March 24th 1918

Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery) has been enjoying an interesting job as an ‘officier d’antenne’, receiving messages from aeroplanes and then transmitting them on to his Battery for action. He has written to tell of us of his first experience of flying:

13.3.18.  6th Groupe, Secteur 21. “While they were preparing, a young observer came up and offered me his warm things, which are a kind of combinagger which you put over your boots and bags and coat and everything, and button up down the front. It is fur-lined and is guaranteed to keep you warm at any temperature. Then he gave me his gloves and a fur-lined foot-bag, which I declined as it wasn’t cold, and a woolly cap, then an aviator’s helmet over the top and goggles. I felt like a diver with all that on, and climbing in was a bit of a job.

The young hero [the pilot] got in first in front between between two hefty great motors, and I climbed in behind and sat on a kind of piano stool which slides backwards and forwards…

Then he set the motor working and we manoeuvred into position with a mechanic hanging on to each wing, taking gigantic hops like a couple of fleas. Once in position, we stopped dead and the pilot told me to strap myself in and put on my goggles… He then set the two motors going full split and we got going fast (about 90 or 100 miles an hour) and before I knew where I was, I looked down and there was a map underneath.

I had told the fellow I wanted to fly over the 6th Groupe so he did and came right down over the groupe and they all came out and waved their hands at me, and I dropped a message of good will saying that I was tired of war on earth and was migrating to the moon!

Then we made for the lines and went up to about 600 metres and I observed our batteries until we got over the Yser, which is no man’s land – or rather water… We flew up and down the Yser for a bit and then my friend suddenly swooped down to 300 metres. The Germans didn’t like this, but we got away before their machine-guns got going properly… 

My word, you should have seen the houses of La Panne flying past. After that, as soon as we crossed the French frontier we went up again, then down to the Kennel. It was all great fun and the pilot was a very clever fellow…

But the end of the story is that his Squadron Commander was at La Panne and saw us playing monkey tricks, so my friend got 18 days ‘arrêt de riguer.'”

From what Noel says, it appears that he is stationed near the French/Belgian border  – La Penne being on the coast not far from Dunkirk. The letter was written before the Germans launched their offensive on March 21st, and things may be less relaxed now, even if the main area of fighting is further south.

The newspapers suggest that the German attacks are being resisted successfully. Sir Douglas Haig’s communiqué of Friday 22nd is reassuring of that:

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