A group of infantry in our front line trench watching the boiling eddying smoke and spurting fires of our artillery barrage on the enemy lines saw a couple of planes whirl suddenly up into sight above and beyond the barrage smoke. They were diving and twisting about each other like a couple of tumbler pigeons in flight, or rather, since one was obviously pursuing the other closely, like a pigeon hard pressed by a hawk. The excitement of the infantry turned to disgust as they caught plain sight of the markings on the machines, saw that the pursued was a British machine, the pursuer a black-crossed German. And when the British machine came rocketting and whirling through the barrage smother in plain flight from the German, who dared not follow through the wall of falling and bursting shells, the disgust of the men on the ground was openly and angrily expressed.
Now these Hun raids and bomb-droppings had been becoming unpleasantly frequent for a little time before this, and all our patrols had special orders to keep a sharp look-out for bombers and make things as hot for them as possible. The Hun was coming to specialise on rapid dashes over our lines, the hurried dropping of their eggs, and a hasty bee-line flight for home. Our infantry and our batteries were a good deal annoyed by these attentions, and naturally and very simply wanted to know why our flying men didn't \"stop these blighters coming and going as they liked.\" This, of course, is a delusion of the men on the ground.[Pg 110] The Huns were very far from doing as they liked, but since the air (for flying purposes) is twenty odd thousand feet high, and as long as the line, it takes a lot of policing against tip-and-run raids, especially when you remember that machines can pass within quite a few hundred yards of each other and never know the other is there. The groundlings don't recognise these facts, much less the incidental possibilities of Huns sneaking over under cover of clouds and so on, and it must be confessed the airmen, as a rule, don't take many pains to enlighten them, even when they do get talking together. On the ground, again, they know nothing of the Hun bombers chased back and brought down well behind their own lines, and nothing of the raids which are caught and interrupted, as the one I'm telling of was about to be.
But Solly argued, protested so eagerly, that the Major gave in. The mechanics bustled and swarmed about \"The Kiddie,\" filling the oil and petrol tanks, securing her light bombs on the racks fitted under her, replacing the expended rounds of machine-gun ammunition. And before Morton had finished his smoke or had the boot and sock cut from his foot, Solly was off. One might have imagined \"The Kiddie\" as eager as himself, her engine starting up at the first swing of the prop, roaring out in the deep, full-noted song that tells of perfect firing and smooth running. Solly ran her up, eased off, waved his hand to the two men standing holding the long cords of the chocks at her wheels. The chocks[Pg 153] were jerked clear, \"The Kiddie\" roared up into her top notes again, gathered way, and moved out in a sweeping circle that brought her into the wind, steadied down, gathered speed again across the grass, lifted her tail, and raced another hundred yards, rose and hoicked straight up as if she were climbing a ladder. At a couple of hundred feet up she straightened out and shot away flat, and was off down wind like a bullet.
\"Right-oh,\" \"That's simple,\" \"No Thoroughfare,\" said the Captains, and proceeded about their business. The Flights went off at short intervals, intervals calculated to \"keep the pot a-boiling,\" as closely as possible, to allow no minutes when some of the Squadron would not be on or about the spot to enforce the \"No Thoroughfare\" rule. For the rest of the afternoon they came and went, and came and went,[Pg 189] in a steady string, circling in and dropping to the 'drome to refill hurriedly with fresh stocks of bombs and ammunition, taking off and driving out to the east as soon as they had the tanks and drums filled and the bombs hitched on. They were on scout machines carrying four light bombs and many hundred rounds of ammunition a-piece, and Dennis, the leader of the first Flight, made an enthusiastic report of success on the first return. \"Found the spot all right, Major,\" he said cheerfully. \"The crater reported is there all right, and it has wrecked half the road. There was a working party on it going like steam to fill in the hole, we disturbed the party a whole lot.\"
There was just one hour of light before the time set for the attack, the \"zero hour\" when the infantry would go over the top, and that hour was filled with a final intensive bombardment that set the earth and air quivering like a beaten drum. The \"Gamecock\" and the rest of the Squadron were up and over the lines with the first glint of light, and the fighting scouts were out with them and busily scrapping with any Hun machines that came near or tried to interfere with the artillery and reconnoitring machines.
Immediately after her there fell out of the sky a cluster of machines, wheeling and circling and diving at each other like a swarm of fighting jackdaws. The \"Gamecock\" suddenly found herself involved in a scrimmaging mix-up without her crew knowing who or what was in it. A pair of wings, with thick black crosses painted on them, whizzed across the \"Gamecock's\" bows, and the pilot promptly ripped off a quick burst of fire at her as she passed. \"Never mind them,\" shouted the observer, \"get on with the shoot,\" and leaned out from his cockpit to watch for the fall of the next shell. The \"Gamecock\" resumed her steady circling, while the fight raged round and over her and drifted in wheeling rushes clear of her and away quarter, half a mile to the south. 59ce067264