- Historic Sites
A Flier’s Journal
The planes were fragile and the Boche was tough, but the girls were pretty, the wine was good, and death was something that happened to someone else
December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
June 25 —Officer of the Day until noon of the a6th. Got the copy of my orders from Vichy to Amanty out of the headquarters files during the night and burned it. I don’t want that paper around if I ever get in trouble later on about leaving Vichy.
June 27 —Up in Number 9 for half an hour with Lieutenant William Badham, my newly assigned observer, who has had about thirty hours over the lines with the French before being assigned to the gist. He seemed a bit worried when I told him this was the first time I had taken a Salmson off the ground but after I had made a couple of good landings, he cheered up. Anyhow, I’m over one hump. I am back flying … again.
June 30 —… Badham and I got some good pictures in the afternoon. Saw no enemy planes and got very little ack-ack between Saint-Mihiel and Mars-la-Tour and Conflans. General Gerard of the French VIIIth Army, to which we are attached, came over to compliment us. He said that we had done more in the last two days than his other Army Observation Squadron (French) had done during the whole month of June. … About 6:30 P.M. , we heard a single plane flying high over our airdrome. Suddenly it dropped a can container with a long red streamer attached to it which landed on the edge of the field. The can contained a message saying that Battle and Williamson were prisoners, both unhurt. They had shot off their own propeller while strafing the German trenches north of Flirey. The Germans liked Williamson, but Battle seemed to be mad at everyone. They finished by asking if we had any information about a captain and a flying sergeant who had been missing for some time. We found out about both of them. They had been shot down a couple of weeks previously on our side of the lines. We got all the dope together with the places where they were buried and put it in the same can and attached the same red streamer to it. [Herb] Schaffner will drop it on the Boche field … tomorrow evening.
July 1 —Schaffner dropped the message. He reported no ack-ack fire and saw no German planes in the air.
July 2 —… Mayes and his observer Schilling over at 8:00 A.M. No news from them up to dark today.
July 3 — … Just at dark a German plane dropped another message, which landed over on the Toul field of the pursuit boys. It said that they were sorry to have to tell us that “Leutnant Schilling” was “todt” [dead] and that “Leutnant Mayes” was “schwer verwundet” [badly wounded] after being shot down yesterday. They told us where Schilling was buried and asked for some information on some of their own missing fliers, which we will give them as soon as we get the information ourselves. This is a good sporting part of this war. Got a couple of letters from home.
July 7 —Up in Number 16 in the morning on a test flight for a couple of hours. … My bum foot gives me trouble on any flight over an hour. Every time I push on the rudder bar it hurts like the devil. … I asked Sergeant Newman, my crew chief, to weld a pipe hoop on the left rudder bar so that I can either push or pull with the good foot. I hope it helps.
July 15 —Same weather as yesterday. A Texas boy named Tobin from the pursuit crowd at Toul finally got sick of not being able to get a combat with a German aviator, so the other day he took off by himself, flew across the front, and then on to the Boche airdrome at Mars-la-Tour. Here he saw a plane flying around the field and promptly shot it down and returned home without further incident to be congratulated by the gang. Now he is being kidded by everyone since the Germans dropped a note saying that it wasn’t very sporting to shoot down a brand-new pilot who was just practising landings in an unarmed training plane.
July 16 —Guilbert and Seymour and Van Heuvel and Hirth took off at daybreak on a two-plane formation visual reconnaissance mission. They had just crossed the front north of Pont-a-Mousson at 4,800 meters when four Fokkers jumped them. Guilbert brought his ship back home, but he had three bullet holes in his flying suit and Seymour had his windshield shot off and seven holes in the gun tourelle around him. At the opening of the attack, Hirth was shot through the heart and bullets creased Van Heuvel’s head, knocking him unconscious. He came to at 1,000 meters in a nose-down, motor-full-on spin. He pulled out just at the treetops and made it back to the field. He taxied up to the line, got out, lifted Hirth out of his cockpit, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him in to “Doc” Gray’s tent on the edge of the field. “Take a look at him, will you, Doc?” he said. “I think he’s dead.” Doc Gray took a look at Hirth’s chest where an explosive bullet had torn him apart. “He’s dead all right, Van,” Gray said. Van took off his flying helmet. “Poor guy,” he said, “they got him before he knew he was in a war,” and left.