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Novel Idea: Thoughts and Opinions Welcomed

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Hi Guys!


I hope the early spring is treating you all well. It feels more like summer here - complete with the heat, humidity, and the allergies!


I'm writing to ask for your feedback. In addition to my usual academic work, I'm also tinkering with a WWI aviator's novel - the kind that we would like to read (hopefully!). I've copied and pasted some various scenes below. I beseech you to read through them and see if you like what you see. Feel free to criticize as much as you need to as well - I want to know if this is something I should pursue or if I should give up and get back to the books! So - I present some scraps from a novel whose working title is "Flight Log". And yes, it is very much inspired by history and OFF (see if you catch the OFF reference in the story). See what you think guys - I really value your opinions and I thank you for them in advance.



Flight Lieutenant William Dearing shivered as he walked into theconfines of his quarters. His flight suit, heavily laden with wool, was soakedthrough to his tunic. His hands were numb and aching from the cold. He pulledoff his skull cap, revealing his wet, matted hair. Pushing his hair to theside, he began to tug his feet out of his wool lined flight boots, which werealso sopping wet from the torrential rain he had spent the last two hoursflying through. Dearing, or Will, as he liked to be called, continued to stripoff his clothes; flight suit, oil and rain drenched scarf, goggles, and tunicuntil he wore only his trousers and his undershirt. Piece by piece, he laideach item by a small fire burning in the corner of his room. Resting his bootson the hearth and placing his heavy flight suit and other items on a wirestrung up by the fire, Dearing walked back to his desk, which sat across fromthe stone fireplace. His quarters, a small one room chateau on the edge of themakeshift airfield, served as a quiet home away from the hectic dangers of thedaily patrols over the front.


Sighing, Will sat at his desk, a small clock ticking by a litkerosene lantern. It was only 11:37 in the morning, but the dark, oppressiveskies caused by the latest wet winter storm made it feel much more likemidnight. The rain pelted against the small yellowed windows by the fireplaceand even the roof seeped in places from the never ending torrent of rain. Whythe Met Office would allow flights in these conditions was beyond Will. Thoughthe patrol had been a quiet one, save a small scrape between his flight and alone Albatros fighter, Will felt unbelievably exhausted.


His numbed fingers grasped for the wooden handle of one of thedrawers of his old desk. No doubt some French landowner once wrote out pensionreports and planned his crops from this space before the war ravaged most ofFlanders. It now served as Will’s sanctuary to write his after action reportsbefore submitting them to his CO, Squadron Commander Harold Tilley. As Willreached for his tattered flight log, handed down to him before leaving Englandfor France some two months ago, he thought about this morning’s flight, and howto best word it for Tilley’s approval. Tilley, a man of nearly thirty withthinning hair, wire rimmed spectacles, and an almost rat-like face, was theoldest pilot in 8 RNAS. While he may have resembled a rodent in appearance, hewas a fierce pilot and a brilliant tactician in the air; leading 8 Squadronsince their deployment to Europe. He was also a stickler for proper spellingand notation in every after action report Dearing turned in.


The 8th served under the Royal Naval Air Service andwas based within flying distance of the English Channel in the north of France.The location certainly didn’t help the daily flying weather, as storm afterstorm blew in off the coast; pelting the aerodrome, the hangers, the planes,and worst of all, the pilots of 8 Squadron for most the winter. While December1916 felt as though it was the coldest in history, it had yet to snow, whichwould have likely grounded the planes of 8 Squadron. Rather it was an endlessseries of patrols in terrible weather with little contact with the enemy that woreon the pilots’ psyche. Indeed, it was the dangers presented by the rain andworst of all, the sudden and violent gusts of wind that could easily snap asupport spar, tear off canvas from an upper wing, or upend an entire plane onlanding that which became the most dreaded enemy in the sky.


Will stiffened in his seat as he fought off another bone rattlingchill. The fireplace was too far from his desk to put out enough heat tocompletely warm him as he wrote. But the desk, made of heavy mahogany, was inno condition to be dragged across the chateau floor. Will hunkered down,shivered once more, and began to fill out his latest after action report. Willhad developed a system for report writing. First, he filled out the officialforms used by 8 Squadron; noting the date, time, altitude, location of anyenemy contacts, the duty of the day’s patrol, the wingmen in his flight, the aircraftthey used, and in the event of combat, as complete of a debriefing as he couldgive. Will painstakingly filled out the form, making sure his penmanship was asneat as his bitterly cold fingers could muster and that his notations were upto Tilley’s stringent requirements. Will finished his form with his signatureand placed it aside to dry. Usually he would copy his notes from his flight,but the rain had so pelted the tattered scraps of paper used during the patrolthat most of it was illegible, leaving will to recount the morning entirelyfrom memory.


Will’s second step was a much more personal one; refined fromnearly two months of combat operations over the Western Front.


He sat back in his wooden chair and ran his fingers through hisnearly dry hair that still sat matted to his forehead. His fingers slid throughthe thin layer of grease that still covered much of his face. Castor oil, thecommon aviation lubricant of the day, seemed to soak into every crevice of yourskin once you had been showered with it for nearly two hours, and it neverseemed to leave. Will’s Sopwith Pup sent nearly six quarts of oil over the sideevery patrol; spraying the plane, the pilot, and anything behind it. It alsotasted terrible and frequently caused diarrhea; a rather unpleasant side affectfor a pilot strapped in the tight confines of a cockpit for several hours at atime. He looked down at the worn flight log, with its dark blue cover, goldlettering, and broken spine. He knew it was time to add another entry,especially after this morning’s nerve-racking experience. Will pulled out hispen, checked his wrist watch, thought, “Next patrol is at 16:45, I have plentyof time,” and started to write.


12, December 1916.


Flew anotherpatrol this morning over the Front Lines near Arras. Weather is still terrible.Cold rain, high winds, low cloud cover, and abhorrent visibility hamper aerialoperations and yet we are still sent up every day. When will this atrociousweather end? No doubt it will be Spring again before these winter squalls stoppelting us daily – and then we’ll be back in the thick of it, another Offensiveand the Boche up in numbers. Thankfully, for the time being, we have excellentpilots around us and our Sopwith Pups have been serving us well enough.


My flighttook off this morning at around 09:45, heading Northeast for a patrol of thefront. Our assignment was to make troop notations for our artillery. Theweather, however, had different intentions from ours and visibility was so poorover the lines that it was difficult to even find the damn trenches, let alonedifferentiate troop positions. What notes I did make were promptly thrashed bythe terrible weather, leaving us with little more than soppy, tattered scrapsof paper to show to Tilley upon our return. We did have an interesting exchangeof sorts, with a poor lone Boche pilot who must have been as lost over ourlines as we were!


Near the townof Arras my flight of three Pups spotted a small brown speck moving alone alongthe country side. Fearing a trap, I quickly scanned the skies – the Hun arewell known to set a pilot down low as bait, lure in a flight of overly eagerpilots, and then jump them from altitude – yet with the weather so thick andpoor, it was impossible to see more than a thousand feet overhead. Surely, ifthere was a trap to be laid, those who set it would never see us below. Infact, it turned out not to be a ploy at all! Rather it was merely some poorGerman bastard who must have been lost and desperately using the ground fornavigation. I doubt he knew he was on the wrong side of the Front until Istarted shooting.


I must havebeen at least two-thousand feet above our wayward Boche visitor. Blipping myengine, I cut the motor, rolled my scout over, and dived towards him. By nowthe wind was rattling the support spars and the rain was pelting my plane sohard it felt like a hail of gunfire! The Albatros scout, which was clearly aDII painted in drab brown and green complete with white and black Balkenkreusemarkings on the upper wings, skirted along at not more than 500 feet above theground. Clearly he hadn’t the slightest idea he was on the wrong side of theFront – or he never would have been so low!


We held theadvantage of speed, altitude, surprise, and numbers – a certain kill! I closeduntil the Hun scout rushed towards me, my single Vickers machine gun lined upsquarely along his 6 o’clock. By now the Hun was cold meat. The rain began tobreak up and I could see him clearly enough. At about one hundred meters Iquickly squeezed the gun trigger on my flight stick and the Vickers barked tolife! Just before the first rounds impacted him, the Boche pilot turned and sawme – what a surprise to be lost over enemy lines and then pounced by threeSopwith Pups firing in anger! It damn near felt unsporting to catch a Hun sounawares. He quickly banked his Albatros to the right, but not before the firsthail of gunfire slammed into his scout. The Albatros, whose fuselage is madeentirely of wood, began to shower chunks of veneer in his wake. I pulled thenose of my Pup ever so slightly and raked his wings as he tried to bank away.


I blipped myengine back to full power, the sputtering of the rotary engine now returning toa full roar. I banked high and left, giving myself as much lead and altitude asI could on the helpless Boche – who had yet to even fire a shot or takeoffensive action! My wingman, Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Keith, or Tommy, then doveand tried to pelt the Boche with fire. Alas, Tommy is our newest pilot and hemissed the Hun by more than a scout’s length! He did, however, succeed inscaring the German into yet another maneuver which served only to bleed offmore speed and line him up perfectly for the kill. By now my guns were againfixed on him, and my engine cut, to give me more than ample firing time. Iclamped down on the trigger once more and the Vickers belched another stream ofgunfire, replete with smoking tracer rounds toward the hapless Albatros. Thefire raked along his engine and shattered the upper wing mounted radiator,sending billows of smoke out and splattering the cockpit in hot radiator fluid– no doubt blinding the pilot. The rest of the hail of rounds snapped supportspars, flight wires, aileron and elevator controls, and left the battered scoutto slide slip to earth. By now the smoke was pouring out of the engine and thepilot frantically waved in the cockpit to clear his vision. Alas, it was to noavail. The support wires cut, and the craft no longer able to climb, the scoutrolled and crashed into a copse of woods just outside of Lens. The impact sentdirt, tree limbs, bits and pieces of aeroplane, and copious amounts of fire andsmoke towards the heavens.


With that,our patrol resumed its previous level of tedium and terrible weather. Iattempted to mark some locations of what I thought were Hun troops to the East,but I doubt my attempts will yield much results. We finished out patrol, and bya quarter to 11 had found our Aerodrome once more. Of course the weatherrefused to yield and landing the Pup in pelting rain and a terrible cross windproved more frightening and dangerous than the engagement with the waywardBoche! Thankfully, through a squall of rain I sat down my beloved, rolled herto the nearest hanger, and climbed out. My body shaking from the cold, my bonesaching under my layers of flight gear, and my mind exhausted, not from the combat,but from this dreadful damn weather that will not leave us! Another patrol isbehind us, and another kill claim is sent off to the Home Office!


Will laid down his pen, massaged his aching hand, and closed theflight log. Standing, he stretched out his back, which has been compressed inthe tight confines of the Pup’s cockpit. He walked over to his cot, which satcloser to the fire. He sat on the edge of the bed, his bare feet warmed by thehearth, and felt exhaustion and drowsiness overtaking him. His words had beencommitted to paper, and as usual, he felt the deep desire to sleep now that theday’s activities were noted. Relenting to the want for rest, he swung his legsover the cot, dropped his head back against the thin pillow, and felt his body envelopedby warmth and peace. The thought of the next patrol far from his mind; all thatmattered now was sleep.




Will awoke a few hours later; his head heavy from sleep. But henoticed that the room much brighter than it had been when he laid down. He checkedhis wrist watch: 15:45; an hour before his next patrol. He swung his legs out fromthe cot and felt the cold of the wooden floor on his bare feet. Slowly he stoodup and looked out the window. Amazingly enough, the weather had cleared; albeittemporarily. Walking over to the fireplace, Dearing felt his flight suit andtunic. Dry. Maybe they’ll stay that waythrough the next flight. Dressing in his fur lined boots, his RNAS tunic,his flight suit, and carrying his flying cap, goggles, and scarf, Dearingwalked out of the chateau into the bright afternoon daylight of the aerodrome.He looked across the field at the line of Sopwith Pups being serviced for thenext patrol.


The aerodrome was little more than a level field, with short cutgrass for a landing strip, and lined with large and small canvas hangers,workshops, sheds, and barracks around the perimeter. The field faced to the East– towards the trenches. The primary buildings were largely tucked to the Northend of the field – running parallel with the landing strip. The ground wasrutted and uneven from the torrential rains and the weight of several dozenaircraft taking off and landing each day. The sodden earth felt soft underDearing’s boots and he knew that landing had become particularly hazardoussince the heavy winter storms had rolled in. But now the sun shone brightly,illuminating everything in a surprisingly warm glow. Will soaked it in,enjoying the warmth of the sun as it shone on his face. He hoped the weatherwould hold, but he had seen short breaks like this for weeks now. They neverlasted more than a few hours and he knew it was likely that before theyreturned from their afternoon patrol, the field would be sopping wet once more.


Dearing strolled over to the Officer’s Headquarters where MajorTilley would be waiting for him and the rest of the pilots in the next patrol.The Headquarters was a large gray stone building – two stories in height with abrown pitched thatch roof. A light trail of smoke wafted from the chimneylocated on the far end of the building – no doubt some wet mechanics weretrying to dry off and warm up after working in such terrible weather thismorning. He pushed the old rickety door open and a blast of warm air and achoking cloud of cigarette smoke assaulted his senses.


The inside of the headquarters, which served as a modest manor duringthe last century, was battered by years of use. The dark, rich wooden floorswere scuffed and worn from the heavy, dirty cavalry boots worn by the pilots of8th RNAS, and all of the other units that preceded them here. Largebanners, squadron colors, and a weathered Union Jack hung from the upstairsbanisters, which looked over the great room. Just to the right of the greatroom stood the kitchen, which had been converted into a makeshift bar, completewith bottles of stiff alcohol and posters of enticing, half-dressed cabaretdancers. Smoke hung heavy in the air and a cloud of it perpetually filled therafters as the raucous chatter of the pilots echoed off the high ceilings. Mostof the pilots were kitted up in their flying suits, ready for the patrols thatwere about to take off from the field. Some stood in small groups, talkingamongst themselves, others stood looking out the windows and conversing aboutthe sudden change in weather. In the far corner of the room rested a largeblackboard with the squadron’s pilots listed as either Active, Reserve,Injured, On Leave, MIA, or KIA.


As the afternoon began, three pilots were listed as MIA: Harrison,Enfield, and Parker. Each had been missing for more than three days and anyhope of their return began to fade with each passing hour. Harrison and Enfieldwere on the same patrol over enemy positions when they disappeared into a heavycloud bank and never emerged – victims of the weather. Parker failed to comeback from a twilight patrol and no word had been given as to his whereaboutseither. Every pilot in the room knew the cost of the war in just the lastseveral days. The air was heavy with concern for their comrades. By theblackboard sat Major Harold Tilley, perched on a tall stool. The slender,rodent like visage glaring at the floor, no doubt lost in thought, beforeglancing up at Dearing and motioning him over. As soon as he saw Will, Tilley’sface came to life.


Ah.Lieutenant Dearing! I’ve been expecting you. I trust you got some shut eyebefore your next patrol?


Yes, Major; ofcourse. And I have my after action report ready for you to file. Dearing reached under his flight suit and pulled out the foldedreport.


Excellent! My,my, you make quick time Dearing! I’m still pestering Wilkins to turn in hisreport from a fortnight ago! Let me see here…


Major Tilley carefully unfolded and inspected the report, notingthe claim of one Albatros DII fighter over the town of Lens. He muttered as heread,


Mmhmm. Yes… Yes… I see… An Albatros? Good Heavens! Humph. Mmhmm…


Is everythingin order, Sir? Dearinginquired.


Yes, my boy.Quite. I must say Dearing; you’ve come a long way in your report writing.Perhaps this claim will actually be awarded to you this time! Tilley laughed as he stood from his seat and slapped Dearing onthe back. Will knew damn well that he should have six kills to his credit bynow, and yet only two had been recognized and awarded. But Will also understoodthat if Home Office didn’t approve the claim, the kill never happened, nomatter what he thought. Will cleared his throat, glaring at Tilley with slightirritation.


Yes. Well,here’s hoping. I listed Tommy… erm, Sub-Flight Lieutenant Keith as a witness.He actually fired at the Boche, but to no affect. Tilley chuckled, seemingly amused by the whole affair,


Yes, Tommystill can’t hit the broad side of a barn! Flies like the devil, though! We’llkeep training him though, it’s early days yet! Excuse me, Lieutenant.


Setting the report down in his file, Tilley marched up to thechalk board, pulled down a tattered map of the Front and called his men toorder. Dearing found his way to the back of the room, crossed his arms, andleaned against the wall. The chatter in the room slowly died down as the pilotsof 8 Squadron looked at their Commanding Officer. Will knew how much Tilleyloved barking out orders, and even used his old cavalry riding crop to emphasizevarious points on the old map as he lectured his men on their duties for theafternoon. Holding the crop firmly in hand, Tilley began.


Right. Wellchaps, as you can see the weather has cleared, at least temporarily. Tilley took a deep breath and continued. We will use this opportunity to scout behind enemy lines. No doubtJerry will be looking at the same weather we are. And you’d better believe he’llbe keen to get his reconnaissance planes airborne to gather as much informationabout our positions along the lines as he can! Especially before the weatherturns again and grounds us all for the next several days. So this is what HomeOffice proposes we do. Pausing for dramatic effect, no doubt, he lookedtowards Will. Dearing!


Yes Sir.


You’ll beflying with Captain Thompson for this afternoon’s patrol over the lines. Wilkinsand Keith will be going up as well. Your area of patrol is here. Tilley motioned with his riding crop to the area around Arras –the same location of the morning patrol. Thisshould be familiar territory by now gents. Only this time you are to push onemile behind the enemy positions. I know that doesn’t seem far, but I do notwant your patrol drifting too far east. Slapping the map with his crop foremphasis, his eyes fixated on the flight leader, Captain Edwin Thompson. Is that understood Captain?


Across the room from Dearing, smoking a cigarette and peering outfrom under an oversized uniform hat stood Edwin Thompson, a small stout Irishmanwith slate blue eyes and a thick mustache. Snapping to near attention he barkedback, Yes Sir! Tilley continued,beaming at the throaty response from his Executive Officer.


Very good! Idon’t want to take a chance on another storm rolling in while you’re knee deepbehind Hun lines! Your job is offensive, not suicidal! Patrol the enemy lines,and be on the lookout for Hun planes scouting our positions. If you see it,kill it! But take no unnecessary risks! If you’re about to be jumped from high,by superior numbers, I want all of you to dive for our lines. Do youunderstand?


A chorus of agreement fired back. Yes sir!


Tilley adjusted his hat, snapped his riding crop in his hand, andcontinued with the next patrol.


Second patrolwill clear the field after Captain Thompson’s flight is in the air. CaptainPatrick, you will lead a Combat Air Patrol over this area of the lines, someten miles south of Arras – here! Againthe riding crop slapped against the map and a sharp pop echoed across the room.Will rocked back and forth in his boots as he listened. While it would betempting to ignore Tilley as he loudly rattled on about other flights, Willinherently understood that it was vital to know where every flight was inrelation to his, should they or the other flights run into trouble.


Excellent!We’ve already lost too many good pilots this month alone. I don’t need to tellyou that most of those losses could have been prevented. Stay sharp, if theweather turns, head back, and bag as many of those Hun bastards as you canbring down! Dismissed!


With that the riding crop snapped, and the pilots of 8thRNAS rose from their seats.



The two dozen pilots of 8th RNAS emerged from the dimlight of the Officer’s Headquarters and walked towards the field. Before themstretched a line of Sopwith Pups; wings and wires gleaming in the brightsunlight of the afternoon. The air was filled with the harmony of wood andmetal mechanically clinking and creaking as the mechanics prepared the scoutsfor their flight. Engines received a last oiling. Support wires were checked.Ailerons, rudders, and elevators were inspected by a swarm of blue coverallwearing mechanics; all with oily faces, caps, and dirty uniforms that were theresult of hours of toil and work in the hangers. Will approached his scout,Sopwith Pup number N0916, which was again made ready for flight after the morningpatrol. His mechanic, Erik Aubrey, was a soft spoken man in his mid twenties.As Will walked up to his plane, Erik turned and smiled; his face smudged withgrime and grease, his small round glasses somehow still clean despite the dirtand oil which covered the rest of him.


Good to see you, sir!


Good to see you too, Erik. How does she look?


Aubrey reached his hands up to the support wires and ran hisfingers down the wing spar; nodding his head, his face relaying quietconfidence before finally looking back at Will.


She’s inexcellent shape. I re-oiled the engine, checked over the prop and landing gear.He paused and looked the scoutover again, as if to remind himself of each task he worked on in the lastseveral hours. Control surfaces lookgood; control and support wires are solid. No cracks or signs of stressanywhere. I reloaded your guns and had the field armorer check the roundsindividually. Every tenth round is a phosphorus tracer. They look good. Iwatched him while he loaded the guns to make sure he didn’t cock it up and jamyour guns. Think I irritated him a bit. Erik grinned and let out a shrillchuckle; a trademark of his. Dearing had never heard a laugh as unusual as ErikAubrey’s, and it was a sound that managed to stay with him. His chucklesubsiding, Erik turned serious but his tone never wavered in expressing hisabilities as a mechanic. She’s in tip-topshape Lieutenant. She won’t let you down.


Will felt warmed by Erik’s confidence. He reached over and with amitted hand and patted his trusty mechanic on the back; his coveralls flingingmore dust into the air.


Thanks Erik. I’ll see if I can bring her back to you that way.


See to it that you do Lieutenant. I spent too much time working onher for you to thrash her all about the sky.Erik looked off towards the line of Sopwiths. The sound of mechanics shouting “Contact!” and “Clear!” began to grow ever louder. The time was near. Erik’s tonegrew quiet.


Shall we getto it Will? Dearing silently nodded. Heturned, tugging on his flight goggles and leather flying cap. Scarf in placeand flight suit fastened tight, he pulled himself up and into the tightconfines of the Sopwith Pup.


The Pup was a beautiful and graceful plane; a favorite with herpilots. While she wasn’t the fastest scout on the Western Front, she could outturn nearly anything the Germans flew. She was stable in a dive, could climbwell, and rarely ever suffered any structural failure. Simply put, she was oneof the few scouts that held no nasty surprises or unexpected quirks that couldso easily kill a pilot. Armed with one Vickers .303 caliber machine gun thatfired through the propeller arc, the Pup could give any German pilot a seriousfight. The middle of the upper wing was wrapped in a clear film to allow thepilot more visibility above his head; negating the otherwise blocked view fromthe Pup’s very large wings. The cockpit was sparse; a wicker seat, a controlstick, rudder pedals, an RPM gauge, a basic altimeter, a compass, a smallclock; these were the only tools the pilot had to successfully complete hismission and return safely home. Dearing reached into his flight suit and pulledout his flight map; his waypoints penciled in and some small notations onlandmarks to help him find his way home, should he be separated from hisflight.


Erik stood at the front of the scout, priming the magnetos andturning the propeller. Finally he shouted to Will.




Willcalled back.




Erik leapt in the air and pulled the prop down as hard as hecould. Suddenly the rotary engine sputtered, sparked, and finally roared tolife. No other engine sounded like a rotary, with its trademark staccato blastof full, un-muffled power, punctuated by silence and the blipping of theengine. In fact, the plane had no throttle. The pilot could set the engine tofull, half, one-quarter, and idle power by flipping a switch. Will leaned hishead around the sides of the cockpit, looking past the large, heavily padded windscreenwhich rested between him and the Vickers machine gun. He looked left andwatched as Thompson’s scout roared down the runway. The light frame of the Puplifting off almost immediately as it bounced down the field, finally risinginto the sky as he neared the tree line. Will was next.


Will switched the engine to full power and as the chocks wereyanked away and the Pup rushed headlong down the field. Immediately the coldrush of roaring wind blew through the cockpit as Will squinted through his goggles;guiding his scout towards the tree line and awaiting the proper take off speed.It never took long to get a Pup into the air and within a few seconds he feltthe rough rumbling of the ground suddenly disappear as he lurched into the sky,his stomach falling briefly between his knees as he adjusted again to thesensation of flight. Looking around the aircraft and carefully watching CaptainThompson ahead of him, Will gently pulled his Pup into formation behind hisleader. Checking behind him, Will could see his wingman forming up as well.Wilkins and Keith cleared the tree line safely and were closing ranks aroundWill and Captain Thompson.


The flight of four Sopwith Pups circled over their field as theyclimbed to their patrol altitude. Will could see the squadron mechanics, whichlooked like hurried little blue ants, scurrying around below. Looking off hisright wing, he could see the clouds breaking in the distance, and the flashesof bright light on the ground near the horizon; the large artillery guns werefiring another barrage this morning. Thompson rocked his wings, signaling tothe patrol that they had finally reached their assigned height. Will broughthis Pup into formation, just behind and off to the left of Thompson’s scout.Wilkins and Keith each formed up behind and to Thompson’s right, completingwhat was known as the Finger Four formation.


Itwas time to head out for the lines.


For all of the dangers that awaited any pilot who headed up in theskies over the Western Front, much of a patrol was spent in sheer boredom.Checking your map, compass, landmarks; looking for any signs of trouble eitherfrom your aircraft, the ground, or the sky around you. Your only company wasthe constant, deafening drone of your engine and the biting, bitterly cold windcutting through your clothing. Some pilots took up a small flask of whiskey tokeep warm; others carried small trinkets for good luck. One long-since deadpilot that Will knew, Herbert Brooks, actually carried a book to read. Brookshad an uncanny ability to brace his control stick between his knees, keep hisplane in level flight, and read en route to a patrol. Unfortunately, Brooks wascaught unaware by a lone enemy scout patrolling behind his own lines and wasshot down within a few miles of his own aerodrome. This, as Major Tilleyexplained later, was why you never lost your focus in the air, no matter howsafe you think you are. The penalty for doing so was often your own demise.


But despite the boredom, Will genuinely enjoyed flying. Settinghis throttle switch, slotting into formation behind Thompson and occasionallychecking on Wilkins and Keith, he settled back in the small wicker seat of hiscockpit. Breathing a deep sigh under his double wrapped wool scarf, Will lookedaround at the world outside. The beautiful, if barren French countryside rolledslowly beneath his wings like a magic screen. The horizon drifted effortlesslyoff in the distance, where the earth and the heavens met. Distant cloudshovered thousands of feet over the earth, casting large shadows on the groundand the minuscule people below. If not for the knowledge of the War, one wouldnever suspect the world below as being anything but peaceful. Nothing; not theguns, the artillery, or the fighting or the death or the misery could reach youup here; at least when you were far from the lines. Will felt a merciful senseof fortune; knowing that he was at least partially removed from the hell below.As the flight approached the Front, however, the peaceful silence began to tearinto a low roaring rumble of artillery and flak. The landscape, once pastoraland scenic, mutated into a grotesque lunar landscape, filled with death and thehorrors of war. Yet, at nearly ten thousand feet, Will was not immune from oneparticular terror of stagnant trench warfare; the stench. The raw, putrid smellof sulfur from fired artillery, mixed with decomposing corpses piled in thehundreds of thousands drifted high over the trenches. Even high above theearth, wrapped in a scarf with wind howling through the cockpit, Will felt sickfrom the reeking stench below.


Thompson’s Pup, with large red streamers fluttering on the outerwing struts to help his flight spot him in a fight, rocked his wings yet again,signaling another course change. The flight slowly banked east, heading towardsthe enemy lines. Will pushed the rudder bar in the bottom of his cockpit withhis boot and calmly brought the plane onto the new heading. As he glanced outof the right side of his cockpit, two specks caught his eye. He leveled hisplane, rocking his wings. Thompson, however, was oblivious to Will’s signal.Even Keith and Wilkins somehow managed to miss his frantic rocking. Willchecked the specks again, and his blood ran cold. There was no doubt what wasbelow their flight.


They have tobe German! Damn it Thompson, wake up! Will considered firing a short burstover Thompson’s scout to get his attention, then thought better of it. As hepeered over the cockpit, he could see the two cream colored specks movingrapidly to the west. The main wings were lozenge shaped. Behind them, a smallnarrow fuselage jutted out and terminated with two fragile looking elevators.The silhouettes were unmistakable to Will: Halberstadt DII’s. The GermanHalberstadt DII was a light, semi-agile, but ultimately slow and unwieldyscout. It had, by and large, been supplemented by the new Albatros fighters,but a few of the older planes still patrolled the lines. Will sensed an easykill. The Halberstadt; even in pairs, were no match for his new Sopwith Pup. Hemight even get the second scout, providing he didn’t run when Will’s Pup cameblasting down from ten thousand feet, Vickers gun blazing.


Rocking his wings in frustration one final time, Will reached downand flipped his throttle control, cutting the engine back to idle. The roar ofthe engine was replaced with the rushing of wind and the intermittent blast ofthe engine keeping itself alive while running at minimum RPM. Taking thecontrols firmly in hand and resting his thumb on the gun switch, Will kickedright rudder and rolled his scout over. The horizon rapidly spun over his headand the brown, ruddy ground below filled his view. The wind rushed faster andfaster, until it pressed Will lower in the cockpit. His stomach lurched fromthe rapid plunge. The wings shuddered as his Pup neared the two unsuspectingtargets at a breakneck pace. Pulling up to bleed off speed, Will was stillnearly a thousand feet over them. Perfect.The two German scouts, hugging the ground and flying in a straight line, showedno signs of noticing the approaching danger. Rolling his scout one final time,Will plunged his Sopwith Pup behind the second Halberstadt and prepared tofire.


He closed until the cream colored German scout filled hiswindscreen. How does he not realize I’mhere? Will could hardly believe his eyes, or his luck. Without hesitatinganother moment, he crunched his thumb down over the gun switch on his controlstick and the Vickers machine gun roared to life. Streams of bullets fired fromthe gun, leaving smoky wisps of white phosphorus in the air as the tracerrounds blasted into the German scout. Suddenly the two German pilots realized theywere in dire straits. The lead German banked hard left and whipped his ungainlyscout around in the air, trying to get behind Will’s Pup. His wingman kickedhis rudder side to side, trying to break from Will’s sights, but to no avail.Round after round slammed into the German scout; blasting away chunks ofcanvas, shattering support struts, and popping control wires. Suddenly theGerman pilot lurched in his seat as Will’s rounds found their way into thecockpit, putting several shots into the pilot’s back. The last dozen roundsblew their way into the gas tank and engine, finally shattering the prop.Pulling his scout away from the crippled German bird, Will searched the sky forthe other Halberstadt. As he rolled his Pup and pulled hard to his left, themortally wounded German vainly fought the controls of his plane. TheHalberstadt’s nose dropped towards the earth as the lifeless pilot slumped atthe controls. The scout plunged to the ground and slammed into a field near asmall farmhouse. Will could hear the plane impacting somewhere behind him; thesickening cacophony of crunching, tearing, snapping, and finally the awfulsilence that filled the air told only one thing: it was done.


But the second German scout remained and much to Will’s surprise,he wasn’t running. As Will leveled out the Pup, he could see the Halberstadtcoming at him head on. A small, flickering flash of light behind the Germanscout’s propeller warned Will that he was firing his guns. Will shoved his bodyas far down in his cockpit as he could and squeezed the trigger, sending a hailof gunfire towards the suicidal German pilot. The two planes rushed past eachother, and as Will glanced up as the German passed over, he could see the faceof the pilot; long and gaunt, and even noticed the oil spattered on the canvasjust behind the engine. Too close.


The Sopwith Pup’s famous ability to turn on a dime was about tobecome Will’s greatest asset. As the Halberstadt wiggled its rudder and flappedthe elevator panels fighting for control, the Pup gracefully banked and turned180 degrees in a matter of seconds. Suddenly the cream colored scout was again inWill’s sights, only this time; the German had no hope of another head long pass.He could only run. Without even thinking, Will pulled his scout to withintwenty yards of the German and clamped down on the gun switch once more. Musclememory and survival instinct drove Will on in the only task that mattered:killing the German pilot.


The Vickers, now nearly out of ammunition, barked to life oncemore; sending another hail of lead and tracer rounds into its second victim.Pulling ahead for the deflection shot, Will walked his rounds right into theGerman scout. Bullets ripped into the engine, blasting the pilot with hot oiland coolant. Further back, they slammed into the upper wings, shattering morecontrol surfaces and sending large chunks of cream and black painted canvasflying overboard. Finally the rounds impacted the gas tank. Large spurts ofgasoline pumped out and caught fire on the hot engine manifold, blowing largestreams of flame back onto the helpless pilot. The blast of the fire was soclose Will had to yank his Pup out of harm’s way; the heat of the burningGerman plane so intense he briefly felt a rush of warm air fill his cockpit.The German pilot frantically tried to put himself out as the flames from theengine and gas tank overwhelmed him.


Fire was the worst fear for a pilot in World War I. With noparachute, a burning scout was little more than a flaming coffin. Surrounded bygasoline, oil, and wrapped in petroleum treated wood and highly flammablecanvas, everything around you burned. You had no hope of survival and onlythree ways out; burn to death, leap to your death, or, if you had packed arevolver in your flight suit, put one round through your mouth and hope itkilled you instantly. For the German pilot burning in front of Will’s eyes, itwas the worst possible outcome; the flames consumed him. Will could hear thepanicked, blood curdling screams as the German contorted and flailed in hiscockpit. The burning, flaming, almost comet like descent of the German scoutwas rapid, but not fast enough for the pilot burning to death inside. Theplane, now fully engulfed, began to break apart. Just seconds before hittingthe ground a few miles from his dead comrade, the screaming stopped.


In a matter of just two minutes, Will had shot down two moreGerman planes, and sent two more German aviators to their graves.


Collapsing back in the wicker seat, Will felt a surging pain downhis left arm. He flexed his fingers beneath his heavy wool glove, trying toease the discomfort running from his shoulder all the way down to his hand.Shutting his eyes, he took a deep breath, letting it out as slowly as he could.The air in his lungs burned cold; unable to fully sustain him. Will opened hiseyes and looked around the cockpit. No signs of damage. With the exception ofthe one head on pass, neither of the two Germans were able to get a single shotoff in his direction. The pain in his arm began to subside. The adrenaline fromthe dogfight was beginning to wear off, and the incredible fatigue he alwaysfelt afterwards began to creep in. After his first encounter with a few enemyreconnaissance planes, the pain in his arm was so intense that Will was certainhe had been shot. After five or ten minutes, the adrenaline would fade and Willwould struggle to bring his scout home; exhaustion draining him of every lastounce of strength.


Will pulled himself together, and checked his map and compass. Where am I? He had wandered off of thepatrol’s route and Thompson, Wilkins and Keith had long since vanished fromsight. Are they even looking for me? DidThompson ever see me disengage and dive? Where the hell are they? Willlooked over his right wing and spotted the farm house, the still smolderingremains of one Halberstadt filled the sky with a thin, willowy black wisp ofsmoke. He glanced at his map, and looking around at the surroundingcountryside, he began to once again orientate himself. His patrol would havecontinued due east, and were probably miles away by now. Easing the controlsback, Will climbed until his Pup was again near ten thousand feet. The air wasbitterly cold and thin once more. Tugging on his scarf, he hunkered back downinto his cockpit and looked for any signs of Thompson and the rest.


The trenches formed a long, dark scar in the landscape to hiseast. Just ahead of him, Will could hear what sounded like thunder. Only therumble came from below, from the hundreds of heavy artillery pieces all firingtowards the German lines. The stench began to waft back towards Will and onceagain, he found himself fixated on the gruesome scene below. Will had flownover the trenches dozens of times, and the sight of the carnage and death neverceased to leave him transfixed on the terror below. He glanced up and finallyspotted three dark dots ahead of him; his patrol.


A few moments later Will’s Pup emerged off of Thompson’s rightwing. Will rocked his wings frantically and finally Thompson looked over,rocking his wings back. Will tossed him a hearty salute. It’s about damn time you saw me! The other scouts rocked theirwings as well and at long last, Thompson turned their heading for home. Willcould feel his strength draining further, and couldn’t wait to put his scoutback on the ground. Erik would be pleased; two victories and not a singlescratch on her.


The flight back was a mixture of relief, boredom, and impatienceto be home again. As they circled the field, a swarm of blue clad ants waved upand waited for them to come in one by one. No doubt Tilley was down there, andglad to see his lads coming home in one piece. Thompson was the first in;leading his scout along a road which ran parallel to the aerodrome. Gliding inover the trees; rotary engine blipping and filling the air with an unmistakablenote, the Pup sat down on the earth, red streamers fluttering in the wind.


Will was next. Guiding his plane along the same road Thompsonused, Will quickly glanced out each side of the cockpit, watching the tree linecarefully and making doubly sure not to let his Pup dip too low. Flipping thethrottle switch to keep enough speed to land, the engine frantically shiftedfrom full power to idle and back again, until Will was confident he could sether down. Pulling the mixture back all the way and cutting the engine to idle,the rotary engine went silent. The sound of the wind blowing through thecockpit and the spinning prop were soon greeted by the best feeling Will hadhad all afternoon: the rumble of the ground under his wheels. Home. Thank God.


Will loosened the straps on his seat and slowly raised himself outof the scout. The blipping of Keith and Wilkins’ planes were off in thedistance.



Edited by _CaptSopwith

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I'll buy your first novel sir. I enjoyed your work immensely. Please keep writing. Salute.gif



Edited by Hellshade

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Aye! and me too! I can almost feel the chill from the flight suit! Me thinks there might be an Author lurking in the OFF Forums!!!

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Very fine work there Capt! :clapping:


You are a fine writer indeed and I would love to see this piece come together as a complete work in the near future. Good luck to you!

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:grin: The downside: The beginning was too flowery for my taste and I had trouble getting thru the battery of Prose. The work needs more proof reading and the Office scene seems awkward or doesn't flow.? ( 4 me anyway). The Upside: Well done , a nice read and I could picture the flight scenes above The War Torn Flanders Fields in my minds eye. The word enjoyable comes to mind. I will be buy it Edited by carrick58

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Good efforts Soppy, and a nice read. I must ask though that you proof it more before sharing as trying to sort through the many typos really distracts from the flow and feeling of the piece. Also, consider using different ways to identify your main character. "Will did this" and "Will said that" gets very repetitive and you risk boring the reader. To a small cultural point: The Brits do not use the "th" on their numbers, that is an American thing. It would be 8 RNAS.


Keep at it Sir, you are on your way to your first book. :good:



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They don't use" th" on numbers? What about Henry the VIII th ? :grin:




What RAFL means is that when we say (to use your example) Henry VIII we pronounce the "th" at the end, but when we write Henry VIII we do not put "th" at the end of it.


I hope that makes sense.

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bloody good, a very enjoyable read :good:


Some, I hope, constructive remarks:


i) Your story begins in media res, don't forget

to create a rapport between reader and protagonist.

Who is this Will Dearing person and why should we care ?


ii) Please look at the syntax of some of your sentences,eg

'...His flight suit, heavily laden with wool...'. I like the effect

you have created - layering details - but "laden" doesn't

quite convey the meaning I think you are striving for.

Also consider using simple sentences w/o subordinate

clauses in these kinds of passages.


iii) Watch out for solecisms. As well as the eg Lou found, a

British pilot would not have said "turn on a dime", he would

have said 'turn on a sixpence'. And was there a "met Office"

in 1916 in the RNAS ?


iv) Structure: Separation, Initiation, Return, is a pretty good

starting point. Have you read Campbell's

The Hero With A Thousand Faces ?


Apologies if this seems just nit-picking but little things

can make an enormous difference.


Please do keep it up, you have a reader here.


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Hi Guys!


My thanks for all of the great feedback. It's been a hectic few days and I just now noticed how horribly garbled the syntax is in the first post! I copied and pasted my work from Microsoft Word and it seems to have completely butchered proper spacing - creating a lot of run on words and typos... yikes! My apologies in advance for having to wade through that mess! I'll see what I can do to get that sorted!


Taking all of your feedback into consideration and working it into future developments!


Cheers guys and thanks again! drinks.gif

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What RAFL means is that when we say (to use your example) Henry VIII we pronounce the "th" at the end, but when we write Henry VIII we do not put "th" at the end of it.


I hope that makes sense.


Oh ok, it does make sense Thanks

Edited by carrick58

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Taking all of your feedback into consideration and working it into future developments!


Cheers guys and thanks again! drinks.gif


Not trying to piss on your petunias, but we are very tuned to that subject matter. Pray do continue, a man should do what he enjoys doing


I see a STICKY in your future, but alas not much else . The princible venues to display your work such as Argosy have fallen by the wayside long ago


And while the writing/publishing business has been dog eats dog for years. It's rather easy to get published these days, printed that's something else altogether :salute:

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More strength to your elbow, but I think you're walking a tightrope Captsopwith. I'm not going to soft-soap you, you want an opinion I'll give it, but hopefully constructively. I'd like to make you a better writer, not make you cry. I'm not a literary critic, but I've trained my share of stonemasonry apprentices, and if something isn't right, it never gets better until you say so.


There is depth to what your writing, such as the odd naval rank 'Squadron Commander' being quite correct as an RNAS rank, but as others have picked up on, there's some inconsistency in there too. You refer to gasoline, but I'm almost certain the Brits would be calling it petrol. I stand to be corrected, but even nowadays, gas in the UK is propane or butane, gas or gasolene are thought of as American words for petrol. Similarly, I'm less sure about it, but I think kerosene would also be called paraffin. This isn't just a word issue, it makes me question the depth of the authors knowledge. I suddenly wonder whether 'Squadron Commander' does reflect a depth of detailed understanding, or whether is it just a lucky guess.


If you want to put that amount of detail in your text, you've a big job of research ahead to get it right, looking for inconsistencies which you yourself won't see. You need a proof reader to check for typos and grammar, but also context. For every one fact you get wrong, you undo the kudos of ten you get right.



This isn't nitpicking either. I'm reading text which screams at me it was written by an American. That's nothing against Americans, but simply that I'd rather not know the nationality of the author if it isn't pertanent to the story. It's distracting. It's like watching Braveheart with an Aussie lead. You can't lose yourself in history when constantly reminded you're watching 20th century foreign actors in film. (You can't really lose yourself in history watching Braveheart anyway, but that's another story).


Not sure about the burning Scout either. Hearing a man scream all the way to the deck from another aircraft is just not going to happen. Even if you cut your own engine, in a 70 or 80 mph wind you'd struggle to hear your observer sitting beside you. It's a graphic incident, and certainly must have happened. It's appropriate, shocking, and fully deserves to be written in, but your witness viewpoint is just too implausible. Follow me? You either change the witness to someone who could have heard it, or your pilot didn't hear the scream, but imagined he did.


My final criticism has already been said too. You repeat a lot of things, especially if the pace is slow. It reads like you're padding out text for volume rather than content. It's not just text but imagery too. At the start of four paragaphs of your sample, our pilot Will is sat at his desk. Next papagraph he is grasping the handle of desk drawer. A couple later he is stiffening in his seat, and next paragraph he is sitting back in his wooden chair. Youve now told me 5 times in 7 paragraphs that Will is sat at his desk in a wooden chair, - I got that picture in the first paragraph, and it's just not impotant enough to repeat for half a page. Too much of that, and suddenly your book isn't slow paced which is fine and what you want, it's boring, which is a disaster and you have to mix it up a little. It reads much better when the action picks up, and noticeably when you switch to first person too.



I like to think advice should be harsh but fair, but this advice really isn't fair. I can't advise you on good writing, because I don't know what good writing is. All I can see are 'niggles' that in my humble opinion stop it being good writing, and what I'm doing is flagging up these niggles. Because of that, this looks like negative criticism, but it's really not meant to be. You don't need my advice to fix the good bits, so in that respect this is not balanced criticism, but fix those niggles, and stop repeating them throughout the whole book, and people can then judge the text and story on it's merits.



That's my honest opinion. It's a worthwhile subject to write about and you're intelligent enough to do it justice, so keep going and don't be put off by criticism. Take it on the chin, ignore cruel remarks from idiots, but listen to the constructive advice, and whatever you do, don't feel hurt, shut down and go defensive. Work at it, and like I say, do the real pilots justice.

Edited by Flyby PC
  • Like 1

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Don't have time to check, but your flight log might be suspect too. Sure I remember somewhere that Mannock kept a diary, but the practice was frowned upon and he'd have been in trouble if caught. I don't think notes in a pilots logbook would be so lengthy or subjective. Sooner or later these would be checked by a senior officer who would appreciate something a little more concise.




Another thing occurred to me about the wrong word in the right circumstance and why it can matter. In the Falklands War, the press made a big issue of the British forces "yomping" across the island. Yomp they did, but "Yomp" is Royal Marine terminolgy for a Para's "TAB" Tactical Advance to Battle. Once you realise the feasome rivalry which exists between Marines and Paras, you suddenly realise the power behind a simple word. Just ask a veteran Para from the Falklands if he liked his time "Yomping" about the islands and see where your beer ends up.The word is "Tabbing".

Edited by Flyby PC

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I think that FlybyPC was pretty much said everything that I would have in terms of critical look at the prose you've submitted.


I'd add that descriptions of people and things as being just so - the example of Tilley is a good one - should be avoided. Only enlighten the reader objectively if there is no doubt about the fact. Hence, you can say that The Somme ran through chalky soil, or that the nearest town was set in flat countryside, blah, blah, but don't say that Tilley was a born leader and flyer; let that be the hero's opinion of the man. In fact, we may find out he's a nutter or a coward, but Allow Dearing an opinion or stardust.


Take it easy on the exclamation marks in the diary. Remember the period. Read some contemporary diaries. You'll find that strong feelings are often expressed, but generally in language that appears muted until you go back and read it again, and then appreciate the depth of feeling. Remember also that formality was still something of a given at the time, and the structure of society didn't engender much in the way of "I love you guys" bonding. Surnames - yes; initials - yes; nicknames - frequently; first names? Far less so. They weren't remote men, they simply followed the social mores of the time.


I would strgonly recommend that you read as many accounts as possible, as written by participants in both the war and also in the period between say 1910 and 1920. It will influence the way you interpret the period and the people who lived through it if you see through their eyes, and read their thoughts. And that will make whatever you write thereafter much more authentic, and hence, believable.


Keep it up!

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Hi Gents!


Thanks very much for all of your feedback. I've compiled my notes on this potential project and I made sure to copy and paste all of your feedback as well - so I can refer to things that need to be adjusted, improved, or outright dropped and changed - as the case may be. I'm happy to see that this has the potential to be an enjoyable read and I'll be working on this project as time goes on.


Again, my heartiest thanks to all of you - I greatly appreciate it!

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