Baird, Gavin Gibson

Letter
Date:
November 30, 1929
To:
Angereau
From:
Gavin Gibson Baird
November 30,1929

Dear Angereau,

One night at dinner, shortly after we had occupied our aerodrome at Auchel, the Major told me that he had a trip for me the next morning down to the sea coast to get a new machine. We rather enjoyed these trips and of course "here I pat myself on the back", a good pilot was always selected to get a new machine so that there wasn't much doubt about it being brought back to the aerodrome without damage. The Major told me to arrange with the Sergeant in charge of the transports, to have a car ready for me at whatever time I decided to go in the morning, and after making the necessary arrangements went back to the where we were staying. Old Fritzy came over that night and gave us a very healthy bombing, but fortunately no damage was done to the aerodrome or our personnel. The next morning I was up bright and early and with my observer went up to the place where the transports were kept to get the touring car that I had arranged for. I had been standing in front of the old house that we used as our orderly room, and was just about to get into the car when a shell came over and landed behind the house in front of which I had been standing. We were covered with dust, and every imaginable sort of thing was flying around, and after recovering from the momentary shock I ran around to the back of the old house to see what had happened, Unfortunately some of our men were living in huts behind the old house and one of these had been entirely demolished. As a matter of fact, there wasn't a speck left of it, and all that was visible was a large, dark hole in the ground where the hut had been. Nine men were in this hut at the time, and you can imagine what was left of them also. We had one officer hit with a fragment of a shell and several other casualties besides the nine men, but these were not of a serious nature.

With all the preparatory shelling that had been done, and which I mentioned to you, I realized that we were in for it and dismissing the car I ran across the aerodrome to where the machine that I had been flying was stationed, and when I got near enough started yelling to the mechanics to push her out of the hangar. This they did, and by the time they had her outside the hangar, I had the engine started and it didn't take me very long to get away from that spot and to get down to the furthermost part of the aerodrome where there was a large bluff of trees. I then ran back and got another machine, but by this time most of the fellows were on the job. The shells were landing pretty regularly and one after the other we saw our hangars disappear. These hangars were large enough to accommodate three machines and had a corrugated steel roof, and were rather solidly built, but when a shell hit them they just seemed to float up in the air about 75 or 100 feet and then settle back with a crash. We had no further casualties, although one machine was smashed up by a shell. The shelling continued until noon when it stopped as suddenly as it started. All the time the Major had been in touch with Wing Headquarters and had been instructed to move to another spot. We got the location of the new aerodrome on our maps, and about 1.30- while we were lined up on parade- shells started coming over again. We didn't waste much time in getting off the aerodrome I can tell you. One of the boys had the misfortune to have a shell land directly in the path of his machine as he was taking off, but very fortunately he was just far enough away so that the fragments did not hit him but was able to clear the hole. We arrived at our new aerodrome in good time and as we were travelling with just enough equipment to keep us going until our baggage arrived by truck I didn't have very much in the machine except my haversack and a sergeant mechanic. Our new aerodrome was not an aerodrome in the strictest sense of the word. It was a farmer's wheat field and the fall wheat was up a fairly good height, but it didn't take us very long to completely ruin it. We had no place to sleep and after we arrived we had to look around to see where we were going to sleep that night. We eventually located a little school about a mile and a half away and we went to the village Priest to make arrangements for its occupation. He said it was absolutely impossible- that the children could not be accommodated elsewhere, and that we would have to make other arrangements. We simply took possession of the school, and told him that just for the moment we were not concerned about the children. The trucks with all the equipment, etc., arrived about seven or eight o'clock, and they were all at our new location by midnight. We hadn't any supper, and as a matter of fact very little lunch, so when the trucks did arrive there was a mad scramble to see who could get the first tin of bully beef, etc. I remember grabbing large tin of Libby's pressed tongue, which tasted very good.

The next few days was spent in getting tents up for the accommodation of officers and men, and in camouflaging these tents in the most approved fashion with dobs of green and red paint here and there. Some of the fellow gave vent to their artistic temperament in the painting of their tents. I was content to make ours as nearly invisible from the air as possible. Eventually we became very well established and our tents were subsequently replaced by buts with two rooms with an entrance way at either end, so that the pilot and the observer were fairly comfortable and could fix up their end of the hut as well as they could. We eventually got ours all lined, getting a rug for the floor which we found somewhere, and carious little articles of furniture, so that was time went on we had nothing to complain about.

All the huts were electrically lighted from our own generator. We employed a Frenchwoman, who was a splendid cook, but had to fire her eventually on account of her stealing so much of our supplies in the way of butter, eggs and sugar particularly. From then on our eats were not so good, but we at least had the assurance that we were not feeding half the village.

We were bombed several times at this aerodrome and during the next few months lost several machines and men over the lines, as well as several in forced landings on our own side. Landing in the night, especially away from your own aerodrome, was most difficult, and was more a matter of luck than really good flying. One of our very best pilots, a Captain Watkins, who was a Captain Watkins from Toronto, and had several decorations- one for bringing down a Zeppelin in flames in England, was killed in a forced landing at night. His observer was badly shaken up and thrown quite a distance from the machine when it turned over, but his only thought seemed to be in getting Watkins to some place where he could receive proper medical care. He finally removed him from the wreckage and carried him for about a mile and a half before he ran into a detachment of British soldiers. The observer did not know that Captain Watkins had been almost instantly killed in the crash.

All the time we were carrying out bombing raids every night that the weather was fit for flying, and were bombing Douai, a large junction point that the Germans were using; Lens, another strategic point, Rumbeke, and a host of other places. I remember well one of the nights we bombe Rumbeke. In order to follow up your identification roads and so on, you had to pass over the rather large town of Roulers, and around this town he had a circle of searchlights, with anti-aircraft guns, and as you passed over you were almost invariably picked up by these searchlights and of course-while you may not possibly have taken this pint up in school yet you will know that the apex of a triangle can be determined by the length of its base. You have two searchlights- one on either side of the town, but the distance between each they had figured right down to the odd foot. Consequently, when these two searchlights met or crossed one another in the sky, they could tell from the angle at which the beams were pointing, the height at which they met. Consequently if the both of them caught you they knew exactly what height you were and you could expect that within a very few seconds things would be hot for you. This particular night that I am talking about, he opened up with these two search lights on me but didn't get me. Then as they started to come nearer to me I changed the tone of my engine by throttling her down just a trifle. Their entire finding apparatus for these searchlights was composed of large horns and these were on a movable platform and were operated mechanically, from a hut or pit nearby. It was just the same as putting on a large megaphone with the small end towards your ear, so that as they groped nearer to you of course the sound of your motor became that much stronger, and as they went away, of course, it became that much weaker. Consequently the throttling down of my motor gave them the impression that they were going further away from me instead of nearer, and as soon as I got them going the other direction I would open up again and thus got over the difficult spots without getting even fired at.

I understand from you mother's last letter that you will be on your feet again very shortly. I trust that the setting of your leg will be perfect, and that while you might find it a little difficult at first, that eventually it will be just as good as it was before your accident.

Sincerely yours,

Gavin
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