Reality has returned. I am standing up wondering how soon Father will show up. The beautiful white shirt is no more. The big white collar is torn half off. Green grass covers the front of my shirt and suit. One stocking is down, the other is torn and there is a large rip in the pants leg. My head hurts like the dickens and my left eye feels like it is shutting. Worst of all, it is beginning to dawn on me that I haven't gone to Sunday school.
I Join The Royal Air Force
"Libby, we are glad to see you. This won't take long, it is only routine. We will take your weight and height first."
"Do you know anything about aeroplanes?" Absolutely nothing, I answered. "What makes you think you can fly?" I don't know, I have never been near a plane. "Can you ride a horse?" Now, what a horse had to do with flying I didn't know, as horses don't fly, but here I was on safe ground, so I assured the colonel I was an expert with horses......
Major Ross Hume says, "Welcome to the Twenty-third Squadron, Libby. Libby, we need observers. This is Lieutenant Price and Lieutenant Hicks, both of whom are in need of a good observer. What do you know about a machine gun?" Up to now no one has mentioned machine guns, so, when I assure the major I know nothing, he shows no shock, but immediately tells the sergeant major to take me to the gunnery sergeant for a half hour of instruction and shooting on the gun range......
This doesn't seem possible. I left my base at seven-thirty, it is now ten-thirty, and if his orders work out, hell, I could well be dead by noon......
The ship that was rolled out was the pusher type, with the propeller in the rear. The pilot was in front of the motor in the middle of the ship and the observer in front of the pilot. When you stood, all of you from the knees up was exposed to the world. There was no belt and nothing to hold on to except the gun and sides of the nacelle......
Between the observer and pilot was another gun, which was for the purpose of fighting a rear-run action over the top wing to protect your tail.....
My instructions are, when we turn back toward the field and come within range of a red petrol tin which Lt. Price shows me on the way out to take off, to shoot the tin in bursts from the gun, then to change drums and repeat the performance once more, then land.
All this is old hat to the lieutenant, but not to me, who one hour before had never had my hand on a plane, and have had my first contact with a machine gun a few minutes previous. I'm flat on my bottom for the take-off, then I am supposed to either stand or get on my knees to be in position to shoot on our way back. This I am preparing to do, when he throws the ship in a steep bank to turn. I almost swallow my tongue, and my eyes are full of tears, for I have no goggles, so we fly over and past the target, which I don't even see.
This I know is very bad, a very poor showing on my part.......
As Price makes his second trip toward the target, I am in position with the gun pointed where I think the target will show up. This it does and I press the trigger and can see the petrol tin bounce and roll over - how could one miss with forty-seven rounds? - as I forget and let the whole works go......
Back To France As An Officer
We have just returned from my first big show, we along with some sixty other fighter ships acting as escort to thirty-six bombers. The bombers are converted artillery B.E.2c, which have no observer so they can carry more bombs, and are completely dependent on their escorts for protection. The escort consists of F.E.2b, D.H.2, single-seater scouts, Nieuports, a few Martinsydes and F.E.8, the escorts outnumbering the bombers two to one. Our targets are the Douai and Cambrai air fields. The bombers going over are strung out in tandem, one following the other, their mission to drop the bombs and back for home as fast as possible. Their altitude is approximately seven thousand. We of the escort range from eight to ten thousand. Our A and B Flights of Eleven Squadron catch the front end of the bombers going over, where we escort them to their target, then return with the last bombers leaving the target, which gives the Hun ample time to get altitude and catch us going back.
Copyright Frederick Libby. For permission to reprint this excerpt please contact horsesdon'tfly.com
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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