have since said the same thing. I think Bob dwelt too much with the gloomy side of things during that famous interview, even though things were moving very slowly. He made up for it later on and shoved us along as fast as possible.

In Bordeaux they commandeered a truck from the force of American Marines doing M. P. duty and, at eight miles an hour, crawled over the rocky roads to Moutchic, forty-five kilometers away. The station was no more than a few tents, two hangars, three F. B. A. machines, and four officers  p11 with seventy-five men. It was established as a school for instruction in actual war work for pilots freshly arrived from the United States.

There were no living quarters at the station for the valiant seven of the Yale Unit, so they tucked themselves in a little hotel at the seaside, several miles away, where the French landlord found bottles of good red wine to temper the cold, damp weather. On the next day four of them were sent to Hourtin to go up in the French flying-boats and get the hang of them. They tossed coins to see who should be elected. McIlwaine, Ingalls,​a1 Smith, and Landon won. Beach, Walker, and Ingalls​a2 sat around Moutchic and waited for opportunity to chuck them under the chin. In a week or so, Vorys and Sturtevant came over from Hourtin and gave them all the gossip. They were in high spirits, expecting orders to an area more active. Those little F. B. A. boats were tricky, said they, and the Clerget rotary motor had notions of its own. The larger D. D. machines, with a 200 h.p. Hispano motor, were used for patrol work along the coast which the French instruction officers performed intermittently. The course required only a few days, a few hops with dual control, and then two hours' solo work.

The life and surroundings of these French stations rather shocked and disillusioned the young American aviation officers. It was their first contact with the sordid realities of war among a people who were fagged and let down after three years of it. It was brutal and filthy, no misty heroics. And the end was not yet in sight. This American aviation, no more than begun — it seemed so little and futile — a handful of men — no aeroplanes — it was like the merest speck on the gigantic fly‑wheel.

These first impressions were therefore unhappy, veering to an extreme of bitter criticism. They had yet to comprehend  p12 the realities of war. The climate was miserably drenched with rain. Tents were soggy, mud ankle-deep.

John Vorys could find nothing whatever to admire at Hourtin. He cursed it as

a temporary sort of place with Bessano hangars and log huts and quite collapsible buildings, around a lake which was only a puddle among the sand dunes. The latter were held in place by pine trees, wild boars, and wild Moroccans. We ate at the French officers' mess. Al and I learned some French there, but couldn't use it anywhere else. We lived in tents with Fearing, Cabot, and 'Doc' Stevens.

The system in use was for somebody to fix up an F. B. A. so it would fly a little and then for an instructor to take his pupils up one by one until the weather went bad or the machine busted or the instructor felt tired. It took us three weeks to fly the required four hours of instruction and solo. It rained most of the time and the crashes came pretty regularly, so we were blue and complained about France and the French way of doing things. After we finished this ham school we went back to Moutchic and made ourselves so unpleasant to Dichman, the C. O., that we were ordered to Saint-Raphael, the French Pensacola or finishing school. Thus were the crabbers rewarded.

At Hourtin we found John Vorys and Al Sturtevant [says 'Chip' McIlwaine]. They had taken the best tents, all the wash basins and most of the chairs. We made short shrift of them and dug in. These two were on splendid terms with Commandant Cenke, the C. O., and with the officer in charge of the mess. John introduced us uproariously and we soon felt at home at the table. The conversation was never on flying, which we were keen to enter into, but about boar hunting in the pine woods, the Commandant's new motor boat which had run up on the beach, about women, more women, and the inevitable coup de pinard. John's French was horrible, but he talked for all of us and made the whole mess roar.

There was very little system about the station, which was being built by Boche prisoners, the quietest, most law‑abiding bunch of men I ever saw. Incidentally they had barracks and we had tents, and in winter at that.

Our instructors were enlisted men who were a fine lot. They  p13 loved to show off and did so continually until one day Dave Ingalls made an F. B. A. do something they had never seen a beginner pull off before, and then they began to respect us.

Landon found it interesting, with new ways of doing things. It was a great life if you didn't weaken. This was not like training under the careful eye of Dave McCulloch.

Gathered on the little beach [says he], we watched the instructors bring out the machines. They were in a hurry to turn out their pupils and rough landings were the order of the day. I remember seeing a novice of a Frenchman who had made one bum landing and was about to try it a second time. He was going so slowly that I felt sure he would slip and drop, which he did, but he was so near the water that a tremendous splash was the only result. However, he hit on one wing and I was sure he had broken it. When he came ashore he was sworn at in rapid-fire French, and the chief pilot told the instructor to look over the plane. My surprise was great when the latter got into the machine and went off, making a few turns, and bringing it back to the beach. 'Ça va,' says he. 'Bien! Monsieur Landon,' says the chief pilot, and I went over and took up that same plane with not much confidence. Apparently the motto was, 'If the plane goes up and comes back safely, it is O. K., but if it doesn't, c'est dommage.'

'Ken' MacLeish, arriving a little later than these others, could find much to thrill and fascinate him during his first weeks in France. And he was able to put in words the charm which Paris revealed to him even in her days of mourning, with the lights and gaiety eclipsed. On his way to Moutchic he wrote to the folks at home:

Paris, November 10, 1917

I fooled the U. S. N. R. F. C., as you see! They used to translate it 'Us Sailors Never Reach France, 'Cause!' But here I am, and my little bells are tinkling. And Paris! Oh, it's far better than even the wildest tales picture it. It's as much as your life is worth to go out to dinner here. There are literally thousands of girls who say they will show you around Paris, and it's a two‑fisted  p14 fight to shake them off. Rolley Riggs — the lieutenant commander — and I are here together, and I never laughed so hard in my life. We finally got out on the street, where one enjoys comparative safety. I ran into Junior Ames, Chicago, and three of my classmates from New Haven, who gave me advice. They said to look tough and say I was married, and I would be all right. But we weren't bothered again. This surely is Paris.

I saw Commander Whiting, to whom I am to report, and he said that I would be sent down to join the Huntington crowd. That is west of where Archie is, but I shall get into touch with him at once. . . . I met a couple of naval officers at the Embassy who were on the Alcedo when she was torpedoed. One was asleep in his bunk and knew nothing until he woke up on a raft — alone and badly hurt. The submarine came alongside and asked him what boat was sunk — he didn't even know his ship had been torpedoed.

One breathes an entirely new atmosphere over here. Poor France! She is a nation at war, and she is in over her head. Deeds that would astound the world five years ago are as common as rain. I wondered how some men who are not physically brave men ever lived through it. But now I understand. Brave deeds are commonplace. There is no fear of death. It is accepted when it comes as quite natural and quite all right. The glory of war is in the men themselves — not in their deeds. I have never seen such magnificent courage and such a wonderful spirit.

Moutchic, France, November 16

Not until now have I been anywhere near settled, of course, and now that I am settled I fear I must move on. You see this is only a finishing school, and all I have to do is to learn a new type of control known as the 'Stick-control,' which is much simpler than the 'dep' which we have in America. It is very sensitive, hence it is used on all fast machines. It's just a stick and you push it in whatever direction you wish to go. It is used in conjunction with a foot rudder for direction, but the lateral and longitudinal controls are manipulated with the stick.

There are three possibilities for my future. I may be sent to Ireland to fly some tremendous boats, over one hundred feet wing span, which do patrol work and some bombing; or I may be sent to Tours as officer of a draft of enlisted men under instruction;  p15 or I may be kept here in charge of the motors and work-shops. This will be the largest American school in France, but never mention the fact outside the family. You see I censor my own mail here, so I can say anything my conscience permits. But if my letters in the future come from any of the above stations in the order in which I gave them, I will simply say one, two, or three. I may be possibly sent to England instead of Ireland, and there is some hope of my being sent to Dunkirk, where I will be trained on land machines and will see actual fighting at the front. 'Di' is there now and he promises to pull for me.

This is a delightful spot in summer, I imagine, but just now it's as cold as all fired blue blazes. I live three miles from the station in a summer hotel, with no fireplaces — only a candle for light, and not a sign of a bathroom. A bathtub is unheard in rural France and I go to Bordeaux weekly for my bath. What is worse, I'm here absolutely alone. I'm the only boarder, and no English is spoken. But don't let me get started on that tack or my letter will become morbid. Lord, but I'm lonely! You see the gang are all finished up, and they've gone. Bad luck, wasn't it?

The French people are very, very tired of the war. They will never, never quit, but they would give everything for peace. They haven't very much left now. You never see a man of military age, and able, not in uniform. The women run the streetcars, sawmills, factories, stores, and everything. But every one is blue as to the outcome. It is not unusual to hear of men in competent positions discussing being licked. America must wake up! She must send airplanes and pilots and send them fast. Germany fears the American air program, and she has started one of her own which will take the world off its feet next spring.

Moutchic, November 23

. . . My career will evidently be void of all hairbreadth escapes, etc. I came here with the idea of flying like a fool, so that they would be sure to send me to the front, where I can have some fun, but after my first exhibition I was beached for a week, and told that I would probably be given a patrol on the Irish coast, as they didn't want any d–––––––––––––d fools at the front. Now I am discouraged. I thought the crazier you were the better chance you had of seeing some good active service, but my dope was evidently wrong. I did notice, however, that after the boss called me down, he asked how I did some of the tricks, so there may be  p16 some hope yet, and he may be just kidding me. They asked me to try out a new machine the other day. It was a lulu! I never flew a rottener contraption in my life. It was a flying boat, with a rotary 130 h.p. motor in it. Well, it was fast enough, but when one turned to the left the gyroscopic action of the motor was to put the machine in a dive, and vice-versa on a right hand turn. Also it had a perfectly flat bottom and was very light, so that unless you landed tail-first you bounced some two or three times. When one bounces three times, the French call it a 'Capitaine de Fregate.' The abovenamed gent wears three gold stripes on his sleeve, hence the simile!

Moutchic, December 1

I have the dope on my future and I'm tickled to death. I am to go to England for a few weeks and learn to fly fast single-seater fighting machines. Then 'Di' and two others and I are to go to the station I've wanted to go to all the time. It is within sixty miles of the most important submarine base the Boche has. The base itself is absolutely impregnable. They have an anti-air‑craft barrage that can't be penetrated, but all submarines going out have to cross over a shallow sand‑bar. They can cross only at high tide — twice a day. We know exactly when that is, of course. There will be plenty of fighting, I guess, because the Boche realizes the importance of keeping our bombing machines away from the base. Gee! won't that be wonderful?

. . . I wish Bruce could have been with me yesterday. I went out to a field where they test out new machines. I saw all the latest types of fighting machines, and one monoplane that I simply haven't words to describe. A Spad and a Sopwith, both capable of about 130 miles an hour, were playing around up there when this monoplane came along. It went by them as though they were going backward. I never saw such speed. It must have been going about 160 or 170 miles an hour. And climb! Wow! Why, the pilot pulled it into a 'zoom,' which is a jump upward. The Spad zooms about 200 feet and then dies out, but this darn monoplane can climb at that angle. It was more than 45 degrees, and he held it all the way up. He climbed out of sight in four minutes.

They can't be used, because they can't be handled easily. They are very tricky in heavy air, been they can't land under about 110 miles an hour. So only about ten men in the world can  p17 fly them. But they'll be perfected soon, I guess. The man who flew this machine is the best the French have. He and Guynemer had a bet, and he stuck to the latter's tail fifteen minutes. Guynemer couldn't shake him off, so you see he's fair enough — n'est‑ce pas?

'Di' left a couple of nights ago for the front. He is the first one to go, but we three will be with him in a few weeks. He is too big to fit into a scout, so he is to fly bombing machines. You ought to see the machines we're to fly. They are wonders — they would fit right into a dining-room, easily! And they go 120 miles an hour. I'm crazy to get my hands on one. I visit the factory every day where they're being made, and I've got mine all picked out, and I am ready to name it, only I can't think of a suitable name. Have you any suggestions?

Hotel Catham, Paris, December 3

. . . We don't want a strengthening of the old religion; we must have a new. You can see it here on battlefields, struggling for expression. What makes cowards go over the top like martyrs? Surely not military discipline. That could drive them, but they wouldn't go bravely. What makes English officers rush out into the deadly fire of No Man's Land to rescue a German officer tangled in barbed wire and suffering agonies from his wounds? It is all new. I can't explain it. I can't formulate it, but it is there, and it is too noble and great to be split up into sects. It is above the old religion. There is no show, no pomp, no ceremony. The religion lies in the man. It is the outcome of this awful war.

Paris, December 9

At last the order to shove off has come, after what seems an interminably long time in this awful hole. Three of us go to England, as I said before, to fly fast land machines. One of the boys will drop out and take command of a station, leaving two of us to go from there. The outlook is very, very dull and gloomy. There are no bright spots. Even America's awakening is more or less of a good dream. You people over in the States simply cannot conceive of the horrors that these men go through. A fine young lieutenant played around with me when I was here last, only a month ago. To‑day I saw him and didn't recognize him. The lines in his face had deepened, he had become very, very thin, and he was quiet and sad. He was at Bourlon Wood,  p18 and he is the only survivor of his machine gun corps. You can't imagine the filth and the chilling cold in the trenches. I can't — I haven't seen them — I have only heard. This lieutenant has the D. S. O. and the Cross of Belgium. He said, 'You mustn't blame if we curse you and call you airmen embuscades because you live and eat well, but when we see you over our heads we all wish you damn good luck.'

The other night we went to a show and there were some Tommies there fresh from the trenches with the trench mud on their boots. The orchestra played Tipperary. It cuts me to the quick to see a girl cry, but to see men cry is frightful!

I am very lucky. I have a wonderful chance ahead of me, with everything to gain and not much to lose. My consolation and source of courage comes from the thought that I'm doing it all for you. It isn't a question of when we die but how. You people at home will have to make sacrifices before the nation wakes up. It's hard on you. I feel sometimes that you value my life more than I do. I do not think it's worth a darn, just now, but it will be, in some capacity, before I'm through over here. God bless you all. Don't pray that I shall never be in danger. Pray that I'll meet it as your son should.

Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 So the printed text: Ingalls twice, and no mention of Coombe.

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