- Tales of Valor in Battle
- 'A Bombing Expedition
- with the British Air Service'
- Told by First Lieutenant J. Errol D. Boyd
- of the British Air Service
- Daring Adventures of the Royal Fliers
an illustration of a British plane on a daylight bombing mision in Belgium
The feats of the British fliers form a thrilling chapter of modern heroism. Their exploits are innumerable. In the defense of London from Zeppelin raids, on the Western and Eastern battle-front, in the Dardanelles, over the deserts of Africa, and along the valleys of the Nile they are not unlike the crusaders of old in their heroism. We here present one typical narrative it is the story of a Canadian, from Toronto, who relates his own thrilling experience to a war correspondent of the New York World at The Hague. "Boydie," as his friends call him, was shot down by a German anti-aircraft gun from the almost unbelievable height of 12,000 feet. Three cylinders were torn away from his engine. The wings were pierced in five places. His machine dropped two miles, twisting and turning, looping the loop ten times on his way down. It finally landed, right-side up, with the young Canadian safe and sound, just fifty yards inside of Dutch territory. He sprang from his seat and gave brisk battle to the soldiers of Queen Wilhelmina. They overpowered him, and interned him, but not until there'd been a considerable mix-up, in which fists and noses figured prominently Boydie's fists and some Dutch noses.
I "Boydie's" Own Story of Adventure
It's the greatest game, the greatest thrill in the world! I used to think that driving a motor car 100 miles an hour was fun. I was in that game in Canada for a while. Then I thought that just riding in a slow old biplane 'bus was a pretty keen proposition. But a chap never knows what real sport is until he's driving his own fast machine, with a pal working a machine gun, and going after the other fellow hell-bent for election. That's the life!
It makes me laugh now to think of the old biplane "pushers" with the propellers at the rear that I used to fool with. Old Farnams and Curtises and Wrights. Why, a chap was lucky to get 65 or 70 miles an hour out of some of them.
It was the proudest day of my life when they gave me my flying ticket and a speedy little Nieuport biplane and said: "Here she is, Boydie. Take her over the Channel. Beat it for Dunkirk. Some of the others are going across this afternoon, so you won't get lost if you follow them. Top o' the luck to you, old Toronto." Half a dozen other machines went sailing over the water, 5,000 feet high, that spring morning doing a leisurely eighty miles an hour and spaced as evenly as a squadron of battleships in parade formation. The leaders were circling about and descending toward an immense open space in front of a long row of hangars at Dunkirk.
It wasn't long after that before I got into my first scrap. I never will forget that, for I made a bally fool out of myself and was mighty glad to get back alive to the station. I had a pretty good machine, a Moran monoplane equipped with a machine gun, and an old chap called Gott, a sergeant, went up with me and sat in the gun seat. I was wild to see the German lines.
"Go and take a look at them," the C. O. said, "but don't cross or you'll probably get jolly well peppered. Those 'Archies' [anti-aircraft guns] can shoot pretty far and pretty straight, you know."
II "We Fight 8,000 Feet in the Air"
I promised to be careful and up we went. At about 8,000 feet I headed her for the German trenches, and in a few minutes we were right over them. Old Gott gave me a nudge then, and right ahead of us, a few miles off, I saw two German Albatross machines coming right for us. Old Gott and I had our telephones on and he said: "What about it, Lieutenant?"
"What do you say if we let 'em have a bit?" I asked him.
"Right-o, sir," said Gott. He was a game chap, that old fellow, and he'd been in many a scrap. I often wonder whether he's still all right. Well, he had a belt of cartridges on the gun, and he got ready to spin 'em out. I stuck the nose of the old bus up in the air and tried to get on top of the Germans. My machine was a better climber than theirs, and so when we passed I was a couple of hundred feet higher. Old Gott pointed the gun at 'em and kept working the trigger. I could see the flames shooting out of the muzzle. But the Boches were pretty busy too. I caught sight of their gunmen working away with their quick-firers as we passed. With the rush of air it was impossible to feel the whiz of any of their bullets; but I knew jolly well that they were pretty close to us, and we found later a lot of holes in our wings.
Well, all of us wheeled, and at it we went again. Gott put on another belt of cartridges and let 'em have it. As we passed the second time one of the Albatrosses dropped a couple of hundred feet. I thought that Gott had winged the pilot, but it must have been only an airhole they struck, for they straightened out and went on.
They're speedy beggars, those Albatrosses. By the time I got turned again and straightened out they were half a mile or so off and driving like the devil over their own country running away from us.
"Let's go after them and give 'em what-for, Gott!" I said. "Very good, sir," he answered. So after them we went. I gave the old bus all she had, but I couldn't overtake the Albatrosses, nor even get near enough to have another shot at them. Mile after mile we drove until, finally, we came to a town Ghent it must have been and I thought it was about time to start back. We were only about 6,000 feet high.
All of a sudden there was a little white cloud directly in front of us, a few hundred yards off. We plunged right through it, and I got a sniff of some strong acid-like odor. Then little white clouds began to appear at our sides, and below us and above us. Gott pointed upward and I made the machine climb as hard as she could without standing right on our tail.
I realized then that the Albatrosses had purposely run away from us to lead us into a trap. They had led us right over a long line of "Archies."
There we were, twenty miles or so from home, with every anti-aircraft gun the Germans had peppering away at us. We certainly made a race for it. There was no use circling around and climbing. The only thing to do was to go up as best we could while driving, straight ahead, and trust to luck. To get home was the one thing we wanted.
It took us perhaps fourteen or fifteen minutes to do the twenty-odd miles. And in every mile of that distance there were at least two or three Archies letting drive at us. A couple of minor wires were struck, and old Gott had his clothes torn by a bit of shell. I didn't get hit. But it sure was a hot dash for home, and we were a couple of lucky chaps to get there. I got an awful ragging from the C. O. for being such a fool. Never again did I drive over the German territory so close to the earth as 8,000 feet!
Ill "My Bombing Expedition"
I did week after week of scout work, driving over Belgium with observers who noted the movement of German troops from place to place, or took photographs of the trenches and the fortifications back of them, or plotted out the exact location of supply stations and the like, for the purpose of bombing them later.
That's a snappy sport bombing but you've got to watch your step, as you say in the States. You mustn't forget to let go all of your bombs before you come down, or you'll be smashed up yourself. I knew one poor chap who made a landing with two bombs he'd forgotten to drop. That was the end of him and his machine. There wasn't much left of either.
It was on a bombing expedition that' I met my big adventure the one that landed me in this country, technically a prisoner.
It was on Oct. 3. Three of us set out with orders to let go a few T-N-T's on some hangars and supply sheds the Germans had at Zeebrugge, some forty odd miles up the coast from our station at Dunkirk. Each of us had six 75-pound bombs under the body of our machine. Pretty deadly things those 75-pounders. They'll make quite a smash. Then I had a dozen or more little hand-bombs, five or six pounders. They're nasty beggars, too. You don't want to be too close to the spot where they land.
We got away in the dark, about 4 o'clock, and, back of our own lines, climbed till we were about 10,000 feet up. Then we headed up the coast and got over the town of Zeebrugge just as daylight was appearing. We located the sheds we wanted, and one after the other of us let go at them. It's a great thing to pull your lever, let the old bomb go whizzing down for nearly two miles, and then wheel around and wait to see what she'll do when she hits. Of course, you can't hear anything, but you see a puff, a burst of earth, and, if you're lucky, maybe you'll see a building go to smash.
Well, it didn't take long for them to know that we were over them, and they began to let drive with their Archies. The shells began to burst pretty close to my old R. E. P. a fast, single-passenger monoplane I was driving that day but I stuck around and let drop all six T-N-T's and hand-bombs. I was separated from the other chaps by this time, and didn't see them, in fact.
I heard in a roundabout way afterward that one of my bombs killed fourteen men and four horses. I don't know whether that's true or not. The story had it that several of the men killed were Belgians. I hope that part of it's wrong. But that's the luck of the game.
Pretty soon a bomb bullet burst only a couple of hundred feet away from me, and right on my level, although my gauge showed me that I was pretty close to 11,000 feet. I said to myself: "You'd best stick her nose up, Boydie, or they'll get you. These Archies must be new ones, for they're throwing steel higher than any I ever saw before." So I climbed and climbed, circling around, until I was a few hundred feet over 12,000. There I felt absolutely safe, and began to look around to see where I was. I had passed completely over Zeebrugge and was pretty well up the coast toward a sort of a strait. I thought I'd best turn around and make back for home while the making was good. So I wheeled and began to think about breakfast. The only thing in my mind at the moment was that I was hungry.
The next thing I knew there was a blinding smash right in front of me. I realized two things that my propeller was gone and that I was falling like a stone. They'd got me at last. I didn't know whether I'd been hit anywhere or not. I just gave everything up and began to see pretty little pictures of Toronto and New York and my girl in Cleveland, and all that sort of thing. Believe me, I was a scared Canadian. It looked like curtains for J. Errol Dunston Boyd.
But you know how it is: if a fellow falls into the water he tries to swim anyhow, even if he can't. He does something instinctively to help himself. So I kept on trying, working my levers without half knowing what I was doing.
You've seen that "falling leaf" stunt that the trick fliers do, haven't you where the machine just flops from side to side as it comes down, swinging this way and then the other way? Well, that's what my old R. E. P. was doing. Then she'd loop. Some chaps who saw me coming down said she looped nine or ten times. I'd looped before, but never involuntarily. I was strapped in of course, or I'd have beaten the old bus down to the ground.
IV "I Dropped 12,000 Feet from the Clouds"
I don't know how long it takes to drop 12,000 feet. The scientists can figure it out. But, believe me, it doesn't take very long. I was in a sort of a daze from the time I was struck, but it seemed only a couple of seconds before I saw the ground right under me, and I couldn't believe it then I was right side up and on a decent angle for landing. I lifted her nose a little bit just before striking, and, so help me, Bob, I got her on the ground with scarcely a bump.
About a quarter of a mile off were a lot of soldiers in gray uniforms. They began to run toward me. "Well, I'll give you German beggars a little row before you stick me in one of your filthy prison camps," I said to myself. As soon as I got the old bus to a standstill I unstrapped myself and jumped out. When the gray-backs got within a hundred yards of me I let drive at them with my service revolver. I slammed all seven shots at 'em, but missed.
I must have been a bit balmy in the bean, for I didn't notice that they weren't firing at me. Then I did a nutty stunt. You know we carry "light pistols." They're things that you use to shoot colored balls of fire with at night, for signalling purposes, when you're going to land, and all that. It happened that I grabbed my light pistol as I jumped out of the seat, so I thought, "I'll give you this, too, you dirty Bodies!" And I shot half a dozen beautiful balls of fire at them. I was raging mad.
Then they surrounded me. I'm pretty husky, you see. I've got 180 pounds, and at that time I was hard as nails; so a couple of them, you can bet, took some good wallops before a dozen or so piled on top of me and pinned me down. They began shouting things at me in some language that I didn't understand.
Finally one of them said in English: "We're not your enemies. We're not Germans. This is Holland and we're Dutchmen."
Only then did I stop scrapping with them. They let me up and stood around me with their bayonets ready to give me a jab in case I started anything more. It was some little time before I was able to stop puffing and give a look around at the scenery. Only fifty yards away was the border line between Belgium and Holland, marked by, a heavy barbed- wired entanglement and two or three cables through which ran high powered electric currents.
On the other side of the fence were a hundred or more Boches patrols who had hoped to capture me if I alighted on their side of the barbed wire. But I just beat them to it by a few measly feet. A close shave, what? And weren't they sore. They yelled over the fence at me, and shook their fists and guns; but I swore back at them just as hard as they cussed me.
The Dutch were pretty good to me when I quieted down. They were decent fellows and were only doing their duty in grabbing me for internment. They took me up to a fort in Groningen, and there I stuck from Oct. 3 until the first of this year, when I was instructed by the British Government to give my parole. That meant that I must promise on my word of honor as an officer and gentleman not to try to escape.
I could have got away, I think. I had all arrangements made to make a dash from the fort one dark night, have an automobile waiting outside to rush me to the coast, and I even had a trawler ready to take me and some other chaps back to England. But before we were quite ready to make our dash the word came to give our parole, and we had to abandon the plan.
Back to Index