William Earl Johns
Captain Bigglesworth of 266 Squadron R.F.C., known to his friends as
“Biggles”; homeward bound from a solitary patrol, glanced casually at
the watch on his instrument board. “Twelve-fifteen,” he mused. “Just
time to look in and have a word with Wilks before lunch.” He altered
his course a trifle, and a few minutes later set his Sopwith Camel down
neatly on the aerodrome of No. 287 Squadron, where his friend, Captain Wilkinson – more often referred to simply as “Wilks” – commanded
a Flight of S.E.5s.
“Is Wilks about?” he called to a group of pilots who were lounging
about the entrance to a hangar, in which the dim outlines of some square-nosed S.E.5s could just be seen.
“Hullo, Biggles! Yes, I think he’s down in the Mess,” was the reply.
“Good enough; I’ll stroll down.”
“Do you want your tanks filling?”
“No, thanks, laddie; I’ve plenty to see me home.”
Biggles tossed his cap and goggles into his cockpit and walked quickly
towards the Mess, where he found Wilks, with two or three members of
his Flight, indulging in apre-luncheon aperitif.
“Ah – speak of the devil,” declared Wilks.
“Do you often talk about yourself?” inquired Biggles.
“Bah! When are your crowd going to knock a few Huns down?” grinned
“Just as soon as the Boche opposite to us have fixed up what few
fellows we’ve left alive with some new machines. Why?”
“We’ve got seven this week, so far.”
“Oh, that’s it, is it?” observed Biggles. “Well, you lot so seldom get
a Hun that I suppose there is an excuse for you to get a bit chirpy. But you
start riding too high on the cock-horse and you’ll stall and bruise yourselves. What about providing me with a little refreshment, somebody?”
“The fact is, our new S.E.5s are a bit better than your Camels,” explained Wilks apologetically, as he ordered Biggles’s drink.
“You think so, eh? Well, let me tell you something. I’d back a Bentley-engined Camel against a long-nosed S.E., as a Hun-getter, any day.”
“And let me tell you something,” declared Wilks, setting his glass
down. “The worst S.E. in this Squadron could make rings round the best
Camel you’ve got — ’cos why? Because we’ve got speed and height on
Biggles’s eyes glittered. “Well, speed and height aren’t everything,” he
said shortly. “My kite will turn twice before you’re halfway round the first
turn. You think that over.”
“You’d have to prove that.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Any time you like. Now seems to be the best time; there’s no need to
wait, as far as I can see.”
“How would you arrange it?” inquired Wilks curiously.
“It doesn’t need any arranging. We take off with six films each and
rendezvous over the aerodrome at ten thousand. No surprise tactics
allowed. The show starts as soon as both pilots see each other and ends
as soon as the first man has got his six pictures. Then we’ll develop both
films and tot up points for hits in the usual way.”
“I’ll take that on!” cried Wilks, starting up. “I’ll show you whether
a perishing, oil-swilling Camel can hold a candle to an S.E.”
“Get ready, then. Your jaw will seize up one day, talking too much.”
There was a general babble of voices and a move towards the door as
everyone hurried out on to the aerodrome to watch the match.
“Get one of your fitters to fix me up a gun,” Biggles told Wilks.
“I’ll see to it.”
Ten minutes later the stage was set, and both pilots were ready to climb
into their machines.
“Rendezvous over the aerodrome, you said?” queried Wilks.
INFO Eduard - September 2021
Illustration: Drawing Pavel Rampír
THE ACE OF SPADES