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Three of nine Lives - Shot down 3 times in the Battle of Cambrai

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Shot down three times during the Battle of Cambrai

Arthur Gould Lee described in his book "No Parachute!", how he was shot down no less but three times,

during the battle of Cambrai. I was so fascinated by his descriptions, that I researched the reports.

I found a map of the Bourlon area at McMaster University, which you can see an excerpt from here.

Then I went into Google StreetView and took shots from the area at Fontaine, where he was shot down

the first time. The excerpt from his book is also about this event. I don't know about you, but I can almost

"re-live" it this way; it brings the book's reports even more to life for me. Here is the author:

Shells were bursting every half-minute in the area, mostly north of the Cambrai road, and I assumed they were British.

As I circled over Fontaine, I glimpsed one crash into a roadside house, which just quietly collapsed to a heap.

I then realised, that a fierce fight was going on for possession of Fontaine. I saw khaki and field figures clustering close

to the walls on either side of the crossroads, firing at one another round corners, but it was all mixed up and there was

nothing I could do there. So I switched my attention to a group of field-greys filtering off the main road southwards into

a large field flanked by a wood and a canal behind it. I dived low and began to spray them, but after one long burst, my

guns jammed, first one then the other.

I slid across the field and banked round the wood, keeping as low as I dared while I tried to rectify the jams. Suddenly,

when I was at about thirty feet, there was a heartstopping roar below me, and the plane lifted at least twenty feet vertically.

For a few seconds I couldn't see, all the blood in me seemed to shoot up in my head, and I gave myself up as a goner,

but seconds later I found I was still alive. A shell had exploded directly underneath me. Chunks of shrapnell tore through

the fabric of the plane, one piece going clang! somewhere in the engine, which didn't stop but vibrated horribly.

I expected the machine to fall to bits, as it began to wobble violently. The joystick felt loose, with no lateral control and the

fore-and-aft like lead. I closed the throttle, switched off, held her off the ground as long as I could, and flopped - I couldn't

call it a landing, but at least I didn't turn over - on the large grassy fieldthat was fortunately still beneath me.

Fortunately, also, there was next to no wind. She trundled along for fifty yards, while I unbuckled my belt, just in case,

then she stopped halfway between the wood I'd just circled and a sunken road. (...)

 

 

 

The third thought was, now to scrounge the watch from it's casing! There I was, sitting in this big field all alone,

with nobody in sight, though fitfull rifle-fire came from Fontaine, half a mile ahead of me. Otherwise all seemed peaceful

enough, and I was trying to wrench the obstinate casing loose when - crak! crak! crak! - and a sharp rattle of gunfire from

my right. Startled, I turned, saw a machine-gun flashing in the trees.

I was out of the cockpit like a jack-in-the-box. I ran as hard as my full flying kit would allow towards the sunken road,

keeping the machine between me and the guns, though I could still hear the vicious crak-ak-ak-ak! as bullets passed fairly

close to me. They were after me because they were the bunch I'd just been shooting up, and they were only 200 yards away,

and I slithered down the bank into the road. I was safe - for the moment. I was gasping for breath - sprinting and flying kit

don't go together.

 

There wasn't a soul to be seen, and I just sat there, getting my wind back and wondering what to do. There was still a crackle

of machine-gun and rifle fire from Fontaine. I gingerly stood up, peered over the bank, and saw khaki-clad figures moving

around buildings on this side of the village. So they were being driven out.

Suddenly I heard footsteps. I had no gun with me, and didn't know what to expect, so I dropped into a funk-hole by the ditch,

one of a line which British or German troops had dug earlier. I kept low until they passed, then looked out - it was a wounded

infantryman, arm in a sling. I caught him up and found he was a Seaforth Highlander. The bullet had gone through his shoulder.

He said they were being pushed out of Fontaine, the Boche had brought up too many troops.

I knew it already, I'd just been shooting some of them up.

 

 

 

As we turned off the road along a hollow which he said led to an advanced dressing station, a Tommy appeared out of a trench

on my left, and asked me to speak to his officer. I had no idea any of our troops were there, but after saying so-long to the High-

lander, I followed him up the trench into breastworks dug round the curve of a rising field.

Here I found myself with the 9th Royal Scots, of the 51st Division. The Company Commander, Captain Maxwell, had seen me

come down, and was surprised I wasn't pipped by the Boche opposite. His men had laid quick bets on wether I'd get away with it.

From the trench I had a good view of my immense field, with the Camel perched there looking pathetically abandoned , and also

of the wood facing us, some 300 - 400 yards distant, which I now learned was La Folie Wood. From here, too, I could see how

the ridge on which Bourlon Wood lies dominates the whole area.

Within seconds of my entering the company dugout, Maxwell produced a bottle of whisky, and gave me a good nip. I needed it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Olham

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Fun stuff Olham! Seeing the actual ground really makes events spring to life from the pages of a book.

 

:good:

shredward

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Thank you, Shredward!

Here are the other two "photos" I took in StreetView, from Lee's landing spots at Anneux (2) and Graincourt (3).

 

 

 

 

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:english_en: Wow, a very interesting story. I was wondering about the machine gun range. Seemed to be long range for a machine gun firing from the Woods ? ( appx 200-250 yards where the Camel landed and out to 400 + yards to the Line Infantry of the Brits.) Good research Herr Olham , the maps and stuff added to a tense tale of an adventurer in WWI. Any Idea if the sunked road was the key point in moving in and out of Fontaine.? or The Woods ? :shok:

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I'm almost glad that I don't live there. I'm afraid I'd have an uncontrollable urge to take a shovel and dig up people's back yards looking for trenchlines.

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Seemed to be long range for a machine gun firing from the Woods ?

La Folie Wood is east of the landing point, Carrick - it's not the Bourlon Wood, which is north of Bourlon.

When you look at my GoogleMap, you'll see, that the distance between La Folie wood and the sunken road

is well within range of a machine gun. (The sunken road is the one leading to Fontaine in north-south direction).

 

Any Idea if the sunked road was the key point in moving in and out of Fontaine.? or The Woods ?

The "sunken road" is only one of six roads all leading in to / out of Fontaine; plus the main road from Cambrai.

The Germans would have rather used the north-easter ones, I guess, while the British must have come from

west-southwestly direction.

 

Jarhead, if you should ever buy a piece of land there after retirement, and you need help with digging... :grin:

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:drinks: Me Too ! and I will bring the shovels and Picks. What excitement digging up the old Lines and spent shell case ings to see who really did what ? There was a History show where they did the digging like that . They found that : Custer's last Stand really wasn't. The last of the 7th Cav was moving around according to the shell case ings.

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You mean they really could still find the shell casings from the guns of General Custer?

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Not only find the casings, but differentiate between those the Sioux used and those of the cavalry. I saw the same show, and it was really quite interesting. The forensics they did, mapping the locations of the shell casings and where bodies had been reportedly found, showed a very different story than the popular mytholgy. The rise where the "Last Stand" took place was really more of a final position in a long retreat from which they could no longer fall back. Which makes more sense to me. It was one of the stops made by my first wife and me on our road trip north when we were transferred to Alaska back in '79. I was never impressed by the defensibility of the location as marked by the monument. The rolling nature of the hills leaves too many blind spots for my taste.

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Very touching, when after all this time the traces can still be found, and read - as if it was only some years ago.

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Shot down three times during the Battle of Cambrai

 

Well done Oltham!!!

 

Nice piece of research to go with the written history! I think it should be added to the Historical Archive on the OFF Forum.

 

Cudos to you!:good: :good: :good:

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Thank you guys!

And if anyone has not read the book yet - I think it is a top read among all English books about WW1 air war;

together with Cecil Lewis' "Sagittarius rising".

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Not only find the casings, but differentiate between those the Sioux used and those of the cavalry. I saw the same show, and it was really quite interesting. The forensics they did, mapping the locations of the shell casings and where bodies had been reportedly found, showed a very different story than the popular mytholgy. The rise where the "Last Stand" took place was really more of a final position in a long retreat from which they could no longer fall back. Which makes more sense to me. It was one of the stops made by my first wife and me on our road trip north when we were transferred to Alaska back in '79. I was never impressed by the defensibility of the location as marked by the monument. The rolling nature of the hills leaves too many blind spots for my taste.

 

Saw that too...quite fascinating!..the same series had the British Disaster at Ishlandwahna (excuse my spelling)

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Herr Mahlo,

 

A tremendous piece of research, and one that helps to bring Lee's account alive as only a picture can. Very well done indeed, and I look forward to reading more of this sort of post - I'm very impressed.

 

Cheers,

Si

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Thank you, Si - I am glad you liked it. Since I had read the book, I always wanted to do this.

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The sortie and forced landing near Fontaine Arthur Gould Lee described as shown above,

happened between the 22nd and 24th of November 1917.

 

Now I found this aerial photography of Anneux and Fontaine-Notre-Dame -

it was taken only ten days later, on 2 December 1917.

We can see Anneux in the front left corner; Fontaine-Notre-Dame in the background.

Lee's second forced landing must have been more or less in the center of this photo.

Note the tank tracks!

 

About the notations on the photo:

Photo Reference 12.L.O.31.

Area Fontaine Notre Dame; Cambrai.

Year 1917

Month 12

Day 2

Time 10:00:00

Oblique Yes

Annotation on Front "U" printed in black ink.

Annotation on Back "Taken for 3rd Army Attack of Bourlon wood.

Dec 1917 (note tank tracks)." written in pencil; number 13 printed and

circled in pencil; "3rd 3, 4th 5, ...order-100" written in blue pencil.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Olham

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Christ, what thoughts must have run through his head flying over that. I'm even more in awe of the man now than when I first read the book.

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When I read, how they have flown one of the missions in thickest mist; when I read how he almost crashed into a huge chimeney;

how he lost his fellow pilot in the fog, who was later found dead in a treetop - and then these three forced landings - one, where he

was so soaked with petrol from his own pierced tank, that he had to reject a cigarette offered to him by an infantry soldier - when I

read all this, I though, what a great courageous character Lee was. You would take your hat off and stand in awe, indeed.

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