Author: Walker, Rowland, 1876-1947
1914-1918 — Aerial operations — Juvenile fiction
Dastral of the Flying Corps
DASTRAL OF THE FLYING CORPS
|Percy F. Westerman:|
|THE AIRSHIP “GOLDEN HIND”|
|TO THE FORE WITH THE TANKS|
|THE SECRET BATTLEPLANE|
|WILMSHURST OF THE FRONTIER FORCE|
|THE PHANTOM AIRMAN|
|DASTRAL OF THE FLYING CORPS|
|THE EXPLOITS OF THE MYSTERY|
|BLAKE OF THE MERCHANT SERVICE|
|BUCKLE OF SUBMARINE V 2|
|OSCAR DANBY, V.C.|
S.W. PARTRIDGE & CO.
4, 5 & 6, SOHO SQUARE, LONDOND, W.I.
“DOWN, DOWN WENT THE BLAZING MASS FOR A COUPLE OF THOUSAND FEET.”
DASTRAL OF THE
AUTHOR OF “BUCKLE OF SUBMARINE V2,” “THE TREASURE
GALLEON,” “OSCAR DANBY, V.C.” ETC., ETC.
S.W. PARTRIDGE & Co.
4, 5 & 6, SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W.I.
MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN
First Published 1917
OBSERVERS AND AIR-MECHANICS
THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS,
STORY OF ADVENTURE AND PERIL
THE GREAT WAR OF 1914 opened the floodgates of hatred between the nations which took part and this stirring story, written when feelings were at their highest, conveys a true impression of the attitude adopted towards our enemies. No epithet was considered too strong for a German and whilst the narrative thus conveys the real atmosphere and conditions under which the tragic event was fought out it should be borne in mind that the animosities engendered by war are now happily a thing of the past. Therefore, the reader, whilst enjoying to the full this thrilling tale, will do well to remember that old enmities have passed away and that we are now reconciled to the Central Powers who were opposed to us.
|I.||DASTRAL WINS HIS PILOT’S BADGE|
|II.||THE FERRY PILOT|
|III.||OVER THE GERMAN LINES|
|IV.||STRAFING THE BABY-KILLERS|
|V.||A BOMBING RAID|
|VI.||A ZEPPELIN NIGHT|
|VII.||COWDIE, THE “SPARE PART”|
|VIII.||THE RAID ON KRUPPS|
|IX.||THE GIANT WAR-PLANE|
|X.||HIMMELMAN’S LAST FIGHT”|
DASTRAL OF THE FLYING CORPS
DASTRAL WINS HIS PILOT’S BADGE
“One crowded hour of glorious life,
Is worth an age without a name.”
AT the time of which I write, the smoke of battle still filled the air. The freedom of men and nations, the heritage of the ages, hung in the balance, so that even brave men were often filled with doubt and despair.
The German guns were thundering at the gates of Verdun, seeking a new pathway to Paris, for the ever-growing British army had barred the northern route to the capital of France and the shores of the English Channel. But even the attempt to hack a way through Verdun was doomed to failure, and the first rift of blue in a clouded sky was soon to appear.
Against that glittering wall of steel, where the heroic sons of France lined the trenches against the tyrant, hundreds of thousands of Prussians, Bavarians and Saxons were doomed to fall, and the best blood of Germany was already flowing like rivers, for, though the poilus during times of great pressure slowly yielded the outer forts inch by inch, yet the price which the enemy paid for their advance was far too dear.
The future hung heavy with fate, and the civilised world looked on amazed, as the western armies, locked in the grip of death, swayed to and fro. The earth trembled with the shock of battle, and the very air vibrated with the whir-r-r of the fierce birds of prey, the wonderful product of the new age. Land and sea did not suffice as in days gone by, for in the heavens the struggle for freedom must also be fought. And many great men were beginning to say that the side which gained the mastery of the air, would also gain the mastery of Europe and the world.
In no country was this recognised more than in England, and at early dawn even remote villages were often stirred, and the inhabitants thrilled by the advent of the whirring ‘planes and air-scouts, whose daring pilots were preparing to wrest the mastery of the air from the enemy.
The most daring of our English youths left the public schools and universities, and strained every nerve, risking death a hundred times, to gain the coveted brevet of a pilot’s “wings” in the Royal Flying Corps.
So it happened that, during one fine morning in the early summer of 1916, a group of men, some of them wearing on the left breast of their service tunics the afore-mentioned brevet, were watching a young pilot undergoing his final test in the air before gaining his wings. The place where this occurred was over an aerodrome, somewhere near London.
“Phew! there he goes again. Just look at that spiral!” cried one of the onlookers.
“Ha! Now he’s going to loop; watch him!” exclaimed another.
The daring aviator, who was flying a new two-seater fighting machine with a twelve-cylindered engine, capable of giving over fourteen hundred revolutions a minute, seemed perfectly oblivious of the danger he was in, as seen by those below, for he careered through space at a speed varying from eighty to nearly one hundred and twenty miles an hour, and performed the most amazing spirals, twists, and gymnastic gyrations imaginable.
The people below, even the pilots, watched him with bated breath, and sometimes with thumping hearts. They felt somehow that he was overdoing it, and sooner or later he would crash to earth and certain death Several times even the experts, who were there to judge him, and award him the coveted brevet, felt sure that the youth had lost control of the ‘plane, for she swerved so suddenly, and banked so swiftly, as she came round, that one of them exclaimed:–
“Good heavens, he’s going to crash!”
“Phew! Just look there, he’s met an air-pocket, and it’s all over with the young devil,” shouted a civilian, evidently a representative of the New Air Board.
But, strange to say, all their prophecies were wrong, for, recovering himself, the daring young flyer, Dastral as he was called, had the machine under perfect control, and was just as easy and comfortable up there at three thousand feet–and far happier–than if he had been in an arm-chair in the officers’ mess at the aerodrome.
“There’s a nose dive for you!” cried the major who commanded the Squadron at the aerodrome, and who had done more than any one to encourage the lad, and bring him out. As he spoke, the youth was speeding to earth in a thrilling nose-dive which must have been at the rate of anything approaching a hundred and fifty miles an hour.
For an instant it seemed as if the prediction of one of the gloomy prophets would now be fulfilled and the aviator would crash; but no, after a dive of a thousand feet Dastral, as cool as a cucumber, jammed over the controls, flattened out for a few seconds, looped three times in succession, then spiralling and banking with wonderful and mathematical precision, shut off the engine, and volplaned down to the ground, touching the earth lightly at the rate of some fifty miles an hour, taxied across the level turf, and brought up within ten yards of the astonished spectators.
“Humph! He’s won his wings, major,” exclaimed one of the small crowd.
“So he has,” cried another. “He knows all the tricks of the air.”
“Yes,” exclaimed a third; “if he keeps on like that, he will prove a match for Himmelman himself, some day, should he ever chance to meet with him.”
Now Himmelman was the crack German flyer–the Air-Fiend of the western front–the man who had made the German Flying Corps what it was, and had earned for it the great traditions it had already won.
A moment later, the youth leapt lightly from the cockpit, gave his hand to his observer to help him down, and, stepping lightly up to his Commanding Officer, saluted smartly.
“Capital, Dastral! You shall have your wings to-morrow. If anybody has ever won them you have,” exclaimed the major, grasping the lad’s hand, and greeting him warmly.
“Thank you, sir. It’s very kind of you to say so,” replied Dastral.
“Not at all. You’ve won them yourself, my boy, and I congratulate you. But, I say, you played the very devil up there. There are very few of our fellows who can do those monkey-tricks without crashing. It’s a mercy you’re alive, boy.”
“Oh, it was only an extra turn or two, sir, just for the spectators. But, Jock, here, sir, my observer, is he all right for his brevet also?”
“Yes, he shall be gazetted and granted an observer’s wing. I will get them through orders at once.”
Once more Dastral thanked his chief, and, followed by Jock Fisker, his chum, who had entered the air service with him, and who was destined to accompany him through many an exciting air duel in the future, they returned to the machine, which was already being keenly examined by a group of the privileged onlookers, before the air-mechanics returned it to the shed.
Shortly afterwards, as Dastral and Jock were preparing to leave the aerodrome, the major came by, and, seeing that the young pilot wanted to speak to him, he said:–
“Well, what is it, Dastral?”
“Sir, now that I have gained my wings, I should like to be posted overseas as soon as possible, so as to join some active squadron with the Expeditionary Force in France. Would it be possible for you to push my request forward?”
“Humph! Rather early yet, isn’t it, my boy?”
“Perhaps it is rather early, sir,” replied the youth, blushing like a girl as he faced the C.O. “But I should like to take part in an air-fight before the scrapping finishes.”
“We’ve a long way to go yet, Dastral, before it is finished. Still, as you are so keen, I will see what I can do. But it will take at least another fortnight to get the thing through. At any rate I will communicate with Wing Headquarters, and through them with the War Office. Perhaps General Henderson will accede to your request,” added the major, for he well understood the lad’s eagerness. He had felt it himself, and had already seen a good deal of that air-fighting of which the youth spoke, as the ribbons below his wings indicated, for he was the winner of the D.S.O. and also the Military Cross.
“Thank you, sir,” and the pilot saluted again, but cast a sidelong glance at Jock, who stood a few paces away, and was already fretting in his soul lest Dastral should be sent away without him.
The major caught the glance and understood, for he turned sharply round after a few steps, and said:–
“And Jock, what about him?” smiling blandly at the lads.
“He is of age, sir, he can speak for himself,” replied Dastral. “But I should like him to go overseas with me. We have done most of our training together, and we thoroughly understand each other, and I know that he’s just dying to go with me, sir.”
“Is that so, Jock?” asked the major, looking at the Scotch laddie, who had scarcely finished his course at Glasgow University when the war called him from his studies.
“Oh, yes, sir, I’d give all I possess to go overseas with Dastral.” And the youth’s eyes shone with joy at the very possibility of the event coming off, for he had feared that they were now to be separated.
“Very well. Don’t expect too much, but possess your souls in patience for another fortnight or so. Goodbye!”
“Good-bye, sir!” and once more after the customary salute, the youths went their way, wondering how soon they would be in France, within sound of the guns.
For the next fortnight they were busy every day at the aerodrome, trying new machines, testing, carrying out imaginary reconnaissances over the German lines, bombing raids, studying war maps and plans, night flying and a score of other things that would prove useful when they found themselves in France.
One morning, about two weeks later, a telegram was delivered to Dastral at his rooms. It came from the War Office, and ran as follows:–
“Second Lieutenant Dastral and his observer to proceed overseas forthwith, on one of the new fighting ‘planes, and to report his arrival at — Squadron, British Expeditionary Force, France.”
After the customary interview with the C.O., it was arranged that early next morning the two aviators were to make their first attempt at flying the Channel.
THE FERRY PILOT
IT was an hour before dawn, and the stars had not yet faded from the skies, when a group of air mechanics at one of the aerodromes just north of London were busy about the ailerons and fuselage of a new machine, which was destined to fly across the Channel that day, and to join one of the British Squadrons on the other side.
The secret of the machine had been well kept, and only a favoured few had been permitted to see the “hornet,” as she was called. Great things were claimed for her when she joined one of the active squadrons, now fighting in France for the supremacy of the air.
Just a few folk in Old Blighty had been scared by the advent of the Fokker, the new German aeroplane which had recently come into existence, and for which such wonderful things were being claimed daily by the German “wireless.”
“Double up there, you sleepy imps!” yelled Old Snorty, the aerodrome sergeant-major, a short, stout, florid, shiver-my-timbers type of disciplinarian. And another squad of sleepy air-mechanics, just out from their blankets, doubled up smartly to give a hand.
In a few minutes the hornet in question was ready for her long flight overseas. Every wire and strut had been carefully examined and proved, for men’s lives depended upon the testing, and oiling, and straining. And now the silent, filmy thing was waiting only for the pilot and observer.
A sound of footsteps upon the soft turf of the aerodrome was heard, and voices carried lightly down the soft morning air.
“Halt! Who goes there?” called the sentry, standing near by, and at the same instant a hand lamp was flashed in the direction of the newcomers.
The sentry, however, appeared to recognise sonic important personality approaching, like the mastiff who knows, as if by instinct, the approach of his master, for, without waiting for an answer to his challenge, he shouted:–
“Guard, turn out!”
And instantly, the men in the guard tent turned out in time to salute the Commanding Officer of the Squadron, who came by with Dastral, the pilot, and Fisker, the observer.
Simultaneously, the air mechanics sprang to attention, as they stood about the hornet. Then, after a couple of minutes spent in chatting with the adventurers, who were about to sail forth on the wings of the morning, the O.C. and the pilot flung away their cigarettes and gave a few apparently casual glances over the framework by the aid of the hand-lamps.
“Better load up with a few twenty pound bombs, Dastral,” laughed the O.C. “You may have the chance of using one going over seas. You never know your luck.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the youth.
A moment later the pilot and observer were seated in the biplane, snugly wrapped in their thick leather coats, their hands encased in huge gauntlets, and their helmets tightly drawn about their ears, ready for the morning adventure.
Dastral gave a final glance around, his hand already on the controls, then gave a nod to the chief of the ground staff.
“Swing the propellor!” came next, followed by “Stand clear!”
“Whiz-z-z!” went the huge blades, and, as the pilot switched on the current, the engines–powerful 100 horse-power ones, capable of some 1400 or 1500 revolutions a minute–broke into their wonderful song, and with a final word of parting from the Squadron Commander, the machine taxied off rapidly over the level turf.
The air seemed full of a mighty sound, and a terrible vibration filled the heavens. It was the song of the aeroplane.
At a hundred yards, in response to a very slight movement of the joy-stick, the winged creature leapt into the air, then circled around once or twice, climbing rapidly up to a couple of thousand feet, and made off south by south-east.
The first whisper of dawn came out of the east as the hornet headed off towards the great city, for a filmy streak of grey, followed by a saffron tint, appeared in the sky low down on their left hand. The stars overhead began to fade and disappear, as though withdrawn into the vaulted dome overhead. Then the saffron turned to crimson, and soon the eastern horizon was aflame with light, for, as the machine rose higher and higher, the horizon broadened, and the whole earth seemed to lie at her feet.
Now they were over the city, and the pilot laughed joyously, for he was exhilarated by the bracing air which rushed past him at a tremendous rate.
“Look there, Jock,” he cried, pointing down far below, where, through the gloom which still enfolded the lower regions, a faint silvery streak showed where the majestic Thames rolled down under its many bridges to the sea.
Jock Fisker, his chum and observer, who was destined to see many an adventure with Dastral in the near future, peered over the side of the fuselage, and noted the river and the many spires of the great city. He saw the thin spire of St. Bride’s reaching up towards him, St. Martin’s, and St. Clement Danes’; and then, as the upper rim of the sun appeared above the horizon, he saw the blue-grey dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and caught the flash of the sun upon the golden cross above it.
“How glorious!” Dastral ejaculated, half turning his head every now and then for Fisker to hear, as some impulse moved him but half the words were lost, or carried on by the rushing air into infinitude.
Soon, they left the southern outskirts of London far behind, and, as the daylight broadened, they looked upon the Surrey Downs, and the wide heath of the rolling countryside. Village after village they passed, with its red tiled roofs and church spire pointing heavenwards, but onwards, always onwards, they sped towards the white cliffs and the sea.
The slender, filmy thing