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- Flying for France - 1/13 -


FLYING FOR FRANCE

With the American Escadrille at Verdun

BY

JAMES R. McCONNELL

Sergeant-Pilot in the French Flying Corps

Illustrated from photographs through the kindness of Mr. Paul Rockwell

To

MRS. ALICE S. WEEKS

Who having lost a splendid son in the French Army has given to a great number of us other Americans in the war the tender sympathy and help of a mother.

CONTENTS

Introduction By F. C. P.

CHAPTER

I. Verdun II. From Verdun to the Somme III. Personal Letters from Sergeant McConnell IV. How France Trains Pilot Aviators V. Against Odds

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

James R. McConnell _Frontispiece_

Some of the Americans Who are Flying for France

Two Members of the American Escadrille, of the French Flying Service, Who Were Killed Flying For France

"Whiskey." The Lion and Mascot of the American Flying Squadron in France

Kiffin Rockwell, of Asheville, N.C., Who Was Killed in an Air Duel Over Verdun

Sergeant Lufbery in one of the New Nieuports in Which He Convoyed the Bombardment Fleet Which Attacked Oberndorf

INTRODUCTION

One day in January, 1915, I saw Jim McConnell in front of the Court House at Carthage, North Carolina. "Well," he said, "I'm all fixed up and am leaving on Wednesday." "Where for?" I asked. "I've got a job to drive an ambulance in France," was his answer.

And then he went on to tell me, first, that as he saw it the greatest event in history was going on right at hand and that he would be missing the opportunity of a lifetime if he did not see it. "These Sand Hills," he said "will be here forever, but the war won't; and so I'm going." Then, as an afterthought, he added: "And I'll be of some use, too, not just a sight-seer looking on; that wouldn't be fair."

So he went. He joined the American ambulance service in the Vosges, was mentioned more than once in the orders of the day for conspicuous bravery in saving wounded under fire, and received the much-coveted Croix de Guerre.

Meanwhile, he wrote interesting letters home. And his point of view changed, even as does the point of view of all Americans who visit Europe. From the attitude of an adventurous spirit anxious to see the excitement, his letters showed a new belief that any one who goes to France and is not able and willing to do more than his share--to give everything in him toward helping the wounded and suffering--has no business there.

And as time went on, still a new note crept into his letters; the first admiration for France was strengthened and almost replaced by a new feeling--a profound conviction that France and the French people were fighting the fight of liberty against enormous odds. The new spirit of France--the spirit of the "Marseillaise," strengthened by a grim determination and absolute certainty of being right--pervades every line he writes. So he gave up the ambulance service and enlisted in the French flying corps along with an ever-increasing number of other Americans.

The spirit which pervades them is something above the spirit of adventure that draws many to war; it is the spirit of a man who has found an inspiring duty toward the advancement of liberty and humanity and is glad and proud to contribute what he can.

His last letters bring out a new point--the assurance of victory of a just cause. "Of late," he writes, "things are much brighter and one can feel a certain elation in the air. Victory, before, was a sort of academic certainty; now, it is felt."

F. C. P.

November 10, 1916.

FLYING FOR FRANCE

CHAPTER I

VERDUN

Beneath the canvas of a huge hangar mechanicians are at work on the motor of an airplane. Outside, on the borders of an aviation field, others loiter awaiting their a๋rial charge's return from the sky. Near the hangar stands a hut-shaped tent. In front of it several short-winged biplanes are lined up; inside it three or four young men are lolling in wicker chairs.

They wear the uniform of French army aviators. These uniforms, and the grim-looking machine guns mounted on the upper planes of the little aircraft, are the only warlike note in a pleasantly peaceful scene. The war seems very remote. It is hard to believe that the greatest of all battles--Verdun--rages only twenty-five miles to the north, and that the field and hangars and mechanicians and aviators and airplanes are all playing a part therein.

Suddenly there is the distant hum of a motor. One of the pilots emerges from the tent and gazes fixedly up into the blue sky. He points, and one glimpses a black speck against the blue, high overhead. The sound of the motor ceases, and the speck grows larger. It moves earthward in steep dives and circles, and as it swoops closer, takes on the shape of an airplane. Now one can make out the red, white, and blue circles under the wings which mark a French war-plane, and the distinctive insignia of the pilot on its sides.

"_Ton patron arrive!_" one mechanician cries to another. "Your boss is coming!"

The machine dips sharply over the top of a hangar, straightens out again near the earth at a dizzy speed a few feet above it and, losing momentum in a surprisingly short time, hits the ground with tail and wheels. It bumps along a score of yards and then, its motor whirring again, turns, rolls toward the hangar, and stops. A human form, enveloped in a species of garment for all the world like a diver's suit, and further adorned with goggles and a leather hood, rises unsteadily in the cockpit, clambers awkwardly overboard and slides down to terra firma.

A group of soldiers, enjoying a brief holiday from the trenches in a cantonment near the field, straggle forward and gather timidly about the airplane, listening open-mouthed for what its rider is about to say.

"Hell!" mumbles that gentleman, as he starts divesting himself of his flying garb.

"What's wrong now?" inquires one of the tenants of the tent.

"Everything, or else I've gone nutty," is the indignant reply, delivered while disengaging a leg from its Teddy Bear trousering. "Why, I emptied my whole roller on a Boche this morning, point blank at not fifteen metres off. His machine gun quit firing and his propeller wasn't turning and yet the darn fool just hung up there as if he were tied to a cloud. Say, I was so sure I had him it made me sore--felt like running into him and yelling, 'Now, you fall, you bum!'"

The eyes of the _poilus_ register surprise. Not a word of this dialogue, delivered in purest American, is intelligible to them. Why is an aviator in a French uniform speaking a foreign tongue, they mutually ask themselves. Finally one of them, a little chap in a uniform long since bleached of its horizon-blue colour by the mud of the firing line, whisperingly interrogates a mechanician as to the identity of these strange air folk.


Flying for France - 1/13

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