Wartime Letters

 

 

Nick in uniform

 Photo taken in Amiens, France 

 

 

 
Nick Comper wrote diligently and conscientiously to his mother when stationed in northern France during the Great War.  Censorship prevented him from reporting on his war work and he never refers to any casualties.  The letters transcribed here reveal a domestic picture of his life in the Royal Flying Corps and Nick’s preoccupations with building a hut for himself furnished with chintz on his walls, green curtains and mats on the floor, the exploits of his cat and dog, eager anticipation of home leave and endless frustration with the weather.  He also writes to his brothers and sisters, in particular Sebastian.
 

 
The picture he paints makes it seem he is as a boy writing home from boarding school yet he is on the edge of the terrible Battle of the Somme.  His squadron’s losses were light at this stage of the war, but that was to change by 1917.  The RFC was formed in April 1912 as the military (army and navy) began to recognise the potential for aircraft as observation platforms. It was in this role that the RFC went to war in 1914 to undertake reconnaissance and artillery observation. As well as aircraft the RFC had a balloon section which  deployed along the eventual front lines to provide static observation of the enemy defences. Shortly before the war a separate Naval Air Service (RNAS) was established splitting off from the RFC, though they retained a combined central flying school.

The RFC had experimented before the war with the arming of aircraft but the means of doing so remained awkward – because of the need to avoid the propeller arc and other obstructions such as wings and struts. In the early part of the war the risk of injury to aircrew was therefore largely through accidents. As air armament developed the dangers to aircrew increased markedly and by the end of the war the loss rate was 1 in 4 killed, a similar proportion to the infantry losses in the trenches.

For much of the war RFC pilots faced an enemy with superior aircraft, particularly in terms of speed and operating ceiling, and a better flying training system. The weather was also a significant factor on the Western Front with the prevailing westerly wind favouring the Germans. These disadvantages were made up for by determined and aggressive flying, albeit at the price of heavy losses, and the deployment of a larger proportion of high-performance aircraft. The statistics bear witness to this with the ratio of British losses to German at around 4 to 1.

When the RFC deployed to France in 1914 it sent four Squadrons (No.s 2,3,4 and 5) with 12 aircraft each, which together with aircraft in depots, gave a total strength of 63 aircraft supported by 900 men.  By September 1915 and the Battle of Loos, the RFC strength had increased to 12 Squadrons and 161 aircraft. By the time of the first major air actions at the first Battle of the Somme, July 1916, there were 27 Squadrons with 421 aircraft plus a further 216 in depots. The RFC expansion continued rapidly thereafter putting considerable strain on the recruiting and training system as well as on the aircraft supply system. 

At home, the RFC Home Establishment was responsible for training air and ground crews and preparing squadrons to deploy to France. Towards the end of the war the RFC provided squadrons for home defence, defending against German Zeppelin raids and later Gotha bomber raids. The RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had limited success against the German raids largely through problems of locating the attackers and reaching the operating altitude of the Zeppelins. 

In the final days of the RFC, over 1200 aircraft were deployed in France and were available to meet the German offensive of 21 March 1918 with the support of RNAS squadrons. From 1 April these forces combined to form the Royal Air Force as an independent armed service. From small beginnings the air services had grown by the end of the war to an organisation of 290,000 men, 99 Squadrons in France (with 1800 aircraft), a further 34 squadrons overseas, 55 Home Establishment squadrons and 199 training squadrons, with a total inventory of some 22,000 aircraft.  (Source: www.airwar1.org.uk)

Group Captain Peter Dye of the RAF Museum, Cosford wrote:

His formal involvement with aviation seems to have commenced when he joined the Aircraft Manufacturing Co Ltd (Airco) as an apprentice under their chief designer Geoffrey de Havilland.  Airco had originally been formed in April 1912 to produce licenced Farman designs but, by May 1914, a design department had been set up to produce their own aircraft, the first product being the DH-1 two-seat pusher biplane.  It is reasonable to assume that it was the training Comper received with Airco at Hendon that provided the basis for his future design work.  On the outbreak of war, he continued to work at Airco but appears to have joined up once he was 18 and gained his Royal Aero Club Certificate (No 3083).  He was formally gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the RFC on 15 April 1916, and proceeded overseas almost immediately, joining No 9 Squadron, then flying BE 2c’s from Morlancourt, on 26 July 1916.

 

No 9 Squadron, assigned to XIV Corps, had been heavily engaged in the Battle of the Somme since 1 July and would remain in the thick of the fighting through to November.  Nick Comper found himself involved almost immediately in operations in support of the Army’s offensive, undertaking a variety of tasks including, artillery observation, infantry cooperation and photographic reconnaissance.  The squadron’s crews flew intensively, often up to 3 sorties a day, for over 4 months, although casualties were, surprisingly, relatively light (they lost only 8 aircraft to enemy aircraft or ground fire during the course of the Battle).  As a result, the RFC could rightly claim to have gained, and maintained, effective air superiority.  In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Somme matters were sufficiently quiet for OC No 9 Squadron, Major Ivor Edwards, to insist his officers occupy themselves with daily outdoor games (Sundays excepted) and also undertake a programme of lectures to be delivered to their colleagues.  It is no surprise to learn that Lieutenant Comper’s chosen subjects were ‘Mechanical Drawing’ and ‘The Design of Aircraft Struts’.

 

By now the squadron had been in residence at Morlancourt for nearly 6 months and the officers were accommodated in a mixture of tents and semi-permanent huts.  A photograph of this period shows one of the huts with a sign outside proclaiming ‘Dihedral House’ and is inscribed “Nick Comper’s Hut”.  It was clearly his intention to ensure that his fellow officers were left in no doubt about his aeronautical ambitions!

 

Despite the lighter side of life, 9 months of continuous operations on the Western Front with less than 3 weeks leave must have had a considerable impact on the 19 year old.  Moreover, by the time that Nick Comper left for the Home Establishment, on 28 April 1917, the tide had very much turned against the RFC and the losses had started to mount rapidly, such that during what became ‘Bloody April’ the squadron lost 6 crews – all to enemy aircraft.  In many ways, therefore, he was lucky to survive the experience, when he left the squadron 2 days before his 20th birthday he was its second most senior pilot.  The details of Nick Comper’s remaining wartime service are unclear, but in light of his talents it is not surprising to find that he was one of the few officers selected for a peace-time commission.  In line with Trenchard’s memorandum of 1919 on the organisation of the RAF, he became an ‘E’ officer, that is, a General Duties officer selected for employment on engineering duties.  Accordingly, he attended an aeronautical engineering course at Cambridge University from April 1920-1922.  A further period of instruction followed at RAE Farnborough before he joined the Boys’ Wing RAF College Cranwell on 7 October 1922, in charge of the Metallurgical Laboratory.

 


LETTERS FROM FRANCE

 

No 2 Aircraft Depot 
France

19th July 1916

 

My dear mother

I am here for a period of 1 day to a month – probably 10 days so could you have everything sent to this address as soon as possible to catch me before I am posted to my squadron.  Articles chiefly wanted are the parcel sent to Oxford – my new Burberry, and flying list of it has arrived from Doncaster.  I am afraid we won’t get much flying til we get to our various squadrons.  We travelled Monday, Tues, Wed, and everything went quite well but I hate long journeys in creeping and jolting trains.  I and Hulbert (he was with me at Oxford and Birmingham) have just got the best Billet with a topping garden and are quite comfortable.  We make extraordinary efforts at conversation with the natives and sometimes succeed in being understood.  I will try and get a photo and will let you know when I do.  I am very tired as sleeping in jolting trains is not very excellent.

 

Well I must shut up and will write all further news – I want to get this off at once so that you can have my address.

Love to all

Tof

28th July 1916

No 9 Squadron, B.E.F.

My dear Sabine

 

Thanks for the goods received and also for the Burberry which has now arrived.  I spent 3 hours up today and this morning I got lost and had to land in a French aerodrome 30 miles south of this place.  They were very sweet and gave me a map – I had run off my one – with the result that I got back safely after a 2 hour flight.     
 

My kitten is awfully fine and is getting on very well.  I don’t know whether I had it when I wrote to mother but it is a white one with brown spots and a patch of red ink on its back.  M has a sweet face and is altogether fine.

Give my love to everyone and keep a little for yourself.

Tell Ma I will write to her tomorrow if poss.

Yours ever

Nick

 Nick peeping out of his tent

10th September, 1916

No 9 Squadron, R.F.C., B.E.F.

My dear Mother

I received your letter of the 7th today and am sorry that during the move of our aerodrome there were large gaps in our otherwise attempted regular flow of letters.  Still I am nicely settled in my new home made but with all the items some of which I have already enumerated and others which I have not spoken about so being very pleased with them I will relate the lot.

 

 

Firstly – a watertight hut with real glass for windows.  It joins onto the tent which is a bedroom.  In it there is a strong table – oil lamp – carpets and mats – primus stove – shelves – looking glass – and at a future date a store complete with chimney.  Some establishment!  It’s nice to come in here after the days work and cook some hot cocoa write a few letters and go to bed as I actually am doing this evening.

 

My machine is behaving very nicely and the weather is fine by fits and starts so we still have a good deal to do though of course we begin to realize that we can’t expect long stretches of ‘flying weather’ now in September.  Flying weather is any weather except the rainy misty or low cloud sort.  All leave is stopped for the time being but it is nowhere near my turn yet though I ought to get it in 2 months or so.

 

I am well again and consequently felt quite different at my work today which is much more satisfactory isn’t it.  Do have a good and quiet time at Box – Mum – you always want rest from your extensive labours and never give it yourself without outside promptings which is not a correct state of things is it?  How are you and do you feel well?  Glad to hear about Poppy.

  Robinson was a lucky chap wasn’t he.  I wish we met Zepps out here!  But the Huns respect our Pilots and keep a safe distance. 

 

 

My kitten is sweet but would not wash yesterday and when I buttered it – it simply went and rolled in the dust and got in a shocking state so I siezed (sic) it by its neck and ducked it in my washing pail so that after long lickings it emerged better and subdued.

Well remember me to Mr & Mrs Ward and such a lot of love to you – the best Mum - & as I have always stated – that is from my infancy.

Yours ever Tof 

 

15th September 1916

Dear Poppy

Thanks so much for your nice letter and I wonder you have the time to send me so many.  Today has been an exciting day and one of the chief incidents for me was the breaking loose of one of our kite baloons (sic) and the subsequent descent of the observer in a parachute.

 

I was doing a job and my attention to the baloon was first attracted by its sudden ascent  – getting far above me.  The next moment a little object leaped out and took the shape of a man attached to a parachute.  The baloon then crumpled up and together they slowly descended.  The baloon gradually getting up speed and leaving its previous occupant swaying violently like this.

 

 

poppy-letter_0001-300x56.jpg

I circled round keeping a fair distance and saw the leather coat of the fortunate yet unfortunate owner shining in the sun.  He landed after a five mins.  sway in open ground so there is no need to fear for his safety.  It was a funny spectacle to be seen amidst our ‘speed sphere’.  I dropped some bombs this morning but do not know with what success.  This being my first attempt at laying eggs as it is termed out here.  Fancy seeing Quin filmed!  I wish I could see him.

I am quite well again and having a lot to do and my spare time – such as it is – I devote to myself to architecture and hut making.  Here is a side elevation.

Hut exterior

 
Hut exterior

It is a topping hole with two real windows – a real door – real coal store (home made) and other detais written in my laster letter to Mother.

Well Poppy I go to bed

Love to you all

21st September 1916

My dear Mother

The weather remains bad and consequently we are more on the ground than usual.  Somebody is practising going at a target on the ground while I write and most of the others are improving their tents and the men hut and that I suppose is the state of things we must look for now that the bad days of winter are coming.  I was up shortly after 6:00 this morning but directly I got near the line low clouds about no feet up obscured the view so I returned quite pleased with life to have a second breakfast.  I think I will grow a moustache & keep my face warm while flying – but would it grow or would it merely give me a fleecy covering.  Occasionally other machines land here as we are the nearest aerodrome in this part to the lines and often I meet pilots I knew in England so we fix up impromptu tea parties and gas hard about learning to fly at Castle Bromwich or any other place where we met.

Of course we see a good deal of this ‘ere war and new moves etc. are very interesting to watch from the air.  The weather looks like clearing up for this afternoon so I may have the pleasure of aiding the general hun strafing that generally takes place when he gives trouble.  Obviously you have to come to the conclusion after the first line that I have no new news so I will shut up.

Love to all, yours very well  N.C.  

 

23rd September 1916

No 9 Squadron

My dear Mother

Weather better so plenty to do.  Was up this morning practising shooting at a ground target.  I took the A Flight Corporal up and thereby gave him a great delight.

I told you my Flt. Commander had gone home to take over a Squadron.  Well this morning someone came charging into the aerodrome in a Monoplane nearly running into the hangars inhis haste tho’ just missing them and out he jumped having taken over a neighbouring squadron.  Quite a surprise to everyone including myself.  It was topping above the clouds yesterday with a bright blue sky and occasionally a glimpse of the earth beneath.

Enclosed with this are the much desired photos but they are awful.  Get Sabine to re back them and they may be better.

Yours ever lovingly

Tof

Love to all

18th October 1916

My dearest Mother

Such a deluge of letters this evening.  Just what I wanted as today has been very boring – pelting all the time.  I am glad the photos of my person were liked – some were excellent efforts.  Do you remember me telling of Ruthren Stuart in the R.F.C. with me at York.  He is about to be married to a girl with a long name ie Stella Marion Grant Duff Ainslie.  The first two names are Christian the latter surnames.  I had an invitation from Mr and Mrs G.D.A. (whom I don’t know to talk to) to the wedding.  I s’pose they expect me to turn up at Sloane St. on the First of November on a 2E otherwise I think they are daft as MarjoryEllison would say with a short “a” as marked.

Stuart has got his wings and six weeks sick leave but fears his nerves have let him down and will prevent him from doing further flying.  It would be great if I were to get leave before Quin’s leave expires but I hardly like counting on it as there are a lot before me.  However let’s hope for the best and keep Quin’s health too bad to return after a month and then I might see my old Beak for a short time.  The Hut now completed save a few odd touches here and there was built with the casual aid of onlookers but I got most of the work luckily as exercise is the thing we lack.  I am hoping to do the Observer work as well as my own shortly just taking a machine gunner up with me but it remains to be seen whether it will be entirely successful or not.  I hope it is as it will be so much more interesting apart from the satisfaction of directing proceedings yourself. 

Enclosed is the cheque for £6.0.0. which I delayed  til Cox informed me how I stood.  They are very slow and have not replied but I hope and think it ought to be all right.  Perhaps if Biddy were to hold it back til I do hear and let him know would be wiser still.  He knows more about these things than I do so consult him will you my pretty Mum.  Billy was a naughty boy today.  He carefully ‘bemuddled’ himself outside entered and jumped onto my pillow thence crawling under the sheets I recently procured – such a mess and a whipping for him.

My new machine has been giving a lot of engine trouble but it let me down so much that I have had a new one put in – a very good one too think.  The machine itself is quite nice so I have not much to grumble about.

Well I must write other letters so enough pro tem.

Give my love to all with thanks for letters received which I will try to reply to and tell Poppy I will write when I get something fit to write to him about and also tell him I did not answer  a very nice letter to him so am going to make an extra great effort at writing  a long one.  The latter being a rather involved sentence hardly expressing myself I can see bed time is coming along and that other letters will be even more skimpy tonight that they usually are.

Yours ever Tof

25th October 1916

My dear Pic

I received your lighter two days ago – am delighted with it but fail to see why an article of short life is superior to that of long life.  Kindly explain stating reasons for your answer before noon of the earliest possible day.

I have found there are eight ruddy Observers due for leave before my turn comes so that 2 months will probably elapse before I can see how fat you are growing.  In the last few days I have had about 6 engine failures so I have not been putting much work in.  Our Flight has had an ‘orrible lot of engine trouble and we all are getting used to spending 30 mins. getting winter flying togs on sitting in the machine for 15 min and spending 10 mins in the air before coming down with burnt valves or rejuvenated cabbages or the such like.  Looping is not advisable out here on our machines X

At this point X I was called to fly and have just returned after a 1 1/2 hour flight against the elements.

It started to pour with rain when we were working over the lines and a gale got up.  I came down from 5000 -2000 ft through clouds and when I got under them I found I was over the same spot which meant a wind of no less than one equivalent to the machine speed and after a long time got back soaked thro’ but with a still working engine.  Post is going.

Love to all and yourself

Tof

 

2 November 1916

9th Squadron

Dear U (Ursula, sister)

Please apologize to everyone concerned for the two recent days in which I have sent no letter.  Sorry but it couldn’t be helped as I was busy for a change.  I have finished my hut now and without the tent I live by myself and the others live 6 in a big government hut. I am lucky as you have to put up with a lot of noise and other discomforts when all together and I can live comfortably and in peace with the cat and dog.  If you were to cut off the roof of the hut and look at it from a plane it would look like this.

Map of hut

 

So you see I am very comfortable with chintz on my walls and green curtains for the window with an immaculate white ceiling and cheap though lovely rugs on the floor.  Some nut in his den.

The cat is sleeping on my shoulder covered with powder that naughty flappers use – she smells awfully sweet and doesn’t object so I powder every morning regularly.

Billy is in his kennel as he made a beast of himself by overeating at breakfast and it is pouring with rain which is all the news today.

Well – little pip-pip be good and write to your Tof

Love to all.

November 7, 1916

My dear mother

I made the curtains but on close examination they would not please.  Coward did turn up but he found not a soul at home to reward him for his unselfishness – however it can’t be helped.  I thought I told you about Minot – how I met him first in the neighbouring town and how he afterwards came to dinner with us.  He looks very fit and is flying the machine we first flew out of here.  That evening there were four Dulwich boys assembled Coward-Minot McDonald (my flight commander) and Self too.  I have plenty to do as up to date  my hut has taken all my spare time and though I finished it a day or two ago an aerial bombardment last night blew my windows to pieces so there is more work.  What a sight we had last night and look out in the papers for details I cannot now give you.

Learning French except when you go into the Town is just as hard as in England as we are a little colony and boot every Frenchman out of the aerodrome.  Still I will have more opportunity as the winter comes on and will try to make the best of it – my little Mum.  Re:  rides in Tenders one answer can be given :- mud in gallons.  Robertson is in a ‘ration’ hut as my place without the tent is too small.

So pleased about Quin.

I am going to visit the remains of last strife when it quietens down a bit – at present it would be probably dangerous judging by the noise.

Love to all

Tof

Yvonne has forgotten me – I haven’t heard from her for years and haven’t even got a photo of her.

Prap’s Pic would sort out the one in Sabbeys room and send it on.  Do ask him.

November 19th, 1916

My Dear Mother

Weather is very bad again and yesterday it was as cold as anything.  Leave has been stopped for about four days but open – so I believe – tomorrow so as I mentioned previously this three weeks ought to see me at home unless more stoppages occur.  Quite cheering isn’t it.  We had an excellent concert last night and I enclose the programme as of interest to you.

Had another of those tender drives yesterday and naturally (rest of letter missing)

November 22, 1916

My dear Mother

It’s good news about the Sabine and I hope he will not have to leave you at all.

About doing our observing most are doing it now and really it doesn’t affect our flying a bit as the observer is always on the qui rive for hours.  What a nice but unnecessarily anxious Mum it is!

I’m glad Yvonne is getting better.

It would be nice if Arnold could be home with Quin and myself.  Ten days is the time allowed us on leave.  In the summer when we are (rest of letter missing)

6th February 1917

Dearest Sabine

Am working againand quite fit. Have you got that miniature electric for Yvonne yet.  I would be awfully bucked if you would.

My smash the other day was rather peculiar.  I got about 40 mph up and was just going to leave the ground when my undercarriage axle broke clean in half just on one side, so of course that side of the undercarriage caight on the ground bringing me over on my nose.  The cam shaft of the engine cut a track in the iced mud for about 50 ft. thus absorbing my 40 mph.  Luckily the icy nature of the ground stopped the nose from catching in the ground which would have brought the machine bang over on its back which at the least would have been unpleasant.  The wind is blowing from the direction of hunland so we stay comfortably on the ground.  Nice state of affairs isn’t it.

Well cheer up

Love to all

Yours Nick

13th February 1917

My dear mother

The cold wind still blows though it was warming during the day and after all these weeks of it I caught a cold which is and has been very unpleasant.  I stayed in bed for one day which made it much better so I am again up and about though feeling rather sore about teh throat.  However I take all possible care and given fine weather it ought to soon go.

Your big muffler is a great comfort though that wicked Billy has just been discovered admiring its warmth  ie stretched out on it.  I take cough mixture like a good boy and hang my socks up to dry in the evening so what else can a Mother (fond or otherwise) complain about it all.

An old flight commander of mine who taught me to fly in England is commanding a squadron near here  – it is extraordinary how many friends you meet.  Old Telfer looked me up the other morning and found me in bed with a cold (it is now practically alright).  He has been to hospital for 3 weeks after having had all his teeth extracted!  He is alright now though says he can’t eat with his false ones.

I have been taking advantage of this dud weather to get my machine in tip top condition as it was worked hard during the front.  It is now waiting for more fine weather and I think it will have to wait.

Well I am quite OK and send love to all.

Your own Tof  

16th February 1917

My dear Sabine

Grateful indeed am I for your letter and although starting in the humble fashion that you do stating you don’t know what to talk about you nevertheless seem to be inspired later on in the letter.  You thank me for a letter in which I ‘ordered’ a torch etc.  That is needless to say false – I merely suggested that if you happened to be passing a shop you might (if you already had lunch) make yourself the purchaser of the aforesaid light bearing article.  Sorry about the battery and I know you will not leave a stone unturned till you find another.  Remember the light is lasting more nowadays and soon it won’t be dark till 7:00 pm – a gentle hint.  You refer to the weather and its lack of warmth.  That I think is a thing of the past as the wind has gone S and is about 40 Far.  I did not like it a bit and spent many bitter hrs. with numbed limbs in consequence.

Your items are interesting and there is no comment.

Your prospects seem pretty precarious but I expect you will get something you will like with any luck and I hope so.

We are very busy as you say and certainly will continue to be so unless the weather gets dud. 

The others are not out yet though they started at the same as I did.   I have to mind my P’s and Q’s in fact we all have so it is hard to write an interesting letter.  I am fairly fit – quite comfortable  – and looking forward for home though few are the prospects of such luck.

Hope you are O.K.

Love to all for ever. Nick

Just can get this off before dinner in enclosed is cheque sum £1-0-0.  Thanks for headache.  Thanks so much for torch.  

20th February 1917

My dear Mother

Have just received a letter posted on the 5th Feb. which has taken all this time to come.  You did not put the number of the squadron on the adress (sic) so I think that accounts for it.

The rain has come at last and in gallons too – so much so that the place seems a sheet of water.  The ground still being hard underneath – it has thawed to about 3 inches deep now the water will not sink and therefore stays on the surface.

Two other pilots have been on rest and they flew to a coast town and landed in a small field near.  One smashed his machine to bits when getting away again are the other hasn’t tried it and I don’t think he will.  There has been a huge row  (rest of letter missing)

25th February 1917

My dear Mother

I received your letter of the 15th last night.  Yes I did have a good deal of flying during the fine weather but now that is all over.  During the winter I do not do more than three hours in one day as the days are so short though it does sometimes occur.

Roberston who you remember was my first observer when I joined the squadon (we worked together for about three months) is going home to learn to fly so that is another of the original members of the squadron gone.  It is a pity.  I wonder if you could persuade Smalley to send my slide rule out.  It would be very useful.

I am so sorry this is so short - things are very slow and will be till the fog clears up.

Well love to all

Your Own Tof

1st March 1917

Here we are at the beginning on another month with spring ahead of us.  Not only the date but the warmth in the air tells you so.  I took a mechanic up today who remembers me at Hendon.  Isn’t it strange how things come about.

Re that cigarette holder S. has acknowledged receipt for cheque sum £1 payable to Arthurs so I put Smalley on Arthur’s track.

So you remembersitting in the park after my operation watching those absurd fluffy objects sometimes termed ‘Quack’.  I can picture every detail and feel the stuffiness in my head caused by the nose.  How thankful I was about.  The snow has been all very pretty but it will be a relief to get entirely rid of it.

The Major is quite annoyed that in a fit of kindness he once said it would be a pity to uproot my hut though it was strictly against his idea of regularity.  He wants to do so now but cannot till I leave the squadron   I made a waiting list for the aforesaid but as there were many applicants but this he has worked out.  What do I care!

Well there is nothing much to gas about though there has been plenty to do.

Love to all and to your pretty self particularly.

Your son Tof

9th March 1917

My dear Mother

The weather again got bad this afternoon and with it came snow in quantities.  The morning was comparitively fine and after I had finished a job I got leave to visit my old Flt Comm.  Stodart who is in charge of a neighbouring squadron.  I set off with an observer and Billy (who sat on the observer’s lap).  We had barely left the aerodrome when engine trouble occurred so I was obliged to land in a field  What amused me was the look on certain Tommies faces who watched me land and saw Billy jump out.  Billy must be getting dazed at these sudden transformations of scenes!  He seems to like it and tries to nestle close to the engine presumably to get warm.

I should be on leave again pretty soon now – three weeks in fact may see me home.  Won’t it be topping!

Well Muzzy dear, this is a short letter and to the point with all the latest news.

Love to all and don’t let anyone be away when I come home.  This topic – I warn you – will probably fill my next letter or two as it is very thrilling.

Your own Tof

18th March 1917

My dear Mother

I have hardly had a moment in which to write these few days.  The papers will tell you why.  As would happen I have been receiving a deluge of letters which I can’t answer tho’ when I am having a slack time the mail is very irregular.  Also Hyde is acting Squadron Commander as the Major is away so I again fill his place ie more work.

It gave me great pleasure to blow up a house today.  Talk about smashing crockery!

My leave has pro tem been knocked on the head and I cannot say when leave will be opened again.  You must remember I would not like to miss all the excitement we now have.

I was going to fly home and made all the preparations.  However it can’t be helped.  Coward is going home for a rest and is naturally very elated.

Billy was very amusing today.  I was just starting off on a job and he had followed me to the machine.  He saw me get in but could not do so himself.  So first he begged (under the fuselage) and then began to yelp.  He must like the air though he has only had two flights.

This I am sorry to say for the present must suffice as friend Surtees would say and I will try to get some of the other letters finished now.

Love to all

Your loving Tof

2nd April 1917

My dear Mother

I got back pretty quickly and the crossing might have been worse.  It gave me a little ‘Tummyache’ which however wore off directly I landed.  I often wonder what sea strength I could stand for many times.  The weather is simply brutal – freezing last night and now raining with about three gales pushed into one.

The show I saw after my arriving in town on the 29th was topping and it beats all others except the Maid of the Mountains. 

I heard a crash now and went out to find lots of planks strolling through the air torn from somewhere by the wind.  I hope too much of the squadron’s belongings don’t start floating about else black eyes may be our position.  Billy is not very well and apparently has been bad while I was away – he is much better now though.

Well its (sic) nearly tea time so love to all

Yr own Tof

25th April 1917

My dear Mother

Before me I have half a dozen unanswered letters of yours.   I have reread all and picked out the most recent one.  What a naughty boy am I.  We fly over the same old places though naturally the lines are further forward now.  I am glad the buses are running again especially as I hope to be able to use them  in person shortly.  I am waiting and waiting for the date of my transference to home establishment to come through.  I wish they would hurry up.  Percy R. did not read the letter I sent him.  My actual words were such – ‘An old friend of Fathers (Dr Cooke) wishes to know where a friend of his could stay near Hendon’.  One of our messes and incidentally a mess kitchen had a narrow escape yesterday.

Imagine a mess hut and a mess kitchen placed 15ft apart:-

The machine as per sketch fell flat bewteen the two huts without touching either one or the other.  Pilot and Observer were untouched and you can imagine how those inside the huts felt when they heard a huge crash outside their front door.  ‘A’ represents a bit of road.  The machine was badly wrecked.

I have been doing good deal of flying but chiefly of a peaceful nature.  Fetching machines etc.  My new machine is a perfect dream as Yvonne would say.  I simply love cruising about on it.

Lots of love to you and don’t let yourself be run down.  What a shame you haven’t been very well with Mary down too.

Sorry this is written in such haste but I must get it off by the early post in the morning and it is now dinner time.

Love to all

Your own Tof

22nd February 1918

My dear Mother

We are still trying to recover from the latest move but are in an awful muddle.  Owing to this I have not written as regularly as I might and this is to let you know that I am all right and hope shortly to resume regular writing.  We are in huts now and very fortunately have been issued with stores so will be able to ward off these freezing nights.  To complicate things the weather has been fine all through the move and we accordingly have had to work prety hard.

Love to all and many thanks for your last letter.

Your own Tof

7th May 1918

My dear Mother

I arrived OK yesterday and found everything all right.  Not only were all the other pilots going strong but two other pilots who were left behind before we arrived in France had rejoined us.  We are at another place now and in tents.  Tomorrow we will I hope move into huts.  The country looks very well with all the leaves on the trees but the weather is pretty dud.  You all gave me priceless leave and I could not have had a better one.  I hope I wasn’t too exacting in my demands for repairs to clothes etc.

Love to all

Your own Tof

Very many thanks for the chocolates which I am now enjoying 

 

 

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