This collection of anecdotes, accounts and reports of the activities of the R. F. C. during the First World War on the Western Front was originally published under the title, Thrilling Deeds of British Airmen by Eric Wood. The original title, perhaps, gives the potential reader some indication as to the tone of this book since it was written during the conflict itself and predictably is jingoistic in its style. So, given the partiality of the author, readers should not look to this work for ‘a well-rounded view.’ Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that there is a paucity of material available on warfare in the air during this period and for many readers interested in the subject all works which add new information are welcome. In that Woods’ book does not disappoint, he recounts a number of incidents concerning strafing raids, the bombing of enemy targets, attacks on Zeppelins, the activities of the Coastal Patrol and the aerial attacks on shipping, which do not necessarily appear elsewhere in print. Woods also provides accounts of notable aviators including Warneford, V. C. This pot-pourri of vignettes of British airmen during the first aerial war offers much of interest and is recommended for reading enjoyment.
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You cannot repair a fault in an engine when you are in midair, although, if you know how, you can do miracles of many kinds with aeroplanes while they are on the wing. In this present instance it was a case of going down to see what was wrong and trying to put it right. So Lieutenant Smylie put his machine at an angle and went volplaning down the giddy depths of air, taking the man-bird’s chance that he might land in a lonely place.<br>
One thing consoled him in his wrath, and that was that he had disposed, usefully, as far as he could make out, of all his bombs but one; and Ferrijik Junction was smoking and blazing as a result. He snapped his teeth together grimly as he thought of the luck that was really his after all in having that one left—it would come in handy later, perhaps.<br>
The biplane glided down like a swallow, the earth seemed to be rising up to meet it; an amateur sitting in the fuselage would have felt his heart stop with the fear of the coming crash. But, instead, there was a slight jar, a rebound, and another jar slighter than ever; then stillness except for the quivering twang of the planes. Quickly unstrapping himself, the airman stepped out, slipped his goggles over on to his forehead and began to inspect the engine which had brought him down, as he realized, in the enemy’s territory. What, however, he did not know at that moment was that a party of Turks had seen the volplaning machine, and, judging the spot where it would land, were rushing toward it, hugely delighted at the prospect of their prize.<br>
The lieutenant tinkering away at his engine, having discovered the secret of its awkwardness, suddenly straightened his bent back. Two things he had heard—the rushing of feet behind him and the hum of something above. Quickly looking round, he saw a number of Turks pelting along the rough ground, so near that he could see the grins of victory on their dirty faces.<br>
“No need to try to tinker the old thing now,” he muttered to himself, and made a leap away from the aeroplane, after having set fire to his machine, knowing that this would explode the bomb and so ensure the destruction of the aeroplane. At the same time he looked up.
What he saw set his blood a-tingling—a single-seater biplane similar to his own was swooping down, and he could see the vari-coloured circles on her planes which told him she was British. And she was but a few hundred feet above him, yet coming down swiftly as a stone drops.<br>
But would she get down in time to rescue him before that band of yelling Turks reached him? Smylie did not know: all that he did know was that they should never touch his machine. The trouble was that the descending aeroplane might alight so near the stricken machine that when the explosion took place it might be damaged and its pilot be wounded. Lieutenant Smylie, clear-eyed, clear-headed, was watching the one small bomb that remained in place, and, his revolver ready in his hand, he ran back, determined to blow the machine, and any who got near her, into smithereens: never should his British ’plane fall into the enemy’s hands.<br>
The hum of the coming aeroplane had now turned to a thunderous roar, and the airman knew that it could be but a few feet from the ground. Then came a hail:<br>
And the aviator shot—shot with an accuracy that was amazing; there was a sharp explosion, a cloud of smoke, a rain of wreckage—and the advancing Turks saw nothing of their anticipated prize but scraps of wood and steel.<br>
But they saw something that made them frenzied; the second aeroplane was on the ground, and the stranded airman was sitting across the fuselage, there being no other place for him to sit. In the brief moments that had elapsed between the firing of the revolver and the descent of the shattered wreckage he had swung his comrade’s propeller, had called contact, and had leaped astride the fuselage at the moment the big bird was on the rise.<br>
There was a rush by the Turks, who were yelling excitedly; incredible though it may seem, not one of them fired a shot at the aviators, who could have been killed outright. Instead, they tried to seize the biplane, as though they would pull her down to earth once more. One or two, indeed, did manage to snatch hold of her tail as she quivered to the purring engine, but they were shaken off like so many rats, and up into the clear blueness the biplane went with her double burden—up and out seaward, with the shrapnel bursting all around her. The rescuer—it was Flight-Squadron-Commander Richard Bell-Davies—sat grimly in his seat and manoeuvred his machine into the heights of safety, while the rescued held on grimly to the fuselage with hands and feet.