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The American station at Dunkirk was about ready to begin its anti-submarine patrols in the latter part of March, 1918, when the German armies launched the great offensive which smashed through the British battle lines, crumpled up General Gough's Fifth Corps, and almost broke through to the Channel ports. It was the darkest hour of the war.
On Tuesday, the 19th, the bright weather changed to drizzling rain, but it cleared on the Wednesday, with the result that a thick mist was drawn out of the ground and muffled all the soggy landscape. That day was spent in an eerie calm, like the quiet which precedes a storm. When the sun set, the British troops in the front trenches were staring out into heavy fog which grew denser as darkness fell.
At about two o'clock in the morning of the 21st the British lines were warned to expect an assault. The forward zone was always kept fully manned and at 4.30 A.M. the order was sent out to man the battle zone. Still the same uncanny silence held, and the same clinging fog, under cover of which, all through the night, the Germans were pushing up troops into line, till by dawn on the •fifty‑odd miles of front between Croiselles and the Oise they had massed thirty-seven divisions within three thousand yards of the British outposts. Then precisely at a quarter to five, the whole weight of their many thousand guns was released against the British forward and battle zones, headquarters, communications, and artillery position, the back areas especially p150 being drenched with gas which hung like a pall in the moist and heavy air.
•Twenty miles and more behind the line, even as far back as the streets of Saint‑Pol, shells were dropping from the high-velocity guns. Nor was the shelling confined to the battle-front. The French felt it in wide sections east and northeast of Rheims; it was violent north of Arras and on the line between La Bassée and the Lys; Messines and the Ypres area were heavily attacked and Dunkirk bombarded from the sea. In this inferno let loose, the British divisions, surprised and overwhelmed by numbers, were swept back mile after mile until their reserves had all been flung in, outposts resisting to the last, batteries fighting with only a man or two in the gun teams, handfuls desperately counter-attacking and snatching safety for others with their own lives.
In this grave extremity, when it seemed as though the enemy could not be stopped short of Calais and Dunkirk, Lieutenant Chevalier gallantly offered his pilots, men, and equipment to assist the British Air Force in that sector. The Americans reported to Captain Lambe for orders and for three weeks took part in bombing raids on Zeebrugge, low bombing raids on enemy billets and trenches, attacks on German destroyers, and patrols against hostile submarines. Lieutenant Gates was attached to Squadron 217 whose aerodrome was situated on the outskirts of Dunkirk. It flew DH‑4 machines.
German destroyers at Bruges
Dave Ingalls, Kenneth MacLeish, and 'Shorty' Smith arrived at the Dunkirk station from the training schools in Scotland just in time for the big show. These three pilots and Lieutenant Haviland were promptly loaned to Squadron 213, R. A. F., which happened to be doing sea patrol with Camel machines. This disappointed Ingalls who was eager to mix it up without losing a minute, but he admitted that it 'was great fun, for there was always a p151 chance of a scrap.' In his letters to his parents, written during this period of service with the British, he indicates that he found it diverting.
March 22, 1918
We left Paris early yesterday morning and arrived in Dunkirk at about seven o'clock. It is certainly great to be here, and there is a great bunch of fellows. The C. O. and Lieutenants live in one house and all of us Ensigns live on the shore in a wonderful old French mansion. The food is perfect, — we have a piano, plenty of stoves to keep nice and warm, and a phonograph but no decent records.
It was quite exciting riding out from the station to see the wrecked buildings. The night before last there was a destroyer bombardment, which I was glad to miss, although the shells from a destroyer are not nearly so dangerous as a bomb from an aeroplane; there are more of them, and more noise. Last night after dinner every now and then the siren would blow, a barrage would be put up, and we could hear the twin motors of the Boche machines going on up coast to bomb some other city. Of course, one may always hear the bigger guns at the front firing; they are just at the right distance to lull one to sleep.
This morning, as it was misty, there was no flying, but it cleared up about ten, and so this afternoon there were a lot of machines up, although at present there are not enough scouts for all of us. I got up in the flight officer's scout for a short hop. I had not flown a pontoon machine for some time, but it was very easy, and I had a great ride, stunting, etc. There is no telling when my machine may get here and so there will be little to do for a time. Just before I went up, a Boche photographic plane came over, and immediately a barrage was put up. It was very pretty to see the large puffs of smoke when the shells burst all about the machine, which beat it for home as soon as the barrage was started.
After flying was called off, we had a game of baseball on the beach. It is about the first real exercise I have had since leaving southern France, and it was certainly fun. It will be great when warmer weather comes and we can also swim.
At last I can appreciate that there is some truth in that saying, 'Sunny France.' After gloomy, foggy England, a sight of the sun is pretty slick.
p152 The day before we left Paris, we saw Mr. H. P. Davison and had a short chat with him. He was a most busy man and was on his way up to the front. Every one was crazy about him. He made several awfully good speeches in Paris, tho' I didn't hear any of them. From what he said, I don't expect Harry Jr. will be over for some time, tho', he, Harry, I know wants to come very much.
When I hear about the training the fellows have had, I certainly thank my stars that I was trained in England. Well, Dad, I hope mother has sent some phonograph records, they would be most enjoyed; also some more of that block chocolate. It is very popular. Must go to bed — Here's hoping that our sleep is not disturbed by any bombs as a result of potting that Hun photographer.
March 27, 1918
To‑day has been really the first dull day since my arrival, high wind and a bit of rain; therefore, as said wind is blowing toward Germany, the Huns are fixed and cannot annoy us with their boresome shells. Also no aeroplanes could fly to‑night. This little act of nature's is particularly pleasing to me because I am officer of the day, and in the event of shelling or raids I should have not only to depart from my warm couch at every warning and tear out in the cold night air to a hot and stuffy dugout, but I should also be compelled to compel the men to do the same; and they have had very little sleep for this reason. Thank goodness, our palace is far removed from the camp and its proximity to the docks, etc., which the Huns endeavor to destroy.
The French brought down a German photographer here a day or so ago. I missed the pleasant spectacle, but all the audience said it was a beautiful sight. Indeed it is extremely difficult to find any sympathy, love, and affection in anyone toward these people.
Last night was quite interesting from the viewpoint of a peace loving man like myself. The Huns endeavored to bomb us, but were repeatedly thwarted by the most excellent barrage which the French A. A. gunners put up. I think perhaps they did drop one or two bombs but in vain and what is far better several of them were brought down. Maybe their defeat will keep them away for a time. After we were warned of their approach we went onto the porch outside our rooms and viewed the proceedings. At times one could hear the motors exceedingly plainly. p153 They were evidently very low. As they came over a beautiful barrage would go up, the shrapnel bursting all over the Heavens — seemingly fruitlessly but really most effectually. Of course, it being a fine night, they afterwards did a bit of shelling too.
This German advance and British retreat is greatly disturbing every one. It is, to be sure, a very critical point and a lucky or skillful success by the Allies would, I should think, form the last chapter. But here we know very little of what is going on. I wish I could look ahead a week or so, but I think the dog‑gone Germans have bitten off a bite too much, that they are taking a last chance and it is liable to turn out pretty slim. Even a partial success won't help them much.
As I have said, I am officer of the day, and as such am helping the Doctor censor the men's mail, a thing I have wanted very much to do, to find out their moral and feelings. They are, I think, taking everything in the right way, and are cheerful, and never complain.
During the last few days I have played cards with the Doc. and had tea with him. He is almighty fine fellow, very clever, a Rhodes scholar who has been to Oxford and Germany for quite a while and has traveled all over. He's a great talker, and I certainly like to listen to him. This afternoon he quoted poetry of all sorts for about an hour. How the deuce he can do it I don't see.
April 11, 1918
In order to take advantage of the prevailing dud weather a bombing raid was brought about to‑day. This raid has been impending for several days now, but certain conditions are requisite. And so this afternoon, with the clouds •about 1500 feet, a number of the pilots were selected, and small bombs attached to the machines.
After the weather had been tested, we all got off shortly after lunch, everyone quite excited, due both to the fact that such a raid is unusual and also because it had been so long coming. As soon as we left the ground we headed out to sea. I happened to be second, and then ran along just below the clouds •about five miles out to sea. Down so low it was very warm, and quite comfortable flying along, but I could not for the life of me clearly distinguish the shore, until finally we ran over the fishing boats which always lie outside this objective.
The leader turned in and up into the clouds, and I followed, p154 then catching the sight of the nice big target. But unfortunately turning so fast set my compass swaying, and when I thought myself in position and dove down, I was nowhere near. I had in fact made a half-circle. So up again into the clouds only to repeat my failure. Each time I came down, I couldn't understand why nothing was shot at me. Finally at the third attempt I came down in great position, and dove upon the innocent-looking place to run into a lot of tracers, as those bullets are called which leave a sort of flash from the powder in the rear. The necessity of our dropping the bomb from a low altitude gives their machine-guns business.
Although an approximate height is given us beforehand at which to let go, my altimeter being out of order, I went down, turning from side to side, until the correct thing for me seemed to be to beat it. Therefore, pulling the release lever, and opening the motor, I beat a retreat. And the enveloping clouds were a most pleasant locality. Of course we were all scattered in the clouds, so I saw nothing of the rest of the flight from the time we turned in, till I returned to the aerodrome. Several reasons prevented me from seeing what my bomb hit, but upon questioning the others, I found that I was not the only one in doubt.
Kenneth MacLeish was tasting the fiery exhilaration of it and found this experience with a British combat squadron intensely absorbing. In one of the following letters describing it, you find him so happy he 'can't see straight.' 'Can you ever conceive of anything that's more sport?' It was the chance for which he had been yearning, and now ideals and action could be blended in the exaltation that is peculiarly vouchsafed when duty is whetted to a keen edge by perilous adventures. His letters written at this time are purged of all disappointment or discouragement.
At last I'm up where the sport is and you may believe me when I say it is sport, if ever there was any. The second day I came I went up in a machine and was flying around having a wonderful time, when I happened to look up. Right over my head there was a Hun taking photographs and the 'Archies' were bursting around me by the thousand. I learned at school that what goes up must come down, and I also learned at school p155 that one should avoid being in the way when heavy articles want to come down. I then decided, after no thought on the matter, and less delay, that the best place for your youngest son was some distance below and away from the spot I was then in. So I descended with great alacrity.
As a welcome, the Huns shelled the place from the water, but they suffered for their pains as you probably read in the papers. I don't mind bombs, but this business of shooting real bullets at one's head gets tiresome after a few seconds. We get bombed every night, but that isn't bad. The worst thing is that big gun up the line which shoots a shell •five feet high, •seventeen inches in diameter, and weighing •1900 pounds. Last night they shelled us until five this morning every three or four minutes with one lapse about midnight. That really is a bit hard on one's nerves, because when the shells explode it nearly shakes one out of bed. All the shells landed within •half a mile of the house but none very close, as we're out of range, or very hard to reach, as we are not near what they are shooting at, but the base is.
Fifteen-inch German gun 'Loegenboom' which fired on Dunkirk
I have been made temporary ordnance officer. I'm in charge of all guns, bombs, ammunition, sights, etc. It's just the job for me, as it simply fascinates me. There is lots of sport attached to it, too. I had to carry eight bomb detonators in my hand on a springless truck over the world's worst road. At every bounce I pushed the things away from me, and said, 'Good‑bye, Kenney!'
Those Bums! They're at it again to‑night with the big gun. I just heard the siren, but didn't think it was that. I thought it was just another bombing raid. The siren just blew four times. That means a land bombardment. It will blow now, once every time they see the flash in the sky which signifies the departure of the shell •some twenty miles away.
A wild rumor they shelled Paris from the lines — that's nearly •sixty miles. That's too much for me — twenty is quite enough to overwork my imagination, but the Boches have perhaps been rude enough to disregard my imagination. I have no machine yet, so I won't go on patrols for a little while. But this ordnance job will keep me busy for some time to come. You ought to see the barrage they put up against these Hun machines! It's perfectly beautiful at night, with the flashes and 'flaming onions,' etc. I guess it's ticklish work for the old boys.
p156 April 5
I'm so happy I can't see straight. I'm actually on fighting patrols, and I actually fly over Hun land! Can you ever conceive of anything that's more sport? You should have seen me on my first patrol. I'll never forget it. I'd never been so high in my life. You know when you get up real high — •about four miles up — the air is so rarefied that if you move around much, or exercise yourself — you begin to pant and feel as though you had run a fast 100‑yard dash. And cold!!! Wow! Thank the Lord they don't make it that cold down near the ground! We went way, way back behind the Hun lines; you could see the lines stretching away in the distance marked on either side by flecks of smoke from the artillery, and back a ways by captive balloons — mere specks so far down, and they were up a few thousand feet. I had a good look at two of the Hun's biggest bases — in fact, three. It gave me an odd feeling, to think that it was up to me to try to destroy those cities lying apparently so peacefully below, way down there below the clouds. I couldn't see why, at first, but suddenly I changed as I heard a ping and a screech, and saw a puff of smoke below me. It was "Archie." He wasn't very friendly, though, thank goodness — that is, he wasn't near enough to worry us.
Pretty soon, way below, we spied a couple of seaplanes. We worked around to get between them and the sun and then dove. The poor bugs didn't see us at all. I was so engrossed with my guns and my sights that I didn't watch the leader. To my surprise, when I looked up, he had come out of the dive and turned away. I held a consultation with myself, a hurried one, in which we decided, myself and I, after no deliberation, that being alone with a couple of Huns on my first patrol was a rather big mouthful. I decided not to open up until they did, because I suspected something funny when the leader turned off. I remembered the old trick the Huns have of leaving a couple of fat two‑seaters apparently unguarded, and when they are almost attacked the Huns appear in myriads, apparently from nowhere. I therefore 'pulled myself to pieces' and took stock of things. There wasn't a Hun in the sky — not one below me. That was strange, and I began to feel a severe chill about the ankles. In the meantime, my patrol was about out of sight in the distance. I looked at the Hun seaplanes again and I nearly died laughing. They were Allied machines! I certainly was the goat, all of that. I'll never p157 hear the end of it. I don't care, though, as I certainly had all the sensations I could calmly (?) take care of. If they had opened up, I should probably have remembered that I was due to be some miles away, and was late already. . . .
Just a word or two which will shatter all your illusions about the flying game. It may be great sport some of the time, but when it isn't sport it's positive torture. Yesterday, for instance, we were ordered up in a rain. The clouds were low, and visibility almost impossible. All we did was get wet, cold, and mad, also frightfully 'Archied,' as we were low and beautifully silhouetted against the clouds. To‑day was worse than any torture I've read about. It was horrible! In the first place we went •four thousand feet higher than I've ever been before in my life. I had on a pair of silk gloves, next to my hands, a pair of rubber gloves over that, and then a warm, fur‑lined, fur‑covered pair of flying gloves. That combination is the warmest possible, to my mind, yet I froze two fingers absolutely solid, and my thumb and one other finger were frost-bitten. The altitude gave me the worst headache I've ever had. Of course, there was practically no pressure up there because it is halved at only seven or eight thousand feet. It affected me strangely. At first it was nauseating, then I felt weak and dizzy; finally, after about half an hour I got used to it, and the only effect was a splitting headache, and a funny noise in my ears, evidently due to the lack of pressure; the veins around my ears expanded abnormally at every heart beat, and cut off my hearing entirely, so that when my heart throbbed I couldn't even hear the terrific roar of my motor, or the tat‑tat-tat‑tat of my machine guns which were firing •eight or ten inches from my face. I was winded, of course, all the time, and felt stifled, but every one is. I was in this condition for over an hour, under some really enterprising 'Archie' fire. So you see, flying isn't all the milk and honey that it's cracked up to be, but, by George, I wouldn't give it up for all the love, money and marbles on earth. It's too fascinating. The clouds were beautiful. They were those huge columns of great bulging puffs that almost make you frantic because you can't jump out of your bus and roll around in them. If I ever become demented, that's the first thing I'll try.
p158 213th Squadron, 61st Wing,
Royal Air Force, April 11, 1918
I don't know of anything else to write about except myself, so you must tolerate a bit of egotism. This little stunt we had to‑day will suffice to give you all a thrill, as I had one starting with ankles and gradually going all over my body. They rigged out scouts up with bomb-carrying devices for little bombs. The idea was a bombing raid in broad daylight. For a good time, give me one of those things! Wow, I don't think I'll ever get over it. The clouds were only •a thousand feet up, and we were to get near our objective, climb into the clouds, and when we thought we were directly over, dive down to •about three or four hundred feet and let go our pills. The first man over had a wonderful time — they didn't even shoot at him. The second a little hot weather, the third some real hot weather, the fourth had a ––––– of a time, the fifth had to turn back and try it again, the sixth wasn't much more successful. Then I came! In my wildest dreams of all hell turned loose, I never pictured anything like that. There must have been a thousand machine-guns working a twenty-four-hour a day schedule. The tracer bullets were doing loops and split-turns around my neck. I got dizzy watching them. I put my finger on both triggers and had my two guns going full blast while I dove. It was no use. I saw in a second that I could never get there. The rapid-fire pom‑poms were putting up a barrage in front of me, and it was getting closer and closer as I dove. There were so many bursts of smoke that I lost sight of the target. I thought of Home and Mother and zoomed back into the clouds to wait until it quieted down. When I came out again, I was completely lost — I couldn't even see land. I flew by compass until I came to the coast and, thinking I was east of my objective, began to work west along the coast, being 'Archied' to blazes every foot of the way, first on one ear, then on the other, and once in a while on my back.
I came to a town I had never seen before and thought I was in Holland. I kept on and finally came to a town I knew, but it was •twenty-five miles west of my objective. I didn't like the idea of going back, so as this town was an excellent objective I at once decided to drop my pills there instead. I looked around for my target, found it, and went into the clouds. After flying for a second or two, to my horror I popped out of the clouds into a patch of perfectly blue sky, only •twelve hundred feet up, and p159 directly over the hottest 'Archie' battery the Huns have. I thought I was gone sure, but I guess the Huns were as surprised as I was, and about as scared, because I dove on them, both guns doing their –––––dest. I dove right for the 'Archie' battery first, and you should have seen those blokes drop their work and find that they had a date miles away. Lord! did they run! Then I levelled off, dropped my pill, and absorbed myself in the business of getting back to the clouds, without flying straight for a second. Do you know, they never even fired a single shot at me.
When I got back I expected to find that the bus had been riddled with bullet holes, but to my surprise there wasn't one. I was disappointed and tickled to death at the same time — this combination causes one to itch violently. I learn something every day. To‑day I learned never to be the last machine in a daylight, low‑bombing stunt. I may know enough to keep out of trouble one of these days. One never knows, does one? No, but two does — isn't they?
213th Squadron, 61st Wing,
Royal Air Force, April 11, 1918
Dearest Aunt Mary:
It seems a year since I've written to you, but as you see by the title above, things have changed with me and life has become strenuously active. I'm so glad that I could take part in this, the greatest battle of the war.
My part today in the great war was one I shan't forget for many a year. We had a low, daylight bombing stunt. Dropping small bombs from little scout machines, at an altitude of three hundred feet in broad daylight is my idea of the most sincere and earnest way of asking for trouble. Well, we all got back alive, so why worry?
Up at •twenty thousand feet it was so cold that the alcohol in my compass froze solid, and the castor oil in my oil gauge froze solid. I wouldn't dare tell you how many degrees below zero it was. You wouldn't believe me, but just ask some physicist. We had to sit perfectly still up there for an hour and a half to protect some artillery spotting machines. I actually winced all over with the pain every time my heart beat. I don't see yet why my head didn't pop open. I really doubted, before I got used to it, whether I could stick it out. I felt faint and weak; I couldn't get my breath; I was winded all the time. But my orders were to stay p160 over the spotters. So over them I stayed, but I expected to faint any moment.
Add to that the fact that those ––––– Huns were shooting at us with six‑inch anti-aircraft guns every second and you have an enjoyable afternoon with the airmen. If only some Hun machines had come along, and we could have picked a scrap, all would have been well, because one even forgets one's name in a scrap, let alone the fact that he is freezing to death.
Oh, it's a wonderful, wonderful game, in spite of the uncomfortable high patrols. A man can use his skill and his brain, and once in a while his nerve, if he has any. It's glorious. I wouldn't trade my existence for any other in the world; and even if I should be called upon to give my life for these ideals that I love so dearly, though it might seem an untimely death to some, I am perfectly happy in knowing that I have lived.
On April 20th, the American airmen returned to their own station at Dunkirk and resumed the interrupted routine. The last colossal effort of the German military power to break the deadlock and hammer out a victory had been checked and thwarted. The battle of the Lys, as this prolonged agony was called, smouldered into May and flared here and there until the lines were stabilized, but the issue was decided in those first three weeks when France and England finally merged their forces under Marshal Ferdinand Foch. This was the master-stroke that marked the beginning of the end. The armed strength of America finished it.
Offices and sick-bay, Dunkirk
C. O.'s office, Dunkirk
The naval air station at Dunkirk seemed almost like a bit of flotsam on the tremendous tide of conflict, and yet the intrinsic worth of human achievement is to be measured by other standards than those of size and numbers. Men are great, though there be but a handful of them, so long as they ignore discouragements, laugh at obstacles, and regard duty as preferable to life.
To Dave Ingalls and Kenneth MacLeish, after their service with the elaborately equipped British air squadrons, it was an anti-climax to return to the station down p161 among the Dunkirk quays. 'Di' Gates, as Chief Pilot, was struggling to keep his sea patrols going with meager equipment and the lack of almost everything except a splendid personnel which grumbled only because it could not get more fighting. MacLeish can bring before you some typical incidents of those weeks late in the spring of 1918.
Dunkirk, France, May 6, 1918
Well, may I never see another day like this one. If I do, I'll fall over dead. To begin with, two big machines went out on a patrol alone. One got into a spin and crashed, killing the front observer and seriously injuring the pilot. The rear observer saw what was coming, threw his guns overboard and braced himself for the shock. When he came to, he had a broken leg, but that was all. In that condition he sent in three messages by pigeon, rescued the pilot, and dove for the front observer, but though he could touch him he couldn't clear him from the wreckage, and his body went down when the front half of the bus sank. That's quite a stunt for a man with a broken leg, and badly shaken up, isn't it? He is made of the right stuff. The other machine came to the rescue, and with five men on board started to sink. Two other machines and two scouts went out, followed by another big machine. It reached the wreck and took all the load it could. One of the scouts arrived, saw what the situation was, brought two motor boats over, and just skinned into harbor as his motor completely wrecked. Two or three of the big rescuing machines collapsed before they got in. Only one of the seven machines came back without a mishap. Dave Ingalls was in one of the scouts, and he left about ten this morning. At five this afternoon nothing had been heard from him. At seven nothing. You can imagine how I felt, if you know what close friends Dave and I are. My motor was completely down at noon. I put on some overalls and my mechanic and I had the motor up and running at seven o'clock. Two big machines went out at seven, but came back with no news. While they were out, nine Huns came over. I could only guess at what had happened to Dave. I loaded my guns and set out to find him or to get even with somebody — I didn't know who. Just then a telephone message came through. Where do you suppose that kid was? Way down by Le Havre! He had just hit the coast in time. A p162 few more miles and he would have been out in the Atlantic. I wish you could have seen the expression on the sailors' faces, from wornout despair to a four-foot grin, all at once.
There is a terrific artillery duel up at the front tonight. I've never heard such a scrap. The sky is just aflame with the flashes.
I expect the Huns will be over again tonight. It happens every single night in the week when the weather is good, and if it weren't for the fact that the French have installed about six new, loud 'Mournful Marys,' I would be able to sleep through it. I'm dead tired, because for three days straight I was up at four for an early patrol and didn't get to bed until midnight for various reasons. I got eight hours sleep out of forty-eight and fourteen out of seventy‑two. Add to this a day like to‑day and you have a weary son. I can scarcely keep my eyes open. This game can't compare with the sport we had with the English. I haven't even seen a Hun here, let alone have a scrap. We used to have scraps and bombing parties before. Those were the good old days.
May 12, 1918
Well, we're under way again here at the seaplane base. It took a long time to get started and a good many men gave up their lives, but it's working now. I have been on a few patrols this week, not over six or seven hours' flying, so I'm far from tired. The weather insists on being abominable, but what can you expect? This is sunny (?) France. Nothing interesting happened until Thursday. I usually sleep through the air raid, but we had one Thursday night that nobody in this house slept through. I slept through the first half, I've discovered, but sort of subconsciously I heard the screech of a bomb as it whistled through the air. It came in the form of the most sickening thud and the most frightful explosion I ever heard in my life. It bounced me out of bed, and my old legs were working before I hit the floor. Result: when my feet did touch the floor, I crashed into the wall on the other side of the room. But I wheeled around and dove for the bed just as the first brick hit the roof overhead. I got under the covers, and you should have heard the débris falling. It hit the building behind ours, a three story brick building. It just crumpled it up into the basement. Even the wreckage wasn't •ten feet high. I don't know where all the débris went, p163 but enough bricks to build three houses like it seemed to fall on the roof over my head. Luckily, like most buildings in town, it was deserted, so no one was hurt. Now I can't sleep through air raids any more, which is very disconcerting when you have an early patrol on.
Nothing interesting happened Friday. Yesterday the 'skipper' called all pilots into his office and asked how many wanted to fly two‑seater land machines that carry •460 pounds of bombs. I thought this would be more apt to show action than these seaplane patrols, so I said I did. At least, we'll have a better chance of getting at the subs, although after about five hours of patrol •some thirty miles out to sea in land machines, I swore never to try it again. But I hear they have a new invention which isn't cumbersome, and which will float a machine for seven hours. If the motors are any good and the mechanics are good, I won't mind at all.
My old flight commander out at 213 Squadron got three Huns in three minutes a few days ago. And the boy who flew opposite me in the flight got one. Pretty fair show, what? One of those chaps is a crazy nut. He got a bullet in the leg in a scrap, but instead of going home he chased the Hun all the way back to his aerodrome. Then he went home and they sent him to the hospital. In ten days he was back. He had orders not to fly, but one day he took an old pair of shoes and wrote out a note which he tucked inside of them. In addition, he took two •fifteen-pound bombs. He went over to this Hun's aerodrome and came away down low and played around waiting for somebody to come up and fight him. Nobody came up, so he dropped the shoes with this note inside: 'You are too damned scared to come up and scrap me, I see, so here's a pair of boots for ground duty.' When the Huns ran out on the 'drome to pick up the boots, he dropped his two fifteen-pound bombs on them and came home.
Dave Ingalls began to feel low in his mind for lack of excitement and because of vile weather. Also he had to look forward to another dose of training, in the Army school at Clermont-Ferrand, and this threatened to ruin his amiable temper. To his mother and father he spluttered as follows:
p164 May 13, 1918
As you may have become aware by the above address, I am on duty to‑night, and am inclined to be thankful that the weather is perfectly punk, thus eliminating any chance of some Boche monstrosity, i.e., an air raid or big‑gun shoot, which would necessitate my being awake the greater part of the night. Which little thing when coupled with the certainty of my having an early morning patrol would by no means raise my spirits.
It has rained all day, in fact if I had thought to count rainy days, I believe that common sense would urge me to build a raft. It seems to rain here in every month at least forty days and nights. I really can't understand why the inhabitants are not web‑footed. At any rate they soon will be. There is a rumor to the effect that the army will soon be compelled to give up land aeroplanes and take to pontoon machines and boats.
Well, Muzzy, a couple of days ago I wrote Dad that I was in for more training. That is almost a joke, isn't it? Honestly if my further training in aviation should ever definitely end, I should feel quite lost. But I wish that my last six months of training would begin soon and would be situated in a place as pleasant as the first six. Tho' it would be impossible to equal Palm Beach and Huntington.
May 17, 1918
Lately we have, by some strange freak, had fine weather, and as a result, every night here has been most picturesque and interesting. With a beautiful new moona shining down upon the smooth sea, with countless Archie batteries barking along the coast for miles on each side, with shrapnel bursting high in the heavens, whence comes — during the lulls between salvos — the distinct and never-to‑be-mistaken hum of the Boche flown motors, with the many far‑reaching searchlights, star shells, flaming onions, and the occasional rattle of machine guns — the last defense against some daring Hun, who has slipped through the barrage, and, coming in low over the city to drop his load of bombs, has become plainly visible to those on the ground — with all this, I say Dunkirk at night is a wonderful sight.
In the actions of the inhabitants, however, little of the strain in which they live is apparent. For, as I sit upon the porch overlooking the beach, I see many couples, sprung from every nation, p165 wandering about arm in arm, watching others who bathe, in spite of the cold, or lie about on the sun‑warmed sands.
And in the channels just off the coast, loom majestically the Hun destroyers. While continually planes of every sort and description soar overhead, either steadily climbing towards the front, or, throttled down, half gliding back to rest — their dangerous tasks completed. Now, when the evening quiet has fallen, the low rumble of the guns on the lines becomes more audible, and often, at the explosion of one of the heavier guns, the house shakes, and the whole earth seems to tremble, as if in response to some mighty Satanic blow. Surely it is well called 'Tragic Dunkirk.' Fortunately, however, during bad weather there is absolutely nothing doing here. So we make up for lost sleep and quiet down a bit then.
Yesterday was an unlucky one for our station. One of our boats on patrol crashed landing at sea, and one of the observers is missing. A pigeon brought the message, so we went out to try and find them and help.
I went in a scout, and due to the wind shifting and my compass being at fault, I got lost in the misty weather, and after flying for about two and a half hours, landed by a fishing boat on account of being nearly at the end of petrol and oil. The boat was a French schooner and they towed me in to Fecon,º •about a hundred miles down the coast from Dunkirk. It took so long to get in, about five or six hours, that I was unable to return after getting filled up and had to stop at Dieppe at a French seaplane base for the night.
As I had set out in a hurry to try and give immediate assistance, I had no tunic, cap, or money. But fortunately the French Commander is a fine fellow, and put me up for the night, and introduced me to the American Consul where I had lunch to‑day. The latter is very nice and supplied me with funds, besides asking me to a dance at his house tonight. He has two daughters, who altho they have never been in America talk and act quite naturally. And so, weather permitting, I'll return tomorrow after a very pleasant time.
But you should have seen me trying to make the fishing men and the mechanics here understand what I wanted. My French is about as good as my Italian, i.e., très mal. But the funniest part was my great surprise and wonder of what had happened to all of France, when after going •about twenty miles straight p166 out, I turned around and flew, for almost two hours, toward what I thought was Dunkirk. I honestly thought that perhaps the Germans had really wiped France off the map.
And you should perceive your son, dressed up in a borrowed coat of an English officer's, cap, and wearing a leather flying coat, about Dieppe. Hereafter besides gas and petrol I shall carry with me a dress suit and top hat. This morning I called up Di at our base to let them know where I was. They thought I had become bored with the war and had flown home to U. S. A. Poor old 'Shorty', you know whom I mean, has always been made sick by flying and the other day he had a physical exam. and was declared unfit for flying. So now all he is is a ground officer in charge of repairs. Of course he feels very badly about it, and it is certainly a shame.
Clermont-Ferrand was not such a happy experience as Dunkirk. Ingalls could hand it no bouquets, and MacLeish found that he also disliked the way the Army did things. In this they were living up to naval tradition. MacLeish said it for both of them when he wrote home:
I was awfully disappointed with the United States Army. This is the first time I have come in contact with the real organization. Up at Dunkirk we used to treat army men with every possible courtesy, give them transportation, and do all that we could for them. In return, they have refused to issue us blankets, mattresses, transportation, and any comfort whatsoever. They have quartered us with our enlisted men, which is absolutely prohibited in the Navy, and they have given us the same sort of quarters they give their own enlisted men. Of course it's all right; they are living up to regulations to the letter, but I certainly never shall forget the lack of courtesy and decency.
. . . The country down here is, without any exception, the most beautiful I have ever seen. I admit with some malice that this is the first time I have seen the weather behave itself for two weeks straight since October. Every day is a perfect day and every night is glorious. Aviation usually takes away from mountains, and to monotonous plains, but in this case scenery rather than efficiency was sought, and the result is that the countryside is beautiful beyond words, but the places to land are p167 as scarce as hens' teeth, with the result that every time there is a forced landing the machine is totally wrecked and the Government loses $17,000 and an aviator or two.
I don't know how long this course will last, but with this perfect weather it can't last long. It certainly is a let‑down to come from the front where I was ordnance officer, in charge of all armorers, bombs, ammunition, etc., as well as flight commander in charge of two hangars and their crews, and also of five other pilots, to this place where I was, until recently, under every pilot in the school in rank, and where I am given a demerit or put in bounds for trifling little things by men who haven't had half the experience I have had, or been in the service half as long.
a The moon was new on May 10, and by the 17th she was in her first quarter. The writer is, as indeed he says, clearly looking back over the past few days.
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