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The Swallow

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The Swallow
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Author(s): Ruth Dunbar
Date Published: 2013/01
Page Count: 132
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-017-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-016-1

An uncompromising anti-war view of the First World War

This book, first published in 1919, is indisputably a novel. However, while this fact is made very clear on the title page of the original edition, it is coupled with the tantalising information that the incidents related in these pages and the character of the book’s protagonist, the Texan Richard Byrd, are factual. Furthermore, the inspiration for Byrd was a member of the French Foreign Legion who became pilot in the legendary Lafayette Escadrille. So this volume is what we now call ‘faction,’ and because there is a dearth of material concerning the First World War in the air—to provide for the ongoing interest in the activities of the famous Lafayette Escadrille in particular—the Leonaur Editors believe it is appropriate to include it in our Aviation series so that readers can enjoy both the ‘story’ and the narration of real life events about a time when heroic military aviators really were ‘the few.’
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

My first flight over the lines was made under the wing of Dover Manley. Patrolling Dead Man’s Hill, we kept a sharp lookout for machines bearing the black cross of Germany. As we found none we flew about awhile to watch the battle. It was the siege of Verdun and I had expected to see fierce fighting and hear the tremendous noise of war. I could hear nothing but the roar of my own motor. I could see nothing but a dishevelled strip of earth ploughed with mine craters. Back of the lines I did see something: on one side a little streak as if someone had scratched a match on the ground; on the other, little puffs of smoke like the dust from puff-balls. And that was all there was to the great Battle of Verdun.<br>
For some time my only taste of war was when I would drop into an immense hole in the air left by one of the big shells. And I was pining for a sight of the enemy. It came suddenly. A bomb burst just behind our hangar. The noise sickened me. I did not know what it was.<br>
“A Boche, a Boche!” cried the boys.<br>
Looking up I saw a bony white thing in the air, like the skeleton of a fish. It was a German machine!<br>
My own machine was broken, but before I even thought of that, three of the chaps were up. A bomb dropped near me. My stomach caved in. Another bomb burst and another. Then a whistle blew. I began to run. Seeing a lot of workmen running, I joined them. I didn’t know where they were going. I only knew I must get away from that noise.<br>
Leaping over the ground, head down, I dove straight into the stomach of an officer.<br>
“Where are you going?” he asked calmly.<br>
I stopped and looked at him. War was here! The dream of my life was realised! And I, poor poltroon, was running away! Turning, I went with the officer to the town.<br>
We counted over our heads fifteen machines.<br>
Bar-le-Duc was in a valley. The railroad station was along the canal. Our field was on a plateau. Both field and station were easily seen from the air. Passing the station by entirely, dropping a few shells over the field by way of pastime, the Germans deliberately bombed the town—bombed peaceful old men and women and children.<br>
The invasion of Belgium was evidence enough that Germany had no more sense of civilisation than a savage. I had heard first-hand a hundred instances of barbarous treachery. I knew the English doctor who had responded to the call of a wounded German on the field and who after caring for the man as if he were one of his own countrymen, was shot in the back by his patient. I knew a dozen more men who themselves had experienced the brutal breaking of every war condition to which Germany had pledged itself. But not till my own eyes saw these crumpled homes of innocent civilians, women without faces, old men without arms and legs, babies without mothers—not till now did I know why I was fighting. My adventure was now an adventure of purpose.<br>
Next day my machine was in order so that I was able to fly with the others. It was much less terrifying to be in the air firing a machine gun than to stand on the earth below, where all effort was absolutely useless. It made me realise more poignantly the outrage against those old men and women.<br>
Our boys did what they could but the Germans had the advantage. In the air one must work on three dimensions instead of two: width, breadth and height. Distances, of course, are enormous. If a German is five or six hundred yards away and happens to have a speedy machine, a gun is useless. The point of vantage is from above with the sun at your back so if the enemy looks in your direction he cannot see you. The Germans now, of course, could climb high and we were at a disadvantage.<br>
Day after day they bombed us. Just as we would settle down to a noon beefsteak, would come the cry: “Les Boches!” Out we would run. “My trousseau, Antoinette!” I would call to Anton, my mechanician. Then not waiting for it I would cram down my cap, jump in the car, shout “Contact!” and fly off. Four times a day I would go to a height of five thousand yards. It was a terrific strain and useless. Not till they had bombarded us a week did I get from my machine a glimpse of the enemy.<br>
That day, just as I left the ground, I saw twelve German machines, all from two to three thousand metres up. Setting my machine at a tangent, I started climbing. Around and around under the Germans I circled. Looking down at the town, I saw little brown puffs of smoke from the German bombs. Looking up at the Germans I saw little puffs of white smoke from the French shells.<br>
I was halfway between the two. It seemed safer to get close up under the Germans; so I started climbing. By the time I reached their height they had all disappeared except one little scout. I was right in under him. I went on climbing. So did the scout. The faster I climbed the faster he climbed. Try as I would I could not get ahead of him.<br>
“Pt!” He was firing at me.<br>
Dropping my machine down into a reloading position, I fired back.<br>
“Pt!” answered he.<br>
“Pt!” rejoined I.<br>
“Pt, pt, pt!” he sputtered.<br>
“Pt, pt, pt yourself,” I retorted.<br>
This last word came high. I had spent my last cartridge! If he fired again and I did not answer he would know he had me. But happily he disappeared behind the German lines and I scudded back to the field. That was the last day of the bombardment.