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About Wulfe

  1. Falling behind a little, but hoping to catch up before too long! Hasse - sorry to hear about your man. Always rough to lose a DiD pilot! Here's hoping the next one makes it through. Charles A. Fairclough, No.10 R.F.C, April 5th, 1916: “Lieutenant Wood, are you done breakfasting?”. Wood made to reply to Captain Foss’ question, but the C.O. cut him off. “Good. Then come and see me in my office. Actually, Fairclough, you’d better come along too”. Not only had Charles arisen at the ungodly hour of half past five in the morning, in time to hear Sergeant Winfrey embarking on the dawn show, but now his breakfast had been interrupted before the Orderly had even managed to serve it. This was a bad omen for Charles - it invoked the one superstition he’d allowed himself to cultivate over the years: An interrupted breakfast preceded a rotten day. Hiding his mild annoyance, he obediently followed. Once the C.O’s back was turned, he tapped Wood on the shoulder, raising his palms and shaking his head slightly: What’s this about? Wood shrugged in response. Your guess is as good as mine. Charles had never been into Foss’ office before, although he had seen Wood and the other Flight Commanders often cross its mysterious threshold, having been summoned to the secrecy that lay within, and for a moment he felt a curious, almost schoolboy-like anticipation at finally discovering what lay in the room. The feeling vaguely reminded him of the time when he was a boy, when Michael had finally convinced him to sneak into their fathers’ study, to discover just to see what could be so secret that they had been so expressly forbidden from doing so. Whereas Charles had been filled with anxious wonder at the towering tightly-packed bookcases and the thin veil of tobacco smoke that hung around the paraffin desk lamp in his Father’s private writing lair, Captain Foss’ office offered only a mild, underwhelming disappointment. The office had nought in it but a large sector map mounted on the wall, a small, singular writing desk with a simple wooden chair behind it, and a half-full decanter of whiskey. Foss slid into his chair and produced a square tumbler from a desk drawer. Unstopping the decanter, he poured a more-than-generous amount out for himself. It couldn’t be later than half past seven. Charles tried not to show a reaction. After taking a long, measured sip from his glass, Foss leaned back and scanned the two pilots for a moment. “...Number 3 Battery telephoned yesterday evening” he said coolly, allowing the sentence to hang just long enough for Wood and Charles to start beginning to guess at its implication. “They seem to think that ‘B’ Flight isn’t very good at its job. In fact, they say they wasted a good number of precious shells and hit nought but empty mud”. Wood betrayed a barely audible sigh. “Well, sir, if I may-” he started, but was abruptly cut off by Foss. “I disagree with them. And I told them as much. Incidentally, that’s why I wanted to see you two”. “...sir?” “I told them we’d fly over yesterday’s target again this morning and take some aerial photographs. Not only to show them that our artillery spotting is just fine, thank you, but also to show the damned idiots that it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether or not they’re on target. The huns’ are a damned sight better at putting together trenches than our chaps, and any time we start potting away with our guns they all cosy up in their underground dugouts without a care in the world”. Foss finished his whiskey and poured out another. “Right. Forgive me, sir, but…well, why exactly did you want to see us?” Wood asked, frowning slightly. Foss’ eyes glinted, and a thin smile appeared on his lips. “Well, I thought that, naturally, ‘B’ Flight would want to defend its honour from these accusations of incompetency, so you two can go and take the plates. I’ve instructed the mechanics to ready your machines for eight O’Clock”. “...very well, sir”. Wood’s mood was sour throughout their second attempt at having breakfast, and remained so until he and Charles met their observers on the aerodrome at 8 O’Clock. Before climbing aboard his B.E, Wood pulled Charles to the side. “Now, make no mistake. What the C.O. was getting at, in his usual damned roundabout way, was that we made a meal of the spotting job yesterday. Your bus has the camera. Don’t give him another excuse to send us back tomorrow morning, Fairclough”. Charles agreed, feeling equal parts ashamed of yesterday’s failings and nervous at the idea of the impending show being similarly unsuccessful. The thought of Buckston, nagging away in the back of his mind, also bothered him. No. 10 had received no word of how he had died, and none of the pilots had thought it appropriate to openly speculate. This only served to allow Charles’ imagination to concoct his own ideas of what Ethan’s fate might have been. In the annals of his mind he revisited the torrential, deadly-accurate Archie of yesterday - and in a deeper recess still lurked the dark, distant silhouette of the dreaded Fokker. During the storm, O’Bannon assured Charles that there were no Fokkers in their sector anymore - that they’d all been hastened to the battle raging at Verdun - but Charles had resolved to take no chances all the same. At quarter-past eight, the two machines tore down the aerodrome and lifted up into the blue-white of the clouded sky. As they climbed up to get their height, Charles was surprised by a flash of yellow-white, caught in his peripheral vision below his machine. Glancing down, he was happy to see that it was his lumbering friend, the F.E.2, from yesterday. This time he had brought a friend of his own along, and Charles enjoyed watching them for a moment before they disappeared quickly to the North. Wood continued to climb, until he had brought them up to higher than Charles had ever flown before - 9,000 feet - and together they made for Arras. Charles noticed that his old chum Archie was conspicuously absent as they overflew St. Vaast. Perhaps, he thought, the German gunners didn’t get out of bed until noon. Whoof-whoof-whoof. That was that theory disproved. Despite its complaining, though, Archie wasn’t nearly as ferocious as it had been yesterday, and before long the two B.E’s had swung back around, having been left relatively unmolested during their work. Once landed, Charles headed with Wood to ‘B’ Flight office to make his report. Sergeant Holloway was in his usual place, behind his side-desk with his head buried in the paperwork Wood had deemed unworthy of his own time. At their arrival, he quickly saluted and handed Wood an official-looking envelope, marked with a Flying Corps insignia. It had already been opened. “What’s this, Holloway?” Wood asked, taking the envelope and extracting its contents. “The new pilot, Sir. Buckston’s replacement. He’s arriving tomorrow”. “Ah. Good. Anything notable about him?”. “...he’s a Sergeant, Sir”. “Oh, for crying out loud”.
  2. The Story of Charles A. Fairclough: Part 4. March 27th - April 4th, 1916. No.10 Squadron R.F.C “...Three hours? Is that all?” Charles’ face was screwed into a frown as he meticulously scanned over his pilots’ logbook. Outside the window of his and O’Bannon’s room in the Chateau, the muted grey-browns, greens and yellows of France’s wintry countryside had been blanketed by a brilliant dazzling white. As it happened, O’Bannon’s half-drunken hope had become reality and the storm which had put an end to Number 10’s operations had persisted overnight…and had continued to persist for the past week, covering France in a sheet of crisp, deep-set snow. Today was much the same, and the haze of snowfall drifted gently down to earth, carrying with it promises of another flightless day. In truth, Charles had started to feel perfectly redundant. “Three hours what? What are you talking about?” O’Bannon asked from his seat at the small writing-desk in the corner of their room; a new addition, procured on a whim during a day-trip to Oblinghem (borne of sheer boredom) two days prior. “My logbook,” Charles explained. “In the two weeks since I arrived, I’ve only flown three hours ”. O’Bannon chuckled lightly. “Yes, you’ve done rather well for yourself. The chaps are all very jealous” he teased. Charles sighed deeply. “But that’s just it, you know!” he replied, failing to mask the frustration in his voice. “I rather feel like I’m not pulling my weight. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, I rather want to gain some experience in the air”. To this O’Bannon laughed a little harder, to Charles’ disdain. “My dear Charles,” he answered, “the war will still be here tomorrow! You’ll have ample opportunity to, as you say, ‘pull your weight’. But it’s not always advisable to be too keen, you know. Experience inherently requires danger, and the chaps who start out too bull-headed…well…” he drifted off, his smile fading into solemnity. “...anyway”. Charles was thinking of a retort when there was a sharp knock at the door, which swung open without awaiting a reply. It was Arnold Morecombe, adorned in the hideous green-and-orange patterned cardigan (another spoil of war from the day-raid into Oblinghem), which had been a great point of contention in the Anteroom upon its first appearance. “Hullo, Fairclough. Hullo, Kim”. “Kimball, if you please”. “I don’t. Listen, Kim, some of the chaps are planning on making the most of the dud weather by heading to the Vieux Moulin tonight. What do you say?”. O’Bannon let out an exasperated sigh. “I’ve been making the most of the weather for the past week. I’m bored to death of it. Besides, there’s absolutely nothing to do at the Moulin besides getting tight, and there are a million better things to do with my time”. “...So, you’re in?” Morecombe asked with a sly smirk. “Why not?” O’Bannon answered with a shrug. He turned to Charles. “Fancy it?”. “Yes, okay. It beats sitting in here frozen stiff all night”. Throughout the day, word spread of the planned incursion to Le Vieux Moulin, and by early evening it had become a whole squadron affair. The Moulin’s proprietor, Madame Bussiere, looked perfectly horrified at the wave of khaki that rolled in through the front door. Bravely she tried to put on a smile, twinging slightly as Hill, one of the Observers, knocked clumsily into one of the tables, sending its flower-vase smashing upon the floor. He yelled a quick “Désolé!” in Madame’s general direction and went back to the heated debate he had been having with Buckston (which Charles had vaguely gathered was something to do with horses and motorcycles). Having crowded into the centre of the Moulin, the pilots and observers quickly organised themselves around the establishment’s various tables, and Madame’s three young daughters set to work supplying the horde of airmen with wine by the bottle. As they came and went, several pairs of eyes lustfully followed them. The eldest of the three apparently enjoyed the attention, her mannerisms and interactions becoming increasingly provocative throughout the evening (despite Madame’s hushed scorn each time she returned to the bar to fetch another bottle), but the other two were the perfect picture of shyness and misery. Charles felt quite sorry for one of them who was red as a beet as she brought his table their fourth bottle of wine. Eventually, having had their fun and having caused slightly more damage to the Moulin’s furnishings than was reasonably permissible, the pilots poured back out into the ice-chill of the evening air. It was at that point that Charles realised he was completely Blotto. As if in answer to this revelation, his balance suddenly decided to abandon him and he was forced to cling to O’Bannon to prevent himself falling. “By god, you’re as tight as can be!” he exclaimed with a laugh. Charles also laughed, more at the absurdity of it all than anything else. Here he was, in the heart of France, only some seven miles from the frontline of history’s bloodiest war - and rather than flying and fighting as he’d expected, he’d spent the last week going on day-trips around French towns on various binges. He may as well be on holiday. Charles and O’Bannon’s laughter grew to drunken hysterics as the airmen of No.10 climbed back into the Bedford which had ferried them from the aerodrome, causing several of the men to look their way with confused grins. Eventually their laughter subsided, and O’Bannon began to sing merrily to himself. “...Tight last night, and tight the night before…” Several of the pilots quickly joined in. “...Going to be tight tonight, like we’ve never been tight before! When we’re tight, we’re happy as can be, For we are the airmen of 10 RFC!” Charles was roused the next morning against his will by the cry of “God! Just our bloody luck!” from the other side of the room. Squinting against the intense throb in his head, he looked over to see an apologetic batman standing beside the bed of an extremely irate O’Bannon, who was fumbling for his uniform with one hand while nursing his own headache with the other. “Whazzat?” Charles sleepily mumbled. “Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you” O’Bannon replied. “Bloody storm’s passed. I’ve got the damned dawn show. Can you believe it? God, my head. I was tight last night”. Charles had rolled over and gone back to sleep before O’Bannon was through the door, and mercifully he was afforded a few more precious hours before the batman returned to wake him at Ten O’Clock. “Sorry, sir” the batman said softly. ‘B’ Flight patrol. Off the ground in one hour”. Resigning himself to the inevitable headache, Charles reluctantly dragged himself out of bed and threw his uniform on, not bothering to button up his tunic. Slinging his flying coat and helmet under one arm, he made his way downstairs and into the mess, where he found Wood waiting for him. “g’Morning, sir” Charles muttered. Wood raised his eyebrows slightly, then glanced down at his wristwatch. “Yes, only just. God, Fairclough, you look dreadful”. “I got a little carried away last night”. “It’s an epidemic this morning, it seems. Nobody expected the weather to clear up. We’re ranging for artillery at Arras later”. “All of ‘B’ Flight?”. “Just us. Buckston and Hill didn’t come back from the long reconnaissance this morning. Most likely got lost again. Aspirin?”. “Please”. Wood produced a small pillbox from his breast pocket and threw it across to Charles. At the same time, Owen came into the mess. “So, who’s stupid idea was it to get blotto last night?” he asked with an air of pained annoyance. “Morning, sir. Morecombe’s idea originally, I believe”. Charles answered. Wood and Owen let out a Tch! in unison. After having breakfast (which he struggled to force down), Charles made his way with Owen, Wood and Brown (Wood’s Observer) to the aerodrome, upon which sat two B.E.2s, quietly awaiting their masters. A mechanic clad in blue overalls rushed over to meet them as they approached. “Engines are as good as frozen, ser. You’ll have to warm them up a fair bit before they’ll go right” he explained to Wood. “Thank you, Corporal. Any sign of Mr. Buckston yet?”. “Not yet, ser”. After half an hour of idling the engines, with several intermittent prop-swings required, the two B.E’s opened their throttles and climbed up into a cold so cutting and bitter that it made Charles hunch his shoulders up to his chin and tighten his muscles to stop himself shivering enough to allow for somewhat level flight. Ahead of him, Owen was similarly afflicted, crossing his arms and tucking his hands into the collar of his flying coat. By the time they had reached 4,000 feet Charles was perfectly miserable, and already longed for the warmth of the Anteroom’s fireplace. It would have struck him as amusing, given how bored and apathetic the prior week’s lack of flying had made him, were it not for his current discomfort. As Charles had now come to expect, the moment they reached the point which marked the edge of the Front, where the fertile farmland abruptly melded into blasted mud and chaos, a sudden Whoof, Whoof, Whoof announced the arrival of Archie. As per usual, its sudden appearance disturbed him slightly, although he noted that it didn’t intimidate him quite as it had on his first trip to the front. He suddenly spotted, a few miles ahead and above of him, another grouping of black smudges in the sky and, craning his eyes, saw a lone F.E.2 ‘pusher’ roughly 1,000 feet above, ambling stoically towards ‘Hunland’. The lumbering pusher’s presence comforted him as he watched it sail Eastward. It was then that it dawned on him: He’d perceived another aeroplane in the sky! Somehow, it felt like a great achievement to him, like he was finally ‘Getting his Eyes’, as he had been promised he would do by his colleagues several times over when he’d confided the unhappiness of his inexperience to them during the storm. He allowed himself to relish in this accomplishment for a moment - he’d tell Owen about it when they landed - but then he reverted his attention to the task at hand. He followed Wood’s Quirk as they crept diagonally South-East across the Front, towards Arras. As they overflew the Bosche trenches, Archie’s voice suddenly elevated into a frantic crescendo. If Charles had thought before that he’d gotten over its terrors, such hopeful thinking was now obliterated as the sky around him seemed to be swallowed by the torrent of black ink blots that formed around him. It took all the nerve he had to sit still as Owen tapped away on the Radio Transmitter, periodically gazing over the side of the cockpit to watch the fall of the artillery’s shot. After what seemed like an eternity, Owen signalled that it was time to leave, and the two Quirks swung Westwards. Back on the aerodrome, Charles inspected the several gashes that had been left in his B.E’s fabric by the archie. “Deary me, ser”, the mechanic beside him said after letting out a long, exaggerated whistle. “You’ve been fair lucky today. Looks like Archie had yer number proper-like”. Charles wondered how the pilots of No. 10 Squadron had coped with such a vicious onslaught each day for weeks, or even months, on end - but, as he found out when Wood approached him after de-planing, they hadn’t. “I’ve never seen Archie so accurate,” Wood exclaimed, shaking his head in disbelief. “Took a chunk right out of one of my inboard struts!”. After a moment more of assessing the damage to their machines, the two pilots made for B-Flight office in the Chateau to make their reports. “Any word on Buckston yet, Holloway?” Wood asked a short, slightly overweight Sergeant, sat behind a desk piled high with assorted untidy stacks of paperwork. “Not yet, sir,” Sergeant Holloway answered. “Not even a phone call?” Wood asked annoyedly. “No, sir. Nothing” Holloway replied. “Damn him, where the hell’s he gone?” Wood muttered. It seemed an exception to the rule of ‘Talking Shop’ was made that afternoon in the Anteroom, as each pilot seemed to have his own tale about Archie’s ferocity. Several pilots speculated that a new unit had moved into the sector. Several others speculated that they’d simply brought up more guns. The more hopeful pilots and observers chalked it up to Archie just having a particularly lucky day. At around Three O’Clock, Buckston’s absence began to become conspicuous, and several times Wood returned to his office to see if any word had been received. The day drew longer, and the pilots became more anxious. There was a solemnity and morbidity palpably in the air when they retired to the mess for dinner. Rogers checked his wristwatch. “...Quarter past Five” he said quietly. Silence befell the mess for a moment. “Well, I guess that’s that”. O’Bannon’s gaze dropped downward. “Poor old Buckston,” he muttered.
  3. The poor weather has been interrupting Charles' flying as well! Nonetheless, he managed one sortie on the 26th. Here's the latest: The Story of Charles A. Fairclough, Part 3: March 26th, 1916. No.10 Squadron RFC. The usual bustle of life was present again on Chocques aerodrome on the morning of March 26th and, although the land still lay under a glimmering dust-sheet of frost, the wind remained still and peaceful and the sun brought sufficient warmth for Charles to decide upon getting some fresh air and visiting the communal wash-basins which stood beside the Quartermaster’s hut. His arrival seemed to mildly disturb the Squadron’s two Enlisted pilots, Winfrey and Rodland, who were there for their morning shaves, and who were not used to seeing Officers emerge from the comfort of the Chateau this early. A batman brought up some warm water for Charles to wash his face with (the taps only ran cold), and with a pleasant and carefree air he scooped it up in his hands, splashing it over his head and face, before letting out a sigh and pausing to listen to the birds sing. Charles wondered for a moment about what birds must think of aeroplanes. Those damned humans! As if they hadn’t caused enough trouble already with their artillery and their gas, their trenches, barbed wire, and all the terrible din that now rumbled endlessly to the West, now they insisted on bringing their mayhem into the domain that they’d rightfully owned since the beginning of time with ugly little Aviatiks, B.E’s, Archie bursts and machine-guns. Or perhaps they thought the opposite, and saw the novelty of these great lumbering contraptions of wood and fabric, so large as to be certainly flightless, and yet here they were trundling cumbersomely among the clouds and upon the winds. Maybe the birds felt happy for the men who had taken up this strange new way of life, that they might feel the utter freedom of being atop the sky, wheeling below those mere mortals below whom could only dream of such revered privilege as being able to access heaven as the world slipped ever-further below into insignificance. Over breakfast, Wood revealed that it was to be a better-than-average day to be a B.E. pilot for the men of ‘B’ flight. According to the C.O., some brass hat or another had become concerned about a stretch of enemy trench just south of Arras, which had apparently seen busier activity than usual. Resultantly headquarters had telephoned Number 10 and had charged them with overflying the lines in question at one-hour intervals, having a quick look around, and flying back to report on troop positions and build-ups. The thought of not having to sit around for thirty minutes amidst Archie’s best efforts, as he had done yesterday, was a welcome one to Charles. In anticipation of a day’s easy work, O’Bannon suggested a night-raid to Bethune, to which several pilots agreed and to which Charles was coaxed into participating by his new peers. The first job, taken by Wood, seemed to deliver on the promise of an easy day’s work. However, as he was returning the winds had picked up considerably and ever-thickening clouds obscured the clean blue of the sky. By the time O’Bannon was returning from the 11 O’Clock show the picturesque clarity of the clear morning had been swallowed entirely by a dark, looming overcast. “These damned clouds won’t let you get much above Four Thousand.” O’Bannon had warned Charles as he readied himself for the Noon show - which would have been boring if not for the clouds finally breaking and letting forth a heavy downpour while Charles and Owen were overflying the German lines. The rain stung like fury as it whipped at his face, and neither he nor Owen could make out so much as a German trench-line, much less any drastic changes in troop positions, so irritatedly they made for home. At Five P.M Rogers sent for a chauffeur to drive them to the outskirts of Bethune. Captain Ness had promised to meet them at Le Vieux Moulin, the Squadron’s most regular haunt, after he had investigated the various odds-and-ends shops, in search of a Gramophone - the one thing, in his opinion, that had been all-too-conspicuously absent from the mess. “...I, for one, did’unt see a bloody thing today. Yer rec’kon the brass hats only have the wind-up?” asked Sergeant Winfrey, to which Rogers scoffed. “You Welsh types are all comically optimistic. No, I think it’s quite the opposite, actually. If I were to harbor a guess, I’d say that G.H.Q has something big in store. A new offensive. And, naturally, with it not being at all out of the realm of possibility that one of us - that is to say, flyers - will come down on the wrong side of the lines, with a dud engine, or whatever, it would suit the brass hats much better to tell us that we’re looking out for a Hun offensive. That way if we’re captured and interrogated, the Hun doesn’t twig our impending assault”. “I can imagine that,” O’Bannon chimed in, “the brass hats have probably become bored of the static front by now”. “What would we be doing, if there was a new offensive I mean?” asked Charles. “Oh, the usual stuff. Photography, artillery ranging, the like. Just with a hell of a lot more Archie and, most likely, more damned Fokkers to bother us”. “About said Fokkers. Do we get much trouble from them?”. “Well, they don’t show up all that often. But you have to keep an eye out for them all the same. Lord, if one of those things catches our poor little B.E’s…” Rogers made a hand-gesture of an aeroplane crashing onto the table. “...so, they do appear from time to time, then?” Charles asked, feeling a slight nervousness making itself apparent in the pit of his stomach. O’Bannon raised his eyebrows slightly at the question. “My lad, what do you think happened to the last occupant of your bunk?”. The barmaid brought over another bottle of Pinard, which was distributed between the glasses around the table by O’Bannon. At the same time, Ness appeared in the doorway of Le Vieux Moulin, scanning the various populated tables for a moment before locating the other airmen and coming over to join them. “No luck with the gram’ophone hunt, then, ser?” Winfrey asked. “Nope. But I did spot a rather nice-looking couch that I’ll be keeping in mind for after the next time we smash up the mess” Ness responded. “Anyway, what’s the word?”. “We were just talking about Fokkers”. O’Bannon explained. “How morbid. Here, pour me a drink, and let’s talk about something else instead”. “Oh! How abou’t that new De Havilland push’er? You lads heard abou’t it yet?” Winfrey asked. “Another pusher?” Rogers answered with an air of incredulity. “Single or twin seater?”. “Single. they say it’ll give those Fok’kers a run for their mon’ey, anyway. I read abou’t it in Flight magazine, it has a forward-firing Lewis gun and a hun’dred horsepower engine”. “Single-seat, eh?” O’Bannon answered, “Well, there's something. I suppose it’s about time we had a proper fighting machine of our own. The froggies have their Nieuports to tackle the Hun, which, according to a RNAS chap I met, are a damn sight better than our F.B.5s”. “What the manufacturers ought to be doing is coming up with something new for us Reconnaissance chaps, rather than leaving us in the lurch with a fleet of tired old bloody Quirks!” Rogers retorted. “Quite right,” O’Bannon replied. “Hopefully they’ll do it before poor old Corporal Douglas has a breakdown over the state of my magnetos. They’re overdue to be replaced”. He turned to face the bartop. “Mademoiselle, plus de vin”. Another bottle was brought across. “Don’t you have the dawn patrol tomorrow? You’ll end up blotto at this rate”. “Oh, stop your nagging, Raymond. Anyway, with any luck this storm will keep up and we can all get a peaceful morning. You know what the froggies call weather like this? Temps aéronautique parfait. A French flier told me that when I was last on leave in Paris”. “I’m inclined to agree with them,” Ness said with a grin.
  4. I hadn't realised Recon Wars was out already! Downloaded and installed now. It's definitely going to make Quirk flying more scary. Raine: A pleasure as always to read about your man's exploits. I always find myself being totally immersed in your unique blend of historical information and creative 'world-building'. Looking forwards to more. The tale of Charles A. Fairclough Part 2: March 24th - 25th, No. 10 Squadron R.F.C. Charles awoke the next morning to the faint drumming of rain upon the window, the drops shining crystalline in the brilliant amber of a sunrise in infancy reddening and breaking through the clouds. Sleepily he fumbled for his uniform. “I wouldn’t bother. We won’t be going up in that” O’Bannon mumbled from the other side of the room.Gratefully Charles fell back into bed, becoming distantly aware that he couldn’t recall the last time he’d been afforded such a luxurious morning rest. He certainly hadn't at Hendon - if nobody else forcibly roused him at Six O'Clock each morning, the excitement of a day's training would do the trick without fail. The Chateau remained tranquil until Nine O’Clock, as the more hungry and less-hungover officers began to emerge from their rooms in search of breakfast. By Three O’Clock the rain hadn’t died down, and so the drinks commenced. Charles took the opportunity to attempt to learn a little more about life as a pilot, but found himself becoming rather dejected by a swiftly-issued “We never talk shop in the anteroom, Fairclough”. In the evening, just before supper in the mess, a batman arrived to tell him that Captain Foss wanted to see him in his office on the northern end of the Chateau's third floor, which the Captain had selected so as to be best isolated from any other form of life. The furnishing was sparse - one large desk for the C.O., behind which the Captain reclined in a large leather armchair, a smaller desk for his adjutant, and several papers strewn out across the walls and a second desk - among which were a large map pinned to the wall depicting Number 10’s sector of the front and several silhouettes of allied and enemy aircraft. Dutifully Charles stood to attention in front of Foss. “You asked to see me, sir?” “Indeed. So, your first day yesterday. How did you find it?” “I enjoyed it, sir”. “Oh! did you really! Well I'll tell you what, the fun will wear off damned quickly. Now, you know what we do here, I hope?” “Photographic reconnaissance and artillery ranging, sir”. “That’s right”. The Captain rose from his desk, beckoning Charles over to the map. “You’ll be doing the afternoon show tomorrow, ranging for Number 5 battery down here at St. Vaast. Do you know the Clock Code?” “Yes, sir”. “Good, because we only have the one wireless transmitter and it’s about as useful as an ashtray on a bicycle. It’s in for repairs, so you'll need to use a signalling lamp to communicate with the battery. You’ll be flying for Mr. Owen, who is to be your regular observer from now on. He’s one of the better ones we’ve got, so pay attention to everything he tells you to do and, for god’s sake, don’t get him killed. It’s bad enough that we’d lose the machine without taking him along too. Is that clear?” “...yes, sir. Perfectly”. “Good. One more thing. You may have the afternoon show, but if I were you I wouldn’t get too tight tonight. You new chaps usually take about a month to stop being easy meat for the Hun, but you'll at least have some chance if you’ve got your wits fully about you. Dismissed”. No rain came the next morning, and so at One O’Clock Charles met with Captain Owen on the aerodrome. Together they climbed into their B.E. and lifted up into the vast, empty blue. It was a different machine to the one he’d flown the other day, and it climbed well. Soon Charles was flying at the feet of the cumulus-giants at six thousand feet, and the landscape below had become an intangible swirl of green, brown and white, mixed with precision on the vast palette of an anonymous artist. As it had done before, the front crept from the distant haze and rose up to greet Charles - as did the Archie. If Archie's efforts had been anger on his first flight, then today saw the guns below spitting nothing less than a deep, hateful vitriol. Charles gripped the control column with a new depth of anxiety among the chorus of dull thuds as around him the black, circular ghosts of just-exploded shells loomed with unspeakable malice, tearing ravenously at every section of sky save for the exact one he currently occupied. He didn’t know whether to be thankful or horrified, so he decided upon being both simultaneously. Captain Owen producing the signal lamp from his cockpit snapped Charles back into the task at hand, and he craned his neck to look for the response as Owen flashed his signal to the battery. Miles below, a rapidly-blinked message answered. Owen gestured for Charles to circle, and a moment later the first barrage landed, swiftly cutting a fresh line of craters into the blasted landscape of the front. Owen looked down at his map for a moment, then raised the lamp again. A second barrage tore into the earth, at which Owen threw up his arms in exasperation, before turning to Charles and shaking his head. He raised the lamp once more. The Archie vented its rage with renewed fervour... An hour later, Charles felt a surge of relief as the B.E’s wheels came gently down onto the grass at Chocques. He had no idea whether or not whatever it was that the English guns had spent half an hour shooting at had been hit, not that he particularly cared. He was far more interested in the more certain knowledge that the German Archie had missed what they’d spent the last half-hour shooting at. Stepping down from the cockpit, he breathed a sigh of relief, reaching into his pocket for his pack of cigarettes. “Not near the machine, please, sir” a mechanic said to him. “Hullo, Fairclough” O’Bannon greeted him, not looking up from his newspaper as Charles returned to their room and deposited his flying coat on the wall-hook beside his bed. “Good show?”. “Archie gave us a hell of a time”, Charles responded. “I didn’t know that you could get newspapers here”. “You can’t, normally. Ness just got back from leave. It’s a few days old”. “Anything interesting?” “Absolute rot. Care to see for yourself?” O’Bannon folded the newspaper and held it out to Charles. “No, thank you. I can guess. Something about America supposedly joining in at some point”. O’Bannon smirked. “Not this time. But isn't that pitifully wishful thinking, by the way? The average American has no interest in our European mess. They have it rather alright over there at the moment, comparatively speaking. Besides, how about this for a reason not to get involved. How many shells do you think Archie threw at you today?”. “What does that matter?” Charles asked, puzzled. “Humor me”, O’Bannon cooly responded, a thin smile appearing on his lips. His eyes glinted with a flicker that Charles had often recognised in his friends in England, the sign of an idea that had begun to grow and, in doing so, seemed to its originator to be ever-increasingly impressive and clever. “Okay,” Charles replied, “I’d say around fifty or sixty”. O’Bannon set the newspaper down. “Let’s assume it costs the Hun one hundred pounds, for talking’s sake, to produce one Archie shell. That would mean he's already seen fit to spend six thousand pounds, only in the last hour alone, on trying to murder you. Now think how many shells they must send up in a week, and how much that must cost them. It’s no bloody wonder America doesn't want to get involved”. “Absolutely right” Charles answered. “But although we might have to wait some time for the Yanks to make an appearance, I’m certainly not waiting a moment more for lunch to materialise. I'll see you downstairs”.
  5. Hi, all! Glad to be getting involved in another DiD campaign. I've had tons of fun with the previous ones. The tale of Charles A. Fairclough, Part 1. The March morning wind bit harshly with that kind of chill that seems to pass straight through the flesh and root itself deeply into the bones. It was a truly bitter cold - and yet, Charles Fairclough found it comforting. He had always thought of this kind of cold as inherently English, and on its gusts it carried him images of carefree days spent on Hampstead Heath, or at that wonderful aerodrome in Hendon, where he had spent many days of his adolescence watching the fantastic pioneer flying machines turning, looping, racing through the air in ways seemingly unimaginable to humanity before now. He stood now at the edge of another aerodrome, though he had left England and its careless pleasures behind. As so many of his friends before him had done, he had finally come to France, clad in the olive-drab of the Military, to fight in the ‘Great War’ that had rocked Europe to its core these past two years. Through the toil of many hours he had gone into that beloved aerodrome at Hendon and, at last, joined the ranks of the pioneers he idolized; he was a military pilot. The ferry to France had made him violently ill for the most part, and then he had sat uncomfortably in the passenger seat of a Crossley through endless winding country roads before finally arriving at the French village of Gonnehem. From there he had been directed towards the field standing directly beside the looming Chateau de Werppe, dull-white and near-medieval in its appearance, which stood sentinel at the Northern edge of the village, and at last he had found the aerodrome of Number 10 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. …and now he hadn’t the foggiest where to go or what to do next. The Chateau de Werppe. Chocques aerodrome was buzzing with activity. By the gently-rippling bessonneau hangars which lined the edge of the aerodrome, scattered pairs of mechanics clad in blue overalls worked frantically on a trio of B.E.2s. In front of the foremost hangar stood a picnic bench, around which several officers were sat, chatting and laughing loudly among themselves as they played a game of cards. A buzz overhead announced the arrival of another ‘Quirk’. Charles took a moment to watch it glide gently down to land. Past the hangars was a crude wooden hut, reminiscent of the barracks at Hendon. From within stepped a Sergeant, making towards the hangars. Not knowing what else to do, Charles slung his kit-bag over his shoulder and moved to intercept him. “Excuse me!” he called out, “I’m a new pilot, I just arrived. I was told to report to the Adjutants office…might you know where it is?”. The Sergeant, without breaking stride, pointed towards the Chateau de Werppe. “Through the front door, room on the left, Sir”. Charles scarcely managed his thanks before the Sergeant ducked through the entrance of a Bessoneau. With his uncertainty of what to do gone, he skirted the edge of the field and found himself on the footpath that led to the Gothic Chateau, climbing up the steps to the towering front door which stood open and led into a large foyer. Two Lieutenant Pilots reclined in deep red-leather armchairs and appeared to be in a heated discussion. “...well, I’ve hardly given my own marriage a second thought since I got here, so I’m damned well not interested in hearing about yours”. “I'm only saying that we both know bloody well that you really ought to be more faithful”. “Oh, do shut up. It’s a matter of - oh, Hullo! What’s this? A new pilot?” Charles was embarrassed to be discovered eavesdropping. “How do you do?” he asked, sheepishly. The men ignored the question. “Have you seen the Adjutant yet?” one asked. Charles shook his head. “Well then, it’s right through there. Better go and see him”. The Adjutant’s office, before the war, evidently had been a study for the previous proprietor of the Chateau. Lining either wall were towering bookcases, their shelves packed tight with dusty tomes, and centrally sitting in front of the large back-wall window was a beautifully-crafted mahogany desk. From behind it peered a thin, gaunt Lieutenant, his perfectly circular glasses flashing in the light as his head jerked up to assess Charles’ intrusion. “Second Lieutenant Fairclough, I take it?” “Yes, sir”. “Right. You’re assigned to ‘B’ flight. Your flight commander is Lieutenant Wood. He’s through there in the Ante room. Go and see him”. The Ante room was even more extravagant than the luxury of Charles’ family home. The walls seemed to stretch endlessly upwards into a domed, ornate ceiling, and between two tall windows stood a decorative marble fireplace, beside which sat his flight commander, reclining luxuriously in a deep-set brown armchair. The man, Charles thought, had quite violent features - beneath a neatly middle-parted crop of chestnut hair sat close-in angular features, the eyebrows turned down in a seemingly perpetual scowl and the lips tightly pursed. Charles stood to attention in front of the man. “Second Lieutenant Fairclough, reporting” he announced, putting on his greatest air of officialdom. Wood looked over at him tiredly. “Just over from Blighty, I take it?” he asked. “Yes, sir” answered Charles. “How many hours?” Wood asked. “...sir?” “On Quirks”. “Ah. Fifteen, sir”. “Fifteen! Christ. How many times have you crashed?” “Twice, sir”. Charles reddened slightly, but to his surprise Wood nodded approvingly. “Only twice. Well, that’s something, at least. Alright then, Fairclough, I’ll tell you what. ‘B’ Flight are just about to go up on a show. You can come with us, and meet your observer while you’re at it. Your room will be upstairs on the left, you’re sharing it with O’Bannon. Go and drop off your kit and get your flying gear on”. Back on the Aerodrome, Charles had been introduced to both his machine and his observer. To his shock, he learned that it was a Captain he was to be ‘flying for’ - one Captain Owen - whom upon being introduced to him grabbed Charles by the arm and pulled him closer. “Now, listen”, Owen had said to him, “don’t worry about looking for Huns. You new chaps never can see anything in the air at first. I’ll spot the huns for you. But if I point one out to you, you turn around and come straight home. Got it?”. The three crews boarded their machines and, following Wood’s lead, took off serially, circling the aerodrome and forming up before heading South-East. It was only then that Charles realized he hadn’t the foggiest idea where they were going, or even what they were meant to be doing. Quickly he resolved to just stay put behind Wood’s Quirk. The trio drifted southeast, and before long an endless brown shape emerged from behind the veil of the clouds, resembling a vast, bock-scarred bed of some great endlessly-stretching river that had long since dried up. With a lurch, Charles realized that this was the front. Further towards the great scar on the face of France they flew, until the earth beneath Charles’ machine was swallowed entirely by desolation. To the distant north a succession of sudden flashes preceded a great writhing and rising of the earth. Charles watched the distant explosions with disquiet awe for a moment, before turning his attention back to Wood’s machine. Whoof-whoof-whoof. At first Charles was confused, and then alarmed, as the sky around them suddenly became dotted with small, black circular oil-smudges. Archie! On the trip across the channel on the ferry, Charles had briefly spoken to a pilot returning from leave about this strange, unusual menace. According to the pilot, it was perfectly harmless, but nonetheless Charles found himself wincing at each new burst. He felt a sudden embarrassment as Captain Owen flashed him a sharp-toothed grin, and steadied himself once more. ‘Perfectly harmless is our old pal Archie’, he recited in his head - the advice of his pilot friend aboard the ferry - ‘he likes to make a fuss when you come overhead, but he never hits anything, bless him’. After an uncomfortable hour, Wood directed the flight home. It was just after ten O’Clock when they touched back down on the aerodrome at Chocques, and Charles couldn’t help but smile at the notion that he’d just been on his first flight over the front - an idea that seemed all-too-far away during his time as a pilot-in-training. After they had climbed down from their machine, Captain Owen clapped a hand onto Charles’ shoulder. “Not too terrible, was it, Fairclough?” he asked with a smile. “No, not too bad”, Charles replied, “but I admit the archie gave me a bit of a start. I take it you never saw any huns, then?”. The Captain smirked. “Three. All Aviatiks. They buggered off just as soon as they saw us coming”. Later that evening, Charles met the rest of Number 10’s officer pilots as they crowded around a long dining table in the Chateau’s dining room, including his new room-mate, O’Bannon. He found himself on the fringes of a conversation at the far end of the table. “Did you hear, Obie? The Captain and Wilkie bagged a hun over Bethune!” “They never did! With the same trick as before?” “According to Wilkie. Came right ahead of him and under his nose, then popped up in front. Wilkie says the poor Hun looked perfectly horrified!” O’Bannon turned to Charles. “Captain Foss and Wilkie are our star turns. They’ve bagged two huns so far! I’ve got a bet going with Arnold over there that they’ll be the first ace crew to fly a Quirk. Captain Foss, Sir! Did you see where they crashed? We should go over and get a souvenir for the wall!”. At the other end of the table, a stocky, dark-haired pilot looked up from the glass of whiskey he’d been nursing with an irritated air. “Don’t be so bloody stupid, O’Bannon”. O’Bannon laughed, and turned back to Charles. “Our C.O. is a funny chap. Not the most pleasant fellow, but we’ll follow him anywhere”. Dinner was simple and small - meat and potatoes - but where food was seemingly sparse, drink was abundant, and as the evening went on the pilots became increasingly rowdy, in celebration of Captain Foss and Wilkins’ victory in the air. Before too long the entire mess had broken into several songs. Charles knew the tunes, but definitely didn’t know the pilots and observers of Number 10’s renditions, where every other word seemed to be substituted for some profanity or another. The revelry escalated until Captain Foss, who had retired early, made a reappearance at the door of the mess. “I want some damned sleep tonight, if none of the rest of you do!” he bellowed. Defused, the men began to retire upstairs to their respective rooms. “The one on the right’s yours” O’Bannon told Charles. “Dump your stuff in that trunk by the foot of the bed”. “Thank you”. “So, first flight today? Was it everything you’d hoped for and more?”. “It...wasn't quite what I’d imagined. My observer says he saw three huns, but I never saw a thing”. “Ha! Well, of course not on your first time over! Never mind. With any luck at all, you never will see one”. “Are Aviatiks really that good compared to our B.E.2s?”. “Oh, not so much. But those damned Hun monoplanes are. Here’s some advice. If you ever see one of those, no matter how far away it is, fly back home. They’re real killers”. O’Bannon rolled over to face away from Charles. “Anyway, you’ve got the morning show tomorrow and I’m half-tight, so goodnight”. “Goodnight. Thanks for the advice”.

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