Presented for your reading pleasure are a few tales pinched from a 1918 book called Great Deeds Of The Great War, told by Donald A. Mackenzie, published by Blackie And Son Limited (London, Glasgow and Bombay). It is a child’s book.
The book belonged to my mother-in-law’s husband Bill Johnson, whose father served Great Britain during the Great War, known as WWI or World War 1.
What is cool about it is the inscription: To Nellie, From George, X-mas 1918.
What’s even more interesting, is that WWI wouldn’t finish until 1919, so even when the book was published, the result of who would be the victor was still largely unknown.
From the section entitled:
Battles in the Air
BATTLES in the air are fought between flying-men, and sometimes these take place at so great a height that they cannot be seen by the soldiers in the trenches. The aeroplanes often soar above the clouds, one trying to get higher than the other so that bombs may be thrown down, or a machine-gun or revolver fired with sure aim at an opponent beneath.
Aeroplanes are used for spying on the enemy’s position. Photographs are taken from them, and these help the gunners greatly. The flying-men also watch how shells fall, and telegraph to the batteries saying, “Your range is short” or “too long”, or “Fire more to the right” or “to the left”, as the case may be. When an attack is on, both sides do their utmost to prevent flying-men from watching what is happening behind the lines.
Our British flying-men have shown such great skill and bravery that the Germans have had reason to dread them very much. Time and again the Kaiser’s aviators have tried to get the command of the air by reducing the number of our flyers.
One day the Germans planned an ambush for a very fearless British aviator who had been giving them a lot of trouble. They sent up a half a dozen Fokker machines to hide in a bank of clouds above their lines, and to wait there, cruising about, for their enemy.
Suddenly, when the British machine was just below the cloud, the Fokkers came out and opened a brisk fire, while the anti-aircraft guns below kept throwing shells so as to strike it if it descended low enough.
The fight was very unequal, and the British machine was so badly peppered with shot that the engine ceased working. It seemed to the Germans as if they were going to get rid of their enemy. But the British flyer kept very cool, and planed down to a green field behind our position. The Fokkers that followed him were driven off by the British anti-aircraft guns. On both sides the fight was watched with interest. When the German soldiers saw the British machine being planed down, they jumped up in their trenches and began to cry “Hoch! hoch!” At once our artillery and machine-guns opened fire, and the “hochs” came to a sudden end.
Here is another story about an air fight with a different ending. On a beautiful sunny morning, after a spell of bad weather, a British airman climbed high into the air to scout for the enemy. He went on climbing until he was nearly 10,000 feet above the ground, and felt, as he has told, “distinctly chilly” up there.
After a time two aeroplanes came insight below him, one following the other. He descended a bit, and soon discovered that a very fast German monoplane was chasing a slower British bi-plane. He decided at once to attack the enemy. To get down quickly, he had to make his machine dive a distance of 2000 feet at a speed of over 160 miles an hour.
He arrived at the scene of the fight just in time. The German was using a machine-gun at a range of only 50 yards, and the observer in the bi-plane had three bullet wounds in one of his arms. A bullet had also pierced the petrol tank, and the oil was spouting out and drenching the pilot.
The man from above opened fire on the German. Then began a struggle for position, each machine circling round and round to make a deadly attack at close range. Soon, however, the German, who had the smallest and fastest machine, lost heart and turned to fly away. Down, down he went, at the same time heading for home. He was trying to get above the German lines, so that his friends might open fire on the British machine and get him out of his scrape. For a time it looked as if he would manage to get away. Sudden;y, however, the British flyer managed to get into a very favourable position. He opened fire, and the second shot struck the German pilot and killed him.
When this happened the monoplane was about 6000 feet high. It suddenly began to dart about like a twig floating on a river. Then it turned right around, looping the loop. Down and down it went in a slanting direction. Next the wind caught it and tilted it sideways, with the result that it went whirling round and round like a cart-wheel. Once again it righted. A few seconds later it performed several loops, then turned sideways again and whirled round about once or twice. In the end it dived, nose forward, through the roof of a dug-out in the British trenches. Four men sitting in the dug-out were injured, but not seriously. The escaping petrol caught fire, and in a few minutes there was nothing left of the monoplane but the shattered engine and twisted steel framework.
Whew! Breathtaking! While written for kids, it also seems to be based on true stories. For me, the proof of that is that in the last story – which is pretty descriptive – it suddenly becomes unsure, as the narrator says the monoplane ‘whirled round about once or twice’. The key word is ‘about’. The pilot describing the tale may not have been sure.
It is a shame that exact plane models or pilot names were not included, though I will note that other chapters do provide boat names et al.
I have retained grammatical errors (lack of commas), and other things to have it remain as printed, though I did NOT provide two spaces between sentences, preferring my own standard of one character space.
The image above is from the book, one of 12 coloured plates (with many black-and-white illustrations) proudly proclaimed on the book’s frontspiece.
Unfortunately, that was the only chapter within the book to contain an aviation tale.